An NCAA Tournament winner oftentimes gets to the promised land because one star player takes over their March run. Sometimes it’s an unlikely candidate — we see you, Donte DiVincenzo — but usually it’s a star player carrying the team.
Every title contender has a player who can, and perhaps needs to, do it for them. Here is a look at ten of those players.
10) Jordan Poole, Michigan
Michigan profiles as a strong defensive team that doesn’t rely on one primary scorer. While they’re not bad offensively, they’re not elite either. When Poole performs, however, they go from a decent offensive team to a very good one. When he’s hitting consistently from deep, the Wolverines are exceptionally difficult to beat, and it opens up the floor for his teammates. Last March, Poole hit one of the most memorable shots of the tournament. If he can hit a few more from deep, Michigan bears watching.
Zion Williamson was the difference-maker in Duke’s 74-73 win over North Carolina on Friday night, including on the game-winning basket.
Williamson went up for a shot with Duke down 73-72 in the final minute and missed. He followed his shot though and out-rebounded three Tar Heels for the ball, and then made the putback.
Zion just willed this into the bucket pic.twitter.com/G4FESRoKTU
— ESPN (@espn) March 16, 2019
UNC was unable to score on its next two possessions, making that basket by Zion the last score of the game.
Williamson was sensational in the game. He went 13/19 for 31 points and 11 rebounds. He even went 2/3 on threes. As if his draft stock weren’t already high enough, he’s further cementing himself as the best player in college basketball.
Zion Williamson gave Duke fans some reason for concern early in the Blue Devils’ ACC Tournament semifinals game against North Carolina on Friday.
Williamson went up for a block attempt in the first half and landed awkwardly. He got up slowly and was limping, though he was able to make a layup on the other end. You can tell he was bothered because he signaled to his coaches for a substitution.
Zion Williamson limping after awkward fall pic.twitter.com/NSXknxXBaP
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) March 16, 2019
Williamson checked out briefly but later came back in. He must have been feeling well because he scored seven straight points for Duke later in the half to help close a deficit.
Williamson is in his second game back from his knee injury suffered in the first minute of the Duke-UNC game on Feb. 20.
Zion Williamson responded on Thursday to those who said he should have shut things down and just prepared for the NBA.
Williamson returned to action for the first time since he suffered a knee injury in the first minute against North Carolina on Feb. 20. He went 13/13 from the field, scoring 29 points with 14 rebounds to lead Duke to an 84-72 win over Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament.
In his postgame interview with ESPN’s Allison Williams, Zion wanted to make clear why he returned to the Blue Devils.
“I love this game. I love my teammates. Some people thought I wasn’t going to return. They weren’t smart; I love playing with Duke. I love playing with my teammates, and it’s great to be back,” Williamson told Williams.
Zion Williamson "I love this game, I love my teammates, so the people who thought I wasn't going to return they weren't smart….I couldn't leave my boys hanging." pic.twitter.com/o3W75FCTPF
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) March 15, 2019
As for the people who said he should have shut it down and prepared for the NBA instead, Zion respects their opinion.
“They are entitled to their own opinion. I appreciate the input, but I couldn’t leave my boys hanging.”
He also said his knee felt “incredible.”
One of the loudest voices calling for him to shut it down was Scottie Pippen. Williamson rejected that advice back in January, even before his injury. Hearing someone who says he loves to play and wanted to be there for his teammates is refreshing. The guy has incredible character, is a wonderful leader, and on top of that, just so happens to be amazingly talented.
Zion Williamson needed just two minutes to prove he is back.
Williamson got a steal and threw down a huge dunk for Duke’s second basket of their ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against Syracuse on Thursday night.
— Highlights on Loop (@LoopedReplay) March 15, 2019
Williamson was playing in his first game since injuring his knee during a shoe blowout in the first minute of Duke’s loss to North Carolina on Feb. 20. He sat out the final five games of the regular season before returning, though he’s now wearing a different type of shoe.
The speed and power he showed on that play seems to indicate he hasn’t lost a step.
There have been plenty of calls for Zion Williamson to shut things down following his knee injury suffered Wednesday night, but his coach says that is not going to happen.
Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s 75-65 win at Syracuse on Saturday that Williamson wants to keep playing for the Blue Devils.
Mike K on Zion: "He wants to play. He loves being at Duke." Says he's day-to-day and the injury (knee sprain) is one he can come back from.
— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) February 24, 2019
Coach K emphasized that they will not rush Williamson back from the knee injury the freshman star suffered against North Carolina on Wednesday. Williamson suffered a Grade 1 knee strain, allaying the concerns of many. Duke has called Williamson day-to-day, which is how Coach K is describing things.
When Williamson returns is not yet known, but it sounds like he will return at some point this season. We love that news and Williamson’s attitude; he’s a player, and as long as he’s healthy and able, he should be there to carry his team and lead his teammates.