Ranking the Top 20 Players in the Sweet 16
Last year's NCAA tournament was all about the one-and-done freshmen. You had Karl-Anthony Towns as the best player on a Kentucky squad that entered the Final Four undefeated, and three Duke freshmen led the school to a national championship.
This season is a complete 180 compared to last year. It's all about the seniors.
This list features 11 seniors, including the top six players, compared to just one freshman cracking the top 20. The favorites to win the title are all led by old guys. The best scorer left in the tournament is a senior. The top rebounder in the tournament thus far is a senior. The top assist guy left in the tournament is a senior.
It's like the NCAA's dream scenario. Hey, look, real student-athletes who have actually gone to school for four—in some cases even five!—years.
The players are ranked based on a mix of talent, role and production during the season and tournament. Trimming this list to 20 was no easy task. The guys below were in consideration, and a case could be made for many of them to make the list.
Honorable mention: Troy Williams, Indiana; Devonte' Graham, Kansas; Frank Mason III, Kansas; Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas; Marcus Paige, North Carolina; Zach Auguste, Notre Dame; Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma; Jake Layman, Maryland; Diamond Stone, Maryland; Michael Gbinije, Syracuse; Jalen Jones, Texas A&M; Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova; Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin; Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin.
20. Josh Hart, Villanova
What he's done: Josh Hart has been one of the most consistent wings in college basketball this season. He leads the Wildcats in scoring (15.4 PPG) and is second on the team in rebounding (6.9 RPG).
Why he's here: Hart is a terrific slasher and a solid three-point shooter. The Wildcats have so many weapons that he doesn't always need to score. He does a good job of picking his spots and contributes with strong defense and rebounding. He's one of the few scoring wings who can make an impact even when he's not getting points.
What to expect: Hart has shifted from Villanova's go-to guy to more of a secondary scorer behind Kris Jenkins. But if the Wildcats keep moving on, expect Hart to have a huge game at some point. Villanova is reliant on the three, but Hart is the one guy who can still consistently get buckets when the three-ball isn't falling.
19. Kris Jenkins, Villanova
What he's done: Kris Jenkins has been one of the toughest covers in college basketball over the last month from the stretch 4 position. He's averaging 19.5 points and has made 36 of 76 threes (47.4 percent) over the past 10 games. That average has dropped a bit in the tournament (13.5 PPG), but the Wildcats have cruised to both wins and haven't needed him to take over.
Why he's here: Josh Hart had the better overall season for the Wildcats, but Jenkins has been the team's best player as of late. In addition to being able to stroke the three, Jenkins can also put the ball on the floor and get to the bucket. His versatility is one of the main factors that makes the Nova offense so hard to guard.
What to expect: Look for the Miami Hurricanes to play their small-ball lineup often with Davon Reed shifting from small forward to power forward. That could slow Jenkins. But if the Canes try to go big and match up Kamari Murphy with Jenkins, he could have a big day.
18. Angel Rodriguez, Miami (Florida)
What he's done: Angel Rodriguez has always played better when the lights are brightest, and he's killing it thus far in the NCAA tournament. Rodriguez is averaging 26.0 points and 4.5 assists per game and has knocked down six of 11 threes. He even outplayed Fred VanVleet, which is no small feat considering the Wichita State guard's tourney resume.
Why he's here: If we were simply basing this off tournament performance, Rodriguez would be higher on the list. If it was based on the regular season, he would be just outside the top 20. He lives for these big moments, though, and when his shot is on, he's one of the most difficult scorers in the country to contain off the dribble.
What to expect: Rodriguez is going to have the ball in his hands a lot, and he will likely have the greatest influence on how far Miami makes it in the tournament. If he keeps cooking, the Hurricanes could find themselves in Houston at the Final Four.
17. Sheldon McClellan, Miami (Florida)
What he's done: The former Texas Longhorns wing is having the best season of his career. Sheldon McClellan is averaging 16.0 points and shooting 38.9 percent from deep and 83.8 percent at the line. He's also getting to the free-throw line more often—he's attempted 21 free throws in the tournament. Through the first two rounds, he's averaging 19 points per game.
Why he's here: McClellan is one of several wings on this list who can shoot the three-ball, score from mid-range and who thrives at getting to the rim. What he does better than any of the star wings is rise up to catch and finish alley-oops. He's an NBA type of athlete with good size (6'5", 200 lbs).
What to expect: Villanova also has great guards, but McClellan could have a size advantage because Nova starts two point guards. He's been extremely aggressive in trying to score in the tournament. Expect that to continue.
16. Monte Morris, Iowa State
What he's done: Monte Morris is the orchestrator of the best offense left in the NCAA tournament. The Iowa State Cyclones currently rank second nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and have finished in the top 11 of that stat each of Morris' three seasons at Iowa State, per KenPom.com. Morris gets his guys shots and rarely turns the ball over. He is on pace to become the NCAA leader in career assist-to-turnover ratio. He's averaging 14.0 points and 6.0 assists per game in the tourney and has just two turnovers.
Why he's here: Morris is a coach's dream at the point because of the way he takes care of the ball. First-year ISU head coach Steve Prohm has tried to get Morris to be more aggressive as a scorer this season, and the junior does a good job of picking his spots. He has a nice mid-range game, and once he gets to the paint, his floater is almost unstoppable.
What to expect: The Cyclones are going to need Morris to play close to perfect ball to have a shot against Virginia. Look for Morris to get teammate Georges Niang involved as much as possible. Niang said of Morris earlier this year: "There's never a time where Monte is passing me the ball in a spot where I don't feel like that's one of my best areas to make a play."
15. Anthony Gill, Virginia
What he's done: Anthony Gill is one of the most underrated players in the country, likely because his numbers (13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game) aren't going to knock your socks off. But his team averages the fewest possessions in college basketball, per KenPom.com, and he plays next to Bleacher Report first-team All-American Malcolm Brogdon. The Cavaliers are playing through both stars in the tourney thus far, and Gill has scored 19 points in each game on an efficient 15-of-22 shooting.
Why he's here: Gill is an excellent back-to-the-basket scorer, and Virginia has the luxury of simply throwing it to him in the post and letting him go to work. He also does a good job of getting to the free-throw line, where he's a 74.5 percent shooter.
What to expect: Gill will likely be matched up with Iowa State's Jameel McKay in the Sweet 16. McKay is a great shot-blocker, and his length could present some problems. However, he has a thin frame (6'9", 225 lbs), and it's not hard to throw the ball to his man in the post. Look for the Cavaliers to feed Gill early and often.
14. Melo Trimble, Maryland
What he's done: Melo Trimble has had a disappointing year based on expectations, but most players would take his numbers (14.8 points and 5.0 assists per game) in a heartbeat. He seems to be playing with more aggressiveness in the tournament, as evidenced by his trips to the free-throw line. He's made 22 of 23 free throws and is averaging 21.5 points per game through the first two rounds.
Why he's here: Trimble is a beast in space and really hard to guard off a ball screen, but he's taken a step back this year for two reasons. He's getting to the line far less often and isn't shooting the ball nearly as well from deep—32.2 percent compared to 41.2 percent last year. The good news is he's drawing fouls in the tourney, but he's still shot the ball poorly from deep (1-of-10).
What to expect: The Kansas Jayhawks, Maryland's next opponent, had their issues midseason with defending penetrating guards, but they've been much better at containing the ball over the last month. Expect Trimble to be aggressive, as it's going to take a big game from him for the Terrapins to win. He's also going to need to balance that with getting his teammates involved. He only has five assists in the tournament, and Maryland's other scorers, other than Rasheed Sulaimon, are guys who need to be set up.
13. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame
What he's done: Demetrius Jackson moved to point guard this season and faced the challenge of replacing Jerian Grant. Jackson has fared well, averaging 15.5 points and 4.7 assists per game and helping the Fighting Irish continue to be one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball, per KenPom.com. Plus, he has his team on the brink of a second straight Elite Eight appearance.
Why he's here: Jackson is one of the most athletic and strongest point guards in the country. If he gets going downhill, there's a good chance someone is going to get dunked on. He's also a good mid-range shooter and is capable of knocking down the three, although he hasn't shot it as well this year (33.1 percent) as he did last season (42.9 percent).
What to expect: Jackson will likely have the ball in his hands a lot against Wisconsin. The Badgers will try to make it a half-court game, which shouldn't bother the Irish or Jackson. If Notre Dame gets to the Elite Eight, Jackson will be looking for some redemption against either opponent. He scored nine points on 4-of-17 shooting in a December loss to Indiana and had a miserable day in the ACC tourney against North Carolina, scoring nine points on 1-of-10 shooting.
12. Danuel House, Texas A&M
What he's done: Danuel House played a big role in the miraculous comeback against Northern Iowa. He didn't score a point until there was five minutes and 14 seconds left in regulation, and his first bucket from the field came with 26 seconds left—he ended up scoring 22 points. He's averaging 21 points per game for the tournament.
Why he's here: House can put up points in a hurry and has been extra aggressive in the postseason. He scored 32 points in the overtime loss to Kentucky in the SEC title game and never stopped firing away against UNI. He's a streaky shooter who can make some difficult shots, and he has a quick burst as a slasher when he senses he can get to the rim.
What to expect: House will likely try to match Oklahoma's Buddy Hield basket for basket in the Sweet 16. That'll either work out great for the Aggies or lead to a bad shooting line. Or you could see one cold half and one hot one. You never really know with this guy, because as he showed against UNI, he can heat up quickly even on a night where he's struggled.
11. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
What he's done: Kyle Wiltjer is the best jump-shooting big man in college basketball, and he's in the conversation for best shooter in the country. This season, he's averaging 20.4 points per game and knocking down 43.2 percent of his threes. In the second-round upset of Utah, he dropped 17 points, made three of his four threes and dished out three assists.
Why he's here: Wiltjer is much more than just a shooter. He has a repertoire of moves in the post and has tremendous footwork. He can shoot from well beyond the arc and has been on fire in March, knocking down 65 percent of his threes. Wiltjer, like his buddy Domantas Sabonis, is also a solid passer, and the two work well off each other.
What to expect: Is there a more perfect big man to throw at the Syracuse zone? Wiltjer is in line for a big performance. The Zags have a real shot to get to the Final Four. It would be Wiltjer's second trip to a Final Four. He was a shooter off the bench on Kentucky's 2012 title team his freshman season.
10. Brandon Ingram, Duke
What he's done: Brandon Ingram has made the conversation regarding the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft an actual debate with his progression this season. Ingram is strengthening his case so far in the tournament, averaging 22.5 points per game.
Why he's here: Ingram is skilled for his height (6'9"). He moves like a guard and is just as adept but has the long limbs of a big man (7'3" wingspan). He's also a natural scorer who has good instincts for a freshman.
He's playing the power forward spot by default—Amile Jefferson went down with a foot injury in December, forcing Ingram there—but like Jabari Parker and Justise Winslow before him, Ingram has thrived in that spot, stretching the floor and playing a big role in Duke's efficient attack.
What to expect: Ingram has proved through two games that he can handle the bright lights and pressure of the tournament. It's not clear if Duke has the defensive prowess to go much further, but the Devils match up well with the Oregon Ducks. Duke also has a chance in just about any game because of the possibility that both Ingram and Grayson Allen go off.
9. Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
What he's done: Domantas Sabonis had one of the most impressive performances thus far in the NCAA tournament against third-seeded Utah. Not only was his line notable (19 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block), but he also played a big role in shutting down Utah star Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl scored a season-low five points and only got off five shots.
Why he's here: Sabonis (6'11", 240 lbs) is a double-double machine (17.5 points and 11.7 rebounds per game), and he's a tough cover on the blocks. He can beat you with power or finesse, and he's hard to double-team because he's an excellent passer (1.8 assists per game). He's even added the ability to step out and hit the three this year, as shown when he knocked one down against the Utes.
What to expect: It could be difficult to get touches for the big men against Syracuse's zone, but the Zags have the goods to get it done. Syracuse is going to have to pay a lot of attention to Kyle Wiltjer in the high post, and the Zags should be able to attack through Sabonis in the short corner. With his ability to pass and finish in that area, he could play a big role in moving his team on to the Elite Eight.
8. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
What he's done: Dillon Brooks does a little bit of everything for the Ducks from the power forward spot. Really, he's more of a point forward, and his numbers reflect that. Brooks is averaging 16.8 points, 5.6 boards and 3.1 assists per game this year. He was a big difference-maker in the second-round win over Saint Joseph's, scoring 25 points on only 13 shots.
Why he's here: Oregon head coach Dana Altman is a technician at creating mismatches with his offensive sets, and he made a wise move this season in using Brooks as a small-ball 4. Brooks is bulldozer with the ball in his hands and feasts on driving past bigger, slower players. When teams adjust and try to guard him with a quicker perimeter player, he can work from the post or mid-post and overpower those defenders.
What to expect: Duke's Brandon Ingram has the quickness and length to give Brooks some issues, but he may not have the strength. Look for Brooks (6'7", 225 lbs) to test Ingram early in the game. The Ducks have a lot of weapons, but they'll need Brooks to keep producing if they want to move on.
7. Grayson Allen, Duke
What he's done: Grayson Allen has been one of the most dangerous scorers in college basketball all season, averaging 21.8 points per game. Allen has improved on that during the tournament and is averaging 26.0 per contest.
Why he's here: Allen is a terrific slasher who attacks the rim with reckless abandon and has the ability to finish with touch around it while going full speed. He can dominate games by getting to the rim and the free-throw line. He shot 17 free throws in the opening round and didn't make one three. Then next game out, against Yale, he went off from deep, knocking down five three-pointers.
What to expect: Allen's ability to score from the arc or in the paint makes it hard to contain him. He's going to get his points, and the goal should be to get him to take as many shots as possible to do so. Oregon is one team fairly well equipped to face a scorer like Allen. The Ducks can give him a lot of different looks with the number of athletes they'll be able to throw at him. If Duke gets past Oregon, Allen could face off against Oklahoma's Buddy Hield in what would be a fun battle to watch.
6. Perry Ellis, Kansas
What he's done: Perry Ellis is playing the best basketball of his career and is off to a good start in the NCAA tournament, scoring 21 points in each of the first two rounds. He's 17-of-24 from the field, and he's made two of three three-pointers.
Why he's here: The efficiency with which Ellis has scored in the tournament is nothing new. The Jayhawks are balanced, and Ellis gets his points without needing a lot of shots. He's always been a crafty scorer around the bucket, and he's added more range to his jumper this year. Head coach Bill Self does a good job of moving him around and allowing him to play to his strengths.
What to expect: The closest Big Ten comparison to Ellis is probably Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes, who averaged 15.5 points per game in two meetings with Maryland, Kansas' opponent. Expect Ellis to keep putting up efficient lines throughout the tournament. It's hard for teams to load up on him because the Jayhawks have so many shooters and other guys who can easily go off for 20-plus.
5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
What he's done: The anticipated individual matchup of Kentucky's Tyler Ulis and Yogi Ferrell went to Ulis in the box score, but all Ferrell cares about is that his team got the "W." His stat line for the tournament isn't bad either: 19.0 points and 7.0 assists per game.
Ferrell is the Hoosiers' unquestionable leader and has evolved in that role through the years. Head coach Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for turning this season around, but you could argue Ferrell deserves just as much praise. It's obvious he does plenty of coaching on the floor, and a Big Ten title and the Sweet 16 would not be possible without him.
Why he's here: Oh, the dude can ball, too. His pull-up jumper is nasty, and when you decide to close out hard, he can blow by off the bounce. He also runs the show for one of the best (and most entertaining) offenses in the country.
What to expect: The North Carolina Tar Heels have struggled to guard point guards who are gifted off the dribble, such as Maryland's Melo Trimble, Northern Iowa's Wes Washpun and Providence's Kris Dunn. Ferrell should be in for a big day Friday. Whether the Hoosiers move on will likely depend on how well they shoot the three-ball and if they can contain UNC's inside attack.
4. Georges Niang, Iowa State
What he's done: Georges Niang is the tourney's second-leading scorer and has dropped 28 points and three dimes in each game. It has meant redemption for the senior, who had a miserable game in last year's upset loss to UAB (11 points on 4-of-15 shooting) and broke a bone in his foot in the opening round of his sophomore season.
Why he's here: Niang is the hardest player to match up against in the country. He has the perimeter skills of a point guard, and the Cyclones occasionally let him initiate the offense. His back-to-the-basket game is as crafty as it gets. He can finish with each hand and has amazing touch around the bucket. And when he gets in the lane and attracts a help defender, the Niang to Jameel McKay lob is the most unstoppable play in college hoops.
What to expect: Niang could be on his way to regional MVP. Virginia has struggled with playmaking 4s. Butler's Andrew Chrabascz just scored 25 points against UVA in the second round, and Duke's Brandon Ingram also dropped 25 points in a Blue Devils win over Virginia earlier this year. Considering the Cavaliers' struggles with slowing Niang types, the 'Clones have a real chance to pull off the upset.
And then they'd likely be favored in the Elite Eight, where Niang could face off against Gonzaga's Kyle Wiltjer, who struggles on the defensive end.
3. Brice Johnson, North Carolina
What he's done: Brice Johnson has been his usual self on the offensive end, averaging 19.5 points in two tourney games. Where Johnson is taking it up a notch is on the defensive end. He had eight blocks against Florida Gulf Coast and has 10 for the tournament. He also had a steal in each game.
Why he's here: Johnson's effort level this season has rivaled his talent. The guy has always been able to jump out of the gym and had a nice face-up jumper. As a senior, he's become much more aggressive as a scorer and rebounder. He also has some of the most spectacular lines this season: 39 points and 23 rebounds at Florida State; 29 points and 19 boards in a loss to Duke; and then 18 points and 21 rebounds in the payback win over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham.
What to expect: The Hoosiers play small ball, and Johnson presents a serious threat to their defense. Expect the Heels to play through him as much as possible in the Sweet 16. Also expect Johnson to be aggressive going forward. This team used to go as far as Marcus Paige took it. Now Johnson is clearly the man, and he's embraced the role.
2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
What he's done: Malcolm Brogdon had a complete floor game against Butler, scoring 22 points to go along with five rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. Brogdon has arguably been the best player in the country over the last two months, averaging 20.5 points per game since Jan. 19.
His 18.6 points per game are the highest any player has ever averaged for a Tony Bennett-coached Cavs team. That number is even more impressive when you consider the Cavaliers play at the slowest pace in college basketball.
Why he's here: To go along with the scoring, Brogdon is the best perimeter defender left in this tournament. Brogdon's numbers do not reflect his value on the defensive end—he averages only 0.9 steals per game—but he is a brick wall on the defensive end. It's rare to see anyone get a good shot off against him.
What to expect: The bracket has broken nicely for the 'Hoos with Michigan State losing. But the Cyclones are not an easy out, and Brogdon might have to show his defensive versatility by checking Georges Niang if no one else is up to the task. Also expect UVA to go as far as Brogdon can take it. His importance to the offense almost rivals Oklahoma's reliance on Buddy Hield.
1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
What he's done: He's gotten buckets. Lots of them.
And the dude loves the stage. He dropped 46 points at Allen Fieldhouse this year. He went for 39 points in a showdown with Georges Niang at the Big 12 tournament. And on Sunday, when Virginia Commonwealth threatened, he scored 21 of OU's final 26 points and finished with a cool 36.
Why he's here: Hield is the best scorer in college basketball, and no one can take over a game like he can. He's scored 30 or more points 11 times this season. It's close to impossible to keep him from lofting shots. He runs straight to the three-point line in transition. He has two point guards getting him the ball. And when all else fails, he can break down his man off the dribble and has improved in finishing around the bucket.
What to expect: To slow Hield, you have to be attached to him at all times. The Texas A&M Aggies are a good defensive team, but they may not have the discipline to stick with Hield. They just allowed UNI's Jeremy Morgan to hit them with 36 points. Hield also seems to be at his best in the most pressure-packed situations. Expect him to put on a show for however long the Sooners can survive in the tournament.