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2017 NCAA Tournament: Rankings the bracket’s best 68 players

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The NCAA tournament kicks off in earnest on Thursday afternoon, and in honor of the 68 teams in the event, here are the 68 best players that you will see step on the floor this week:

  1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: I don’t think there’s a player in the country I want taking a big shot more than I want Frank Mason III taking a big shot. He’s the heart and soul of Kansas, and he averaged 20 points and five assists this year.
  2. Josh Hart, Villanova: There isn’t all that much about Hart’s game that’s pretty — his game-winning bucket in the Big East quarterfinals, an and-one layup off of an offensive rebound sums him up — but he is so good, and so important to Villanova, in what he does.
  3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball’s numbers speak for themselves, but it has been his impact on the Bruins team that has made the difference. His unselfishness has been contagious.
  4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan is the best low-post player in the country, and it’s not all that close. He might have been No. 1 on this list if he was better defensively and didn’t turn the ball over so much.
  5. Jayson Tatum, Duke: There is not a better isolation scorer in college hoops than Tatum, and that works perfectly with these Blue Devils, as their late-game offense is, more or less, the Blue Devil stars taking turns going one-on-one.
  6. Josh Jackson, Kansas: I think there’s a very valid argument to make that Jackson is actually the best player on Kansas and not Frank Mason III. He scores it, he defends, he can play the four in this new Kansas small-ball lineup. I think, in ten years, he’ll be the most successful NBA player from this draft class.
  7. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard was the deserving all-american on Duke’s roster. He’s become such a good scorer, and his ability to create space with his footwork, jab series and ability to read screens is so much fun to watch.
  8. Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris lived up to his hype as a point guard this season, averaging 16.3 points and finished the season with a 5.7:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
  9. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: The Ducks are going to need a big performance out of Brooks this month if they’re going to have a chance to make a run, as their starting center is out with a torn ACL. He already has three game-winners to his name this season.
  10. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Jackson has developed into arguably the best scoring wing in college basketball this season. He’s been the anchor for what is one of the most balanced offensive attacks in college hoops.
  11. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: When Fox is playing at his best, I think he is Kentucky’s best and most important player, between his ability to defend on the ball and what he can do to create in the half court.
  12. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ is the best defensive big man in college basketball and he’s also a quality low-post scorer. My concern with him is his free throw shooting. It takes him out of play down the stretch of close games.
  13. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley has been the best play for Baylor all season long, and he’s absolutely capable of dominating a game in the post.
  14. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk is tough to rank here. He can literally beat anyone all by himself when he gets it going, but he can also shoot Kentucky out of a game when he’s not playing well.
  15. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: North Carolina goes as Joel Berry II goes. We saw that in the ACC semifinals, when he got into foul trouble and UNC blew a 13-point lead in the final 13 minutes.
  16. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson is guaranteed to be a fan favorite. He averaged 17 points and 10 boards in the ACC this season despite standing just 6-foot-5.
  17. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: Mitchell can be absolutely dominant at times. But he’s not a great shooter, which is why he has performances like the 3-for-14 night he had against Duke.
  18. Allonzo Trier, Arizona: Trier has been terrific for Arizona down the stretch of the season. His addition gave their perimeter attack a bit of consistency. He may not be their most talented player, but he’s certainly been their best player.
  19. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: What Goss has done this season has been underrated by many. He’s been Gonzaga’s best player and a guy that has made some huge plays for them in close games.
  20. Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Bridges has consistently been a bright spot for Michigan State in a season where the Spartans have seemingly had everything go against them. You’ll want to see him dunk, too.
  21. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye may be the most underrated player in this field. He’s played his way into being a first round pick on a team that went 30-4 and won dual-AAC titles. Ever heard of him?
  22. Johnathan Isaac, Florida State: Isaac might be higher on this list if he actually realized that he was one of the best players in the country.
  23. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: A 7-footers that shoots it better than 43 percent from three? I can dig it.
  24. Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: With all due respect to Caleb Swanigan, Delgado is probably the best rebounder in the country. He’s averaging 15.3 points and 13.1 boards this season.
  25. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State is the most efficient offense in the country, largely because of just how good Evans has been this season.
  26. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell is an elite defender that is impossible to keep out of the paint. South Carolina needs him to put together massive games to have any kind of a chance to advance.
  27. T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf is an athletic and talented stretch four with three-point range. He’d be much higher on this list if he was a better defender.
  28. Derrick Walton, Michigan: Walton was the best point guard in the Big Ten this season, and one of the best in the country over the course of the last month of the season.
  29. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson isn’t all that big, but his ability as a positional defender and rebounder anchors Duke’s interior, and he’s developed into an annoyingly crafty and efficient scorer in the post.
  30. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: The love affair the nation has with Josh Hart has left Brunson has a criminally underrated.
  31. Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Adebayo took a while to get fully adjusted to the college game, but he’s averaged 15 points, 10 boards and two blocks his last seven games.
  32. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble had a good, not great, season, but there’s no one else in college basketball I’d rather have with the ball in their hands in the final 15 seconds than Melo.
  33. Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Jevon Carter averages 14 points, four boards and four assists and is one of West Virgnia’s best perimeter defenders.
  34. Aaron Holiday, UCLA: Holiday is the most valuable Bruin not named Lonzo Ball. He’s the team’s best perimeter defender and a guy that can play any spot on the perimeter.
  35. Grayson Allen, Duke: When he’s at his best, Allen is top ten on this list. When he’s at his worst, he doesn’t belong on this list.
  36. Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is a phenomenal talent, but his impact is somewhat limited without Mo Watson on the floor.
  37. Mike Daum, South Dakota State: Daum is the best mid-major player in the tournament. He was the nation’s second-leading scorer this season and went for 51 points in a game earlier this year.
  38. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Landale is a land-warrior of a big man and a low-post monster.
  39. Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster is one of the best wing scorers in college basketball.
  40. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett has the ability to take over games, but he’s been inconsistent this season and battled some injury.
  41. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: Karnowski has some limitations defensively, but his importance to Gonzaga offensively is undervalued.
  42. Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Wesley Iwundu is the Jimmy Butler of college hoops.
  43. Davon Reed, Miami: The names people know on Miami are JaQuan Newton and Bruce Brown. Davon Reed is probably Miami’s best player.
  44. Charles Cooke, Dayton: Cooke has a shot to get to the NBA as a 6-foot-5 defender with three-point range.
  45. EC Matthews, Rhode Island: Matthews was thought of as an NBA guy after his freshman season. After a torn ACL he looks like he’s getting back to being that guy.
  46. Landry Shamet, Wichita State: Shamet has the unenviable task of trying to replace Fred VanVleet this season.
  47. Markus Howard, Marquette: Howard is Marquette’s leading scorer despite playing just 21 minutes a night. He also shoots 54.9 percent from three while taking nearly five per night.
  48. JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee State: Williams is the best player on the best mid-major team in the field.
  49. Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin can be streaky, but when he’s at his best, he is as good of a scorer as there is this side of Malik Monk.
  50. Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell may be the best defensive front court player in the tournament.
  51. Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech: Seth Allen is the guy that’s made the big shots for Virginia Tech, but LeDay is their best player.
  52. Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt: Kornet is a 7-footer with three-point range and the second-leading scorer for Vandy.
  53. KeVaughn Allen, Florida: Florida is a team that is better as a whole than the sum of their parts, and Allen is their most important part.
  54. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: Graham is the best back court defender for the Jayhawks, are probably their best spot-up shooter.
  55. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig has made as many clutch shots as anyone this season.
  56. Marcus Marshall, Nevada: Cam Oliver gets all the hype, but Marshall is the best player on Nevada.
  57. Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell has followed in the footsteps of Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson as Notre Dame’s next great point guard.
  58. Keon Johnson, Winthrop: Johnson averaged better than 20 points despite standing 5-foot-7 on a good day.
  59. London Perrantes, Virginia: Perrantes is as steady of a point guard presence as their is in college hoops.
  60. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Bacon is the second-best player on Florida State and a potential first round pick in 2017.
  61. Jordan McLaughlin, USC: USC plays as Dunk City West because of the way that McLaughlin controls the game.
  62. Nate Mason, Minnesota: Mason might be the best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season.
  63. Sterling Brown, SMU: Brown is an NBA prospect and the second-best player on the Mustangs.
  64. Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: Cincinnati finally has an offense that can let them win games with their defense. Evans is a major reason why.
  65. Naz Long, Iowa State: Getting Long back to playing his best is one of the big reasons the Cyclones made a run late in the season.
  66. Deng Adel, Louisville: Adel started the season out slowly, but he’s been terrific down the stretch of the year.
  67. Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall: Carrington turned into one of the best perimeter scorers in the Big East by the end of the year.
  68. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe is overrated as an NBA prospect, but he’s so underrated as a college basketball player.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.