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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.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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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

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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

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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

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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.