10. Tyus Jones — Freshman
This was just last year so you shouldn’t have to think too far back. Jones has hardly played for the T-Wolves this season, but undersized guards are on the up in the NBA. Based on what Jones did in the tournament last season, there’s certainly still hope for him. After averaging 13 points per game for the tournament, Jones exploded for a game-high 23 points against Wisconsin in the National Championship and hit two crucial shots from downtown to clinch the title.
9. Shabazz Napier — Senior
Shabazz dominated a really weird 2014 tournament that saw 7-seed UCONN defeat 8-seed Kentucky in the finals. Like Jones, he’s yet to make his mark in the league, but he owned March in his final season of college hoops. After playing a backup role to Kemba Walker (who we’ll get to), ‘Bazz did his best Kemba impression in 2014 and got the same results. Napier dropped 22 points in the title game to go with six boards, three assists and three steals to defeat a Kentucky squad who would see it’s entire starting lineup go on to play in the NBA.
8. Anthony Davis — Freshman
Davis is the most unique player on this list because he dominated college hoops without scoring. His talented Kentucky team had plenty of scoring options around him while “The Brow” did all the dirty work. AD scored six points in the championship game against Kansas, and I remember sitting there thinking, “Imagine how dominant this kid would be if he tried to score?” Obviously, Kentucky won it all, and Davis did pretty well outside of his six points — adding 15 rebounds, five assists, six blocks and three steals. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Davis blocked or altered 18.2% of Kentucky’s opponents attempted 2-point field goals in the entire tournament.
7. Andre Miller — Junior
First of all, yes, Miller is still in the league. Most of you probably forget back in 1998 when Andre led his Utah squad to an upset of overall top-ranked Arizona in the Elite Eight. Miller dropped a convincing triple-double on Mike Bibby and Jason Terry’s Wildcats in a blowout victory — 18 points, 13 rebounds, 14 helpers.
6. Nick Collison — Senior
People forget how good Collison was in college. Collison carried the Jayhawks to the National Championship game, specifically in the Sweet Sixteen against Duke when he went for 33 points, 19 rebounds, four assists and three blocks while playing the entire contest. Even though Kansas fell short to Carmelo Anthony’s Orange, Collison still had a great individual title game with 19 points and hauled in another 21 boards.
5. Joakim Noah/Corey Brewer – Sophomores
C, SF (Florida)
Noah and Brewer have to be on this list simply for the fact they went back-to-back. This never happens. Players these days usually will just jump to the league, but from time to time someone will stay in school to try and repeat a championship or just in hopes of getting their first one. It never works out. Honorable mention to Al Horford here (who turned out to be the best NBA player of the bunch but didn’t play as well on the big stage in college). All three of these guys not only won it and returned to school, but successfully achieved their goal again.
4. Kemba Walker — Junior
This was truly an insane run by Walker. After dominating the Big East tournament with a slew of 30-point games and a crazy buzzer beater against Pittsburgh, Kemba carried his 3-seeded Huskies confidently into the big dace. Walker only had 16 points and nine rebounds in a win over Butler in the title game, but he was remarkable along the way — posting a 33 point game, a 12 assist game, a near triple-double and advancing past Kawhi Leonard’s team in the Sweet Sixteen.
3. Dwyane Wade — Junior
Wade was spectacular in his 2003 tournament run, taking Marquette to the Final Four against all odds. Before bowing out to Nick Collison’s Kansas team, Wade torched the heavily favored Kentucky Wildcats for 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Although we were robbed of seeing Wade and ‘Melo square off for the championship, this tournament run for Wade was the single moment you can point back to and identify when he became a sure-thing superstar.
2. Stephen Curry — Sophomore
Many remember Steph dominating the tournament then entering the draft, but that’s not quite how it happened. Steph’s magical run to the Elite Eight came in his sophomore season while playing SG, then he returned for another season to work on his PG skills before turning pro. Curry’s 2008 cinderella run began with 40-points in an upset of Gonzaga, including 30 second half points on 8-for-10 shooting from downtown — something we’ve grown used to today. Curry did it again vs. Georgetown in the next round, coming back from 17 down to score 25 of his 30 points in the second half in another stunning victory. Steph wasn’t done yet. Next it was another 30 points in a blowout of Wisconsin before finally falling short to eventual champion Kansas.
1. Carmelo Anthony — Freshman
This was really the first time we ever saw a freshman sensation like this power his team to a championship in the modern era. ‘Melo is credited by many as the player that changed the tournament forever. Anthony led ‘Cuse all the way to the National Championship against heavily favored Kansas behind his 33 points and 14 boards against Texas in the Final Four. Although he didn’t shoot particularly well in the title game, Carmelo’s dominance continued as he nearly dropped a triple-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven dimes before cutting down the nets.
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