March Madness is the climax of college basketball season, and drama is embedded in the culture of the sport. Clutch opportunities permeate from November through April.With so many great teams across the country, games are bound to come down to the final seconds. That’s where heroes are born. A last-second make or a miss can be the difference between a national championship and a heartbreaking loss.
With that in mind, here are six returning players you’d want to have the ball with the game hanging in the balance.
Kris Jenkins, Villanova
Many of you read the second paragraph and immediately associated it with Jenkins. And for good reason. In the biggest possible moment, ‘The Big Ticket’ came through for Villanova.
As you’ll see, Jenkins is a different type of player than everyone else on this list. Generally, a ball-dominant guard capable of creating hit own shot will take the final one.
But dynamic spot-up options (or in Jenkins’ case, trailers) are extremely valuable, as well. Pay too much attention to the ball-handler, and you’re toast. If Jalen Brunson or Josh Hart has the ball with the clock ticking down in a close game this season, chances are, the defense isn’t going to help off of Jenkins.
Grayson Allen, Duke
Allen is fearless, and he’s also a multi-dimensional offensive player. That combination works in crunch time.
One-trick ponies struggle in the clutch. The opposing defense is 100 percent locked in; scoring becomes harder when 10 eyeballs are locked in on you. That’s why you want Allen taking the final shot.
He’s a fantastic scorer (21.6 points per game last season), can pull up from 3 (41.7 percent from deep last year) and perhaps most importantly, lives at the free-throw line. Allen averaged seven free-throw attempts per game last season, and in tight games, he embraces contact.
Stepping up to the foul-line in a close game takes courage. Not everyone wants that kind of burden.
Allen does. And he shoots a cool 83.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Koenig has a jitterbug quality to his game that makes him extremely difficult to stop. And like everyone else on this list, he has a knack for coming through in the clutch.
The degree of difficulty on that shot is just absurd. Koenig isn’t the best shot-creating point guard in America, but he improved in that category as last season wore on. Duck under a screen, and Koenig isn’t afraid to launch it from deep. Fall a sleep for a second, and Koenig can blow by you.
With Koenig, you must defend the shot, the drive and the pass. He’s also played in several big games and shined in them. For those reasons, Wisconsin fans have to feel good when the ball is in Koenig’s hands in a tight bout.
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Speaking of Big Ten point guards, you can’t forget about Trimble. Koenig and the Badgers certainly haven’t.
Trimble may not have Koenig’s big game experience, be he’s probably the best returning ball-screen guard in the country. The shoot, dribble, pass threat applies to Trimble, and truth be told, he’s probably college basketball’s gold standard in that area.
The Maryland point guard’s consistency needs to improve, but the talent and mindset are there. With a diminished returning supporting cast, Trimble is going to carry a heavy offensive load in 2016-17. It’s going to be a heck of a ride, and perhaps he’ll hit a buzzer-beater or two along the way.
Bryce Alford, UCLA
Alford isn’t on Trimble, Koenig or Allen’s level as an overall player. But in the final minute of the game, is there anyone better?
With Russell Westbrook in attendance, Alford hit a dagger against archrival Arizona. He followed that up with a clutch 3 in the final minute against Arizona State.
In the first 39 minutes of a game, Alford is just another guy. In the last minute, a switch flips. And it’s nothing short of awesome.
Maurice Watson, Creighton
When off-ball movement stalls, it’s great to have a guy who can break down defenses on his own. There might not be a better combination of speed and ball-handling in the nation than Watson.
Creighton is due for a bounce back year in 2016-17, and its point guard is the biggest reason why. Watson averaged 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per game last season; Big East point guards had a tough time keeping him out of the paint.
Watson doesn’t have the signature clutch moments that some of the guys above do, but he has all the requisite skills to make his mark this season. Don’t be surprised if Watson leads Creighton to the NCAA tournament as a senior.