Kemba Walker had one of the most magical runs in college basketball history. Seriously, if you didn’t watch it live, just watch this.
Big shot after big shot, carrying a mediocre team to glory as UConn won the 2011 national title. Ever since watching that, I always pick who I think has this year’s Kemba Walker. Every year, I’m wrong. Why do I keep doing it? Because Kemba sits on a throne for me. He embodies what I think March Madness is about. 19-year-old kids becoming legends right before our eyes.
Every year, I gamble on the fairy tale that Kemba created and every year I’m wrong. This strategy has not worked for me and I have lost a lot of money in my bracket pools, but I am a man of habit and I’m not going to change now. Here are the players I think can carry their teams to glory if the stars align.
Missed the cut: Kevin Knox (Kentucky), Miles Bridges (Michigan St), Marvin Bagley (Duke)
Trae Young, PG – Oklahoma
Do not, I repeat do not, pick Oklahoma to do anything in this tournament. But, in the spirit of why I’m writing this, Young needs to be mentioned. He was the country’s best player for two months. He still leads the country in points and assists per game (27.4 and 8.8). He was unstoppable, and he was must see TV, but he hasn’t been the same since the beginning of February when they lost to West Virginia and Texas Tech. There’s a 5 percent chance he makes a lot of people look stupid, gets hot, and carries this team to the Final Four, but there’s a 95 percent chance they don’t make it to the Sweet 16 because they don’t belong in this tournament. Seriously, the team around him stinks. Regardless, I’m tuning in to see Young’s best Kemba/Curry impersonation, because if he gets hot, then he becomes the unstoppable force looking for his immovable object.
Deandre Ayton, C – Arizona
Ayton will be the first or second pick in the NBA draft and he had a two phenomenal games to finish out the PAC-12 tournament. Ayton is the most skilled and polished big man since Greg Oden, and we saw what Oden did in his only year at Ohio State when they lost to Florida in the championship game. Skilled big guys can be a matchup nightmare in the tournament, but in Ayton’s case, there’s a very real chance that teams throw doubles at him all game and his supporting cast won’t be able to win games. Allonzo Trier, their second best player, hasn’t been at his best since he came back from his suspension. If they come up against another team with good bigs or a good game plan, they might be bounced early. If Ayton plays his game, that won’t matter.
Michael Porter Jr., F – Missouri
Porter Jr. is the most interesting guy in the tourney. He has been sidelined for most of the season due to back surgery and has only been back for one game. He’s played twice this year, which in comparison, makes Kyrie Irving look like a super senior in his time at Duke. Porter was the hottest prospect in the country coming into this year and has the potential to be a great NBA scorer. If he’s anywhere close to 100 percent, he could lead a decent Missouri team on a deep run. However, the more likely scenario is that he’s rusty and they get bounced by 1 seed Xavier in the second round.
Collin Sexton, PG – Alabama
Sexton and Alabama are the closest thing we have to Kemba and UConn. A good defensive team with a stud running the point. Sexton was hot against Auburn in the SEC tournament, and a few more performances like that could see Alabama landing in the Final Four. My biggest concern with Sexton is that his shooting has only shown flashes and that his great SEC tournament wasn’t enough to get them to the title game. If they can’t get it together to beat Kentucky when he has a good game, how are they going to make it past Villanova in the second round? Sexton has the talent, but I’m not sure Alabama has enough around him if he starts slow or they need to start running and gunning. Also, I hate Alabama so I have them losing in the first round, but I digress.
My pick: Arizona
Arizona has a tough bracket (hellloooooo Kentucky and Virginia) and I’m going to look so stupid if they get bounced in the second round. But, anyone who watched Ayton in the Pac-12 tournament knows he’s the man to do it. Arizona is motivated after the FBI scandal and Ayton is playing for the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. It’s rare to see big men in this day and age carry a team a la Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Patrick Ewing, or Greg Oden, but I believe in Ayton and Sean Miller. If Ayton pulls this off, it will be one of the most impressive runs in NCAA history and will put him on the same throne that Kemba sits on in my mind.