Top 5 players to watch out for in the 2022 NCAA March Madness tournament
Elite talent abounds in the NCAA Tournament. When the best teams and players in college basketball collide, some will rise to the occasion and put on a show for everyone tuning in to March Madness.
In the NCAA Tournament, there are two things that create magical moments: sleepers pulling off upsets and star players putting on classics. The craziness of March Madness means that both occur often.
Many brackets will fall in the first few days of the tournament due to the outstanding performances of sleepers and stars. Stars will become increasingly more important as the tournament progresses because they will need to take over games to help their teams win.
These five players have the ability to put the team on their back offensively, defensively, or both. They will also all be names to watch in the 2022 NBA draft.
#5 NCAA Tournament: Keegan Murray - Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa Hawkeyes are a team with national championship ambitions and will need their star player to lead the way. Keegan Murray is a potential top-five pick in the draft, but his current focus is on excelling for 16th-ranked Iowa (26-9).
Murray is one of the best scorers in the country at 23.6 points per game (fourth in college basketball and the highest scoring average in the NCAA tournament). Fittingly, Iowa is also fourth in the country in scoring average.
Murray will need to be one of the most complete players in college basketball for Iowa to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980. Iowa's offense is elite, but he and his teammates will need to play great defense to achieve their goals. Still, Murray will put on an offensive show for as long as he plays
#4 NCAA Tournament: Jalen Duren - Memphis Tigers
One of the biggest underachievers this season outside of the Michigan Wolverines are the Memphis Tigers. They began the season ranked 12th only to finish unranked with a ninth-seed in their bracket. Still, the talented roster has a lot of potential.
Jalen Duren is pivotal to the hopes of Memphis (21-10). He is one of the best pure athletes in the tournament and a likely top-10 draft pick. Comparisons to a young Dwight Howard highlight the type of athlete Duren is.
Always a potential highlight reel, Duren must use his athleticism on both ends to spur Memphis. The possible return of teammate Emoni Bates will help lighten the load and allow Duren to do more of what he does best.
One component that makes Duren even more of a must-watch is Memphis' region. Many of the nation's best frontcourts are in the West, including Gonzaga, Duke and Texas Tech.
#3 NCAA Tournament: Walker Kessler - Auburn Tigers
The eighth-ranked Auburn Tigers (27-5) are legitimate title contenders because of the combination of Jabari Smith Jr. and Walker Kessler. While Smith is the better offensive player and a potential No. 1 draft pick, Kessler is the team's defensive stalwart.
Kessler has some ridiculous stat lines. He's the nation's only player with multiple triple-doubles, all of which came with blocks besides points and rebounds. Kessler is second nationally in blocks per game and total blocks. He is one of two players averaging more than four per game, but the other is not in the tournament.
Kessler is a Naismith Men's Defensive Player of the Year finalist because of his elite shot-blocking and rebounding. During the early rounds, Kessler is likely to face teams that can do nothing about his defensive prowess. He will be able to win games almost single-handedly.
If Auburn finds itself in the Elite Eight for the second time since 2019, Kessler's defense and Smith's offense will be vital. Regardless, Kessler will be hosting a block party watch party in any game.
#2 NCAA Tournament: Oscar Tshiebwe - Kentucky Wildcats
The Kentucky Wildcats' Oscar Tshiebwe may not lead the nation in triple-doubles like Walker Kessler, but he does lead in double-doubles with 27. Tshiebwe is one of the nation's elite big men and will try to use his size to take seventh-ranked Kentucky (26-7) to its ninth national championship.
Tshiebwe is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate like Kessler, while also a Naismith Player of the Year finalist.
Tshiebwe will need to be the player Dick Vitale believes him to be. Kentucky is at its best when Tshiebwe performs well on both ends as he creates space on offense and erases space on defense.
Many have UK as the favorites to win the East.
#1 NCAA Tournament: Chet Holmgren - Gonzaga Bulldogs
When the Gonzaga Bulldogs finished as national runners-up last year, many of their players were expected to return to run it back in 2022. Despite some departures, the Bulldogs are mostly the same team. While they lost a first-round draft pick, they added Chet Holmgren, the top prep prospect and the possible No. 1 NBA draft pick.
Holmgren will have the weight of the world on his shoulders. Anything short of a national championship will be a failure. The road to another national championship game will not be easy, as many great teams are in Gonzaga's bracket. In fact, there's a potential second-round matchup against Jalen Duren.
Holmgren is one of the best players in the country on both ends, but he faces astronomical expectations in the tournament. But he will not have to do it alone. Andrew Nembhard and Drew Timme will be alongside him and Mark Few is one of the best coaches in the tournament.
If Holmgren can live up to expectations, the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-3) will be cutting down the nets at the end of the tournament.