When I think about March Madness, memories of watching guys like Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette carry their team on tournament runs always come to mind. It’s one of the most interesting narratives in the tournament-one guy putting the team on his back, especially offensively, and willing them to victories. Everyone loves watching a hero, here are this year’s candidates to play that role.
Markus Howard is the biggest no-brainer on this list. He averages 25 points a game, 10 more points than any other player on his team, and shoots nearly 42% from three. He has scored more than 35 points in a game on six different occasions this season and more than 40 three times.
He is a tremendous three-point shooter, especially off the dribble, he’s a crafty ball-handler, and he gets to the foul line at an incredible rate, where he converts at a 90% clip. He’s shown an innate ability to take over a game and can get hot in a hurry. He also wears a shooting sleeve on his non-shooting arm. That’s completely irrelevant it just annoys me.
The Marquette Golden Eagles have been slumping lately and need Howard to get them back on track in the tournament.
Saint Mary’s was a bubble team that took their fate into their own hands and knocked off Gonzaga to get the WCC auto-bid. Jordan Ford and the Gaels could cause some trouble.
Ford leads the team with 21.5 points per game and he’s a pure scorer. He’s got a quick first step that is a big part of his incredible isolation game, as well as a deadly floater and an excellent handle. He’s also a great three-point shooter off the catch and the dribble, he shoots 43% from long range.
Jordan Ford is an offensive force, which is easy to tell by his 8th best nationally 5.1 offensive win shares. Watch out for Ford and the Gaels.
Winston has been Michigan State’s leader all season long but more has fallen on his shoulders since Joshua Langford and Nick Ward went down with injuries.
He’s an efficient shooter from the field, three-point line, and foul line, he has great vision, is deadly off the pick and roll, and he is one of the best creators in college basketball. Since Langford and Ward went down it feels like Winston scores or assists on every Spartan bucket.
Much of their offense revolves around the ball being in his hands, whether he’s taking his defender 1-on-1 off the dribble, hitting a 3, finding the open man, leading the occasional fast break, or reading the defense off of a pick and roll. Michigan State’s offense always seems to come from Cassius Winston, as evidenced by his 9.6 offensive box plus/minus, which is third best in the nation.
Utah State showed their ability to knock off top teams with their huge home win over Nevada. That win was in large part because of Sam Merrill’s 29 point performance. If he can keep playing like he is right now, we could certainly see Utah State in the second weekend.
The 6’5″ junior guard averages 21 points a game and is 7th in the nation with 5.1 offensive win shares. He is a great all-around player, especially on the offensive end.
He can get to the rim, he can shoot the three, he’s got a good pull-up, he shoots 90% from the foul line, and he just always seems to make the right play. Merrill does almost everything very well, watch out for him in the tournament.
Powell has had eight 30 point performances this season and is the undisputed leader of the Pirates’ offense. He leads the team with 22.9 points per game, the next closest scorer is Myles Cale at 10.5. Needless to say, Seton Hall’s offense depends heavily on Myles Powell.
Powell is a threat from three-point range and has a decent pull-up but he’s best when attacking the rim. He can cut through a defense and finish at the rim as well as anyone. He gets through multiple help defenders and makes difficult finishes with ease.
Myles Powell plays with some intensity and when the Pirates need a bucket, he can get it. Seton Hall is going to be very dangerous.
Ja Morant is one of the most talked about and talented players in college basketball, it’s amazing that bigger programs let him fall into the lap of Murray State. Morant will likely be a top-3 pick in the draft in June but he is a force to be reckoned with at the college level now.
He’s a very gifted player that will almost always be the most athletic player on the floor. Morant averages almost 25 points and 10 assists so it is pretty obvious that Murray State is used to leaning on him offensively.
He’s deadly in isolation and he’s already begun carrying the Racers. He had a tremendous performance and a game-winner in the OVC Tournament semifinals and then a dominant 36 point performance in the championship to lead them to an NCAA tournament birth.
Advanced stats love Ja Morant more than any player not named Zion Williamson. Morant is 1st in the country in points produced and points produced per game, as well as 3rd in offensive win shares and 2nd in win shares. It’s not just the eye test that is kind to him.
Other Names to Watch
Carsen Edwards, Phil Booth, Mike Daun, Jarrett Culver, and Shamorie Ponds