At this point in the season, one play in a close game will be the difference between survival and heading home. That makes the decision of who gets the basketball late in games all the more important, with those players needing to have the ability to properly dissect a defense in order to make the game-winning play.
Here are the eight players in the NCAA tournament field you want to have the ball in their hands when the game’s on the line:
1) Doug McDermott (Creighton): Averaging 26.5 points per game, McDermott’s shooting 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line. Regardless of what look a defense gives McDermott, he shoots well enough to knock down the big shot from anywhere on the floor.
2) Jabari Parker (Duke): Averaging 19.3 points per game, Parker’s shooting nearly 48% from the field for the season. He’s a very difficult matchup for teams when committed to driving to the basket, can finish through contact and knock down perimeter shots as well. If Duke needs a big play, look for Parker to have the basketball.
3) Shabazz Napier (UConn): Are there times where Napier takes shots that boggle the mind? Yes. But are there also moments where he can step forward and make the big play? Yes. Measuring Napier’s ability when the game’s on the line isn’t solely about looking at his percentages (42.3% FG, 39.0% 3PT). He’s definitely capable of making game-winning plays.
4) Nik Stauskas (Michigan): There aren’t many perimeter shooters better than Stauskas, who’s shooting 47.6% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc. And his improved ability to beat teams off the dribble has made Stauskas a tougher cover in his sophomore season. He’s definitely a player to trust in the final minutes of a tight game.
5) DeAndre Kane (Iowa State): The foul shooting (65%) leaves something to be desired, but Kane’s shooting 49.1% from the field and 39.8% from beyond the arc on the season. But Kane’s ability to not only get a shot for himself but also for his teammates (Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang chief among them) will prove valuable in close games.
6) Xavier Thames (San Diego State): When Thames struggles so do the Aztecs. But more times than not the Mountain West Player of the Year has been there to lead the way. With his ability to get into the lane Thames (he’s also a 38.7% shooter from deep) is a tough matchup for many opponents, and he’s also shooting 82.7% from the foul line.
7) T.J. Warren (N.C. State): Warren won ACC Player of the Year largely because of his ability to score despite not having a clear secondary scoring option. The sophomore isn’t a great three-point shooter but it’s all about the mid-range game and the ability to get to the rim, as Warren’s shooting 52.5% from the field.
8) Marcus Paige (North Carolina): “Second-half Marcus” has been excellent for the Tar Heels this season, averaging 17.4 points per game on a team that struggled with perimeter scoring before he took over as the team’s primary option. And in ACC play Paige averaged more than ten points per contest in the second half.