March Madness game-changers: Players to watch in the West Region
Team basketball is a sight to behold, but when an individual player is in a zone, sometimes the best strategy is simply to get the heck out of his way and let him dominate.
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As the NCAA tournament nears, we’re identifying five players to watch in each region. Here is the West.
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G Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Williams-Goss does it all for the Bulldogs. He scores (16.9 ppg), rebounds (5.7 rpg), passes (4.8 apg) and defends (1.8 spg). Williams-Goss’ arrival has shifted Josh Perkins to more of an off-ball role, which is where he thrives; the Zags have two starters capable of getting in the lane at will and creating for others. That’s why they’re so hard to stop.
At Washington, Williams-Goss was good – but he wasn’t super efficient. That’s changed at Gonzaga. The junior is making 3s at a career-high rate (37.2 percent) and has been excellent in the restricted area; Williams-Goss is making 57.4 percent of his 2s. Gonzaga’s floor general is an all-round beast who could become a household name in the tournament.
G Melo Trimble, Maryland
There’s a reason Maryland is so good in close games – Melo Trimble is an assassin. Trimble’s late-game heroics are legendary; Terrapins fans have come to expect these kinds of shots from their best player:
Trimble has bounced back after a rough sophomore year. The junior is averaging a career-high 17 points on 44 percent shooting; he hovered around 40 percent last season. Perhaps most telling: the Terps start three freshmen (who are solid, but aren’t exactly blue-chippers) and are 24-8. That doesn’t happen without Trimble’s leadership.
F Jonathan Isaac, Florida State
Florida State is at its best when Isaac is assertive. The freshman phenom only uses 20.6 percent of the Seminoles’ possessions, which ranks fourth on the team; if FSU wants to make a deep run, that number has to rise.
Isaac is an uber-athletic 6-10 forward who's capable of guarding all five positions. He leads the Seminoles in true shooting percentage (61.2) and is knocking down half of his field goal attempts. A fair critique: Sometimes, what Isaac can do outweighs what he actually does. It’s a two-way street. Isaac could be more aggressive, but his teammates could make an effort to get him more involved. Because when JI is cooking, Florida State is a tough out.
F Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Colson represents everything that’s great about college basketball. A 6-5 center shouldn’t be able to A) play center, and B) average 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds. Colson makes up for his lack of height with an extensive array of offensive tricks – he’s one of the smartest players in America.
His 7-foot wingspan doesn’t hurt, either. In the ACC final against Duke, Colson nearly willed the Fighting Irish to victory – he scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds. An underrated aspect of Colson’s game: he’s a rock-solid defender. The junior averages 1.4 swats and is the backbone of Notre Dame’s best defense since 2011-12. What a player.
F Mike Daum, South Dakota State
In his last five games, Daum is averaging 33.8 points and 9.8 rebounds. How do you become an NCAA tournament player to watch when suiting up for a 16 seed? Post numbers like those.
A top seed has never lost to a No. 16 – that probably won’t change this year, but if Daum goes for 40 against Gonzaga, don’t be shocked. The 6-9 forward is shooting 41.6 percent from behind the arc on 5.4 attempts per game; he can score inside, outside and at the free-throw line. If ever there was a 16-1 matchup to watch, it's this one.