Oftentimes, a team’s most important player isn’t necessarily their best player. While a team’s best player can sometimes carry them to victory, there are some whose play is an important barometer of how their team goes for one reason or another and not necessarily how good an overall player they are.
It’s no accident that for many teams, a point guard fits the bill. The point guard position is hugely important in basketball and especially in college. Many a good team with an elite wing or big man has been slowed by a point guard that couldn’t lead the team to the promised land, and likewise many teams have had a point guard emerge unexpectedly and lead them to greater heights than first imagined. That said, many of the players who made this list don’t play the point.
So with that in mind, here is one take on the most important players in America.
JerShon Cobb, Jr. G, Northwestern There will be a rust factor as he sat out last season for academics. But if Northwestern is going to finally get over the hump in Chris Collins’ first season, Cobb has to be that solid complement to Drew Crawford on the perimeter that he’s capable of.
DeAndre Daniels, Jr. F, Connecticut The Huskies are set on the perimeter with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright leading the way. Daniels is once again the X-factor as someone who is certainly talented but doesn’t always have the confidence that he can be a big-time player.
Kris Dunn, So. G, Providence The Friars have a lot returning, starting with Big East scoring champ Bryce Cotton. The biggest loss is Vincent Council, and while Dunn showed he can be a stud defender, he’ll need to be ready to run the show as well as he’s capable of for the Friars to be an NCAA Tournament team.
Montrezl Harrell, So. F, Louisville With an expanded role, he’s certainly primed to break out this season, but with that will come responsibility. He takes over in the lineup for Gorgui Dieng, who not only anchored the post but also helped them with his face-up game. Harrell is a different player but has to play about as big a role as Dieng played last year.
Brady Heslip, Sr. G, Baylor The Bears have plenty of talent but have more of it up front with Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson leading the way and Ricardo Gaithers right behind them. Heslip didn’t shoot the ball as well as he is capable of last season but could keep defenses honest this year if he starts hitting his shots again.
Cady Lalanne, Jr. F, UMass When healthy and on the court, Lalanne has proven that he can be a monster inside, especially on the boards. He has the potential to be a double-double machine. But injuries and off-court incidents have slowed him. With a good perimeter unit, UMass will need him to anchor the frontcourt if they are to reach their potential this season.
T.J. McConnell, Jr. G, Arizona The Wildcats have the personnel to make a run for the national title, starting with the likes of Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski. There are plenty of complementary pieces as well. If McConnell brings it all together as the floor leader, they could be playing in the final game of the season.
LaQuinton Ross, Jr. F, Ohio State Ross was once regarded as an elite talent, but hasn’t looked the part for a good deal of his first two seasons in Columbus. But now is the time to make the move from complementary player to go-to guy, as the Buckeyes need someone to pick up the scoring and he’s the most likely one to be capable of doing it since Aaron Craft isn’t naturally a scorer and no one else can do it as well as Ross.
Josh Scott, So. C, Colorado While the Buffaloes’ perimeter is set, the frontcourt took a hit with the unexpected departure of Andre Roberson. Scott had a fine freshman season and now has to anchor the frontcourt effectively if they are to be an NCAA Tournament team again.
Nik Stauskas, So. G, Michigan With Tim Hardaway, Jr. off to the NBA, Stauskas is now the primary shooting guard and now will be asked to do more than just shoot. He is very capable of that, as he is arguably one of the more skilled wings in the country.
Naadir Tharpe, Jr. G, Kansas The big question for the Jayhawks is at the point, and Tharpe is the incumbent. A high-character young man, he has shown he can lead a powerful team in the prep ranks, but this is another ballgame and how he plays will have a lot to do with whether or not the young but very talented Jayhawks keep their string of Big 12 titles going.
Fred VanVleet, So. G, Wichita State With the graduation of Malcolm Armstead, the point guard spot is the Shockers’s biggest question mark entering the season. But VanVleet came along late last season, and if he keeps that growth up he can guide the Shockers to another Missouri Valley title and a run in the NCAA Tournament alongside more experienced perimeter mates.