This might not be the Year of the Big Man, but the country has produced some really good ones this year.
There are some you know – there’s one everybody knows even if they’ve never even seen him play – and some you might not. T
hey are, however, all important to get acquainted with when you’re filling out your bracket.
Zion Williamson, Duke
I feel like I don’t need to explain this one. Just spend a couple minutes watching Zion do Zion stuff.
Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga
The Bulldogs have the best frontcourt duo in the country, and it gets to be an embarrassment of riches if you factor in Killian Tillie, who has hardly played this season due to injuries. Both Hachimura and Clarke could be NBA draft lottery picks in a couple months, and they’re a big reason why the Zags once again secured a No. 1 seed and could be headed back to the title game. Clarke might be the best two-way player in the country, shooting 69 percent from the floor while swatting 11 percent of opponents’ shot attempts while he’s in the game while also being an elite rebounder with the ability to defend on the perimeter. Hachimura might be the better pro prospect with a little-used-but-effective 3-point stroke to go along with his athleticism and 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame. Together, it’s an incredibly formidable frontcourt.
Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan
The freshman from Ontario is a major reason while the Wolverines look capable of returning to the Final Four. He’s averaging 15.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. He’s not alone in the Wolverine fonrtcourt, though, getting help from 7-foot-1 junior Jon Teske, whose rebounding and shot-blocking are solid complements to Brazdeikis.
Luke Maye, North Carolina
Luke Maye wasn’t the first-team All-American type many thought possible this season, but he’s been really good for a No. 1 seed. The senior is averaging 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds. He’s got tournament experience – NCAA tournament hero experience, no less. Oh, and championship experience. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him replicate both.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
The Badger big man hasn’t been in the conversation for national player of the year for a lot of legit reasons, but his production would suggest he’s one of the country’s best players. He’s more central and critical to Wisconsin’s offense than nearly any other player for any other team nationwide, and he’s still incredibly productive and efficient. He’s a premier rebounding, a fantastic passer and assistman and a strong fundamental defender, even if his shot blocking isn’t high-level. Wisconsin’s supporting cast has been the question for much of the last two seasons – which included Wisconsin’s first missed NCAA tournament in two decades last year – but Happ is good enough to get the Badgers through tough spots. As long as he doesn’t have to shoot free throws, an area in which his percentage has plummetted from 64.3 percent as a freshman to 46.5 percent as a senior.
Cameron Jackson, Wofford
Wondering how Wofford got so much love this season? Well, they’re really good, for one, but Jackson is a huge part of that success. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Virginia native averages 14.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals and 1 block per game while shooting 58.1 percent from the floor. He’s a high-usage player and a very good rebounder that helps give the Terriers their bite.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas
This season was disappointing by the standards set by Kansas, which missed out on the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time in 14 years, but things didn’t totally crater largely because of Lawson’s excellence. The Memphis transfer averaged 19.1 points and 10.3 rebounds along with 1.7 assists per game. He was the center of everything the Jayhawks did as they lost players to suspension, injuries and a leave of absence. If Kansas is going to go on a run, the Jayhawks are going to need someone like Marcus Garrett, Devon Dotson or Quentin Grimes to outpace their regular-season production, but Lawson will be the foundation that off of which they’ll build.
Bruno Fernando, Maryland
The 6-foot-10, 240-pounder is one of the more physically imposing players in the country with the stats to back it up. He’s a high-level rebounder and a good shot blocker that figures to be a first-round pick come June. If he gets the ball around the goal, he’s probably scoring.
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
The Big Ten’s all-time career rebounder, Murphy should surpass 1,300 career boards against Louisville on Thursday. He’s averaging 11.5 boards per game this season, doing most of his damage of the defensive end with a 28.5 rebounding percentage there. He’s a capable scorer at 14.5 points per game with a shooting percentage of 48.3 percent, but it’ll be his work on the glass that’ll help the Gophers try to win their first NCAA tournament game under Richard Pitino, against his father’s former employer, no less.
Darnell Cowart, Murray State
Ja Morant deservedly gets the headlines, but if the Racers make a play for the second weekend, it wouldn’t be surpringing to see Cowart, at 6-foot-8 and nearly 300 pounds, play a big part. He’s an elite offensive rebounder at 14.5 percent, and averages 10.4 points per game. Now, I did mention Morant, so by rule we have to take a moment to watch him dunk.
Nick Muszynski, Belmont
The 6-foot-11 freshman is both an excellent passer and solid shot blocker. He’s posting 2.2 swats per game along with 2.7 assists. Add that to his 61.4 percent field goal number, and he makes a pretty strong complement to Dylan Windler.
Scottie James, Liberty
If James shoots it, it’s likely going in. As in an overwhelming likelihood. The Liberty big man is shooting 70.3 percent from the floor this season, top-15 in the country. He’s also a great rebounder, corralling 15.6 percent of his own team’s misses and 27.6 percent of his opponents’, both of which are top-25 numbers nationally.
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
The Horizon League player of the year is averaging 19.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game this season while shooting 38.4 percent from 3. The Norse’s upset chances likely hinge on how well he plays against Texas Tech.