Today I brought Sam Vecenie on the podcast to discuss the top three seeds in each region and when they are actually going to lose.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: A 7-footers that shoots it better than 43 percent from three? I can dig it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jalen Brunson, Villanova: The love affair the nation has with Josh Hart has left Brunson has a criminally underrated.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Jevon Carter averages 14 points, four boards and four assists and is one of West Virgnia’s best perimeter defenders.
- 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.
- 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.
- Justin Patton, Creighton: Patton is a phenomenal talent, but his impact is somewhat limited without Mo Watson on the floor.
- 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.
- Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Landale is a land-warrior of a big man and a low-post monster.
- Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster is one of the best wing scorers in college basketball.
- Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett has the ability to take over games, but he’s been inconsistent this season and battled some injury.
- Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga: Karnowski has some limitations defensively, but his importance to Gonzaga offensively is undervalued.
- Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State: Wesley Iwundu is the Jimmy Butler of college hoops.
- Davon Reed, Miami: The names people know on Miami are JaQuan Newton and Bruce Brown. Davon Reed is probably Miami’s best player.
- Charles Cooke, Dayton: Cooke has a shot to get to the NBA as a 6-foot-5 defender with three-point range.
- 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.
- Landry Shamet, Wichita State: Shamet has the unenviable task of trying to replace Fred VanVleet this season.
- 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.
- JaCorey Williams, Middle Tennessee State: Williams is the best player on the best mid-major team in the field.
- 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.
- Jordan Bell, Oregon: Bell may be the best defensive front court player in the tournament.
- Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech: Seth Allen is the guy that’s made the big shots for Virginia Tech, but LeDay is their best player.
- Luke Kornet, Vanderbilt: Kornet is a 7-footer with three-point range and the second-leading scorer for Vandy.
- 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.
- Devonte’ Graham, Kansas: Graham is the best back court defender for the Jayhawks, are probably their best spot-up shooter.
- Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig has made as many clutch shots as anyone this season.
- Marcus Marshall, Nevada: Cam Oliver gets all the hype, but Marshall is the best player on Nevada.
- Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell has followed in the footsteps of Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson as Notre Dame’s next great point guard.
- Keon Johnson, Winthrop: Johnson averaged better than 20 points despite standing 5-foot-7 on a good day.
- London Perrantes, Virginia: Perrantes is as steady of a point guard presence as their is in college hoops.
- Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: Bacon is the second-best player on Florida State and a potential first round pick in 2017.
- Jordan McLaughlin, USC: USC plays as Dunk City West because of the way that McLaughlin controls the game.
- Nate Mason, Minnesota: Mason might be the best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season.
- Sterling Brown, SMU: Brown is an NBA prospect and the second-best player on the Mustangs.
- Jacob Evans, Cincinnati: Cincinnati finally has an offense that can let them win games with their defense. Evans is a major reason why.
- 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.
- Deng Adel, Louisville: Adel started the season out slowly, but he’s been terrific down the stretch of the year.
- Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall: Carrington turned into one of the best perimeter scorers in the Big East by the end of the year.
- Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe is overrated as an NBA prospect, but he’s so underrated as a college basketball player.
Cuonzo Martin is expected to accept the head coaching position at Missouri, sources told NBC Sports.
Martin spent the last three seasons as the head coach at Cal, where he went 62-39 and 28-24 in the Pac-12. He had previously coached at Tennessee and Missouri State, after spending years as an assistant at Purdue, his alma mater.
Cal announced on Wednesday afternoon that Martin had resigned and that Wyking Jones was named the interim head coach.
Martin is a native of East St. Louis, Illinois, and still has plenty of connections in the area. He will be able to recruit, but he also will inherit a tough situation. Kim Anderson did not leave a lot of talent on the roster, having lost at least 20 games in each of his three seasons, and there are potential APR issues on the horizon, not to mention allegations of academic misconduct.
But Missouri is a job where Martin can have success. There’s no reason that they cannot be a top three program in the SEC, and when that program is rolling, the Tiger faithful come out in droves. The key is keeping talent in-state, and that’s what this hire is likely all about.
For the most part, I think that we all mostly wants the same thing to happen in the NCAA tournament: The first weekend should be rife with upsets, Cinderellas and little guys sticking it to the big guys.
The second weekend, however, should be very different.
Once we get past the madness of the first two days of the dance, you should be rooting for the chalk, because that means that in the biggest games of the year we have the best teams in the country facing off. It’s fun to see FGCU or Middle Tennessee State win a game, but in the Elite 8, I want to see Duke playing Virginia, or Kentucky playing North Carolina, or Arizona taking on Gonzaga. I want a Final Four chock full of blue bloods and lottery picks and the best teams in the country.
The best Final Four I ever covered was in 2015, when 38-0 Kentucky advanced with Wisconsin, Duke and Michigan State. The worst? When No. 3 seed UConn won it all in a final weekend that included No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU.
I want the former. Here are the teams that could make the latter happen:
No. 6 seed SMU: The Mustangs are probably the best team in the country that you have yet to see play. They aren’t all that deep, but their top six can matchup with just about any. Semi Ojeleye is the name to know, a muscular 6-foot-7 athlete that plays a small-ball four role for Tim Jankovich. He and point guard Shake Milton are both likely to get drafted, while Sterling Moore has a shot of sticking in the NBA and Ben Moore and Jarrey Foster are really good role players at this level. They defend, they are balanced and they are really well-coached. It’s not a fluke that SMU won the AAC regular season and tournament title this season.
The question with this team is whether or not they can knock off the elite teams in the country. We haven’t really seen them get the chance yet. I think they matchup very well with Baylor in the second round, and any potential matchups with Duke and Villanova are favorable because they can trot out a lineup that can matchup with the smaller looks those two give. Running through the east is going to be a nightmare, but I do think the Mustangs have the horses to make it happen.
No. 5 seed Notre Dame or No. 4 seed West Virginia: The winner of a potential second round game between the Fighting Irish and the Mountaineers seems like a pretty good bet to get to the Final Four this season. For starters, I think both of these teams matchup well with Gonzaga. The Irish spread the floor with shooters and have a point guard that thrives in ball-screen actions, which is one of the best ways to beat the Zags and their slow-footed, 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski, and a power forward in Bonzie Colson that thrives on the block.
And once the Irish get to the Elite 8, anything can happen. Notre Dame has terrific point guard play, they are lethal from beyond the arc and they are very well coached. They don’t have the same level of talent as Florida State or Arizona at the bottom of the bracket, but that hasn’t stopped this Irish program from reaching back-to-back Elite 8s.
West Virginia, like Notre Dame, is a team that I think can get past Gonzaga for the same reason I think the Irish can: the matchup. As good as Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins are, they aren’t the most athletic pair of guards. The concern with them is what happens when they go up against a back court that’s tough, physical and athletic and pressures them for 94 feet. That’s what West Virginia does, and if they Mountaineers can get past the Zags, they will be facing a team that had to play just 48 hours earlier and had one day to prepare for a style that is totally different from the style that most teams play.
No. 10 seed Wichita State: Is Wichita State good enough to get to the Final Four? In a vacuum, yes. Of course they are. They rank in the top ten on KenPom, meaning that the metric that most believe is the most accurate in determining who the best teams in the country are, and they’ve been obliterating teams since the holidays. The biggest concern with Wichita State making a run to the Final Four? They may have to beat Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina to get there, to say nothing of having to dispatch a good Dayton team in the first round just to advance. I wouldn’t put it past Gregg Marshall to get there. He’s that good and his team is that good. But it’ll be one of the greatest NCAA tournament runs in history if it happens.
No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s: The Gaels, like SMU and Wichita State, are probably better than their seeding. SMC is an elite offensive team that doesn’t make mistakes, has shooters all over the floor and lines up with a center in Jock Landale that is as good as anyone at scoring on the block. I think they can get past VCU, which would give them a shot at Arizona in the second round. Do you think the Gaels would just at the chance to gets a fourth shot at Gonzaga in the Elite 8?
No. 5 seed Iowa State: Is there a hotter team in college basketball right now than the Cyclones? Ever since they moved Solomon Young into the starting lineup, they’ve been running through everyone. Monte’ Morris is playing great, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas are on fire and Deonte Burton looks like Draymond Green. They finished tied for second in the loaded Big 12, they won the Big 12 tournament and they are the only team since 2013 to win in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. A potential Sweet 16 date with the Jayhawks looms on the horizon, but the rest of that region seems awfully beatable.
The home of the Ball family was burglarized while LaVar attended a high school game featuring his two youngest sons, according to TMZ Sports.
Here’s what reportedly happened: Around 8 p.m., neighbors heard a crash coming from the Ball house and called police. When the cops arrived, they found the Ball’s belongings piled in the middle of a room, but nothing had been taken. The working theory is that the thieves broke in, gathered what they were going to take but ended up getting chased off by the police, whose quick response saved the Ball family from losing their stuff.
If that wasn’t bad enough, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball lost on Tuesday night in the CIF Playoffs.
LaVar Ball has made headlines all season long for his boastful claims about his son, and himself. He told reporters earlier this week that he could beat Michael Jordan 1-on-1.
Josh Okogie scored 24 points. Tadric Jackson had 19 points. Georgia Tech picked up a 75-63 win at home, and with that, the tumultuous Indiana Hoosier basketball season came to an inglorious end in Atlanta.
In a game that the program actively decided to play away from home. They didn’t want ESPN’s cameras getting a glimpse of just how empty Assembly Hall would be.
And that means that we enter Crean Watch 2017.
The Coaching Carousel is in full swing, and it seems like we are heading for a relatively mild year, at least at the upper echelon of the sport. N.C. State opened. Illinois opened. Missouri opened. LSU opened. Those are all pretty good jobs, but they aren’t great jobs, not ones that are good enough to force any serious movement in the coaching ranks. Maybe Buzz Williams makes a move. Maybe Cuonzo Martin makes a move. Maybe Scott Drew or Will Wade or Chris Holtmann makes a move. But even then, those openings aren’t all that much better than what already would have been on the table.
Indiana, however, would change that.
That’s a job that will target big names, and that will likely be able to hire a big name. Maybe that’s the job that convinces Archie Miller to leave Dayton or Gregg Marshall to leave Wichita State. Maybe they go out and hire Steve Alford, Indiana’s native son, away from UCLA.
In other words, this is the decision that people will be waiting on.
How long are we going to have to wait for Indiana to let us know what they’re going to do?