As we near the peak of the madness this March, individual honors are getting ready to be handed out to the best of the best in the country. Here we countdown the top 10 players who had the biggest impact on not only their teams this season, but on the whole nation.
10) Justin Anderson, Virginia:
There’s no secret to the success that the Cavaliers have had this season. They win with defense, effective offense and above all, energy. Justin Anderson brings all of those pieces to the floor for UVA and is precisely the reason that he won ACC Sixth Man of the Year. Without him, it would be hard to see Virginia where they are now, winning the ACC.
9) Marcus Paige, North Carolina:
Paige has been Mr. Do It All for the Tar Heels this season, averaging 17.1 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 4.5 apg. Those are very impressive numbers for a sophomore who scored just over eight ppg last season. Paige led UNC on the 12-game winning streak that propelled them into national conversation. Paige also came up big in the big games for the Heels this season, including his masterful second half performance in UNC’s first matchup against Duke this season and dropped 35 points in a gritty overtime road win against NC State.
8) Nick Johnson, Arizona:
Johnson has been the engineer behind the train that has been the Wildcats’ steamroll of a season. He is the team’s leading scorer and is second on his team in assists while also pulling in four rebounds per contest. He has been consistently contributing all season – and while freshman sensation Aaron Gordon has been getting most of the limelight, Johnson is half the reason that the Wildcats are primed for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
7) Andrew Wiggins, Kansas:
Wiggins entered the season with monstrous expectations and for the most part, he has lived up to them. He was slightly overshadowed by other sensational freshmen in the country for a good part of the season, but quietly led the Jayhawks to yet another strong regular season. His 72 points in a two-game stretch in the Big 12 tournament prove that Wiggins can be a dominant scorer in the big moment. Wiggins’ skill set is almost unmatched by anyone else in the country and if he can continue to exhibit those skills in the big dance, he can carry the Jayhawks to North Texas.
6) Xavier Thames, San Diego State:
San Diego State has been one of those teams this year, much like Virginia, that has quietly risen to the top of the national rankings without much attention. One of the biggest reasons for this is consistent play from their best player. Thames, a senior, is averaging almost 17 ppg , three rpg, and three apg. He dropped a season high 31 points in an in-conference, overtime road victory over Utah State, proving that he can put his team on his back in the clutch. Although the Aztecs play in a weak conference, Thames and co. have quality victories against Kansas, Creighton, and New Mexico.
5) Jabari Parker, Duke:
Easily the best freshman in the country, Parker has been everything Coach K had hoped for and more. The versatile scorer can spread the floor with his perimeter shooting and finish in the paint like a power forward. The unanimous ACC Freshman of the Year is most likely a one-and-done at Duke, but the impact he’s made in his lone season will go down in Blue Devil history. Now what we have to do is wait and see if the impact Parker made on the Blue Devils will carry over into the big dance.
4) Shabazz Napier, Connecticut:
Shabazz Napier is having as strong a season as anyone in the country. He is averaging 17.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 5.0 apg. These are arguably the best-rounded numbers in the country from any player. Napier can lead the Huskies on a similar run as they had in 2011 when Kemba Walker was a senior. If Napier can manage to finish strong in the AAC tournament and win the title, the momentum they gain can launch them far into the Tournament, much like the Huskies did in 2011 after they won the Big East tournament. Napier’s Huskies have won four of their last five games. Two of those wins were against Cincinnati and one was against Memphis, both of who are ranked in the Top-20.
3) Russ Smith, Louisville:
It’s hard to believe that a defending national champion is getting so little attention from the media. Louisville has quickly risen back into on top of the national rankings and, at this point in time, is playing as well as anyone in the country. Also known as Russdiculous, Smith lived up to his nickname when he put up 42 points against Houston in the AAC Tournament. Smith has been the leader of the Cardinals from day one and is one of the most underestimated players in the country in terms of how much he does for his team game in and game out. Keep the Cardinals in mind when filling out your brackets, or else they could bust you.
2) Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati:
Some may say that Kilpatrick is too high on this list, but he is not only one of the most NBA-ready players in the country, but is a pure leader for the Bearcats. The senior led Cincinnati on a relatively quiet 15-game win streak while playing in a stingy American Athletic Conference. Because of his ability to lead by example, Kilpatrick’s senior campaign has resulted in some big wins for the Bearcats and has put his team in great position to make a run in the Tournament. Kilpatrick’s killer instinct has been in full effect all season and if he can continue his assault in the Tournament, the Bearcats can make it to North Texas.
1) Doug McDermott, Creighton:
There is honestly no debate here. McDermott’s impact on not only Creighton, but the entire college basketball landscape is unparalleled. Without him, Creighton would be nowhere near where they are now and they could very well not even be in the Big East right now. The senior, who could very well finish in the top five all-time on the NCAA scoring list, has led his team for the past four years with class and dignity and has never been in the news for the wrong reason. The Big East Player of the Year has etched his name in college basketball stone and trust me, McBuckets is the last person opposing teams will want to face in the big dance.
The 2014 college basketball season has been one for the ages. The title frontrunner is as up-in-the-air as it has ever been and that is due to the fact that so many players on so many different teams are making a tremendous impact. This was a hard list to make because of the sheer amount of talent in the nation this year. Senior leadership was a big factor that played into the ordering of this list, and as you can see from the top four players, senior leadership makes a huge difference.
Enjoy selection Sunday, everyone.