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.
Zion Williamson is changing things up in his return from his high-profile shoe blowout last month.
Williamson will be lacing up the Nike Kyrie 4 to start the ACC Tournament against Syracuse. Duke shared a photo on Twitter Thursday that shows Williamson in his new shoes.
— Duke Basketball (@DukeMBB) March 14, 2019
Williamson previously wore the Nike PG 2.5 PE, which is the Paul George shoe. He was wearing that model when his shoe tore apart in the first minute of Duke’s game against North Carolina on Feb. 20. Williamson missed the remainder of the regular season and is returning to action in the conference tournament.
The return of Zion Williamson is imminent.
Coach K said after Duke’s 79-70 loss to North Carolina on Saturday that Williamson is expected to play in the ACC Tournament. The freshman phenom is also set to participate with contact in practice on Monday.
K: Initial diagnosis on Bolden is MCL sprain. Not sure how severe. Also said Zion expected to play in ACC Tournament and take on contract in practice Monday.
— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) March 10, 2019
Williamson hurt his knee in the first minute of Duke’s loss to UNC on Feb. 20 after his shoe ripped apart. He exited the game and missed the team’s remaining five regular season games. They went 3-2 in that span and were 3-3 if you count the game against UNC where he only played a minute.
Getting Williamson back for the postseason will be a huge boost for Duke. They looked like the best team in the country with him on the court and merely a good ACC team without him.