NCAA Tournament 2021: Ranking the Top Performers Through the 1st Round

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2021

NCAA Tournament 2021: Ranking the Top Performers Through the 1st Round

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The first round of the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament is complete, and there was plenty of excitement.

    Upsets, overtimes, hot shooting—this weekend had everything. Some of the most highly touted players (Cade Cunningham, Jalen Suggs) had forgettable performances, but other NBA draft prospects were impressive, and some unlikely players from around the country were also among the best of the first round.

    These players were chosen for their statistical performances and overall impact on the game. Only players on winning teams were included.

Honorable Mention

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press
    • Justin Smith, Arkansas (vs. 14th-seeded Colgate): 29 points, 13 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 steals, 9-of-17 FG, 11-of-13 FT
    • Jabari Walker, Colorado (vs. 12th-seeded Georgetown): 24 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, 9-of-10 FG, 5-of-5 3PT

10. Jason Preston, Ohio

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 11 points, 13 rebounds, 8 assists, 4-of-7 FG

    Buzz factor: One of the biggest upsets of the opening round was No. 13 Ohio's victory over No. 4 Virginia in the Bobcats' first NCAA tournament appearance since their Sweet 16 run in 2012. 

    Why he's here: Preston wasn't the Bobcats' leading scorer, but he played the best all-around game, coming two assists shy of a triple-double and doing a little of everything on the court.

9. Luka Garza, Iowa

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 24 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, 9-of-16 FG, 4-of-5 3PT

    Buzz factor: Iowa handled business in the first round as a No. 2 seed, taking care of No. 15 Grand Canyon and shooting a team-wide 45.5 percent from three-point range with four players scoring in double figures.

    Why he's here: Garza was Iowa's best player, finishing with a game-high 24 points and four threes as well as playing excellent defense.

8. Cameron Thomas, LSU

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 27 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 7-of-18 FG

    Buzz factor: Thomas is expected to be a first-round pick in the draft, and he showed why as the Tigers outlasted St. Bonaventure in an 8-9 matchup to set up a meeting with top-seeded Michigan.

    Why he's here: Thomas played a solid all-around game and led all scorers.

7. Johnny Juzang, UCLA

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 27 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, 10-of-16 FG, 3-of-7 3PT

    Buzz factor: UCLA closed out the second night of the first round by beating sixth-seeded BYU handily.

    Why he's here: Juzang was one of the top scorers of the first round, scoring at all three levels and shooting 4-of-5 from the foul line.

6. Brad Davison, Wisconsin

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 29 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 10-of-15 FG, 5-of-7 3PT

    Buzz factor: With Duke and Kentucky on the sidelines, North Carolina was the biggest-name program in the tournament, and Wisconsin blew it out in the 8-9 matchup in the South region.

    Why he's here: The senior guard scored over a third of the Badgers' points himself en route to a victory, scoring inside and out and knocking down five three-pointers.

5. Evan Mobley, USC

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 17 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, 7-of-15 FG

    Buzz factor: Mobley is a projected top-five pick in the upcoming NBA draft, and he did not disappoint in his March Madness debut. Out of the top pro prospects in the tournament, he had a stronger opening-weekend showing than Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham or Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs.

    Why he's here: The Trojans handled business against No. 11 Drake, and Mobley was their best player at both ends of the floor.

4. Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

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    Robert Franklin/Associated Press

    By the numbers: Obanor—30 points, 11 rebounds, 1 steal, 9-of-21 FG, 5-of-12 3PT; Abmas—29 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, 10-of-24 FG, 5-of-10 3PT

    Buzz factor: There was no more stunning upset in the first round than No. 15 Oral Roberts defeating No. 2 Ohio State in overtime.

    Why they're here: Obanor and Abmas combined to score 59 of the Golden Eagles' 75 points themselves. When two players do that much of the lifting to help a 15th seed team pull off an upset this big, they both warrant a mention.

3. Javion Hamlet, North Texas

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 24 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 7-of-18 FG, 2-of-4 3PT

    Buzz factor: The Mean Green won their first tournament game in school history, upsetting No. 4 Purdue as a 13th seed in one of the most surprising results of the first round.

    Why he's here: Hamlet was outstanding in every way, dominating on the boards, distributing the ball and leading all scorers with 24 points.

2. Miles McBride, West Virginia

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 30 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, 11-of-17 FG, 3-of-4 3PT

    Buzz factor: After a shaky end to the season, the Mountaineers righted the ship in their first tournament game with a win over 14th-seeded Morehead State.

    Why he's here: McBride did a little of everything, filling up the box score, playing defense and knocking down three shots from beyond the arc. It was the sophomore's first tournament game following last year's cancellation, and he was terrific.

1. Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    By the numbers: 30 points, 4 rebounds, 11-of-15 FG, 7-of-10 3PT

    Buzz factor: The coach's son was the driving force behind one of the first round's handful of upsets, as the 11th-seeded Orange knocked out sixth-seeded San Diego State.

    Why he's here: Boeheim couldn't miss from three, knocking down seven triples to power Syracuse to a comfortable 16-point win.