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#pounditWednesday, September 27, 2023

10 players who could have big conference tournament performances

Bonzie Colson

Though several teams have already punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament, the bulk of the major conference tournaments will be played this week. That opens the door for a number of players to really put their stamp on the tournament they’re in. Those players could include ones who have something to prove or star players on team sthat desperately need a win or two to get themselves off the bubble.

Here are ten players who may be particularly motivated to put up strong showings in their conference tournament this week.

1) Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame

Colson and his Notre Dame team both have a lot to prove. Colson missed 15 games with a broken foot, and it was a huge blow to the Irish. They went 6-9 without him, a sharp contrast to the 12-4 record they posted with him in the lineup. One of the nation’s best players, Colson needs to put in a big-time shift in the tournament to fully secure Notre Dame’s at-large spot. Right now, the Irish sit firmly on the bubble and need to win at least one game and probably two. Colson will be motivated to take them there.

2) Trae Young, Oklahoma

The Trae Young hype machine broke down somewhere around the start of the Big 12 campaign, and he went from Player of the Year favorite to a guy scrapping to secure his team’s spot in the NCAA Tournament. What better way to put an exclamation point on his season than a big performance in the Big 12 tournament? Young can take over any game but struggled down the stretch by his standards, averaging 18 points per game over his last four. It’s put-up or shut-up time for him.

3) DeAndre Ayton, Arizona

It would be fair to say that the tail-end of Ayton’s regular season was a bit distraction-filled. He’s in the clear for now, though, and don’t be surprised if he turns it around and posts a series of dominant performances in the Pac-12 tournament. He was strong down the stretch, even after the allegations surfaced, capping off his regular season with 26 points and 20 rebounds against USC. Scrutiny will increase during the conference tournament. Ayton may well respond with more big performances.

4) Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Evans is another player dealing with an injury, having hurt his toe a couple weeks back. A series of dreadful performances followed, but the Texas Tech star looked to be back to normal with a 23-point performance in the season finale against TCU. That may set the stage for a dynamic performance in the Big 12 Tournament. Even though the Red Raiders are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament, Evans will want to get himself back to his consistent best ahead of the Big Dance.

5) Michael Porter Jr., Missouri

Will he play? He hasn’t ruled it out, and many indications are that Missouri’s star freshman — who has missed virtually the entire season — will give it a go in the SEC Tournament. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect Porter to come in and play at a high level despite the rust he’ll undoubtedly be dealing with, but he was one of the most hyped players in the nation before the season for a reason. He may well take advantage of his last chance at the collegiate level to show us why.

6) Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year actually has much to play for as Kansas embarks on their tournament journey. The Jayhawks will want to do everything they can to try to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Graham’s play will be a huge factor in whether they manage it. It may well require a tournament victory to seal that. Graham, who averaged 18.4 points and 6.6 assists per game in February, will want to put the team on his back.

7) Collin Sexton, Alabama

Alabama went and lost their last five games of the regular season, putting their tournament hopes in serious doubt. They’ll look to Sexton to try to lift them out of that malaise, win a couple SEC Tournament games, and put them more firmly in the field. Even in those losses, Sexton was fairly effective and averaged 17.8 points per game. The Crimson Tide will be looking for him to raise his game to another level in these more meaningful games, though, as their season may well depend on it.

8) Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

Villanova got a lot of the publicity and talk about No. 1 seeds, but it was Xavier who won the Big East’s regular season title. Bluiett, a senior, was a big reason why. He had a couple bad games down the stretch but is still averaging 22 points per game in his last five, coming into this tournament on a high. Xavier is potentially in line for a No. 1 seed, but it may be vital for them to get a chance to meet Villanova for a third time this season — a team they have not won against.

9) Caleb Martin, Nevada

You may not have heard of Martin, but the Mountain West tournament will give him the chance to introduce himself to a wider audience. The NC State transfer averaged 19.5 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for one of the nation’s best mid-majors. The Wolfpack will probably safely reach the tournament no matter what happens here, but they’ll want to win another title, and Martin will be out to show off ahead of the Big Dance.

10) Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure

The Bonnies are coming into the Atlantic 10 Tournament on a roll, winners of 12 consecutive games. Star guard Adams is a big reason why. He has averaged 22.4 points and 5.8 assists per game over that span. That includes back-to-back 40-point games at the beginning of February. He can score with the best of them, and a win or two in the conference tournament should safely secure St. Bonaventure’s spot in the Big Dance — where Adams could legitimately lead the team to an upset or two.


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