In March Madness, certain star players emerge and capture the attention of our nation. Think of the runs that UConn made on the shoulders of Kemba Walker or Shabazz Napier, for example. In the wide-open nature of the college basketball landscape, let’s identify a couple stars that could lead their teams to the promised land!
Luka Garza has emerged as one of the best overall players in the country. Iowa’s junior center is firmly in the Wooden Award conversation and has put up an impressive 23.0 points and 10.4 rebounds over 30.7 minutes per game. Not only can he bang down low, but he forces opposing defenses to stretch beyond the three-point line, where he’s been accurate 38.2% of the time. Two of his teammates, Joe Wieskamp (38.5%, 15.1 points per contest) and CJ Frederick (46.9%, 11.1 points per game) have also been threats from the perimeter and the latter leads the entire Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage. If this team plays through Garza, who will likely be the consensus pick of the best player on the court each time out, and knocks down perimeter shots if opposing defenses collapse on him or double-team him, then expect them to be incredibly dangerous. The Hawkeyes already have five wins over ranked teams who college basketball experts pick to go far in the tournament (Texas Tech, Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers and Illinois) and added another quality win in a hostile environment at Syracuse earlier in the year.
Marquette isn’t deep enough to completely overwhelm superior opponents. However, like Iowa with Garza, every time they step on the court, they will likely have the best player on the floor on their side. Markus Howard who is a best bet to win the Wooden Award conversation and is averaging 27.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 31.2 minutes per contest. Further, he’s impressively gone 86-for-217 (39.6%) from three-point range. With a win over Villanova under their belt, Marquette also took Butler to overtime on the road and earned quality conference wins against Xavier (twice), Georgetown and DePaul in recent weeks. Keep an eye on Howard and the Golden Eagles as he will look to replicate what Dwyane Wade was able to do back in 2003 when he led Marquette to the Final Four with numerous elite performances that vaulted him into the NBA.
Star power isn’t particularly necessary in college hoops, but it’s clear that both of these squads will rely heavily on their two Wooden Award candidates.