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Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
13.7 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.6 BPG, 74.8 FG%
Throughout his time with Kansas, Azubuike has been a difference-maker when healthy. And this year (knock on wood) he hasn’t missed a single game.
“Dok” has always been an efficient finisher in the paint, shooting nearly 75 percent from the field in his career. But this year, he has blossomed into a more insatiable rebounder and shot-blocker while also growing more disciplined in the fouls department.
Let’s just hope for the sake of heart health in Kansas that there’s no point in the NCAA tournament where he needs to attempt clutch free throws.
Vernon Carey Jr., Duke
17.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.6 BPG
Five years ago, Jahlil Okafor averaged 23.0 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 40 minutes and spent the entire season as one of the top candidates for the various NPOY awards.
This year, Carey is averaging 28.6 points, 14.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 40 minutes, yet people keep ignoring him while lamenting the lack of star power in the game today.
This dude has been a force of nature as Duke’s only legitimate post presence on offense, but it has been surprisingly overlooked due to some combination of limited minutes (24.9 per game) and Tre Jones and Cassius Stanley frequently stealing the spotlight. But if he can stay out of foul trouble, the Blue Devils could absolutely ride Carey to the Final Four.
Malachi Flynn, San Diego State
17.6 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 37.3 3P%
Denying Flynn a spot on the first team was the most painful decision throughout this entire process, because this man essentially found water in a desert, transferring to San Diego State and infusing that team with legitimate offense for the first time in decades.
Flynn is leading the two-loss Aztecs in points, assists and steals, and the 6’1″ point guard ranks among the team’s top rebounders just for good measure. And he has saved his best efforts for the biggest games. In SDSU’s seven “Tier A” games on KenPom, Flynn averaged 23.1 points.
San Diego State is going to be a popular pick for an early exit just because people aren’t used to seeing this team near the top of the polls and probably didn’t carve out much time to watch the Aztecs play this season. But with Flynn running the show, they have championship potential.
Myles Powell, Seton Hall
21.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
Efficiency has not been Powell’s strong suit this season. He’s shooting below 40 percent from the field and barely 30 percent from three-point range, and his scoring average has dropped from last year’s despite an increase in shots taken per game.
But it still anecdotally feels like he’s one of the most clutch players in the country.
Missed would-be-game-winning threes at the end of two-point losses to Oregon and Villanova would suggest otherwise, but between the 37-point game against Michigan State—less than a week after suffering what was believed to be a serious ankle injury—and his incredible play while leading Seton Hall to an 8-0 start in Big East play, Powell became larger than his stats.
Doesn’t hurt matters that he has carried Seton Hall to what will certainly be its first top-five seed in the NCAA tournament since 1993.
Jalen Smith, Maryland
15.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 36.8 3P%
There are total packages, and then there’s Jalen “Stick” Smith.
Not only is Maryland’s big man one of 14 players averaging at least 15 points and 10 rebounds this season, but he is also accounting for better than two blocks and one made three-pointer per game.
If he can remain above those thresholds, he will join Yale’s Greg Mangano (2010-11) as the only players in the past 15 seasons with averages of 15, 10, two and one, respectively. And Smith has done it against arguably the deepest conference ever, while Yale faced one KenPom Top 60 opponent in that entire season.
Smith has recorded a double-double in 12 of his last 13 games and blocked at least one shot in each of those contests. If it weren’t for Luka Garza running away with Big Ten POY, you would’ve heard a lot more about this star on a daily basis.