For as much talent as there is in college basketball this season, there’s even more depth. Good players reside in unlikely places.
That’s a recipe for a lot of close games. When the clock is winding down and the score is tight, there are certain players who thrive. When the lights shine brightest, so do they.
Here are seven of the most clutch players in the country.
F Kris Jenkins, Villanova
As if you needed a reminder:
Jenkins nailed one of the biggest shots in college basketball history less than a year ago, and he has the opportunity to enhance his March Madness folk hero status this season. Jenkins isn’t a shot-creator, but he’s as good of a spot-up option as there is.
The senior has struggled mightily from the floor this season – he’s shooting less than 40 percent – but he’s still making 39.1 percent of his 3s on a whopping seven attempts per game. To say he must be accounted for during crunch time is an understatement.
G Malik Monk, Kentucky
Pragmatic or not (an argument for a different day), late-game offense often comes down to isolation. And there is no better isolation scorer in college hoops than Monk.
Monk has singlehandedly carried Kentucky, not exactly a team devoid of talent, to wins on multiple occasions this year. He had 47 points against North Carolina, including multiple late daggers. With De’Aaron Fox injured against Georgia, he dropped 37 in an overtime thriller.
Monk should probably drive to the basket more – he’s an incredible athlete who doesn’t use his explosiveness enough – but he’s in love with his jumper, and his jumper happens to be gorgeous. Monk can stop on a dime, rise and fire from anywhere on the court; the fact that he’s making 48.7 percent of his shot attempts is absurd when you factor in the degree of difficulty.
The season is winding down, but it feels like we haven’t seen the last of Monk’s crunch time heroics just yet.
G Melo Trimble, Maryland
Maryland has won four games this season by three points or less, and much of that credit goes to its point guard. Trimble’s game elevates in the second half, and in a down Big Ten year, the Terrapins are in the mix for a conference crown.
Trimble’s shot comes and goes, but he’s still a threat to rain from deep in the waning moments. He can beat you in multiple ways. Last season in Madison, he pulled up from distance to sink the Badgers’ hopes:
The willingness to pull up makes his dribble-penetration game much harder to stop. The clip below takes place at the end of the first half, but it illustrates just how many ways Trimble can attack you; he splits the screen and completes the half with a nifty inside finish:
Trimble is a three-dimensional scorer, and though he battles inconsistency, he locks in at the end of games. Maryland has needed him to do just that.
F Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Brooks is a powerhouse. The 6-7, 225-pounder is a matchup nightmare for opponents; he’s too big and strong for most wings, but too quick and shifty for most bigs.
He’s also a much better shooter as a junior. Brooks is making 37.5 percent of his 3s; he never topped 34 percent previously. Young Brooks takes this shot but probably doesn’t make it. 2016-17 Brooks drains it:
Brooks has quietly been awesome this season despite similar scoring totals to his career mark. As a junior, he’s averaging 25.6 points per 40 minutes; he scored 20.4 points per 40 minutes as a sophomore. Brooks is a bulldozer, but he can embarrass you 25 feet away from the goal. That’s a recipe for a terrific crunch time scorer.
G Frank Mason, Kansas
You hear common adjectives to describe Mason. Among them: gritty. Tough. Hard-nosed.
He’s also just plain fast. Mason can take just about anyone off the dribble, and he’s transformed into a knockdown shooter; the senior is canning 51.9 percent of his 3s. A player with that combination of quickness and shooting is going to be able to create some high-quality looks.
Even if Mason doesn’t take the final shot, Kansas still wants the ball in his hands. He’s averaging 5.1 assists per game, and the Jayhawks surround him with shooters and playmakers. Mason is developing a killer stepback game, and it would take a player of equal agility but superior size to contain him one-on-one. Few guys like that exist, and it’s why Mason is so difficult late in games.
G Luke Kennard, Duke
Most of these guys have something in common: they’re versatile with the ball in their hands. Kennard may be the most versatile of them all.
Pegged as a standstill shooter coming into Duke, Kennard has worked hard to improve the other facets of his game. It’s worked. Kennard is shooting almost 46 percent from 3-point range, but he’s lethal off the bounce; the sophomore owns a nifty array of floaters, scoops and pull-ups inside that have made him impossible to guard.
The Wake Forest game was a prime example. Kennard went 10-for-10 in the second half, including the game-winner. Duke has no shortage of talent, but in terms of college basketball effectiveness, Kennard tops the list.
G Josh Hart, Villanova
One of the reasons why Villanova is so good: it has two guys on this list. The game almost looks too easy for Hart at this point, who is averaging a career-high 18.9 points and is as efficient as usual.
Hart plays very low to the ground, and he always wins the leverage battle. He uses ball-screens as well as anyone in the country; Hart will ditch the pick at the last second and bolt to the hole for a layup when you least expect it. He’s shooting 40.3 percent from distance, and there aren’t really any weaknesses in his game besides not being a super-explosive athlete. When Villanova goes cold, Hart is usually there to save the day.