10 CBB Stars Who Can Take over the 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament
The strongest teams generally bring home college basketball's national championship, but every so often an individual player will put together an incredible men's NCAA tournament.
Kemba Walker's legendary run to help UConn win the 2011 title is a prime example of the best-case scenario. However, history is also kind to Stephen Curry (2008) and Buddy Hield (2016), even though their respective teams lost in the Elite Eight and Final Four.
As the 2021 tournament nears, some of the nation's biggest stars have similar upside. While it's no surprise that several top-ranked teams have someone highlighted, a few lower-tier programs have an elite playmaker worth knowing.
Let's check them out in alphabetical order.
Chris Duarte, Oregon
Health and safety protocols disrupted Oregon's season for most of January, and Chris Duarte hasn't produced similarly since the team's first extended hiatus began in the middle of that month. In the five games from Dec. 19 to Jan. 9, though, he averaged 23.0 points with a 50.0 three-point rate and 4.6 combined blocks and steals. Duarte may regain that scorching form in time for the tournament.
Evan Mobley, USC
Evan Mobley has been a shot-blocking machine. He ranks fourth nationally with 3.0 swats per game and shares the lead in defensive win shares. Lately, his scoring has increased too. Mobley has five 20-point performances in USC's last nine games.
James Bouknight, Connecticut
Connecticut rode out a 17-day pause in December for coronavirus health and safety protocols. In the Huskies' first game back Dec. 20, James Bouknight dropped 40 points.
Yeah, that'll work.
"He's one of those guys," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said, per Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant. "And there's only a few of 'em in our conference, that, whatever the play is, the play can break down. You can guard everything and he can just go one-on-one and make a tough shot. There are a lot of guys who take tough shots, he makes tough shots."
Bouknight has netted 18, 21 and 20 points since returning from an elbow injury. Provided he stays healthy and 11-6 UConn makes the NCAA tournament, Bouknight will draw comparisons to Huskies alums Walker and Shabazz Napier—which is a high bar.
Jared Butler, Baylor
Jared Butler's season averages tell the story: He's provided 17.1 points, 5.1 assists and 2.4 steals per game while knocking down 45.3 percent of his three-point attempts.
Following a three-week COVID-related pause, Butler and his Baylor teammates returned to the floor Feb. 23. They started slowly but recovered in the second half to beat Iowa State 77-72, and Butler scored 18 points thanks in part to three triples.
As the undefeated Bears head toward a No. 1 seed in March, they'll lean on Butler to kick-start the offense.
Marcus Carr, Minnesota
Given that Minnesota is 6-10 in Big Ten play, this praise has a necessary qualifier: The Gophers are on the bubble. Nevertheless, few scorers have more upside than Marcus Carr.
The Pitt transfer has had three 30-point showings this season, including a 30-point effort in an upset of Iowa. Carr also drilled a season-best six threes and dished eight assists in the victory. He tallied 32 points and seven assists to beat Saint Louis too.
While their remaining schedule is favorable, the Gophers need a strong finish to secure an NCAA bid. Once they're in, though, Carr's scoring could spark a couple of upset wins.
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
As if his overall production weren't enough, Cade Cunningham has a flair for the dramatic.
Cunningham buried a game-winning triple to beat Wichita State. His clutch block, save and pass sparked an upset win over Kansas. He drilled a go-ahead jumper, grabbed a key rebound and added two game-sealing free throws to upend Arkansas.
The potential No. 1 pick of the 2021 NBA draft has averaged 18.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 combined steals and blocks per game. He's connected on 43.7 percent of 4.6 threes per contest too.
Factor in his clutch plays, and Cunningham has repeatedly shown he can single-handedly change a game.
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
In the modern basketball world, a 7'1" center who doesn't provide a long-range threat shouldn't control the game. Michigan star Hunter Dickinson has defied the trend.
The freshman has tallied 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, which are not overwhelming numbers. However, he's taken control of a contest in each of those categories, maxing out at 28 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. His low-post presence carried Michigan past Ohio State in their recent showdown.
Dickinson is the superstar who isn't supposed to exist—and a championship-worthy foundational piece for the Wolverines.
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Dosunmu, though, has amassed 21.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He's the country's lone 20/5/5 player and has converted 40.0 percent of his threes. Auburn's Sharife Cooper has comparable numbers, but he's connected on just 22.8 percent from long distance and probably won't be in the NCAA tournament.
Aided by double-double machine Kofi Cockburn, Dosunmu has Illinois positioned for a deep March Madness run.
Luka Garza, Iowa
Whether the Hawkeyes defend well enough to survive March is a great question, but Luka Garza leads an outstanding offense.
The front-runner for National Player of the Year has poured in 24.7 points per game. Garza leads the country with seven 30-point showings and is first in several advanced metrics, including offensive win shares and offensive box plus/minus.
After a slight drop in production recently, Garza combined for 53 points in victories over Wisconsin and Penn State. He became the program's all-time leading scorer in the latter win.
If the Hawkeyes have a memorable March, he'll be the driving force.
Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
The ridiculous part of Gonzaga's roster is one could make a reasonable argument for Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs or Joel Ayayi here. Timme is a lethally efficient scorer, while Suggs and Ayayi are both all-around contributors.
Kispert, though, is a marksman.
Perhaps the country's best shooter, Kispert has a scorching 45.7 three-point rate to complement 19.0 points per game. The senior holds top-10 national rankings in effective field-goal percentage (.667) and true shooting percentage (.697).
Best of all, he's a proven scorer. In neutral-site games against Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia this season, Kispert averaged 22.4 points.
Timme, Suggs and Ayayi each have takeover potential, but Kispert is most likely to draw headlines for scoring.
Miles McBride, West Virginia
West Virginia would be lost without Miles McBride.
"He does so much more than scoring," teammate Sean McNeil said, per Ryan Pritt of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "He handles the ball, he makes plays, he knows how to make the right reads. Deuce is a heck of a player, man. He's going to be really good. Not only is he good now, but he's going to continue to get better."
After forward Oscar Tshiebwe left the team in early January for personal reasons, Deuce increased his involvement on offense. Already averaging 14.8 points and 4.1 assists in 10 games before Tshiebwe's departure, McBride has lifted those numbers to 17.0 and 5.3, respectively, in the last 12 games.
McBride has kept West Virginia—a projected No. 3 seed, according to BracketMatrix—on track for a highly competitive NCAA trip.
Cameron Thomas, LSU
Similar to Iowa, LSU has a love-hate relationship with defense. Like the Hawkeyes, though, LSU has an elite scorer.
Throw out an injury-affected game against Ole Miss, and freshman Cameron Thomas has scored at least points in all 20 appearances. His 16 games of 20-plus points are tied with Garza and Hampton's Davion Warren for most in the country. For good measure, Thomas has netted 22-plus in seven straight contests.
Efficiency is a reasonable concern, considering he's posted a 30.2 percent three-point clip yet attempts 7.6 triples per game. But when Thomas is hitting, he's one of the country's most explosive scorers.