March Madness time is officially here. No other moment is bigger for college basketball players to make a name for themselves by taking over the tournament and become legends. Many current NBA Stars have taken advantage of the opportunity to play on the big stage such as Steph Curry, Frank Kaminsky, Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker. Now, there is a new crop of young players ready to leave their mark on the tournament.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Point Guard
Lonzo Ball (198 cm) is the most electric player in College Basketball. He led the team to a three-seed in the tournament, which is their highest seeding since 2008. Ball runs the high paced offense for UCLA to perfection which caused him to lead the nation in assists with 7.7 apg. His game is filled with distributing the ball to his shooters in both transitions and in the half-court, using his long frame to finish at the rim, and hitting clutch threes from deep.
Check out this deep-three in crunch time vs Oregon.
This will be the only tournament run for Ball since he’s destined to be a top pick in the NBA draft next season. Watch for Ball to go crazy in this tournament and fill up the stat sheet with triple-double type numbers. The team is destined to make a deep run, but it all rides on Ball’s shoulders.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon Small Forward
Oregon is one of the most consistent teams this year in college basketball. The team relies on Dillon Brooks (201 cm) to be their do-it-all player and he’s excelled in that role. He led the team in scoring this year with 16.3 ppg while shooting 41.4 percent from three and also dishing out 2.7 apg with 2.9 rpg. This team is deep and can beat anybody in the country, but are dealing with some recent adversity. Oregon’s anchor in the paint, Chris Boucher, went down with a torn ACL in the Pac-12 tournament last week. The team fought through his absence and made it to the Pac-12 tournament, but then lost to Arizona. Now Oregon will have to figure out how to play without their starting center in a short period-of-time. Without Boucher, the Ducks will look to Brooks for more scoring, defense, and leadership in order to go far in the tournament. Teams in the tournament advance just based on their ability to perform in the clutch. If it does come down to crunch time, Brooks can be relied on.
Oregon beat UCLA earlier this season at home thanks to a game winner by Brooks.
Brooks can make become a NCAA tournament legend if he can lead the team through these tough times without their leading shot blocker and rebounder. How far can he take this team?
Josh Hart, Vilanova Guard
No player coming in the tournament has the pedigree of Josh Hart (196 cm). He is the heart-and-soul of the defending champion, Vilanova Wildcats. He’s done nothing, but win, over the last two seasons, and he does not intend on changing that any time soon. His team ran through the Big East to finish first in both the regular season and the conference tournament. Hart leads the team in scoring with 18.9 ppg and is one of the best players in the country down the stretch of games. Like most of the stars, he too comes up huge for the team in big moments.
Here’s what he did to help his team make it to the Big East championship in this year’s tournament.
No team has won back-to-back titles since Florida did in 2005/2006 and 2006/2007. Hart and the Wildcats will get their opportunity soon.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Guard
The best players in college basketball are usually the ones who can perform the best whenever when things are going right. They start making shots that only they can make and then carry their team to a victory. Malik Monk (191 cm) does this just as good as any scorer in the country. Kentucky runs a ton of plays to find Monk open from three or isolated against a good match up in his favor. Monk has lit up the scoreboard when he’s felt the groove in big games. However, he is just a freshman and it shows at times with a lack consistency. He’s played in games where he’ll score 47 points and wills his team to victory like he did against a really good North Carolina early in the season. I don’t see any other player in the country with the capabilities to make as many shots as he did that day. Monk shot 8-12 from three and exerted his way to a Kentucky win.
Take a look at his performance.
He is known for disappearing in games as well. Such as in the team’s first game of the SEC tournament against Georgia where he scored just two points in 26 minutes on 1-7 shooting. Most of his poor performances came against the worse teams on the schedule, which he won’t see in the tournament. The struggles in those, almost meaningless, games looks to be because of lack of competition and focus from Monk. The big lights of the tournament should bring out the best in Monk, but just remember things can go south quick for the freshman shooting guard.
Frank Mason Jr., Kansas Guard
The favorite to win player of the year in the NCAA is Frank Mason Jr. (180 cm) at the moment. Mason led the Jayhawks to another Big 12 regular season title and has been better than anybody could’ve imagined in his final year at Kansas. He led the team in scoring with 20.8 ppg as well as dishing out 5.1 apg which was good enough to win Big 12 player of the year. Last year, Mason’s tournament performance was one to forget. Kansas made it to the elite eight, where they were eliminated by Villanova, but Mason did not shoot well. The guard averaged 11 ppg and made just two three-pointers in the team’s four games.
Mason didn’t let his poor performance to end last season linger into his senior year. To start off the season, he hit a game-winning shot against, then number one, Duke. The big shot escalated him into having a great season.
Kansas is better this year, thanks to the addition of freshman forward, Josh Jackson. He is an extremely athletic play-maker who can finish at the rim and defend any player in the country. He is Mason’s second-hand man on a very impressive Kansas team. The combo led to an increase in Mason’s assists this season as well as his scoring. The confidence of Mason really blossomed all year. He should be able to redeem himself from last year and take Kansas even further this year.
Luke Kennard, Duke Guard
No team has dealt with more drama than Duke this season. To start off the season as the number one team in the country, then struggle to open ACC play with their veteran guard, Grayson Allen, getting suspended game-after-game by either kicking or tripping opposing players in games. To follow this nonsense, the team’s hall of fame coach, Mike Krzyzewski, took a leave of absence to undergo back surgery. How did they overcome all this? Living and dying by Luke Kennard (196 cm). The sophomore guard shot Duke out of their rough start and wound up taking over Grayson Allen’s spot in the lineup. Kennard turned out to be a lefty sniper shooter as well as being able to get to the basket.
Here’s one game where Duke could have lost on the road against an in-state rival, Wake Forest. Kennard saved the team from recording a third loss in four games with a much-needed three to give the team the lead. The team then rattled off seven wins in a row and turned their season around.
Duke is now one of the hottest teams going into the tournament with an ACC tournament championship. Their path included wins over Louisville and North Carolina. Now the Blue Devils are in a good position as a two-seed. Kennard will be asked to continue to dominate in order for this team to go the distance.
Allonzo Trier, Arizona Forward
Allonzo Trier (196 cm) is one of the hottest players going into the tournament. He helped lead Arizona to a Pac-12 Tournament championship last weekend and scored 23 points in the final game. The beginning of the season came in late-January for Trier after being suspended because of a failed drug test. Trier joined the team while they were finding their stride in the middle of an 11-game win streak. UCLA was Arizona’s first opponent when Trier first suited up. The team went on to upset the Bruins on the road while Trier contributed with 12 points and seven rebounds. Since Trier rejoined, Arizona’s game plan included more for Trier. He ended up leading the team in scoring this season with 17.3 ppg as well as 5.0 rpg.
Arizona beat UCLA twice this season and Oregon in Pac-12 championship. Not many teams have the ability to beat any team at any time, but Arizona can do just that. Here’s the highlights from Trier’s 20 point performance against UCLA in the Pac-12 semifinals.
Trier leads Arizona in scoring and stars with Lauri Markkanen , Arizona Power Forward, as the leading scorers for the Wildcats. This dynamic duo has the potential to do just about anything in the tournament.
It’s hard to say which team will take home the crown as NCAA Champions. Any of these players could be holding up the trophy at the end of the road. They will at least be in the middle of most of the March Madness action.