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Ranking every starter left in Sweet 16

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With the Sweet 16 starting, I decided that it was officially time to rank the players left in the NCAA tournament field.

The criteria was simple: If the starters for every team in the tournament got thrown into a pot and 16 of us were asked to draft teams to win four games and cut down the nets in Minneapolis, this would be my big board.

1. Zion Williamson, Duke: He’s the best and most unstoppable player in college basketball. Who else would I put at No. 1?

2. De’Andre Hunter, Virginia: He may not be the best prospect in the tournament, but for my money he is the second-best player in all of college basketball right now. He’s the best defender in the sport and a 44.6% three-point shooter that doubles as UVA’s leading scorer.

3. R.J. Barrett, Duke: Barrett is currently averaging 22.8 points, 7.7 boards and 4.1 assists for Duke. The only other player to put up 22-7-4 for a high-major team since 1992 was Anfernee Hardaway, and that was when Memphis was in the Great Midwest Conference. Barrett did this in the ACC.

4. Grant Williams, Tennessee: Williams has made a habit of absolutely taking games over in crunch time. He did it in Tennessee’s win over Kentucky in the SEC tournament. He did it in the final minutes and in overtime against Iowa. He did it against Vanderbilt in another overtime win. And that’s just off the top of my head. He may be the guy you want with the ball in all of the Sweet 16.

5. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Culver is one of the most improved players in college basketball this season, embracing the role of the go-to offensive weapon for a Red Raider team that is one of the most dangerous left in this tournament. He’ll be a top ten pick in June.

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6. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: No one in college basketball carries a bigger load offensively than Winston does for Michigan State. Look at the Michigan State, roster and think about this: They won a share of the Big Ten regular season title, they beat Michigan three times and they won the Big Ten tournament title. He’s unbelievable.

7. Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga: Clarke is the best player on Gonzaga, and I hope people are starting to realize it. He’s been their best defender since day one, but after a 36 point explosion in the second round, he’s averaging 17.0 points and shooting 69.9 percent from the floor. His PER would set a collegiate record if Zion Williamson didn’t exist.

8. P.J. Washington, Kentucky: When he’s healthy and playing well, he can be one of the five best players in college basketball. We don’t know if he’s healthy, and he’s had more games this season where he wasn’t playing well than when he was.

9. Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Gonzaga’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, Rui is a monster than can take games over. If he was as good defensively as Clarke is, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft.

10. Ty Jerome, Virginia: As weird as this sounds given the way that Virginia has flamed out of the tournament over the years, I trust Jerome to make big shots in big moments more than just about any other lead guard left.

11. Coby White, North Carolina
12. Cam Johnson, North Carolina: While Johnson has been North Carolina’s most consistent and, arguably, their best player throughout the season, White is the guy that is the most dangerous player on the roster playing the position that is the least replaceable for the Heels.

13. Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Edwards can be unbelievable when he gets into a rhythm. Just ask Villanova, who caught 42 points from him on Sunday. But prior to that outburst, he had spent the last six weeks being a high-volume, low-efficiency gunner.

14. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Virginia Tech
15. Justin Robinson, Virginia Tech: I’d personally make the argument that Alexander-Walker is the better player of the two, but I think that Robinson is probably more valuable because his presence allows Alexander-Walker to play off the ball, where he has been more effective.

(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

16. Mfiondu Kabengele, Florida State: I know he doesn’t actually start, but he’s far and away the best and most talented player on Florida State’s roster. He leads them in scoring at 13.4 points and averages 5.4 boards and 1.5 blocks while shooting 38% from three as a 6-foot-11 center. He’s a monster.

17. Zavier Simpson, Michigan: If we’re talking about winners, we’re talking about Zavier Simpson, who will take away anyone’s best perimeter scorer while finishing the game with a line of, say, nine points, nine boards, nine assists and a pair of running sky-hooks across the lane. He’s a different dude.

18. Payton Pritchard, Oregon: Pritchard has been terrific over the course of the last month, and he’s developed the reputation in basketball circles of being a winner. He also leads Oregon is scoring and assists.

19. Tremont Waters, LSU: It’s hard not to love what Waters has been this season, sharing the offensive load with a roster that has plenty of talent on it. He’s a ball-screen maestro that is the biggest reason that the Tigers have been so good in close games.

20. Jared Harper, Auburn: The best point guard that you haven’t seen play this season. He is the engine that makes Auburn’s high-powered transition game operate, and he’s not afraid to dunk on you.

21. Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye has not had a great season adjusting to a bit of a different role this year, but he’s still averaging 14.9 points, 10.6 boards and 2.3 assists.

22. Terance Mann, Florida State: So underrated. He’s the heart and soul of this Florida State team, an elite perimeter defender that can get out in transition. He is also shooting 41.1% from three this year.

23. Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan: Iggy is Michigan’s leading scorer and one of their best three-point shooters, but mostly he is just an ultra-competitive combo-forward that loves attacking the rim and thrives off opponents and opposing crowds talking junk to him.

24. Cam Reddish, Duke: Reddish is a plus defender on the wing and a streaky scorer that can make threes and, in theory, will be better once he is on a team where he is more of a focal point.

25. Kyle Guy, Virginia: He might just be the best shooter left in the tournament. When he gets it going, he can make six or seven in a game, and he’s a better defender than most realize.

26. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee: A versatile defender that averages 16.4 points and shoots 41.5% from three, Schofield is the guy that lets Tennessee switch between big lineups and small lineups.

27. Charles Matthews, Michigan: Quite possibly the best perimeter defender in college basketball, he has regressed a bit on the offensive end of the floor this season.

28. Tyler Herro, Kentucky: If Washington is out, Herro is going to have to be the guy that steps up against a Houston team that will double team Reid Travis out of the game. He’s more than just a shooter, but he can also be prone to off-nights.

29. Kerry Blackshear, Virginia Tech: Blackshear is one of the most underrated big men in all of college basketball. He averages 14.9 points, 7.3 boards, 2.3 assists and shoots 34.4% from three. He’s the guy that does all the screening in Buzz Williams’ ball-screen heavy offense.

30. Corey Davis, Houston: Davis is a big-time shot-maker and the leading scorer for a Houston team that can really, really play. When he gets hot, he can hit six or seven threes in one night.

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

31. Skylar Mays, LSU: Mays has been so underrated this season. He’s LSU’s third-leading scorer, but he’s taken over in multiple big games this season and has had a knack for making big shots all season long.

32. Jon Teske, Michigan: Teske is an elite defensive center than has developed a really nice rapport with Simpson in ball-screen actions.

33. Bryce Brown, Auburn: Brown may not be the ‘best’ shooter left in the tournament, but I think that he’s the most dangerous. When he gets hot, he can reel off 20 points and five or six straight threes in one half.

34. Josh Perkins, Gonzaga: Perkins’ role offensively is massive, and he really can be one of the best ball-screen point guards in the country. But Perkins also has some games where he forgets how to play, and it’s cost Gonzaga in March in recent years.

35. Naz Reid, LSU: Reid is a 6-foot-10 monster that crushes teams on the glass and bangs home threes, but he’s inconsistent and has tried to play defense on roughly 27 possessions this season.

36. Kenny Wooten, Oregon: The second-coming of Jordan Bell. I told you in October that Oregon will be better with Wooten at the five, and that’s come to fruition after Bol Bol’s injury.

37. Chuma Okeke, Auburn: Okeke is a 6-foot-8, 230 pound combo-forward that averages 11.8 points, 6.7 boards, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks while shooting 38% from three. He’s a perfect fit in modern basketball, and one of the reasons that Auburn’s style of play works.

38. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia: Diakite is an absolute monster on the defensive end that has seen his effectiveness offensively start to tick up during this tournament. It’s gotta be the hair.

39. Zach Norvell, Gonzaga: Norvell is a streaky shooter, but when he’s hot, he might be the most dangerous shooter in all of college hoops. He is the ultimate heat check.

40. Matt Mooney, Texas Tech: Mooney is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he’s slowly developed into a real threat on the offensive end. He’s Tech’s second most creative player after Culver, and his improvement late in the year took the pressure of their star.

41. Matt McQuaid, Michigan Starte: McQuaid has actually developed into a really good role player for the Spartans. He’s become their best perimeter defender, he’s their secondary ball-handler and he’s shooting 43.3% from three.

42. Jordan Bone, Tennessee: He’s a bit frustrating. When he’s good, he can win a game all by himself. When he’s not playing well, he’ll pass the ball to the other team four times in one half. Just ask Iowa.

43. Keldon Johnson, Kentucky: Johnson carried Kentucky early on in the season, but as teams started to figure out what he can do offensively, it got more difficult for him. He’s still dangerous, and like Herro, he will need to be if Kentucky is going to advance.

44. Ryan Cline, Purdue: Cline has had an underrated season. He is Purdue’s second-leading scorer and is shooting 40.6% from three on better than seven threes per game.

45. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech: Owens is everything that you want out of a five in modern basketball. He’s an elite rim-protector and lob-catcher than can move his feet a bit on the perimeter and makes a jumper now and again. His value doesn’t lie in his numbers.

46. Armoni Brooks, Houston: Brooks is the second-leading scorer for the Cougars, the guy that Kelvin Sampson loves to run off screens and get open for threes.

47. Louis King, Oregon: King is a former five-star recruit that missed six games at the start of the season through injury, but he’s starting to show just what made him such a valued recruit. He’s averaging 12.9 points this season and shooting 37.1% from three.

48. Jordan Poole, Michigan: Poole can shoot Michigan into any game. He can also shoot them out of any game, and he is a total liability defensively.

49. Kenny Goins, Michigan State: Goins averaging 8.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.4 bpg. I don’t understand how he’s as good as he is, but he’s really, really good.

50. Kavell Bigby-Williams, LSU: Bigby-Williams is a massive, massive human being that does well protecting the rim and overpowers people on the offensive glass.

51. Kenny Williams, North Carolina: He is UNC’s best perimeter defender and a guy that plays a 3-and-D role even if he’s not really shooting the ball all that well right now.

52. Reid Travis, Kentucky: Travis is such a good rebounder and he can be a really effective scorer in the post, but he learned pretty quickly that like in the Pac-12 is different than life in the SEC.

53. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: Moretti is just a lights-out shooter, shooting 45.4% from three on the season and finishing the year as Tech’s second-leading scorer.

54. Nojel Eastern, Purdue: Eastern is not much on the offensive end of the floor, but he is an absolute lockdown defender.

55. Tre Jones, Duke: He’s quite possibly the best on-ball defender in college basketball right now, and that matters. He’s also a total and complete liability on the offensive end that teams just do not guard.

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

56. Ashton Hagans, Kentucky: He is a monster defender at the point of attack that can get lost off the ball defensively and has had his ups and downs offensively throughout the year.

57. Lamonte Turner, Tennessee: Turner has bounced between the bench and the starting lineup for the Vols, but the thing I love about him is that the kid has the stones to take and make big shots. He’s not always great, but even when he’s struggling, you want him on the floor in big moments.

58. Galen Robinson, Houston: Robinson is Houston’s starting point guard and is one of those guys that leaves coaches saying “he played a great floor game.”

59. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn: McLemore is a really important piece for the Tigers, as he is one of their best rim-protectors, but he can also space the floor and thrives as a rim-runner in ball-screens. He’ll catch at least one lob against North Carolina.

60. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga: Kispert is just a solid role player. He can defend, he has some athleticism, he makes threes, he can attack a closeout. I think he has a shot to be WCC Player of the Year in a season or two.

61. Trent Forrest, Florida State: He can’t shoot at all, but he is Florida State’s third-leading scorer, one of their best passers and quite possibly their best perimeter defender. I believe we call those ‘glue guys’.

62. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: This could also be Nick Ward, who hasn’t been starting after coming back from his hand injury. Ward is the better low-post scorer and rim-runner. Tillman is a better rebounder and defender.

63. Paul White, Oregon: The fifth-year senior is really thriving while playing in the small-ball four role for the Ducks.

64. M.J. Walker, Florida: I want Walker to be better than he has been in his Florida State career, but at this point he’s mostly just an athletic defender that can pop up for a 15 point game now and then.

65. Aaron Henry, Michigan State: Henry has a really, really bright future at Michigan State, but right now he’s a raw freshman that plays really hard and makes soe mistakes.

66. Ahmed Hill, Virginia Tech: A super-athletic, streaky shot-maker that can seemingly go a month without making a shot before ripping off four or five threes in a game.

67. Norense Odiase, Texas Tech: The big fella doesn’t play a ton of minutes, as Tech tends to prefer small-ball late in games, but he’s a bully on the glass, especially on the offensive end.

68. Kyle Alexander, Tennessee: Alexander is a good defensive center that seems to find himself in foul trouble every time Tennessee plays a big game. It’s hard to rank someone too high when they can’t consistently stay on the court.

69. Garrison Brooks, North Carolina: Brooks gets the majority of the minutes at the five for UNC this season, and he’s been fine doing it. He can score around the rim and he’s a pretty effective rebounder.

70. Ty Outlaw, Virginia Tech: The best shooter on the best shooting team left in the tournament.

71. Marlon Taylor, LSU: LSU’s stopper. He’s a highlight reel athlete that doesn’t do much else.

72. Malik Dunbar, Auburn: Dunbar has been starting for Auburn, but their best lineups tend to feature Samir Doughty.

73. Matt Haarms, Purdue: Haarms has been in and out of the starting lineup for Purdue, but when he’s in there he has been effective as a rim-running, rim-protecting five.

74. Breaon Brady, Houston
75. Fabian White, Houston: The Cougars as a four-man frontcourt rotation, and all four of their big uglies are fine. These two start.

76. Javin DeLaurier, Duke: DeLaurier is a good rebounder and a fine shot-blocker, but he is not all that much more than those two things.

77. Kihei Clark, Virginia: I understand why he plays so much (it moves Jerome off the ball) and the kid is a tough defender that has won everywhere he’s been, but he’s also 5-foot-nothin’ and shoots just 32.9% from three.

78. Grady Eifert, Purdue: Eifert is one of the most efficient players in all of college basketball because he doesn’t shoot much, but when he does, he’s banging home open threes. He does his job well.

79. Francis Okoro, Oregon: He starts but Oregon is at their best when Ehab Amin and Will Richardson are on the floor.

80. Raiquan Gray, Florida State: Gray is Mr. Irrelevant, but the reason for that is that he is not the usual starter. That would be Phil Cofer, who was battling an injury before his father passed away. Cofer would be somewhere in the 40s on my list.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

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Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

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West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

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John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

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Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

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Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)