It has been an incredible NCAA Tournament in both men’s and women’s college basketball. From all the new blood in the Final Four on the men’s side to Ohio State’s women’s team knocking off UConn in the Sweet Sixteen, as well as some incredible performances from Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.
It feels like with as many players that are “one and done” in college basketball, as well as the introduction of the transfer portal, college basketball’s NCAA Tournament is more wide-open than it has ever been. Just look at who is in the Final Four on the men’s side. In past years we would have likely seen at least one “basketball school” like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, or Kentucky in the mix. This year we have three schools that are making the Final Four for the first time in school history.
There seem to be two different styles of teams that are making an impact in the tournament in both men’s and women’s college basketball. Either you’re a team like Iowa, who has a star like Clark that does what feels like everything. Or there are teams like San Diego State, Florida Atlantic, and a couple of others that have a great mix of talent without a true superstar.
Today we are going to identify the player that we think has had the best NCAA Tournament, and the player can come from either men’s or women’s college basketball. There are players in both tournaments that weren’t well known three weeks ago but have become big names because of what they have done since the tournaments started.
Today’s question: What player has had the best NCAA Tournament?
We’d love to hear your choices. Either respond to us on Twitter at @Landgrant33 or leave your choice in the comments.
Brett’s answer: Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell
Even though Kansas State saw their season end on Saturday night when they lost to Florida Atlantic, you can’t blame Markquis Nowell or why the Wildcats fell just short of the Final Four. Nowell had a ridiculous four games in the NCAA Tournament, scoring 94 points and dishing out 61 assists in four games. The only game in which Nowell didn’t record a double-double was in the second-round win over Kentucky where he only had nine assists.
Nowell was born in Harlem, so it was obvious he was excited when he learned he could possibly play the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in New York City at Madison Square Garden. All the 5’8” point guard did on Thursday night against Michigan State was set an NCAA Tournament record with 19 assists. Nowell even upped the drama a bit when he had to be helped off the court after injuring his ankle in the second half against the Spartans, only to return a few minutes later.
There’s no question that Nowell deserves to be on any All-Tournament Teams that are named, just because of how great he was in the four games Kansas State played. Not only did Nowell put up big numbers, but he also looked like he was out there having a ton of fun on the court. His creativity was off the charts, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’ll never forget when it looked like he was arguing with head coach Jerome Tang, only to throw a lob for a Keyontae Johnson dunk.
With his small stature, it’s hard to see Nowell playing in the NBA. At least the senior had a couple of games at Madison Square Garden that he’ll never forget. While Nowell and the Wildcats were hoping to cut down the nets this year, he got a nice consolation prize by setting an individual record that is going to be very top-to-top.
Matt’s answer: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark
Nowell was great, and it’s really hard not to root for that K-State team, but come on. How can the answer be anybody other than Iowa’s Caitlin Clark? In the Elite Eight matchup against Louisville, she put up 41 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds, becoming the first person to ever post a 40+-point triple-double in tournament history (after having become the first person to put up a 30+-point triple-double).
Ohio State fans know what an incredible scorer Clark is, she put up 28 and 30 points respectively in the Hawkeyes’ two games against the Buckeyes this season, and she is continuing that dominance in the Big Dance. Clark is averaging 30 points per game in the NCAA Tournament shooting 51.4% from the floor, but the reason that she is the star of the tournaments is more than just her scoring ability; it is how cold-blooded she is doing it.
During the Hawkeyes’ Elite Eight matchup against Louisville — a game in which Clark went for 41 frickin’ points — she could be seen telling her bench when coming off the floor, “She can’t guard me.”
Got ‘emmmmm!— LaChina Robinson (@LaChinaRobinson) March 27, 2023
That’s a “No shit” statement if I’ve ever seen one. I’m not sure if there is anyone in the country who can effectively guard Clark, but we will likely get the best chance of that happening in the Final Four when Iowa squares off against top overall seed, the undefeated, reigning national champion South Carolina Gamecocks on Friday, March 31 at 9 p.m. ET. Dawn Staley’s squad is the best defensive unit in the country, so if anyone is going to slow down the Hawkeyes’ eagle-eyed assassin, it would be them.
But, that’s a discussion for another day. To me, Clark is an Aaron Craft type of player. Obviously very different skill sets, but they are the type of players that if they are on your favorite team you absolutely love, but you completely understand why they would be the ultimate villains if they were on another team.
I think what Staley has done at South Carolina is remarkable and I only want to see her succeed, but if I’m being honest, I want to see more Caitlin Clark being an absolutely unmitigated terror on the court.