(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Sweet 16 Preview: The 16 best players left in the NCAA tournament, plus 16 more

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We’re kicking off our preview coverage of the Sweet 16 today with a ranking of the 16 teams left in the NCAA tournament to get you primed for the second weekend.

If you’re not ready to let the first weekend go, trust me, I hear you.

It was wild. You relive the eight buzzer-beaters we saw or the 13 craziest moments we experienced.

And when you’re ready to move on, go check out our Sweet 16 Power Rankings and the Sweet 16 Things You Need To Know. Then continue reading here.

1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Think about this for a second: In the second round of the NCAA tournament, Buddy Hield scored 36 points. That’s pretty incredible, right? Well, 29 of those points came in the second half, which is an insane number for anyone to score in one half of a college basketball game. But it gets better: Hield scored 26 of Oklahoma’s final 31 points as No. 10 seed VCU was doing everything they could do to try and erase a 13-point half time deficit. They even took the lead at one point, which is why it is safe for us to say Hield literally put the Sooners on his back and dragged them to the Sweet 16.

That’s absurd, what he was able to do. How come we aren’t talking about it more?

2. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: Brogdon can go into star mode and take over a game offensively. Maybe he didn’t do it on Saturday, but he’s done time and again this season. Where Brogdon really makes a difference is on the defensive end of the floor. He can, when needed, totally shut down an opponent’s best player, whether it’s a point guard or, in the case of Butler’s Andrew Chrabascz, a power forward. So, Georges Niang, are you ready for Friday night?

3. Brice Johnson, North Carolina: The best big man left in the tournament. Johnson is averaging a double-double this season, but he’s made tremendous strides on the defensive end of the floor in the last three weeks. And it’s that improvement defensively that has changed this Tar Heel team.

4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Ferrell has been phenomenal for Indiana this season, as he carried the team through a stretch where a group of young guys were learning new roles and figuring out how they can impact a game at this level. And he’s still capable of that. But it’s worth noting that, now, the Hoosiers supporting cast is playing at a level where he doesn’t always have to dominate. That’s why there is a real chance that Indiana can beat North Carolina on Friday night.
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5. Grayson Allen, Duke: There seems to be a national push-back against Grayson Allen right now, given the hate that comes with being white and a star at Duke (and, of course, the tripping). But what’s worth remembering is that Allen is a “star at Duke”. He’s the biggest reason why a team with no depth, a single post player that Coach K trusts and a single point guard — an inconsistent freshman, at that — on the roster is in the Sweet 16.

6. Josh Hart, Villanova: Criminally underrated. That’s the best way to describe Hart, whose ability to rebound and defend multiple positions allows Kris Jenkins to be somewhat hidden defensively. He’s always been tough as nails, though, but now that he’s actually scoring at a consistent rate as well? Look out. I judge how much people know about basketball based on what they think of Hart as a player.

7. Georges Niang, Iowa State: There may not be a more versatile or dangerous 1-on-1 scorer in the country than Niang. Like Allen, he’s carrying a team that has so many roster flaws they really shouldn’t be in the position that they are in right now. He’s not underrated at this point, but he may be under-appreciated.

8. Domas Sabonis, Gonzaga: There’s an argument to be made that Sabonis is the best big man left in this tournament. I think that title still belongs to Brice Johnson, but Sabonis isn’t that far behind. He’s a nightmare to deal with in the paint because of his strength, his physicality and his ability to work through contact. That, and he might be the toughest player in the sport.

9. Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Niang is the most recognizable name on the Cyclones, but there’s an argument to be made that Morris is their best player. The dynamic point guard doesn’t turn the ball over and gives Steve Prohm two dynamic, borderline unstoppable players on his perimeter.

10. Brandon Ingram, Duke: Ingram’s really flourished since he was asked to take over the small forward role for the Blue Devils. His matchup with Oregon is going to be really interesting and telling, because Oregon has the athletes at the four spot to matchup with him.

Brandon Ingram
(AP Photo/Ted Richardson)

11. Perry Ellis, Kansas: I initially had Ellis lower on this list than 11th, which should tell you something about Kansas: They’re the best team left in the tournament but their best player is Perry Ellis? The thing that makes the Jayhawks so good is that they don’t have a star, because a punch does the most damage  when you don’t know where it’s coming from.

12. Dillon Brooks, Oregon: This may actually be too low for him. Brooks is one of the guys that lets Oregon play a small-ball style. He’s their leading scorer and their go-to guy in big moments, be he’ll be tested defensively against Duke.

13. Sheldon McClellan, Miami: Like Hart, McClellan is really underrated. He’s a terrific athlete that can score at all three levels as well as create his own shot with the bounce. He’s the guy in that Miami back court where you know what you’re going to get on a nightly basis.

14. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson is the engine that makes Notre Dame’s offense tick, much the way that Jerian Grant was Notre Dame’s engine last season.

15. Melo Trimble, Maryland: I loved Trimble last season, and in the preseason, and early this season. But he’s been such a disappointment the last month or so. Is the real Melo going to show up for the Sweet 16 and Kansas?

16. Danuel House, Texas A&M: He’s the kind of guy that can score 18 points in the final 11 minutes and change of a double-overtime win against Northern Iowa. He’s also the guy that scored exactly zero points in the first 35 minutes of that game.

AND HERE ARE 16 MORE GUYS THAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

17. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
18. Frank Mason, Kansas
19. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma
20. Anthony Gill, Virginia
21. Zach Auguste, Notre Dame
22. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
23. Chris Boucher, Oregon
24. Troy Williams, Indiana
25. Angel Rodriguez, Miami
26. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
27. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse
28. Elgin Cook, Oregon
29. Thomas Bryant, Indiana
30. Kris Jenkins, Villanova
31. Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
32. London Perrantes, Virginia

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.