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Saturday, September 21, 2019

10 March Madness players who can carry their team to a championship

Zion Williamson

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.

9) Carsen Edwards, Purdue

The Boilermakers’ March performance is likely going to end up tied to Edwards, who is capable of being absolutely dominant one night and brutal the next. Purdue is 12-2 when Edwards shoots at least 40 percent from the field and 11-7 when he doesn’t. Two poor late-season performances against Minnesota cost Purdue the outright Big Ten title and their conference tournament campaign. Edwards is still a 23 point per game scorer who can torch anyone on any given night. If he gets hot, Purdue will go deep. If he goes cold, it could be a surprising early exit.

8) Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

The Big 12 Player of the Year carried Texas Tech all season long. He scores against the best, too, as evidenced by his 25-point performance in a losing effort against Duke in December. When you can pair Culver with the Red Raiders’ excellent defense, it’s a combination that can keep the team in any game they play. They’re in a very tough region — Gonzaga, Michigan, and Florida State are no joke — but Culver is good enough that, if things go right, he can haul Texas Tech through it.

7) PJ Washington, Kentucky

A rare Kentucky sophomore, Washington emerged as one of the team’s key players this season. His bigger performances tend to coincide with wins, as shown by his 23-point showing against Tennessee and a 20-point showing against Kansas, both in victories. The Wildcats haven’t always had that one standout scorer this season, but if Washington can drop in some threes, look out. He’s battling a foot injury right now, which is worth watching.

6) Coby White, North Carolina

One of the country’s finest freshmen looks like he’ll have a lot to say this March. Somewhat overshadowed in his own state by Zion Williamson, White has grown into a quality scorer, dropping 34 on Syracuse and 28 on Clemson in back-to-back games down the stretch in the regular season. The Tar Heels are talented all over the roster, but if White can emerge as a dominant March scorer, their national championship ambitions could become very, very real.

5) Kyle Guy, Virginia

Virginia’s representation as a slow, grinding defense-first team isn’t really entirely unwarranted. However, when they need points, they do have Guy, who can score with the best of them. Fresh off dropping 29 on the NC State Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament, Guy is a 46 percent three-point shooter who is among the most dangerous in the country when he gets hot. Yes, Virginia will play how they play. If Guy is scoring at the other end, that will probably end up being enough.

4) Cassius Winston, Michigan State

Winston played beat up down the stretch, with most of his high-profile teammates injured. It hardly mattered. In three signature wins against Michigan, Winston essentially took over down the stretch each time to lead Michigan State back from behind despite the fact that the Wolverines are an excellent defensive team that knew exactly what was coming. Winston is one of the best guards in the nation and the sort of player who can carry his team when they need him most. Michigan State will go as far as he can carry them.

3) Grant Williams, Tennessee

How do you defend a 6-7 scorer averaging 19 points per game who can also step out and make the occasional three? That’s the quandary opposing defenses will deal with when they face Williams, the anchor of a talented Tennessee team. He uses his size and scoring ability brilliantly, and he’s also outstanding at getting to the free throw line and making his shots there, too. Tennessee’s March run ended far too early for their liking last season. Williams can be the player who ensures there is no quick exit this time around.

2) Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

Another dynamic forward who poses huge matchup difficulties for pretty much every team, Hachimura is a beast. He averaged 20 points per game for the Bulldogs, and it’s no coincidence that the only team that held him to a single-digit points total also happened to be the only WCC team to beat them this year in Saint Mary’s. Owner of four double-doubles and two 30-point games, Hachimura can play with the best, and will be looking to prove it this March. If he plays to his capabilities, it could be Final Four or more for Gonzaga.

1) Zion Williamson, Duke

Williamson is a transcendent college athlete, electrifying the game in ways rarely seen before. It’s no coincidence that Duke is essentially the consensus pick to win it all, with many pundits citing the simple fact that they have Zion and their opponents don’t as the reason why. Now healthy after his shoe-related injury and coming off a scorching ACC Tournament, Williamson looks primed to make the tournament his own. It’s hard to see anyone stopping Duke as long as he plays well.

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