Ranking the 25 Best Players in the 2021 Men's NCAA Tournament
Although winning a national championship is a team accomplishment, the men's NCAA tournament is also an opportunity to watch some of the best players in the country.
March Madness will feature many top All-American candidates, including Gonzaga stars Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme. National Player of the Year front-runner Luka Garza and potential top NBA draft pick Cade Cunningham are in the field too.
As the opening round of the tournament nears, B/R has highlighted 25 of the most talented players in the field. The choices are subjective but focused on college performance, not NBA projection.
Note: Michigan's Isaiah Livers (foot injury, out indefinitely) is not included but otherwise would be featured.
25-21. Hyland to Thomas
25. Bones Hyland, VCU
Both VCU's leading scorer and a feisty defender, Nah'Shon "Bones" Hyland propelled VCU to a No. 10 seed. Hyland has averaged 19.5 points, shooting 37.1 percent from three-point distance while attempting 7.8 triples per game. Named the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, the crafty guard also has 1.9 steals per game.
24. Moses Wright, Georgia Tech
Even before Virginia's early coronavirus-related exit from the ACC tournament, Georgia Tech had earned a spot in the March Madness field. The ACC tournament title was a happy bonus. Alongside key guards Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe, Moses Wright put the Yellow Jackets in that position. Wright has put up 17.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.1 combined steals and blocks per game, winning ACC Player of the Year honors.
23. Herbert Jones, Alabama
Keeping the Player of the Year train rolling, Herb Jones earned that recognition in the SEC. He's a versatile forward who has put up team-best averages in rebounds (6.5), assists (3.4), steals (1.8) and blocks (1.1). Throw in 11.2 points per game, and Jones is the glue of the second-seeded Crimson Tide.
22. Sam Hauser, Virginia
Sam Hauser offers an excellent blend of high volume and efficiency from the perimeter. The Marquette transfer is launching 6.0 threes per game and knocking down 43.4 percent of them. Hauser's 63.0 effective field-goal percentage is narrowly outside the 63.9 cutoff for a top-10 mark nationally.
21. Cameron Thomas, LSU
Cameron Thomas is one of the more dynamic players in the nation, scoring 22.6 points on 17.0 shots per game. Although his 40.5 field-goal percentage is subpar, he also generates 7.4 free throws per game and buries those at an 88.0 percent clip. Few players have his ability to create instant offense.
20-16. Liddell to Robinson-Earl
20. E.J. Liddell, Ohio State
Although he's not an overwhelming scorer, E.J. Liddell has offered 15.9 points per game and can contribute in a variety of ways. The sophomore forward helps stretch the floor with a 42.8 clip on two-point jumpers, per Hoop-Math.com, and a 33.8 three-point percentage. Liddell is a physical presence down low and grabs a team-best 6.4 rebounds per contest.
19. Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago
When the Ramblers made the Final Four in 2018, Cameron Krutwig held a starting role but operated as a complementary piece. Three years later, the center is a three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley performer who earned league Player of the Year this season. Krutwig has provided 15.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 combined steals and blocks per game. He ranks ninth nationally in box plus/minus.
18. Miles McBride, West Virginia
Miles McBride is the driving force of third-seeded West Virginia. "Deuce" has recorded 15.4 points, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game, also hitting 39.2 of his three-point shots. The sophomore guard is not immune to cold shooting nights, but he's a high-upside playmaker who only commits 1.8 turnovers per game.
17. Quentin Grimes, Houston
After transferring from Kansas, Quentin Grimes has developed into a terrific scorer at Houston. This season, the junior has netted 18.0 points per game with a 40.8 three-point clip while adding 6.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists. Grimes landed AAC Player of the Year recognition, sharing the honors with Wichita State's Tyson Etienne.
16. Joel Ayayi, Gonzaga
If he played somewhere else, Joel Ayayi might be a popular lead guard. Instead, he's the No. 4 option on a stacked Gonzaga team. Ayayi has embraced his complementary role, averaging 11.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. The master of basket cuts shoots 58.3 percent overall, including 39.7 percent from three.
15-11. Robinson-Earl to Dickinson
15. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has a tough task ahead. Villanova is without star guard Collin Gillespie (torn left MCL), who shared Big East Player of the Year honors with Robinson-Earl and Seton Hall's Sandro Mamukelashvili. The Wildcats will lean on Robinson-Earl. The sophomore enters March Madness with 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game, yet they probably need more production from him.
14. Chris Duarte, Oregon
In the modern NBA, three-and-D players are a necessity. Chris Duarte fits the mold, averaging 16.7 points with a 43.0 long-range clip and 2.7 combined steals and blocks per game. Duarte has eight games this season of 20-plus points and two-plus steals.
13. Franz Wagner, Michigan
With Isaiah Livers out indefinitely, Franz Wagner is only more important to Michigan's success. The sophomore has notched 12.8 points with a 38.4 three-point percentage and 2.9 assists per game. But he's also a pest defensively, totaling 2.5 steals and blocks per game and ranking second nationally in box plus/minus.
12. James Bouknight, Connecticut
If you accept his streaky nature, James Bouknight is immensely fun to watch. He's a "microwave" scorer—meaning he might get hot anytime—who has averaged 19.0 points and had a 40-point showing in December. Bouknight's shot creation and off-ball gravity are vital for an otherwise limited UConn offense.
11. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
Hunter Dickinson opened the season as a reserve, but the freshman seized a spot in the starting lineup after five games en route to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Dickinson has tallied 14.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Although he's not a floor-spacing threat, Dickinson atones for it with a scorching 76.1 field-goal percentage at the rim, per Hoop-Math.com.
10-6. Cockburn to Suggs
10. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
Ayo Dosunmu is the superstar, but Illinois has another All-American candidate in Kofi Cockburn. As a sophomore, he's registered 17.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Cockburn ranks 10th in the country with a 15.9 percent offensive rebound rate and is tied for the second-most double-doubles (16).
9. Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Dosunmu and Cockburn are an elite guard/center duo; Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell give Baylor a top-tier backcourt pairing. Mitchell has thrived on both ends of the floor, scoring 14.2 points per game with a 46.2 three-point percentage and 5.4 assists. Plus, he earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after nabbing 2.0 steals per contest.
8. Drew Timme, Gonzaga
Drew Timme's ability to run the floor and handle the ball are vital pieces of Gonzaga's top-ranked offense, per KenPom.com. Although he's not a great defender, Timme's contributions on offense outweigh those limitations. He's put up 18.7 points and 2.0 assists per game and is second nationally with a 66.7 effective field-goal percentage.
7. Evan Mobley, USC
The No. 3 prospect in the 2020 class, Evan Mobley has played even better than expected. The Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, he's amassed 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 3.0 blocks per game. Mobley holds top-10 rankings in offensive and defensive win shares.
6. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
Mobley primarily does his damage at the rim, while Suggs is a special talent on the perimeter. He's a fluid ball-handler and passer in pick-and-roll sets, reliable shooter with a 35.4 three-point clip and tremendous defender. Suggs has provided 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
5. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
If you removed any of Ayayi, Timme, Suggs and Corey Kispert from Gonzaga, whose absence would be most noticeable? Answers vary, but our choice is Kispert.
The reason is simple: range.
Kispert has attempted 6.2 threes per game and connected on 44.4 percent of them. Both are easily the highest marks for the Zags, who rank third nationally in taking 48.9 percent of their shots at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com.
The senior marksman leads Gonzaga with 19.2 points per game, adding 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists. His 69.0 true shooting percentage is sixth in the country.
4. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
Playing in a mask because of a broken nose, Ayo Dosunmu is the Batman of college basketball. Beyond his production, Dosunmu is constantly showing up at the perfect time.
This season alone, he's buried clutch shots against Ohio, Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State (twice). That would be enough for deserved attention, but the junior also averages 20.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.
Dosunmu, who's made 38.8 percent of his threes, is set to lead top-seeded Illinois through a tough draw in the Midwest Region.
3. Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Similar to Dosunmu, Cade Cunningham has built a reputation as a clutch player. Whether it's a winning shot or defensive moment, the freshman has keyed several huge wins.
Also, he's just really freaking good at basketball.
Cunningham is a major threat in isolation who collapses defenses, a creative passer, a 41.2 percent long-range shooter and an active defender. He's recorded 20.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 combined steals and blocks per game.
No matter if fourth-seeded Oklahoma State puts together a deep run in the NCAA tournament, Cunningham is the likely No. 1 selection in the 2021 NBA draft.
2. Jared Butler, Baylor
After a third-team AP All-American season last year, Jared Butler has reached a higher level of performance.
Butler, the primary ball-handler for Baylor, has lifted his offensive output from 16.0 points and 3.1 assists per game to 17.1 and 4.8, respectively. Plus, his three-point percentage has risen from 38.1 on 6.7 attempts per contest to 42.9 on 6.1 shots.
That's not all, though. Alongside top defenders Davion Mitchell and Mark Vital, Butler has swiped 2.0 steals per game. All three landed Big 12 All-Defensive recognition.
Thanks to that versatility, Butler is eighth in box plus/minus and propelled Baylor to a No. 1 seed.
1. Luka Garza, Iowa
Although his NBA projections are a source of debate, there's no arguing how productive Luka Garza is in college.
Iowa's all-time leading scorer has netted 23.7 points per game, showing off an effective inside/outside game. He's shooting 70.6 percent at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com, and has drilled 40.7 of his 3.1 three-point attempts per game. Garza leads the nation in offensive win shares and box plus/minus.
In addition to his scoring, Garza has averaged 8.8 rebounds—including 2.9 on the offensive end—1.8 assists and 1.7 blocks.