Ranking the Top 20 Players in the Sweet 16

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2019

Ranking the Top 20 Players in the Sweet 16

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    After a thrilling weekend of men's college basketball action, 16 teams are left standing in the hunt for the 2019 national championship.

    In an unusually chalky first weekend, all four No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seeds are alive along with two of the No. 4 seeds.

    Only No. 5 Auburn in the Midwest Region and No. 12 Oregon in the South Region escaped the opening weekend as lower-seeded teams.

    As a result, a cavalcade of high-profile talent is set to suit up in the Sweet 16.

    Ahead, we've ranked the top 20 players in the Sweet 16 and listed a handful of honorable mentions. Players are ranked based on their entire body of work this season, with extra emphasis placed on their late-season performance.


    Note: Kentucky sophomore PJ Washington was not included since his status for the Sweet 16 remains unclear after he missed the Wildcats' first- and second-round games with a foot sprain.

Honorable Mentions

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    Mfiondu Kabengele
    Mfiondu KabengeleRob Carr/Getty Images
    • Kerry Blackshear Jr., Virginia Tech
    • Bryce Brown, Auburn
    • Jared Harper, Auburn
    • Keldon Johnson, Kentucky
    • Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State
    • Terance Mann, Florida State
    • Charles Matthews, Michigan
    • Skylar Mays, LSU
    • Jordan Poole, Michigan
    • Payton Pritchard, Oregon
    • Cam Reddish, Duke
    • Naz Reid, LSU
    • Xavier Tillman, Michigan State

Nos. 20 to 16

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    Cameron Johnson
    Cameron JohnsonGerry Broome/Associated Press

    20. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan

    Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole are both capable of leading the Wolverines in scoring, and 7'1" center Jon Teske is an important cog in the middle. However, it's the freshman Brazdeikis who is the team's most talented all-around player. The 6'7" forward averages 14.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, and he shoots 40.6 percent from deep.


    19. Ty Jerome, Virginia

    While he can sometimes be overshadowed by teammates De'Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy, Jerome is equally important to Virginia's success. The 6'5" junior point guard averages 13.0 points on 40.0 percent shooting from beyond the arc, and he leads the Cavaliers with 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game.


    18. Corey Davis Jr., Houston

    The defensive-minded Cougars average just 75.8 points per game, and it's Davis Jr. who does the bulk of the damage. The senior standout averages 17.1 points, and he's buried 110 three-pointers on the year at a 38.1 percent clip. He's averaging 20.5 points in his last 15 games, including 26 against Georgia State and 21 against Ohio State in the NCAA tournament.


    17. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech

    Alexander-Walker has shot up NBA draft boards during his sophomore season after upping his scoring output from 10.7 to 16.4 points per game while also raising his field-goal percentage from 44.9 to 47.8. The 6'5" guard also averages 4.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and a team-high 1.9 steals per game.


    16. Cameron Johnson, North Carolina

    Johnson has taken his perimeter game to another level this season, raising his three-point percentage from 34.1 to 46.3 while knocking down a team-high 94 triples. Coby White is the better NBA prospect and Luke Maye is a double-double machine, but it's the fifth-year senior Johnson who leads the Tar Heels in scoring at 16.9 points per game.

No. 15 to 11

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    Kyle Guy
    Kyle GuyStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    15. Kyle Guy, Virginia

    Guy is the leading sharpshooter on a Cavaliers offense that connects on 40.2 percent of shots from beyond the arc. He's hit 107 threes at a 43.9 percent rate and averages 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The junior guard has been held to just 12 points in two games during this NCAA tournament, but he's capable of going off at any time if he gets hot from deep.


    14. Tyler Herro, Kentucky

    A 4-star recruit, Herro was far from the most-hyped freshman in a Kentucky recruiting class that included 5-stars EJ Montgomery, Ashton Hagans, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley. He's made the biggest impact, though, averaging 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. With PJ Washington potentially watching from the sidelines, Herro could be counted on to shoulder even more of the scoring load against a good Houston defense.


    13. Luke Maye, North Carolina

    Even though Maye has seen his scoring (16.9 to 14.9 PPG) and three-point shooting (43.1 to 28.9 percent) both take a downturn this season, he's still an integral part of the Tar Heels success. He's one of 19 players in Division I to average a double-double (10.5 RPG), and he's dramatically improved his free-throw shooting from 62.4 to 78.0 percent.


    12. Tremont Waters, LSU

    The 5'11" Waters is a handful defensively, as he ranks third in the nation with 2.9 steals per game. He also leads the Tigers in scoring (15.0 PPG) and assists (5.9 APG) and is the catalyst for an offense that ranks 13th in KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency.


    11. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

    Schofield plays second fiddle to two-time SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams for the Volunteers, but it's an awfully good second fiddle. The 6'6" senior averages 16.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and he hits on 41.5 percent of his three-point attempts. He's scored 19 points in each of the team's first two NCAA tournament games.

10. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Rui Hachimura has poured in 19.7 points per game for Gonzaga this season to win West Coast Conference Player of the Year and lead the Bulldogs to another No. 1 seed.

    The 6'8" forward was held to nine points in the WCC tournament title game against Saint Mary's and had just six points on 2-of-6 shooting in the team's win over Baylor on Saturday.

    He's more than capable of shouldering the offensive load, though. The junior has tallied 20 or more points 20 times this season, including a 21-point outing against Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round.

    He also averages 6.6 rebounds and has 34 steals and 26 blocks in 35 games.

9. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Carsen Edwards is a high-volume scorer.

    Sometimes that can be detrimental, like when he scored just 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament and the Boilermakers were bounced in their opening game.

    Other times, it can be a thing of beauty, like in his 42-point outburst against Villanova to lead Purdue into the Sweet 16.

    More times than not, Edwards is a star for a team that has exceeded expectations all season.

    He connected on nine of his 16 three-point attempts in his big game over the weekend, and he's hit 120 threes at a 34.6 percent rate on the year.

    If anyone is going to single-handedly put a team on his back and carry it to the Final Four this year, he's the guy.

8. Coby White, North Carolina

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Coby White stepped onto campus at North Carolina as the other big freshman recruit in a class headlined by projected one-and-done lottery pick Nassir Little.

    Instead, it's White who has made the bigger impact, while Little has been relegated to a bench role that leaves his immediate NBA future in question.

    White, a 6'5" point guard who can facilitate and score, has taken the reins of a high-powered Tar Heels offense and averaged 16.1 points and 4.1 assists.

    He had 34 points in a game against Syracuse last month and 21 against Duke in the regular-season finale, so he's capable of stepping into the role of primary scorer if other guys aren't getting the job done.

7. De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    De'Andre Hunter has likely played his way into the NBA draft lottery with a standout redshirt sophomore season at Virginia.

    The long, athletic 6'7" wing leads the Cavaliers in scoring (15.2 PPG) while shooting a blistering 44.6 percent from beyond the arc. He also adds 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest.

    He's an integral part of one the stingiest defenses in the country, and he scored a team-high 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting against Gardner-Webb in a hard-fought first-round game.

    His ability to stretch the defense and attack off the dribble makes everyone on the roster better.

6. Cassius Winston, Michigan State

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Cassius Winston took home Big Ten Player of the Year honors for a Michigan State team that won a share of the regular-season conference championship and took home the conference tournament title.

    The junior point guard leads the conference in assists (7.6 APG) and ranks fourth in scoring (18.9 PPG), as he's one of the best floor generals in the nation and a dynamic offensive threat.

    Winston had 26 points in the Spartans' first-round win over Bradley, and he tallied 13 points and nine assists against Minnesota to help the team advance to the Sweet 16.

5. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Jarrett Culver has a chance to be an impactful two-way player in the NBA.

    For now, he's the Big 12 Player of the Year and the offensive leader of a Texas Tech team with one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

    The rangy 6'5" wing averages 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and he filled it up against Northern Kentucky in the first round with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

    He also had 31 points against Iowa State in the regular-season finale and 26 points against West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament, so he appears to be peaking at the right time.

4. Grant Williams, Tennessee

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    You don't win back-to-back SEC Player of the Year awards by accident.

    After taking home the hardware with averages of 15.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season, Grant Williams has upped his production across the boardaveraging 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

    The 6'7" junior has also upped his assist rate (1.9 to 3.1 APG), doubled his steal total (21 to 42), improved his free-throw shooting (76.4 to 82.4 percent) and become a factor from beyond the arc (15 threes, 34.1 percent) after shooting a dismal 3-of-25 from distance last year.

    He had 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks in the Volunteers' overtime win over Iowa on Sunday.

3. RJ Barrett, Duke

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    It's not often that a freshman averages 22.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, and he's not even the best player on his own team.

    That's life for RJ Barrett playing in the immense shadow of Zion Williamson.

    The 6'7" Barrett has scored in double figures in every game this season, and he's had at least 20 points in 25 of the Blue Devils' 36 games.

    He took on a heavier load during the six-game stretch (including the first Duke game) that Williamson missed with his knee injury, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.

    If nothing else, that makes it clear to other teams that they can't have all of their defensive attention on Williamson. 

2. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Even before he went off for 36 points against Baylor on Saturday, Brandon Clarke was deserving of a top-five spot in these rankings.

    The points are nice, and he's averaging 17.0 per game on the season.

    However, it's the impact he makes on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor that earns him such a high ranking.

    Despite standing just 6'8", Clarke averages 3.1 blocks per game, and he leads the nation with 107 blocks. He also averages 1.2 steals per game.

    His 3.1 offensive rebounds per game also help add possessions on the offensive end for the Bulldogs.

    Even if he's held under 20 points, Clarke is the kind of player who can profoundly impact the outcome of a game.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke

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    Sean Rayford/Associated Press

    Who else did you expect to see at No. 1?

    Since returning from a six-game absence following a scary knee injury, Zion Williamson has been playing out of his mind:

    • 3/14 vs. Syracuse: 13-of-13 shooting, 29 points, 14 rebounds
    • 3/15 vs. North Carolina: 13-of-19 shooting, 31 points, 11 rebounds
    • 3/16 vs. Florida State: 7-of-11 shooting, 21 points, 5 rebounds
    • 3/22 vs. ND State: 12-of-16 shooting, 25 points, 3 rebounds
    • 3/24 vs. UCF: 12-of-24 shooting, 32 points, 11 rebounds

    That comes out to 27.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

    Teams can game-plan ways to slow him down, but there's no stopping the 6'7", 285-pound freshman.

    If Duke goes on to win the national title, Williamson will undoubtedly be the driving force.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference, unless otherwise noted. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports' composite.