Arizona and Florida looked like clearcuts to be in the Final Four before the conference tournaments started. Then, Arizona lost to UCLA in the PAC-12 championship game and Kentucky was one slippery spot on the floor away from defeating Florida for the SEC championship. This is all before the NCAA tournament even started. Not to mention, veteran squads like Louisville and Michigan State received low seeds, but are undoubtedly threats to win it all. How can you pick against teams that are constantly in the Final Four? Is Creighton for real? What about Wichita State? There’s no way they make it out of that brutal Midwest bracket..right?
Basketball is a game played five-on-five by traditional standards, but everyone marvels at the satisfaction of one-on-one player duels, especially when a missed shot or made bucket can decide the fate of a team’s season. This becomes even more important when some of these collegiate players are playing the last potential games of their careers. Who remembers Khalif Wyatt of Temple in the NCAA tournament last season? He almost took down Indiana and Victor Oladipo by himself, scoring 31 points as his No. 9 Temple squad fell to No. 1 Indiana by six points. At some points, the game literally turned exclusively into the Khalif Wyatt isolation show. One-on-one player duels can create some of the most exciting moments of the tournament.
Some of these names on this list may be coming across your screen for the first time. Rest assured, these kids can ball. With this being said, here are five of the one-on-one duels that you have to keep your eyes on during the first few days of action in the NCAA tournament.
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Shabazz Napier vs. Langston Galloway
This matchup won’t catch a lot of headlines, but it’s a must watch. Ignore the fact that if St. Joe’s upsets Connecticut and VIllanova takes care of business against Milwaukee, there will be an epic battle of bragging rights in Philadelphia as ‘Nova would face St. Joe’s in the round of 32. Before any of that has a chance to happen, Napier’s Huskies and Galloway’s Hawks will face on in the round of 64. Both players are seniors, looking for one last hurrah to end their collegiate careers. While La Salle was the shocker from Philadelphia last season, St. Joe’s, led by veteran coach Phil Martelli, is looking to recreate the magic that had La Salle in the Sweet 16 last season.
The UConn Huskies are no stranger to Philadelphia either, as head coach Kevin Ollie is a former member of the 76ers. If the Hawks hope to advance past Connecticut, after winning their first A-10 championship since 1997, the duties will be placed on the shoulders of Langston Galloway.
Galloway is in his senior year with the Hawks and has averaged around 35 minutes per game during his four-year career. He’s been a contributor for St. Joe’s since he stepped on campus, but his game has really stepped up this season. Playing virtually the same amount of minutes and only taking one more shot per game, Langston has increased his scoring from 13.8 points to 17.5 points between his junior and senior seasons. His shooting numbers are up, hitting 44 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and 83 percent from the charity stripe. In other words, he’ll be a problem for Shabazz Napier to contain. Both players have clutch mentalities, with Galloway draining a bucket in Michael Jordan fashion and Napier’s insane shot to defeat Florida in December. Both players love living in the moment and usually excel in the moment.
Shabazz Napier has similar stats when compared to Galloway, putting up 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season. Let’s be clear, in order to win, each player will have to takeover the scoring department for their respective team. Napier is the unquestioned leader of the Huskies, pacing his team in every meaningful statistical category. Even though UConn dropped the AAC championship game to Louisville, the Huskies look ready to surprise a lot of people in the tournament.
Napier and Galloway are so similar in many ways. Both are capable of single-handedly taking over a game and catapulting their team to victory. Both can nail the big shot when all the pressure is on their shoulders. Whatever way it’s looked at, these two players will be the reason their team comes out on top. Both have Cinderella potential this season as UConn is a No. 7 seed and St. Joe’s is a No. 10 seed.
SJU is playing it’s best basketball of the season right now, coming off a victory over VCU in the A-10 championship game, where Galloway scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting and made 5-of-8 attempts from deep. These two will be going head-to-head in the round of 64 and when the game is on the line, these players will be called upon to secure the game-winning bucket.