With high stakes, the NCAA tournament can bring the best out of players. Sometimes, it can bring the best out of two opposing players in the same game, creating can’t-miss one-on-one basketball and incredible feats of one-upmanship.
One of the fun ones in 2018 was Marques Townes trading buckets with Caleb Martin down the stretch in a Sweet 16 matchup between Loyola Chicago and Nevada.
THE BRACKET: Print the official 2019 March Madness bracket
Some of the greatest of all-time include the 1992 East Regional Final that saw Christian Laettner and Jamal Washburn combine for 59 points and 17 rebounds, the 1979 championship game featuring Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and the 2002 East Regional Final where Lonny Baxter and Caron Butler combined for 62 points and 16 rebounds.
Will any first round matchups in this year’s NCAA tournament feature battles like those ones? Here’s a few that have potential.
Markus Howard vs. Ja Morant
When Marquette takes on Murray State in the first round of the West Region, a lot of eyeballs will be on what these two dynamic scoring guards can do.
Howard, a 5-11 guard for the Golden Eagles, is the nation’s sixth leading scorer, posting per-game averages of 25 points, four rebounds and four assists. He shoots 42.4 percent from the floor, 40.8 percent from three-point land and 89.2 percent from the free throw line. He’s scored 37 points or more four times this season and tallied 53 points once, in an overtime win vs. Creighton on Jan. 9.
Morant, a 6-3 sophomore, is the country’s leader in assists and the eighth best scorer. He averages 24.6 points, 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds per-game while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor. In an OVC title game win over Belmont, Morant took over the game with a stat line of 36 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal.
These are the only two players out of the top 10 scorers in the nation that made the NCAA tournament field. Prepare for fireworks.
Ja Morant is about to take over March Madness ✈️ pic.twitter.com/UZ9QhpJLfy
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 11, 2019
Myles Powell vs. Fletcher Magee
A 7-10 matchup between Wofford and Seton Hall has potential for a lot of fun.
On one side, there’s Myles Powell, the 13th best scorer in the nation and second best in the Big East, who averages 22.9 points per game for the Pirates. On the other side, there’s Fletcher Magee, one of the tournament’s most dangerous heat check players.
Magee, a 6-4 senior, shoots 42.8 percent from behind the arc and has knocked down 151 three-pointers this season, more than anyone else in men’s Division I college basketball. Magee has swished six or more three-pointers in a single game nine times this season.
Fletcher Magee hop threes going to his right. Coming to the NCAA Tournament: pic.twitter.com/aZHQIo5M3Q
— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 12, 2019
Powell, a 6-2 junior, has a more versatile game, often scoring more inside, but has shot decently from three-point range this year, knocking down 36.3 percent of his attempts from that distance. He’s scored more than 30 points in a single game eight times this season. On Nov. 22, he dropped 40 points on Grand Canyon.
Sam Merrill vs. Matisse Thybulle
Washington vs. Utah State is an intriguing 8-9 matchup for various reasons, two of which are the play of Sam Merrill and Matisse Thybule.
Merrill, a 6-5 junior guard, averages 21.2 points per-game, which is good enough for second in the Mountain West and 33rd overall in the country. But Merrill is playing really good basketball down the stretch of the season posting totals of 29, 38, 23, 22 and 24 points in his last five games. He’s also averaging six rebounds and 4.6 assists in that stretch while making 38.2 percent of his three-pointers.
For his production, Merrill was named Mountain West tournament MVP.
— Stadium (@Stadium) March 17, 2019
Thybule, a 6-5 senior guard, isn’t always the Huskies’ leading scorer, but he can put the ball in the bucket too, averaging 15.5 points per-game. What Thybule is really exceptional at is swiping away possessions, as he averages 3.4 steals per-game, a mark that leads the country. In 13 games this season, he’s tallied at least five steals. Thybulle also averages four assists and four rebounds per-game, making him one of the more well-rounded guards in the country.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.