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Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.

Marquette lands Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny

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Marquette pulled in a quality graduate transfer commitment on Friday as Fordham guard Joseph Chartouny pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-3 Chartouny was a three-year starter for the Rams as he should help offset the loss of guard Andrew Rowsey to graduation. While Chartouny isn’t nearly the perimeter threat that Rowsey was, he should be able to help significantly on the defensive end for Marquette. Chartouny put up 12.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game last season as he was one of the more productive all-around players in the Atlantic 10.

One of the nation’s leaders in steals the past three seasons, Chartouny has much better size to play alongside Markus Howard in the Marquette backcourt than Rowsey (5-foot-11) had. Since Howard is also 5-foot-11, Chartouny can now guard the bigger and more athletic perimeter matchup as Marquette tries to improve its porous defense from last season.

Marquette still has an open scholarship for next season as they’ve been investigating other transfer options to bolster the roster. Returning most of last season’s roster, the expectation will be for the Golden Eagles to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.