NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Ranking the Top 20 Players in the Sweet 16

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 25, 2021

NCAA Men's Tournament 2021: Ranking the Top 20 Players in the Sweet 16

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    Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs
    Gonzaga's Jalen SuggsDavid Becker/Associated Press

    For a field lacking in usual suspects, there sure is a lot of star power still standing in the Sweet 16 of the 2021 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    So much star power, in fact, that we had to omit guys like Gonzaga's Joel Ayayi, Arkansas' Justin Smith, Alabama's John Petty Jr., Baylor's Mark Vital and Florida State's M.J. Walker to get down to just a top-20 ranking of remaining players.

    To clarify the ranking process, this isn't intended to be a hierarchy of who played the best in the first two rounds. It's not about who is most important to his team. Nor is it in any way an NBA mock draft. It's more like a schoolyard draft in which we're ranking players by how badly we would want them on our team if we needed to win four games right now.

    In that scenario, Buddy Boeheim and Cameron Krutwig rank ahead of Moses Moody and Scottie Barnes even though the former duo has little hope of getting drafted and the latter duo is just about a lock for the lottery.

    When you inevitably disagree with our ranking, let us know where you think we went astray.

Nos. 20-16

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    Houston's Quentin Grimes
    Houston's Quentin GrimesMark Humphrey/Associated Press

    20. Scottie Barnes, Florida State

    A 6'9" point forward with limitless potential, Barnes is likely going to be one of the best NBA players from this Sweet 16. In his current state, though, he's a turnover-prone sixth man who more or less embodies how frustratingly inconsistent Florida State has been all season. Thus far in the NCAA tournament, Barnes merely has 10 points, six assists and eight turnovers. But no one would be that surprised if he's the driving force of an upset of Michigan.


    19. Kevin Obanor, Oral Roberts

    Obanor has been nothing short of sensational during Oral Roberts' two upset victories. He played all 85 minutes, racking up 58 points, 22 rebounds and five steals. The big man also shot 9-of-19 from three-point range and would be a no-brainer first-team selection if you're making an All-Tournament team at this stage of the dance.


    18. Quentin Grimes, Houston

    It took a few years and a change of scenery for this former 5-star recruit to blossom fully, but Grimes has been Houston's biggest star. He averages 18.1 points and 6.0 rebounds and shoots 41.7 percent from three-point range. He has been especially hot as of late, shooting 19-of-34 from downtown over his last four games.


    17. Johnny Juzang, UCLA

    Another former highly touted recruit who had to change schools to find his mojo, Juzang has been UCLA's top scorer and primary three-point threat. Through three tournament games, he has amassed 67 points, including several huge buckets in overtime of that First Four win over Michigan State.


    16. Chris Duarte, Oregon

    The beauty of Oregon is that everyone does a little bit of everything. But Duarte does a little bit more than most. The senior wing averages 17.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.8 steals and shoots 42.8 percent from distance. Four Ducks scored at least 17 points in the blowout win over Iowa. Duarte led the way with 23.

Nos. 15-11

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    Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
    Villanova's Jeremiah Robinson-EarlMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    15. Herbert Jones, Alabama

    Jones is the guy you want on your team when you need a big play. There are much better options in this Sweet 16 if a big bucket is what you want. But if you need a defensive stop, a critical rebound or someone who can set up a much-needed score, few are more versatile than Alabama's 6'8" forward. And it's not like he can't score. He did have 20 points in the opener against Iona, carrying the Crimson Tide through what was otherwise a tough shooting night.


    14. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Villanova

    If you took one or two of Herbert Jones' attribute points on defense and slid them over to offense, you'd have something close to Robinson-Earl. Collin Gillespie's torn MCL has forced people to realize that Robinson-Earl was Villanova's best player all along. And now that the Wildcats are running their offense through him in the post, he's just about unstoppable. Through two games, JRE is sitting at 40 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and four blocks.


    13. Franz Wagner, Michigan

    Wagner is the rare quiet dominator. He averages 12.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.0 blocks, but it often feels like the announcers only say his name twice in an entire game. Out of nowhere, you look at the stat sheet, and his fingerprints are all over it yet again. He has become even more indispensable for Michigan with Isaiah Livers out.


    12. Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

    Despite the big second-round performances by Luka Garza and Cameron Thomas, Abmas remains the nation's leading scorer at 24.6 points per game. ORU's lead guard had 29 against Ohio State and 26 against Florida with a combined total of 10 assists and four steals. And he's capable of even more. He had seven 30-point performances during the regular season, twice eclipsing 40.


    11. Marcus Zegarowski, Creighton

    Zegarowski has been solid in each of the last three seasons, but he's in one heck of a groove as of late. In his last six games, Creighton's leader has averaged 19.5 points, 3.7 assists and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 20-of-33 (60.6 percent) from three-point range. He kind of slipped through the national cracks since Connecticut had the Big East's biggest star (James Bouknight) and Villanova had the highest ceiling, but try not to be surprised if he goes toe-to-toe with Jalen Suggs in the Sweet 16. (But do be surprised if Creighton actually wins the game.)

10. Moses Moody, Arkansas

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    Arkansas' Moses Moody
    Arkansas' Moses MoodyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Moses Moody didn't do all that much in Arkansas' first two games, compiling just 27 points and seven rebounds between the wins over Colgate and Texas Tech. If this ranking was based entirely on what each player has done in the tournament, he would be nowhere near the top 20 while teammate Justin Smith (49 points, 19 rebounds, five steals) would probably rank in the top five. However, that first weekend should prove to the Arkansas doubters that this team is much more than just its soon-to-be lottery pick.


    Season Summary

    Arkansas has a bit of a three-headed monster going with Moody, Smith and JD Notae, but Moody is definitely the head in charge. At 37.4 percent, he's not the most accurate three-point shooter in the world, but he's the best the Razorbacks have to offer. He averages 17.1 points and 5.8 rebounds, and the 1.6 turnovers per game might be the most impressive stat for a high-usage freshman. He usually makes more of an impact than we saw in those first two rounds.


    Forecasting the Future

    The Sweet 16 game against Oral Roberts' woeful defense should be a great opportunity for Moody to snap out of this mini funk. He entered the tournament having scored 28 points in three of his previous four games, and it's more than feasible he gets back to that level of excellence Saturday. Then, if Arkansas draws Baylor in the Elite Eight, Moody's ability to avoid turnovers and hit triples will really be put to the test. The Razorbacks have little hope of pulling off that upset unless Moody brings his A-game.

9. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan

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    Michigan's Hunter Dickinson
    Michigan's Hunter DickinsonCarlos Osorio/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    While Michigan eclipsed 80 points in both games, it didn't feed the big man all that often. Dickinson had just seven field-goal attempts in each game, though at least he was efficient with them, scoring 28 total points. He also had three blocks against Texas Southern and 11 rebounds against LSU. However, it was a bit unusual that he only recorded one offensive rebound between the two games.


    Season Summary

    Michigan has all sorts of superlatives on its roster. Franz Wagner is the best NBA prospect. Eli Brooks is the most indispensable. Isaiah Livers was the most valuable player before his foot injury. But Dickinson is the most dominant force. The 7'1" freshman leads the Wolverines in points (14.2), rebounds (7.5) and blocks (1.4) per game, and he has been the anchor of the team's greatest strength: two-point defense. And much like Luka Garza at Iowa or Kofi Cockburn at Illinois, his presence in the paint opens up that little bit of space along the perimeter for so many different shooters to shine.


    Forecasting the Future

    For Michigan's sake, hopefully the future involves fewer fouls. Dickinson fouled out of the Texas Southern game after playing just 24 minutes. He also committed four fouls in the second half of the LSU game and had to ride the pine at a critical juncture. Four of those nine fouls were of the offensive variety, so he needs to be a little more cautious when trying to create space for himself. But for most of the season, fouls weren't an issue for Dickinson, and his play against Florida State's gigantic lineup will dictate the outcome of arguably the best of the Sweet 16 matchups.

8. Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

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    Syracuse's Buddy Boeheim
    Syracuse's Buddy BoeheimAJ Mast/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Whoa, Buddy (Boeheim). Syracuse's star sniper shot 6-of-13 from three-point range and finished with 25 points and two steals in the second-round win over West Virginia, and that was unequivocally the worse of his two tournament games. He also lit up San Diego State for 30 points on 7-of-10 shooting from downtown. If you want to hand out an "MVP of the first weekend" award, Boeheim is one heck of a deserving candidate.


    Season Summary

    Early in the year, Boeheim wasn't anything special. I mean, he was good, but with 14.2 points per game at a 29.5 percent three-point clip through his first 13 appearances, he wasn't even Syracuse's best player. (Quincy Guerrier easily was.) Over his last 11 games, though, Boeheim has been en fuego, averaging 22.5 points and shooting 49.5 percent from distance. This wasn't just some random guy getting hot for the first weekend. Boeheim has now had seven games with at least five made three-pointers just in the past five weeks.


    Forecasting the Future

    There's a nice little unstoppable force vs. immovable object battle on tap. In its entire 29-game season, Houston only allowed two opponents to make more than eight three-pointers, and only four shot 40 percent or better from the perimeter. But there have been some cracks in that wall as of late. Take out the game against Our Lady of the Lake and Houston's last 12 opponents have shot nearly 35 percent from three-point range, compared to 24.8 percent through the end of January. Both Rutgers and Cleveland State got to 40 percent against the Cougars. Boeheim could shoot Syracuse right into the Elite Eight.

7. Cameron Krutwig, Loyola-Chicago

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    Loyola-Chicago's Cameron Krutwig
    Loyola-Chicago's Cameron KrutwigPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Cameron Krutwig didn't dominate against Georgia Tech (sans Moses Wright) anywhere near as was expected. The big man merely went for 10 points and five rebounds, and his presence in the defensive paint wasn't anything special as the Yellow Jackets shot nearly 65 percent on twos. But in the upset win over Illinois, Krutwig was king, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals. 


    Season Summary

    That second-round performance was much more on par with Krutwig's norm. Loyola-Chicago's senior center averages 15.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks. He is the linchpin of the most efficient defense in the country, as well as the sine qua non of the offense. Krutwig was also the starting center for the Ramblers when they made their Final Four run three years ago, so don't expect him to wilt under the spotlight.


    Forecasting the Future

    Oregon State has struggled with opposing big men all season, allowing opponents to make 50.8 percent of their two-point attempts while making just 48.0 percent of its own. Krutwig should have a field day in the Sweet 16 to set up an intriguing battle of strengths with the defensive frontcourt of either Houston or Syracuse. (Though if it's Syracuse, his ability to initiate offense from the free-throw line is exactly what you want to break a 2-3 zone.)

6. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs
    Gonzaga's Jalen SuggsPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Gonzaga has been no worse for wear, but Jalen Suggs struggled in those first two games against Norfolk State and Oklahoma. For a freshman point guard, he has been uncommonly efficient all year long. Between those two games, though, he scored 22 points on 21 field-goal attempts with five assists against eight turnovers. In a competitive battle for the top spot on this list, that slow start cost him the lead.


    Season Summary

    Suggs is averaging 14.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals. His three-point stroke (33.0 percent) has been a bit hit-or-miss throughout the season, which is probably the main reason he has never been a real threat to supplant Cade Cunningham as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Suggs is definitely going in the top five, though, because his combination of vision, anticipation and skill as a passer is second-to-none.


    Forecasting the Future

    Suggs should bounce back nicely against Creighton, a team that neither forces many turnovers nor plays physically. And in the subsequent gamebe it against Oregon's five-wings lineup or USC's rotation of giantshis ability to see the whole floor will be huge. If he doesn't hit threes in either game, that's no big deal. That's what Corey Kispert is for. Suggs is the facilitator for everything else.

4B. Davion Mitchell, Baylor

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    Baylor's Davion Mitchell
    Baylor's Davion MitchellMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Davion Mitchell was the star of Baylor's second-round win over Wisconsin. He scored 16 points on just eight field-goal attempts, doled out eight assists and had a pair of steals against a Badgers offense that rarely turns the ball over. That's hardly out of the ordinary for Mitchell, though. He also filled up the box score (12 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks) in the win over Hartford. 


    Season Summary

    Mitchell might be the nation's most improved player. Last year, he was a valuable asset for the Bears, but there was no question Jared Butler was the star. Mitchell didn't even average double digits and barely shot 40 percent from the field. This year, he's shooting 46.1 percent from three-point range and 52.1 percent from the field, averaging 14.2 points, 5.4 assists and 2.0 steals. He might legitimately be the best two-way player in the country.


    Forecasting the Future

    This should be where Villanova's lack of a point guard becomes a fatal flaw. The Wildcats handled Winthrop and North Texas just fine, but Mitchell and Baylor are a different beast altogether. Against a team that struggles to defend the perimeter, Mitchell should thrive. And if he can once again create problems for what is usually a turnover-averse offense, Baylor would win easily.

4A. Jared Butler, Baylor

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    Baylor's Jared Butler
    Baylor's Jared ButlerMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Fittingly, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell had nearly identical lines from the opening weekend. While Mitchell finished with 28 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds and five steals, Butler went for 29 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and six steals. Mitchell did his damage on fewer shots, but this dual-combo-guard backcourt is a thing of beauty.


    Season Summary

    Butler averages 16.9 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 steals, and he shoots 41.5 percent from three-point range. He does more than a little bit of everything, as do Mitchell, MaCio Teague, Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler. But of this absolutely loaded Baylor backcourt, he is still the brightest star. It was because of his slow start that the Bears almost lost that February game against Iowa State, and it was largely because of his season-worst five points on 2-of-9 shooting that they looked so bad in the loss to Kansas. When Butler plays a complete game, though, Baylor is almost unbeatable.


    Forecasting the Future

    Just like Mitchell, Butler will be critical against Villanova's less-than-stellar perimeter defense and its turnover-free offense. Assuming a win in that game, lather, rinse and repeat against Arkansas. If we get that Elite Eight matchup, it will be quite fun (and informative for NBA draft scouts) to watch Butler and Moses Moody engage in a head-to-head battle.

3. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga's Corey Kispert
    Gonzaga's Corey KispertPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Corey Kispert had 39 points while shooting 10-of-17 from three-point range over the tournament's opening weekend. Just two normal days at the office for what has been one of the most lethal shooters in the country all season long. There wasn't any need for clutch buckets in those first two rounds, but this is where Gonzaga will turn if it desperately needs a three at any point.


    Season Summary

    For the first six weeks of the season, Kispert was one of the top candidates for National Player of the Year. Through 11 games, he was averaging 21.7 points and shooting 50.0 percent from three-point range, and he was outstanding in early wins over Kansas, Auburn, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia. Even during the latter 17 games, during which you could say he tapered off a bit, Kispert still put up 17.6 points per contest and shot 43.4 percent from distance. He has now scored at least a dozen points in 20 consecutive games.


    Forecasting the Future

    Creighton's last 12 opponents have shot 28.8 percent from three-point range, so we'll see if Kispert can reverse that trend or if Gonzaga will primarily flex its muscles in the paint. Even if he shoots less frequently in this one, Kispert stretches the defense just by being on the floor. And by the way, he's also a 64.0 percent two-point shooter and a 90.1 percent free-throw shooter who averages 4.9 rebounds. The threes are the biggest attraction, but he's no one-trick pony.

2. Evan Mobley, USC

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    USC's Evan Mobley
    USC's Evan MobleyJohn Locher/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    Evan Mobley's tear through one season of college basketball continued in victories over Drake and Kansas. USC's 7'0" center had a combined 27 points, 24 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. The most impressive stat, though, is that Drake and Kansas shot a combined 30.5 percent from inside the arc against the Trojans. Granted, both opponents were operating at less than full strength, but Mobleyas he often doesturned the paint into a "No Trespassing" zone.


    Season Summary

    Mobley has been fantastic all season long, and it's preposterous he wasn't even named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year award. You can probably thank the exclusivity of the Pac-12 Network and the resulting lack of national attention on the conference for that because Mobley is averaging 16.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 2.3 assists for what is currently the nation's sixth-best team, according to Had he done that type of damage at Duke or Kentucky, he would've been the lead segment on SportsCenter on a nightly basis.


    Forecasting the Future

    Mobley should be a dominant force in the Sweet 16 against Oregon. Luka Garza just went for 36 points and nine rebounds against Oregon's limited frontcourt, and Mobley is more than talented enough to do the same. Whether he'll actually demand and get the ball, though, is another story. As great as he has been, he'll be even better when he gets a little more assertive.

1. Drew Timme, Gonzaga

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    Gonzaga's Drew Timme
    Gonzaga's Drew TimmePaul Sancya/Associated Press

    1st Weekend Wrap-Up

    In a light 22 minutes of work, Drew Timme racked up 10 points, six rebounds and five assists in the opening win over Norfolk State. He was then the driving force of Gonzaga's comfortable victory over Oklahoma, finishing with 30 points, 13 rebounds and four dimes. Every time it looked for a moment like the Sooners might pull off a stunner, there was Timme with a big bucket or three.


    Season Summary

    It wasn't until he grew out the mustache that people started to fully appreciate what a weapon Timme has been for the Zags. The big man averages 18.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Gonzaga leads the nation in two-point percentage by a laughable margin, and he's the biggest reason. Not only does he make 67.5 percent of his own shots, but he's always willing to set up teammates. If you bring the double team, it's probably just going to result in a bucket elsewhere two or three passes later.


    Forecasting the Future

    Timme should have his way against an undersized Creighton frontcourt. But if we get Gonzaga-USC in the Elite Eight, what a phenomenal clash of titans that will be between Timme and Evan Mobley with the best two-point offense against the best two-point defense. That could be an instant classic.


    Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.