NCAA Tournament 2017: Ranking the Top Performers Through the First Round

Scott Phillips@@phillipshoopsFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2017

NCAA Tournament 2017: Ranking the Top Performers Through the First Round

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    Derrick Walton Jr.
    Derrick Walton Jr.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament is in the books. We might not have seen a lot of upsets or buzzer-beaters during the first 32 games, but there were strong individual performances that we'll certainly remember.

    Hitting clutch shots was a defining moment for some players while others put together complete start-to-end efforts that gave them huge numbers. One thing was in common for all of these players: They earned wins and are moving on to play in the second round.

    Losing performances were not counted on this list, while No. 1 and No. 2 seeds were also excluded since they didn't play the toughest competition. 

    Here are the individual efforts we'll remember from the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

10. Caleb Swanigan

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    Caleb Swanigan
    Caleb SwaniganKiichiro Sato/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    Putting up yet another double-double—his 27th of the season—Swanigan finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds in a close win over Vermont as he was 5-for-11 from the floor and 5-for-7 from the free-throw line. Swanigan also added four assists and three blocks.

    Buzz factor

    The Big Ten regular-season champions had a difficult draw in the first round with No. 13 seed Vermont. The Catamounts had won 21 consecutive regular-season games before Swanigan and Purdue slowed them down and sent them packing after a first-round loss.

    Why he's here

    Not many All-Americans were tested in tight games this weekend, but Swanigan came through in the clutch when Purdue needed him to be productive. By adding another double-double, Swanigan is continuing to augment his legacy with the Boilermakers.

9. Devin Robinson

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    Devin Robinson
    Devin RobinsonMike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    Scoring a career-high 24 points and adding seven rebounds and two blocks, the 6'8" junior was all over the floor for the Gators in a win over East Tennessee State. Robinson had one of the best offensive games of his career as he was 10-for-17 from the floor and 2-for-5 from three-point range. 

    Buzz factor

    Robinson was such a factor on both ends of the floor that East Tennessee State head coach Steve Forbes commented on how much he impacted the game in Florida's win.

    "He's downright scary," Forbes said. "His length really affected us."

    Why he's here

    Florida moving on without starting center John Egbunu is one of the NCAA Tournament's early storylines to track and Robinson made sure the Gators wouldn't suffer a defeat in the first round without him. Not only did Robinson put together a fine game on the offensive end, but he was also a factor in a number of plays on defense thanks to his length.

8. Bryant McIntosh

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    Bryant McIntosh
    Bryant McIntoshRick Bowmer/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    Northwestern earned a win in its first NCAA Tournament game, and McIntosh was a key difference for the Wildcats. Ending up with 25 points, three assists and four rebounds, McIntosh knocked down the game-winning free throws in the final minute to secure the win. McIntosh was 10-for-16 from the field and 3-for-5 from three-point range.

    Buzz factor

    McIntosh has been one of the key figures for the Wildcats making the NCAA Tournament as the team has become a national story. By knocking down the winning free throws and finishing with 25 points, McIntosh will forever be in Northwestern lore for his performance in this game. 

    Why he's here

    The last three years, McIntosh has been a steady floor leader for the Wildcats. He provides scoring and distributing. The junior showed a good mix of both in the win over Vanderbilt in Salt Lake City.

7. London Perrantes

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    London Perrantes
    London PerrantesGary McCullough/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    Virginia was given the dreaded No. 5/No. 12 matchup in the first round as they faced a tough opponent in UNC Wilmington. The Cavaliers were only up by a point at the half when Perrantes took over as he scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half as he was 9-for-14 from the field. 

    Buzz factor

    Perrantes has made his fair share of big shots over the years. His difficult runner with 1:37 remaining was one of the biggest shots he'll make in his career as it gave the Cavaliers a five-point lead in a very tight game.  

    Why he's here

    Struggling to score at times this season, Virginia getting 19 points from Perrantes on his own in the second half was huge. The senior was basically putting the team on his back and making sure that they weren't going to lose in the first round.

6. Elijah Stewart

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    The junior had a game to forget when USC took down Providence in the First Four on Wednesday night. Stewart went scoreless in 31 minutes but he redeemed himself in a big way on Friday. Finishing with a team-high 22 points while knocking down six three-pointers, Stewart buried the game-winning three-pointer with 36 seconds left to give the Trojans another close win. 

    Buzz factor

    Stewart knocking down the game-winning shot after going scoreless the game before shows the up-and-down nature of the NCAA Tournament. Now USC can keep the streak alive of First Four teams that advanced to the Round of 32. 

    Why he's here

    Knocking down a game-winning three-pointer when down by two points is always cause for celebration -- especially when it capped off a team-high scoring performance. Now that USC has advanced to the Round of 32, Stewart is hoping that his hot performance continues in the next game.

     

5. Monte Morris

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    The senior is one of most experienced players in the field as he put together a great game in his opener. Morris just missed a triple-double with 19 points, eight assists and eight rebounds as the Cyclones were able to withstand a good effort from No. 12 seed Nevada.  

    Buzz factor

    Iowa State is one of the hottest teams in country as they're coming off of the Big 12 Tournament title last week. Now that Morris is continuing to play at an elite level, the Cyclones can make a serious push against No. 4 seed Purdue in the Midwest Regional on Saturday.

    "He's the best point guard in the country," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said after the win. "He's a winner."

    Why he's here

    Getting close to a triple-double in a tight first-round win qualifies as a big-time performance and it's the kind of thing we've come to expect of Morris over his college career. With the Boilermakers having an uncertain point guard situation over the last few years, Morris could be a huge factor in the second round.

4. Dwayne Bacon

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    Looking dominant at times in a win over No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast, Bacon tallied 25 points and nine rebounds as he was 11-for-17 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. The one knock against Bacon's offensive performance was his 0-for-3 total from three-point range.

    Buzz factor

    As one of the best NBA Draft prospects playing in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Bacon put together the type of strong start that people wanted to see as he's currently projected as the No. 44 pick in the latest Draft Express mock draft

    Why he's here

    While many of the top NBA Draft prospects played against overmatched competition as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the first round, Bacon was in a tight game against a feisty team as he had to take over stretches of the game to help Florida State to victory. If Bacon can make any perimeter shots in the ongoing rounds the Seminoles could be a tough team to knock out. 

3. Bronson Koenig

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    By the numbers

    The senior is a veteran of the NCAA Tournament as he put up 28 points while pumping in eight three-pointers in a first-round win for Wisconsin over Virginia Tech in the East Region. Koenig was 8-for-17 from the three-point line while also adding three assists and three rebounds.

    Buzz factor

    Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard was so impressed with Koenig's game that he mentioned this game among the senior's career highlights -- even dating back to high school.

    "I've seen him do a lot of things," Gard said after the game. "I've watched him win two state championships. Obviously, I've watched him for four years here with us. He's a heck of a player."

    Why he's here

    Koenig's eight three-pointers set a Wisconsin postseason record as he played perhaps the best individual game of his illustrious postseason career with the Badgers.

    With 12 NCAA Tournament wins over the last four seasons, it really says something that Koenig might have played his best postseason game on Thursday in the win over Virginia Tech.  

2. Derrick Walton Jr.

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    In a matchup of elite point guards, the senior had a monster outing as he finished with 26 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Walton out-dueled Oklahoma State sophomore Jawun Evans as Michigan earned a one-point, first-round win. 

    Buzz factor

    Besides playing like one of the best guards in the country once again, Walton put up numbers that only Magic Johnson has put up among Big Ten guards playing in the NCAA Tournament. Not exactly bad company for Walton to be in.

    https://twitter.com/BTNStatsGuys/status/842813191113596928 

    Why he's here

    Over Michigan's six-game winning streak, Walton is averaging 21 points, 8.6 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game as he's outdueled Evans and Minnesota's Nate Mason over that stretch. Now that the Wolverines are piling up wins, Walton has become one of the most dangerous players in the field as he's putting together complete efforts.

1. Sindarius Thornwell

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    By the numbers

    Putting South Carolina on his back at times during the Gamecocks' win over Marquette, Thornwell finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds as he scored 10 consecutive points on his own at one point in the second half. Thornwell was 10-for-19 from the field and 3-for-6 from three-point range as 19 of his points came in the second half.

    Buzz factor

    South Carolina had only been to the NCAA Tournament twice since 1998 and hadn't won in the event since 1973. So when the Gamecocks drew a game in Greenville, South Carolina to open the event, it was a huge deal for a South Carolina basketball team begging for a win. Thornwell helped South Carolina deliver a win in front of a heavy pro-Gamecocks crowd.

    Why he's here

    Not only did Thornwell put together the best individual performance of the weekend from an individual numbers standpoint, but he also put South Carolina on his back to help them to the program's first NCAA Tournament win in 44 years. That's the stuff of legends and it's the reason Thornwell is the easy choice for this list.