- Jeff Goodman, ESPN Insider
It’s clear how important guys like Russ Smith, Marcus Smart, Nick Johnson and C.J. Fair are to their respective teams. However, who are the X factor players for the legitimate national title contenders?
These are the guys who very well could determine whether their team gets bounced early in the NCAA tournament or reels off six wins to cut down the nets in Dallas.
We took a look at the odds in Vegas on who would win the national title and went with the top nine teams on the board.
X factor players for national title contenders
1. Naadir Tharpe, Kansas: Andrew Wiggins is an X factor because of his inconsistency, but there’s no way the Jayhawks are winning it all -- or even getting to the Final Four -- without strong play from their starting point guard. In the team’s four losses, the junior averaged just five points and four assists while shooting 33 percent from the field. In a recent four-game winning streak against Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma State, Tharpe averaged 16.3 points and 5.5 assists while making 65 percent of his shots from the field.
2. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: The Spartans are a completely different team without their senior big man. Gary Harris is the team’s most talented player, but Payne is the most important. He’s a guy who commands so much attention in the paint, but coach Tom Izzo also utilizes him in pick-and-roll situations. Payne also has significant value on the defensive end, where he has become a consistent rebounder and a decent shot-blocker.
7dJeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello