March Madness: 10 Players Who Can Take Over the NCAA Tournament
March Madness is finally here!
Every year there are a few players who steal the spotlight and take over the NCAA tournament. This year is no different. Let's take a look at 10 players who could put their teams on their backs and win it all.
10. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
Cockburn spurned the NBA and entered the transfer portal in the offseason. Fortunately, for the Illinois Fighting Illini, the center ultimately returned to the school and put together a phenomenal season. The seven-footer averaged 21.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. His presence in the low post helped pave the way for the Fighting Illini's 22-9 record.
A potential second-round showdown with KenPom's fourth-ranked team, the Houston Cougars, looms on the horizon for Illinois. Cockburn's massive frame could pose problems for the undersized Houston frontcourt.
9. Jaden Ivey, Purdue
The Purdue Boilermakers have everything a team needs personnel-wise to make a deep tournament run. They have two elite frontcourt players and a game-changing wing. Guard Jaden Ivey is a likely top-five NBA draft pick. He averaged 17.4 points per game in arguably the deepest conference in the country (Big Ten).
Historically, Purdue has had one of the nation's top defenses. However, that is not the case this year, as they are ranked 99th in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. Look for the quick-footed Ivey to set the tone. If Purdue can elevate their play, especially on the defensive end of the court, I like their chances of making a Final Four run.
8. Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
In Kansas' six losses this season, Agbaji only connected on 39.8% of his field goal attempts. The versatile guard averaged 47.7% from the field this season. Agbaji is clearly vital to the Jayhawks' success. He is certainly capable of taking Kansas deep into the tournament and delivering Bill Self his second national championship as the head coach at Kansas.
7. Walker Kessler, Auburn
Kessler is a freak of nature. The Auburn Tigers center is a nightmare mismatch for nearly every team in the tournament. The seven-footer is an elite rebounder and shot-blocker. Kessler recorded two triple-doubles this season, which included points, rebounds, and blocks. Yes, blocks!
Auburn may be the most talented team in the country. They don't need necessarily need Kessler's scoring to succeed, but he averages 11.7 points per game, so he is still a scoring threat. His game-changing ability comes at the defensive end of the court.
6. Jabari Smith, Auburn
We've seen a freshman carry his team all the way to the NCAA championship in the past. See Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Jabari Smith is loaded with talent and will likely be a top-three pick in this year's NBA draft.
Since mid-February, Smith has been nearly unstoppable for the second-seeded Auburn Tigers. Over the last seven games, Smith is averaging 23.7 points, 2.4 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game. Smith is an elite scorer and shot creator. That should play really well in a single-elimination tournament. He is absolutely capable of leading Auburn to the program's first-ever national championship.
5. Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Badgers will go as far as emerging star Johnny Davis takes them in the NCAA tournament. Davis has one of the highest usage rates in the nation (31.5%). He burst onto the national scene during Wisconsin's early-season run to the Maui Invitational. In those three tournament games, Davis dropped 21, 30, and 20 points.
Davis is a week and a half removed from a brutal ankle injury, though. If he can return to form, the Badgers will be playing deep into March.
4. Paolo Banchero, Duke
The Duke Blue Devils enter the tournament searching for answers after losing two of their last four games. They will need the heralded freshman, Paolo Banchero, to elevate his play if they have any hopes of sending Coach K out on a high note.
Banchero has put up some monster performances against some of the nation's top teams. Banchero was the catalyst for the Blue Devils in wins over the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Kentucky Wildcats earlier this season. He scored 22 points and 21 in those games, respectively.
3. Keegan Murray, Iowa
Murray had enormous shoes to fill with Luka Garza graduating after last season. All Murray did this season was average 23.6 points per game, which was good for fourth nationally. The sophomore also pulled down 8.6 rebounds per game.
The future pro put the Iowa Hawkeyes on his back last weekend and guided the Hawkeyes to a Big Ten title. That was the Hawkeyes' first conference tournament championship since 2006. If he can continue his stellar play, don't be surprised to see the Hawkeyes making a deep run.
2. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga
If you haven't seen Holmgren play, please do yourself a favor and turn on the Gonzaga Bulldogs' tournament games. The slender seven-foot freshman is capable of dominating games on the defensive end of the court. Holmgren was fourth in the nation in block shots per game (3.59). His presence along with frontcourt mate Drew Timme basically shut off the point for the Zags' opponents.
Holmgren's offensive game is no joke, either. The future NBA lottery pick was one of the country's most efficient scorers. Holmgren ranked within the top five nationally in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, per KenPom. Holmgren's addition this season could finally end Gonzaga's long title-less drought.
1. Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky
What a difference a year makes. The Kentucky Wildcats struggled mightily last season and posted an inexcusable 9-16 record. Over the offseason, they landed Tshiebwe via the transfer portal. The former McDonald's All American transformed the Wildcats from an afterthought to a legitimate NCAA title contender.
Tshiebwe averaged an insane 15.3 rebounds per game, which is a feat that hasn't been achieved in college basketball for more than 30 years. While he is a monster on the glass, Tshiebwe is also a major threat on the offensive end of the court. The Kentucky big man led the Wildcats in scoring this season, averaging 17.0 points per game.
The presumptive national player of the year has one mission left. Deliver the Wildcats a national championship.