Last year, seniors from Villanova (Ryan Arcidiacono), North Carolina (Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson), Oklahoma (Buddy Hield) and Syracuse (Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije) carried their respective teams to the Final Four. There is significantly less senior depth in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, but we’ve identified 10 players who could put a team on their back and make a run to Phoenix.
Josh Hart, SG, Villanova
Became a star last year, helping lead Villanova to the title; has upped his game this year (18.7 ppg, 40 percent on 3-pointers). Last year the Wildcats had three legit scorers and a post presence in Ochefu; this year they don’t have a low-post scorer but Brunson and Bridges have filled Arcidiacono’s void. Hart’s the constant – gave Notre Dame 37 points, hit 6 three-pointers vs Wake Forest, and the last time he scored in single digits was the 1st game of last year’s tournament.
Frank Mason, PG, Kansas
Might be the National Player of the Year. Averaging 20.5 ppg while shooting an incredible 49 percent on 3-pointers. The 3-year starter racked up 157 assists against just 77 turnovers this season, and who can forget how clutch Mason was against Duke? We know guards rule in March. Is it Mason’s turn? Two years ago, Wichita State bounced the Jayhawks. Last year, it was Villanova in the regional final.
Nigel Hayes & Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin:
It’s been a bizarre season for the Badgers, who were 21-3 in early February, and looking like a Final 4 team. But they’ve lost five of seven heading into the Big 10 tournament. Nevertheless, can Hayes turn into the confident force he was two years ago playing in the shadows of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker? Koenig leads the team in scoring, but against UNC and Purdue (both losses) he was a combined 4-for-21 and scored a total of 11 points. The team’s best player is Ethan Happ; their most important players are Hayes and Koenig.
Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State:
The Cyclones won a couple games in the tournament last year, but Morris was thoroughly outplayed by Virginia’s backcourt in a Sweet 16 loss. The good news this year: Morris (16.2 ppg, 6.2 apg) is an All-American, has a pro future (if not the NBA, then definitely overseas) and the Cyclones did win at Kansas and at home against Baylor and Oklahoma State. The bad news? Iowa State probably needs a win in the Big 12 tournament to avoid the dreaded 8/9 seed and an early date with a #1 seed (like UCLA, Arizona or North Carolina).
JeQuan Lewis & Mo Alie-Cox, VCU:
Coach Shaka Smart has moved on, the Rams haven’t gotten out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2011, and in the non-conference schedule this year, VCU lost to the three best teams it faced (Baylor, Illinois, Georgia Tech). Still, VCU is a Top 40 team defensively, and Lewis leads the team in scoring and is their most prolific 3-point shooter, and Cox is one of the most physically-imposing enforcers in college basketball. He reminds me of Ben Wallace.
London Perrantes, PG, Virginia
He’s been part of teams that suffered heartbreaking March losses the last three years: By two to Michigan State, then by six to the Spartans, and last year there was the epic collapse against Syracuse in the regional final. Is this the year they finally break through? Perrantes (12.8 ppg, 38 percent on 3-pointers) is the lone senior on a young team that is tops in the country defensively, and they’ve struggled big-time in close games (1-3 in games determined by 3 points or less, and 0-3 in overtime).
Seth Allen & Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech
Allen is a tremendous individual talent, and has had a nice career since transferring from Maryland. Last year he shot 28 percent from deep; this year, he’s up to 46 percent. He’s got less of a scoring burden because the Hokies have great balance (five players averaging in double figures). LeDay leads them in scoring (15.6 ppg) and he too, has flourished since transferring (first two years at USF). The Hokies are a dangerous offensive team, with home wins over Duke and Virginia. But they have lost four games by 15+ (NC State, FSU, UNC, and Virginia, all on the road).