The Top 68 players in the NCAA tournament

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With the NCAA tournament hitting full throttle Thursday afternoon (60 first-round byes = nonsense), we at College Basketball Talk thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the top 68 players in this season’s event. Creighton’s Doug McDermott leads the way on this list, and there are a number of talented players who didn’t land on this list. So without further ado, here are the 68 best players in the 2014 NCAA tournament. 

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
The man given the nickname “Dougie McBuckets” by former CBT contributor Troy Machir will clean up on the postseason awards circuit and with good reason. McDermott averages 26.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and he’s been efficient in doing so with shooting percentages of 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker (19.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) hit a bit of a lull back in January, with his relying too much on perimeter shots being a key reason why. When the freshman is committed to attacking the opposition, which has been the case over the last month, he’s one of the toughest covers in the country.

3. Russ Smith, Louisville
The four-year transformation of Smith has been incredible to watch, as his decision-making has improved a great deal during his time playing for Rick Pitino. Those maddening moments that led the Pitino nicknaming his guard “Russdiculous” don’t happen very often these days, and in addition to scoring 18.3 points and 4.7 assists per game the senior is shooting 47.5% from the field and 40.5% from three.

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins has been under the microscope for much of this season, and while some have been underwhelmed with his play at times the fact of the matter is that he’s put together a very good season. Averaging 17.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, Wiggins enters the tournament averaging 31.0 points in Kansas’ last three games.

5. Shabazz Napier, UConn
In a season loaded with high-level lead guards Napier takes a back seat to no one, leading the way for a UConn team back in the NCAA tournament after having to miss out on all the fun a season ago. He’s unafraid of big moments and has the ability to both score (17.4 ppg) and distribute (4.9 apg) while also leading the Huskies in rebounding (5.9 rpg).

6. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Remember when most referred to Stauskas as a shooter and nothing else? After working hard during the offseason Stauskas won Big Ten Player of the Year honors, averaging 17.5 points per game in helping lead Michigan to the Big Ten regular season title. And after attempting just 87 free throws as a freshman, the more aggressive Stauskas has attempted 183 this season.

7. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Amongst transfers in college basketball this season Kane’s been one of the most successful, teaming up with Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to lead the Cyclones to their first Big 12 tournament title since 2000. Kane’s averaging 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season, and his percentages from the field (49.1%) and from three (39.8%) are the best of his career.

8. Gary Harris, Michigan State
On a team that has dealt with injuries throughout the season Harris has been the most consistent option, scoring 17.2 points per game for the Big Ten tournament champions. Harris has failed to reach double figures just once this season, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes the sophomore someone opponents have to account for when preparing for the Spartans.

9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson won Pac-12 Player of the Year because of his skill level on both ends of the floor and his impact on the Wildcats’ success. Johnson’s improved his offensive repertoire in each of his three seasons in Tucson, and in addition to being Arizona’s best offensive option he also get the assignment of defending the opposition’s best perimeter player on most nights.

10. Joel Embiid, Kansas*
Embiid is the “wild card” in all of this, hence the asterisk. The freshman isn’t expected to play this week, but there’s no denying the impact Embiid has on the Jayhawks defensively. He’s one of the best rim protectors in the country, thus allowing Kansas’ perimeter players to be a bit more aggressive defensively. Embiid averages 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, and in three of the five games he’s missed the opposition has shot at least 47% from the field.

MORELead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

11. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
12. T.J. Warren, N.C. State
13. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
14. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
15. Adreian Payne, Michigna State
16. Julius Randle, Kentucky
17. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
18. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
19. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
20. Bryce Cotton, Providence
21. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
22. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
23. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
24. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
25. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
26. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
27. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
28. Jordan Adams, UCLA
29. Caris LeVert, Michigan
30. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
31. Perry Ellis, Kansas
32. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
33. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
34. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
35. Rodney Hood, Duke
36. Kendall Williams, New Mexico
37. Keith Appling, Michigan State
38. Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
39. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
40. Jordan McRae, Tennessee
41. Georges Niang, Iowa State
42. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
43. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
44. James Bell, Villanova
45. Lamar Patterson, Pitt
46. Chasson Randle, Stanford
47. Joseph Young, Oregon
48. Ron Baker, Wichita State
49. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
50. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
51. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
52. Sam Dower, Gonzaga
53. Semaj Christon, Xavier
54. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
55. Cory Jefferson, Baylor
56. Chaz Williams, UMass
57. Terran Pettaway, Nebraska
58. Luke Hancock, Louisville
59. Alex Kirk, New Mexico
60. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
61. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
62. Casey Prather (Florida)
63. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
64. Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
65. Langston Hall, Mercer
66. Kenny Chery, Baylor
67. Joe Harris, Virginia
68. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.