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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.

VIDEO: West Virginia honored Andrew Jones before game vs. Texas

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The West Virginia basketball team donned burnt orange ‘Big 12 Strong’ warmup shirts with the No. 1 on the back in honor of Texas point guard Andrew Jones.

Jones was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this month.

Texas Tech also honored Jones before a game this week, and Texas has raised more than $100,000 for his medical expenses.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: No. 7 Wichita State, No. 8 Texas Tech lose

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It’s hard to argue with the performance that J.P. Macura had on Saturday. No. 11 Xavier went into Newark and knocked off No. 19 Seton Hall, 73-64, behind 27 points, five boards and three assists from Macura.

This win was particularly important for Xavier, who remain just a game out of first place in the Big East and in great position to make a run at getting a top three seed, which would mean they likely won’t have to play Villanova until the Big East title game. The loss is the second in a row for Seton Hall and the their third loss in four games.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards finished with 22 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers as the No. 3 Boilermakers blew out Iowa on the road.
  • MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman finished with 24 points and seven boards, including a personal 7-0 run with three minutes left to help No. 10 Kansas remain in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 70-67 win over Baylor.
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: Brown finished with 28 points as Auburn erased a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off Georgia 79-65 and remain within a game of first-place in the SEC.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: In a win over No. 24 Kansas State, TCU’s second-straight win over a ranked team, Wade went for 20 pints, six boards, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Houston landed themselves their first marquee win of the season as they pounded No. 7 Wichita State in Houston, 73-59. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points and four assists, putting the Cougars in a position where earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is feasible. There is still plenty of work left to do, but this is the start they needed.

The bigger question mark, however, is Wichita State, who also lost at home to SMU this week. The Shockers are nowhere near as good as many expected them to be. Their offense isn’t good enough to make up for the fact that they aren’t guarding anyone.

GAME OF THE DAY

Trae Young went for 48 points, 34 of which came after halftime as the Sooners erased a 19-point deficit, but thanks to a Kendall Smith three at the end of regulation, this game went into overtime. Young had shots at the buzzer in regulation and in overtime to win the game and missed both, as the Pokes escaped with an 83-81 win.

Young needed 39 shots to get those 48 points. We went through whether or not that is too many shots for him here.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Iowa State, who can’t guard anyone and is probably the worst team in the Big 12 this season, knocked off No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-52. The Red Raiders have now lost three of their last four games – all of which came on the road – after winning at Kansas. Texas Tech is also now just 1-3 in the four games since Zach Smith broke his foot, but they also beat Baylor by 24 points and won at Kansas when Smith played 10 total minutes.

So you explain Texas Tech to me. Because I don’t get it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

The Florida Gators moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC thanks to a 66-64 win at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. It was hardly a pretty game – Florida shot 33 percent from the floor and 6-for-30 from three – but the Gators were able to hang on thanks to a questionable no-call in the final seconds.

No. 20 Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, 67-58, but missing out on a commitment from Zion Williamson wasn’t the only bad news of the day. Star forward Donte Grantham went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. He averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards. Losing him would be disastrous for the Tigers.

No. 14 Arizona had to rally down the stretch, but the Wildcats did. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the second half at Stanford, the Wildcats survived as Dorian Pickens missed a three at the buzzer. The win puts Arizona all alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench as No. 1 Villanova blew out UConn in Hartford, 81-61.

No. 13 Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both won, meaning that the Gaels still hold a one game lead over the Zags in the WCC. Nevada knocked off Boise State, giving the Wolf Pack a two-game lead in the Mountain West.

At this point, Pitt barely counts as ACC competition. But they are and No. 5 Duke beat them 81-54 tonight.

Jevon Carter went for 22 points and eight assists as No. 6 West Virginia knocked off Texas, 86-51. The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Mountaineers pulled away late.

The star of the day for No. 12 Cincinnati was Gary Clark, who finished with 14 points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks, in an 86-60 win over East Carolina.

Luke Maye went for 17 points and 11 boards to lead four players in double figures as No. 15 North Carolina held on to beat Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech, 80-66.

It ended up not being much of a game when the Big Ten invaded Madison Square Garden as No. 22 Ohio State put a beating on Minnesota, 67-49. Minnesota lost Jordan Murphy to an ankle injury in the game as well.

You Make The Call: Did Kentucky’s P.J. Washington get fouled?

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There was a controversial finish to Florida’s 66-64 win over No. 18 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.

Florida had taken a 45-37 lead on the Wildcats before Kentucky fought back, eventually pulling ahead before the Gators surged back in front. A pair of threes and a missed front-end set up a situation where the Wildcats had the ball, down 66-64, on the final possession of the game, leading to this play:

P.J. Washington drives to the rim and appears to get hit in the head by Jalen Hudson. Hudson initially gets his hand on top of the ball, but as Washington’s momentum carries him, Hudson rakes Washington across the face and pushes his head back with his elbow.

It’s not intentional, but the contact is clearly there.

Did the referees blow this call?

If they did, the call could end up determining the SEC regular season champion. Entering Saturday, both Kentucky and Florida were tied for the league lead at 5-1 in the conference. They play again on the season’s final weekend in Gainesville.

Norvell helps No. 13 Gonzaga bounce back to beat Santa Clara

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and No. 13 Gonzaga bounced back from its first conference loss of the season to beat Santa Clara 75-60 on Saturday night.

Josh Perkins added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, Rui Hachimura scored 16 points and Killian Tillie had 12. Johnathan Williams had nine points and eight boards for Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1 West Coast Conference), including his 400th career rebound.

Two days after a 74-71 home loss to Saint Mary’s that ended Gonzaga’s six-game winning streak, the Bulldogs had trouble shaking the pesky Broncos (7-13, 4-4) until Norvell found his stroke after halftime.

Norvell made pair of 3s, a short jumper and a layup in the first 7 ½ minutes of the second half, scored on an offensive rebound as part of a 12-0 run, and then made a fast-break one-handed dunk to put the Bulldogs up 75-41.

It was Gonzaga’s 17th consecutive win over the Broncos and improved coach Mark Few’s record to 40-4 against Santa Clara.

KJ Feagin scored 21 points for the Broncos.

Unlike the first game between the teams this season, when Gonzaga built 27-point lead by halftime on the way to a win in Spokane, Santa Clara kept it close early despite struggling from beyond the arc.

The Broncos missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts but were tied with 8 ½ minutes left in the first half following Josip Vrankic’s driving layup that had the crowd at Leavey Center roaring.

Part of the problem for Gonzaga was the Bulldogs’ inability to keep Feagin from getting to the basket. He had 12 points in the first 20 minutes, made three layups and tipped in his own miss to help Santa Clara close within seven at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have not lost back-to-back games this season and looked good after a somewhat slow start. Norvell provided a huge boost but the Zags also got another big game from Hachimura, who has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.

Santa Clara: Coming off a win at San Francisco, the Broncos made a splash in the first half at home to keep things interesting. They never had the Bulldogs on their heels, but it was a much better effort than their first meeting.

No. 10 Kansas rallies late to beat Baylor, 70-67

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self has relied on a four-guard lineup all season, one that is designed to attack the basket aggressively, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

He was fortunate one of those four guards stepped up Saturday night.

Malik Newman scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the final minutes, bailing out the rest of his sluggish teammates, and Baylor turned the ball over on the last inbounds play as the No. 10 Jayhawks escaped with a 70-67 victory that kept them atop the Big 12.

“We were lucky,” Self said, “to have one guy out there putting defense on its heels.”

The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1 Big 12) trailed 67-61 with 2:05 to go before Newman went on his scoring binge, giving them the slimmest of leads again. The Bears (12-7, 2-5) had a couple of chances after that, but Manu Lecomte missed a 3-pointer and a layup attempt high off the glass with three seconds left.

Devonte Graham added a pair of free throws before Baylor squandered a chance at the final shot.

“(Newman) put us on his back and all we needed was to get those stops,” Graham said, “and we did.”

It was the Jayhawks’ 11th consecutive win over the Bears, who have never won in 16 tries in Lawrence. It was also the closest Baylor has come during any of those games.

Graham finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Udoka Azubuike had 14 points and seven boards, but he was just 4 of 11 from the foul line and missed two crucial ones late.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. had 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out for Baylor. Nuni Omot added 14 points and Lecomte had 10, though he was 3 of 12 from the floor and 1 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

“Very frustrating. We’re as good a team as them. We know we can beat them,” Lecomte said. “They’re a really good team. They never give up. Next time we have to make sure we keep that lead.”

Allen Fieldhouse has been Baylor coach Scott Drew’s personal house of horrors — the closest he had come to winning had been the Bears’ 73-68 loss last season. And when the Jayhawks opened the game by making their first seven shots and taking an 18-5 lead, it looked as if this one would be no different.

It took Drew burning through nearly all his timeouts to settle Baylor down.

Shots eventually stopped falling for Kansas as the Bears picked up their defensive pressure, and their deficit dwindled to 32-26 before a late flurry left them in a 38-27 halftime hole.

Kansas began the second half determined to get Azubuike the ball in the paint, and he made good on his first couple of chances. But when he failed to execute a few times in a row, Self greeted him during a timeout with, “Are you kidding me?” — spiced up with an extra word.

The Jayhawks still led 52-47 midway through the second half when Baylor went on a 16-4 run.

Omot started it with a bucket in the paint, but it was seven free throws by the senior forward that did the real damage. Lual-Acuil’s basket with 4:39 left gave Baylor a 61-56 advantage.

The Bears scored on nine consecutive possessions down the stretch.

Newman finally turned the momentum, though. He converted a three-point play and a nifty drive on a run-out, then knocked down another basket to give Kansas a 68-67 lead with a minute left.

“When the game is on the line, Coach always says that players make plays,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and we came out with a win.”

HONORING JO JO

Kansas honored two-time All-American Jo Jo White with a video tribute before tipoff. The seven-time NBA All-Star, whose jersey hangs from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, died Tuesday at the age of 71.

BYE, BYE BILLY

Kansas freshman Billy Preston signed with a pro team in Bosnia on Friday, ending any chance the five-star prospect will play for the Jayhawks. Preston had been held out all season while the school looked into the finances of the car he was driving during a November accident.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor has lost its last five games to the Jayhawks by a combined 20 points, no doubt adding to Drew’s frustration. Six of the Bears’ seven losses this season have come against ranked teams.

Kansas has won five straight to grab ahold of the Big 12 race, though none of them have been very comfortable. The Jayhawks’ winning streak has been by a combined 18 points.