5 Players Capable of Taking Over the NCAA Tournament
The NCAA tournament is about trying to win a National Championship for your school. But as much as great championship teams from years past stand out in our minds, we remember just as fondly the efforts of individual players, who come along every so often and captivate college basketball fans everywhere.
Performances like Stephen Curry’s in 2008, Carmelo Anthony’s in 2003, and Danny Manning’s in 1988 are pretty rare. They don’t always lead to a title, or even a Final Four appearance. But they're special.
Today we look at five guys who, like Curry, Anthony, and Manning before them, are capable of taking over this year’s tournament, captivating the country.
The toughest part of making a list of players like this to watch is that it will always leave off a handful of guys who are also capable of amazing performances. Guys like Shabazz Napier of UConn, Kyle Anderson of UCLA, and Cleanthony Early of Wichita State all have the talent to put on a show. Sean Kilpatrick was actually on our list initially, too, until the selection committee shocked the world and included N.C. State in the field (see below). For a number of reasons, however, the five players discussed below are players who we believe have the best chance of delivering a memorable performance that college basketball fans will discuss for years to come.
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Gallons of ink have been used discussing Doug McDermott already this year - he's probably the most analyzed player in the country, from his physical characteristics, to his draft stock, to how his talents may translate to the next level. There's a lot to disagree on depending on the discussion, but what is nearly universally acknowledged is that he's the most important player in college basketball to his team. The success of Creighton in the NCAA Tournament will rise or fall based on the success of McDermott, and he has the ability to take over games, taking the Blue Jays on a run.
McDermott is the best scorer in college basketball, leading the country in points per game (26.9) to go along with seven rebounds per contest. He has 12 games on the season where he has scored over 30 points, and posted a season-high 45 points against conference champion Providence on March 8th.
The Blue Jay also has the third-highest player efficiency rating in the country (33.1), and his value to Creighton is illustrated by the fact that he leads the nation in win share (7.4). He is versatile enough to score in multiple ways, and is typically most effective in moving without the ball, getting outside looks off screens. But he can also take defenders into the paint and post them up. McDermott averages just under 18 shot attempts per game, and that number is unlikely to drop during tournament play. So long as the shots are falling, he will post some amazing performances.
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
Wow. Every year there seems to be a team that makes the tournament and causes a collective gasp in college basketball circles when announced, leaving analysts scratching their collective heads. This year N.C. State is that team.
Despite the RPI, strength of schedule and other objective factors the committee has to rely on, the group picking these teams is still made up of humans. And it’s hard to imagine a human that can’t get excited about watching T.J. Warren play some more meaningful basketball games this year.
Aside from McDermott, Warren is probably the most important player to his team in the country. He is an opportunistic scorer who can hit jumpers from both the mid-range and outside. He is most exciting, however, when he takes the ball directly at the defense, essentially daring the other team to stop him.
And few have been able to.
His 24.90 point per game average is good for third in the nation, and he has accounted for an incredible 34% of his team’s points on the season, along with leading the team in rebounds (7.2) and steals (1.2) per game. It's just about impossible to translate into words how exciting it is to watch T.J. Warren play basketball. If you have seen him play, you understand what that means. If you haven’t seen him, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
The Friars went into last night’s Big East title game against Creighton firmly on the Tournament bubble. They needed a clutch win to be guaranteed a spot, and they went in and got it behind a strong performance from their senior workhorse, Bryce Cotton.
The play of Cotton will also determine how far the Friars go in the Tourney. If he gets hot, Providence is well positioned to upset some apple carts.
Cotton simply never leaves the court for Providence. He leads the nation in minutes played per game (39.94), and uses his time on the court to contribute in a variety of ways. He averages 21.38 points per game, good enough for ninth in the country. Cotton is more than just a scorer, too, as he averages 5.79 assists per game (24th in the nation). He touches the ball on basically every possession of every game for the Friars, and as the numbers demonstrate, does a good job of translating those touches into team points.
The Friars drew a somewhat unfavorable matchup against North Carolina in the first round. Carolina is the higher seed, and will more than likely get the win. Part of leaving your mark on the dance, however, is leading your team to memorable upsets, especially against legendary programs like North Carolina. If Providence is able to knock off UNC and have some tournament success, it will be because of Bryce Cotton, and it will certainly be fun to watch.
Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Unless you are an avid college basketball fan, there's a good possibility that you haven't seen a lot of the New Mexico Lobos this year. And you may have never heard of their 6-9 Australian-born forward, Cameron Bairstow.
After this tournament, however, that may be a name you won’t soon forget. Bairstow averaged 20.30 points per game (19th in the nation), to go along with 7.9 rebounds in leading New Mexico to the Mountain West Championship. He's a walking double-double, and is poised to potentially take a smaller conference team on a run and post impressive numbers along the way. It will be interesting to watch Bairstow in the Lobos first round matchup against a long, athletic Stanford team. We think he will fare well, and may open a few eyes around the country along the way.
Tyler Haws, Brigham Young
Heading into Selection Sunday, there were a lot of anxious moments for BYU after losing in the West Coast Conference Championship game. Most viewed the Cougars as a team on the bubble, who may not make the Tournament. It turns out they didn't have much to worry about, as the committee saw them as a 10 seed.
Now that they are in, BYU will have to look to their stud, Tyler Haws, if they want to string together some wins and prove that they deserve to be there. Haws averages 23.37 points per game (sixth in the country) to go along with 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists.
BYU’s second leading scorer, Kyle Collingsworth (14 points per game), was lost for the year in the WCC championship game against Gonzaga on March 11 to a torn ACL. In order for BYU to make some noise in the Big Dance, Haws will have to shoulder even more of the load than he already has. He's more than capable of taking over a game on the offensive end, and his efforts to propel BYU to NCAA Tournament success should be a joy to watch.
Look for him to post an impressive scoring performance early on, as BYU is matched up with an up-tempo Oregon squad more focused on offense than the defensive end of the floor.