2018 Final Four: Ranking the players left in the NCAA Tournament

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Today, we’re going to rank the top 20 players — the starters on every team in San Antonio — left in the NCAA tournament.

But instead of ranking them solely based on who the best players are we’re going to rank them based on the likelihood that they end up being the Final Four Most Outstanding Player. 

I’m sure this won’t cause any arguments:

1. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson is our National Player of the Year. Of course he’s going to be the best player in the Final Four.

2. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas: Graham has not been at his best during this run to the Final Four. The Kansas star has shot just 34 percent from the floor during these four wins, and even when the Jayhawks beat Penn in the first round and he scored 29 points, he did it while shooting 9-for-24 from the floor. Having said all that, Graham has had a phenomenal season, one deserving of first-team all-american honors. If Kansas is going to win it all, Graham is going to have to be terrific.

3. MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: The Final Four’s lone lottery pick, Bridges has had a bit of an up-and-down run through the tournament, but we all saw what he is capable of early in the second half against Alabama, when he popped off for 16 points in four minutes. He is also Villanova’s best perimeter defender, and will likely play a leading role in trying to slow down Malik Newman.

4. UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas: Doke has been so underrated this season, and his ability to score in the paint has made it just that much easier for the Kansas guards to find space to shoot. The big thing for him is going to be staying out of foul trouble, because every big on Villanova’s roster can step out on the perimeter and knock down an open jumper.

5. MOE WAGNER, Michigan: Wagner has not been at his best during March Madness, but he is Michigan’s most talented player. His ability to step out on the perimeter and play something of the Kevin Pittsnoggle role for the Wolverines opens up John Beilein’s offense. He is going to be a matchup nightmare for Loyola.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

6. OMARI SPELLMAN, Villanova: I was so impressed with Spellman seeing him in person. I thought he was nothing more than a spot-up shooter, but he can protect the rim, he gets out and runs in transition and his ability to put the ball on the floor and go by slower defenders should have Bill Self terrified about keeping Azubuike out of foul trouble.

6a. DONTE DIVINCENZO, Villanova: If he started, this is where I would rank him.

7. MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman had a bit of an up-and-down season, but he has absolutely caught fire in March and has been the best player for the Jayhawks throughout this tournament and the Big 12 tournament. In the last seven games — all wins, obviously — he’s averaging 21.2 points and shooting 54.9 percent from three. That’s pretty good. Per sources.

8. MUHAMMAD-ALI-ABDUR-RAHKMAN, Michigan: While Zavier Simpson is the guy that gets the credit for being the point guard in Beilein’s offense — because he’s the point guard — it is Abdur-Rahkman that does the heavy-lifting when it comes to being the play-maker and the guy that initiates things on that end. And he has proven that he can take a game over.

9. SVI MYKHAILIUK, Kansas: Everyone wants to talk about the job that Malik Newman did in overtime against Duke, but that game never would have gotten to overtime if Svi had not found a way to muscle up and hold his own against Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter in the paint. And that coming from a guy known as a soft, streaky shooter that didn’t want to defend.

10. CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan: Matthews, along with Simpson, is one of the main reasons that the Wolverines have turned into a defensive stalwart this season. As much as he provides on the offensive end of the floor, his ability to lock down an opponent’s best perimeter defender is a difference-maker.

11. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova: A freak athlete that can guard just about any position, knock down threes and defend at the rim. He’s a key cog in what Villanova wants to do.

12. ZAVIER SIMPSON, Michigan: The real value of Simpson cannot be found in the numbers that he puts up. What makes him so good and so important to this Michigan team is the way that he can defend. He is spark-plug for a Wolverines team that builds everything they do around that end of the floor.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

13. PHIL BOOTH, Villanova: Booth isn’t flashy, but he is a key cog in that Villanova machine because he does everything. He can handle the ball if needed. He can make open threes. He’s one of their best on-ball defenders. And he’s got the experience – he scored 20 points in a national title game.

14. LAGERALD VICK, Kansas: Early in the season, Vick looked like he might be the second-best player on Kansas. Midway through the year, he was pulled out of the starting lineup because he was mired in a slump. Now? He’s found his shooting stroke and embraced the role that he is being asked to play: knockdown shooter and perimeter defender.

15. DUNCAN ROBINSON, Michigan: I think Robinson is the x-factor for Michigan. The Wolverines have seven losses this season, and in those seven losses, Robinson has averaged 3.0 points. In wins, he’s averaging 10.9 points. X-factor!

16-21. CLAYTON CUSTER, CAMERON KRUTWIG, MARQUES TOWNES, DONTE INGRAM, BEN RICHARDSON and AUNDRE JACKSON, Loyola-Chicago: This might seem like a shot at Loyola-Chicago, but it really isn’t. There’s a reason these guys are playing in the Missouri Valley instead of a bigger league, and with the exception of maybe Clayton Custer, I can’t see them cracking the starting lineup for any of the teams left in the Final Four.

But this Loyola team is not about the individual talents of the players on this roster. That’s not what makes them so good and so fun to watch. The reason they are here in the Final Four is that Porter Moser has himself a group of guys that compliment each other perfectly. They execute offensively and they are connected defensively. They are all the clichés of what a coach wants in a player, and anyone that truly understands how basketball is supposed to be played can appreciate watching this group do what they do best.

 

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

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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.