We’ve seen it before. A non-favorite comes out of nowhere to win it all, led by a superstar player who carries his team on his shoulders. Danny Manning did it for Kansas in 1988. Kemba Walker repeated the feat for UConn in 2011.
Below are 10 players who can lead teams that are not expected to play deep into March to glory:
Soph. G James Bouknight, No. 7 Connecticut
UConn lost three games all year — twice to Creighton and once to a healthy Villanova — when Bouknight was on the floor. The 6-foot-5 Brooklyn guard is an athletic marvel with the poise and basketball IQ of a senior. He could be a top-10 draft pick.
Fr. G Cade Cunningham, No. 4 Oklahoma State
The projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft has a blindingly bright future. His present could be just as impressive. When you think of one player capable of carrying his team to a title, it starts with the 6-8 point guard who does a little bit of everything for the Cowboys.
Sr. G Chris Duarte, No. 7 Oregon
A big guard who shoots 43 percent from deep and 52.4 percent overall, the former junior college star scores at an efficiently high level. He rebounds, defends and distributes, too. An under-the-radar superstar.
Jr. G Quentin Grimes, No. 2 Houston
Grimes and the second-seeded Cougars will be dismissed because of their conference and thin resumé. The Kansas transfer, however, is as good a lead guard as there is, a lights-out 3-point shooter and improved rebounder who averages 18.0 points and 6.0 boards per game.
Sr. F Cameron Krutwig, No. 8 Loyola-Chicago
He’s not an athletic specimen like many of the players on the list. But the physical and fundamentally sound 6-9 forward has already proven he can win in March — Krutwig was a starter on the Loyola Final Four team in 2018. He is the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year and is the backbone to the Ramblers’ defense that is ranked first in efficiency.
Fr. F Evan Mobley, No. 6 USC
A likely top-five pick in the draft, the 7-foot one-and-done freshman is arguably the premier rim-protector in the tournament. But that’s just one of the reasons he is such a coveted prospect. Mobley scores and rebounds at an elite level, and has shown 3-point range, too.
Fr. G Cameron Thomas, No. 8 LSU
No freshman in the country — not even Cunningham or Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs — scores quite like Thomas. He averaged 22.6 points per game and lives at the free-throw line, getting there an average of 7.4 times per game. The opponent doesn’t matter: Thomas lit up Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama and Texas Tech.
Jr. F Trevion Williams, No. 6 Purdue
He’s big, strong and skilled, a 52.7 percent shooter from the field who has made strides every season for the Boilermakers. The 6-10, 265-pound Williams’ scoring numbers didn’t just increase this year, his assists and rebounds did, too.
Sr. F Moses Wright, No. 8 Georgia Tech
The 6-9 Wright is an example of what hard work and patience can do. He went from a lightly used reserve as a freshman to being named the ACC Player of the Year as a senior, a force on the offensive glass now capable of sinking 3-pointers and even making plays for others.
Jr. G Marcus Zegarowski, No. 5 Creighton
The Big East Preseason Player of the Year fell short of incredibly high expectations. But he remains one of the best point guards in the country, able to take over a game with his potent jump shot or by setting up Creighton’s vast array of shooters. Don’t count out a March star turn.