Plenty of players put up big numbers, but not many are truly irreplaceable. Through a combination of roster composition, overall workload and devastating effectiveness, these 10 players may mean more to their teams than anyone else in the nation.
(All players listed alphabetically. All advanced stats taken from kenpom.com)
Cole is the epitome of a mid-major player who blossoms and lifts his entire team with him. Even with practically everyone back from last year's team, Cole has blown up this season, currently posting clear career highs in virtually every offensive category. He's averaging 20.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game while equaling Jimmer Fredette's scoring efficiency and possession usage. As a result, the Vikings currently sit in the top 60 in both offensive and defensive efficiency after ending last season at 126th and 205th, respectively.
The most lethal pure scorer in the nation, Fredette is pouring in more than 24 points a game for a team with a nice supporting cast but minus several key pieces from last season. He's the eighth-most efficient high-usage player in the nation, and even for high-usage players, he uses a ton of BYU's possessions, with more than one out of every three Cougars trips when he's on the court ending with something he does. He also finds time to chip in 4.4 assists a game and is almost 90 percent from the free-throw line.
He's not allowed on Twitter (after criticizing coach John Calipari for not sufficiently praising his efforts in a preseason scrimmage) and his nickname is Jorts, but right now Harrellson is one of the major keys to talented-but-thin Kentucky's Final Four aspirations. Unless Enes Kanter gets an NCAA reprieve and/or Calipari gains more faith in Eloy Vargas, Harrellson is it as far as legit size for the Wildcats. Already averaging almost 10 rebounds a game this season, he's starting to become more of an overall threat, as witnessed by his 23-14 against rival Louisville and the 12-11 with six blocks in Monday's win over Penn.
Edges Washington State's Klay Thompson for the do-it-all guard threat based on his primary point guard responsibilities and how hard he has to work night in, night out. Holloway currently has logged the seventh-highest percentage of minutes played in Division I, yet is well above average in scoring efficiency and has elite assist and free-throw rates. Holloway has taken 50 more free-throw attempts than 6-foot-8 banger Jamel McLean. In raw terms, he's averaging 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists a game.
He's the only size Purdue has and he's also chipping in 20 points a game to help make up for Robbie Hummel's absence. In the advanced-stats realm, Johnson is a superb defensive rebounder and shot-blocker, doesn't foul much (which is remarkable given Purdue's overall lack of size), gets to the line a good amount and converts well when he gets there. With Purdue at 13-1 and with the offense improving as it goes, Johnson is the primary reason Purdue fans shouldn't give up hope for a deep March run.
The Badgers currently are the slowest team in Division I at just under 60 possessions a game, so Leuer's raw stats (19.5 pts and 7.3 rebs a game) don't come close to representing how terrific he's been. Even with the standout play of Jordan Taylor (himself very valuable given the lack of depth behind him), Leuer takes almost one out of every three Wisconsin shots when he's in the game and still is in the nation's top 75 in offensive efficiency. He also is a terrific defensive rebounder, blocks shots, never turns the ball over and gets to the free-throw line a healthy amount.
Lethal big man Jared Sullinger is a strong contender for national player of the year honors, but ask Buckeyes fans who the most crucial piece to this team is, and many will say Lighty. Therefore, he earns the glue guy honors for this list. With multiple freshmen playing such important roles, it's nice to have a fifth-year senior available to do a little of this and a little of that. His improved three-point shooting has made him a very efficient scorer and he's been much more careful with the ball this season, too.
McCamey is doing a better job this season of balancing his role as the team's best player while also getting everyone else involved. His remarkably improved three-point shooting is allowing him to score more points while using fewer possessions, which, in turn, is helping the supporting cast be more efficient. The result: Last season, Illinois finished 65th in offensive efficiency; now they're 16th with essentially the same cast, thanks to scoring seven more points per 100 possessions, which is a big difference.
A no-brainer. Walker is a leading national player of the year candidate carrying a young UConn team to extremely unexpected heights. Even having cooled off slightly, Walker is still, by far, the most efficient heavy-usage scorer in the nation for a team that lacks a legitimate second option despite Alex Oriahki's solid play inside and the improvements of the freshmen. Walker also is very careful with the ball, gets fouled a ton and rarely fouls himself despite maintaining on-ball pressure.
The slimmed-down Williams is similar in standing to Purdue's Johnson, except he doesn't have anyone close to as productive as E'Twaun Moore helping him out, which makes him even more crucial to the Terps. Williams is a very effective scorer given his usage rates, generates a lot of free throw attempts (although struggles from the line) and is an outstanding rebounder at both ends of the floor. With so many teams of comparable quality behind Duke, Williams' presence should be worth a ton in terms of Maryland's eventual ACC finish.
Arsalan Kazemi, F, Rice: An amazingly productive and efficient one-man gang for Rice, but the team's not good enough for his superior performance to mean as much as those who made the list.
Kawhi Leonard, F, San Diego State: Has a lot of quality around him, but he's the guy opponents have to account for the most, and he delivers as a very efficient scorer and a lethal rebounder at both ends.
Chris Singleton, , F, Florida State: Top defender and offensive threat on a Seminoles team that is brutal offensively.
Klay Thompson, G, Washington State: A better player than Holloway but doing similar things with a slightly better supporting cast and not the primary ball handler.
Derrick Williams, F, Arizona: Possibly too unselfish for his team's own good, Williams is taking only 23 percent of the Wildcats' shots while on the floor despite remarkable conversion rates.