Lots of players will be heard from during the NCAA tournament, but none more than these 50.
Part of the beauty of college basketball is that you never really know. This is the sport with the highest roster turnover, the most ruthless recruiting process, and the least amount of clarity. If you want to see how much things can change in just four months, check out our preseason list of the top 100 players in the sport.
Grayson Allen was the consensus choice for No. 1 before he became swept up in the season’s biggest controversy. Caleb Swanigan, now a legitimate national player of the year candidate, checked in at No. 44. Ivan Rabb didn’t live up to the hype as our No. 3 player, and Johnathan Motley was much better than No. 84. Unfortunately, Harry Giles never came close to producing like a top-10 player in the country.
Everything resets in March, and so too will our list of the most electric players in America. It’s OK if you haven’t been paying attention until now — we’ll have you covered.
These are the players you need to know going into March Madness.
50. Devonte’ Graham, G, Kansas
Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson get all the attention for Kansas, but Graham deserves credit, too. The junior guard does just about everything well. He’s a tough perimeter defender, a reliable three-point shooter (38 percent) and a quality facilitator (4.3 assists per game). He simply takes nothing off the table.
49. Rodney Bullock, F, Providence
Providence looked like it was in for a rebuild without Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil this season. Instead, the Friars found a new leading man in the 6’8 forward. The junior led the team in scoring (15.7 points per game) and rebounding (6.4 per game). Bullock will be counted on for a big effort against USC in the First Four.
48. Devontae Cacok, F, UNC-Wilmington
The Seahawks nearly took out Duke in the first round last year and no one will want to see them this season. Cacok is their defensive anchor. He also averaged 12 points per game on 79.9 percent shooting from the floor. Hire Kevin Keatts.
47. Nate Mason, G, Minnesota
Minnesota might be the biggest surprise in college basketball. The Gophers finished 8-23 last season, but will enter the NCAA tournament this year at 24-9. Mason, a first-team All-Big Ten guard, has been their best offensive player. The junior averaged 15.5 points and five assists per game.
46. E.C. Matthews, PG, Rhode Island
Matthews was getting some NBA buzz before he tore his ACL just 10 minutes into last season. He returned to form this year and helped Rhode Island make the NCAA tournament for the first time since the days of Lamar Odom. He’s looking healthy:
— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) March 5, 2017
45. Grayson Allen, G, Duke
Allen was No. 1 on our preseason countdown of the top 100 players in college basketball. What happened since? Well, a lot. In between the tripping incidents and the temper tantrums, Allen has also had to adjust to playing a new position at point guard. Still, he can be really good when he’s locked in. Duke better hope he’s on top of his game.
44. Bryce Alford, SG, UCLA
This has been a season of redemption for Alford. The senior guard moved off the ball next to Lonzo Ball and evolved into one of the best shooters in the game.
43. Jonathan Isaac, F, Florida State
It’s easy to see why NBA scouts love the FSU freshman. At 6’10, Isaac has the skill set of a wing. He shoots the ball from deep and slides his feet with ease defensively. He has a shot at being a top-five pick in June.
42. Cam Oliver, PF, Nevada
Nevada has three studs in senior shooting guard Marcus Marshall, sophomore forward Jordan Caroline, and the 6’8, 225-pound Oliver. The latter is the one showing up on NBA mock drafts because of his combination of strength, athleticism, and skill. The Wolf Pack can win a game or two if everyone is cooking.
41. London Perrantes, PG, Virginia
With Malcolm Brogdon finally graduating, Perrantes has assumed the role of leading man for Virginia. He’s averaging a career-high 12.5 points per game and has remained one of the game’s steadiest point guards.
40. Derrick Walton Jr., PG, Michigan
Walton has quietly been as good as anyone in the Big Ten over the last two months. The senior point guard is the engine that powered the Wolverines on an amazing run through the Big Ten tournament. After years of being slowed down by injuries, he’s finally playing the best ball of his life.
39. Zach LeDay, PF, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech previously made the NCAA tournament just once in 20 years, but Buzz Williams has already turned around the program in his second season. The Hokies have six players averaging at least nine points per game, led by LeDay’s 16.3 points per game. He scored a career-high 31 points against Wake Forest star John Collins in the ACC tournament.
38. Jalen Brunson, PG, Villanova
Brunson’s freshman season ended with a national championship. As a sophomore, he’s taken on a bigger role in the absence of Ryan Arcidiacono to become Josh Hart’s strongest supporting actor. The former McDonald’s All-American is averaging 14.8 points per game on 54.1 percent shooting from the field and 39.6 percent shooting from deep. If he returns to school, he’s poised for a massive junior year.
37. KeVaughn Allen, SG, Florida
Billy Donovan is gone, but the Gators are back on the national radar in Mike White’s second season. The development of Allen, a 6’5 shooting guard out of Little Rock, Ark., has been key to Florida’s return to form. The Gators’ leading scorer had a breakout performance against Kentucky in February, when he went shot-for-shot with Malik Monk and finished with 24 points.
36. Jacob Evans, SG, Cincinnati
This is the seventh straight year Cincinnati has made the NCAA tournament, and there’s reason to believe this is Mick Cronin’s best team yet. Why? Because for once, the Bearcats have an offense to match their defense. That starts with Evans, the sophomore shooting guard who averaged 13.8 points per game this season.
35. Trevon Bluiett, SG, Xavier
The junior shooting guard has been a consistent scorer for Xavier since he arrived on campus. He averaged a career-high 18.1 points per game this year and carried the Musketeers after co-star Edmond Sumner tore his ACL.
34. Dwayne Bacon, SG, Florida State
This is the best Florida State team since Sam Cassell and Bobby Sura were running Tallahassee in the early ’90s, and that’s because of Leonard Hamilton’s ability to recruit and groom players like Bacon. In his sophomore season, Bacon has become the hyper-athletic go-to wing scorer Hamilton envisioned when he secured his commitment.
His game-winner in a 29-point performance against Virginia was one of the most memorable moments of the season
33. Markis McDuffie, SF, Wichita State
Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker are gone, but Wichita State remains a powerhouse in the Missouri Valley. McDuffie is the closest thing to a star on a team that had five players average at least nine points per game (none more than McDuffie’s 11.8 points per game). At 6’8, 212 pounds, he’s a quality defender and capable (38 percent) three-point shooter. The Shockers are better than people realize, and so is McDuffie.
32. Kelan Martin, SF, Butler
Yes, Butler is still a thing even after Brad Stevens left for the Celtics. The Bulldogs had a good season at 23-8, which included a clean sweep of the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats. Martin has been their best player all year. He isn’t the biggest or the quickest forward, but the junior has worked himself into being a reliable scorer (16.1 points per game). He’s also a tough rebounder.
31. Charles Cooke, SG, Dayton
After spending his first two seasons at James Madison, Charles Cooke transferred to Dayton and immediately became the team’s top scorer. The 6’5 senior averaged career-highs in scoring (16.1 points per), assists (2.9 per game), and field goal percentage (46.6 percent) this year. At 24-7, Dayton is really good and Cooke is a big reason why.
30. Angel Delgado, PF, Seton Hall
Delgado was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection in his junior year. He’s tied with Caleb Swanigan for the nation’s lead in double-doubles (26), he averaged a career-high 15.3 points per game, and he even started to become a quality passer.
29. Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State
Bridges might be the best in-game dunker in college basketball. He’s spent his freshman season compiling plenty of evidence:
28. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
De’Aaron Fox’s game is defined by his speed. The freshman might be the fastest player in college basketball end-to-end. He’s not just a track star, though: Fox is an elite defender, a good facilitator, and a crafty finisher. The only hole in his skill set is his jump shot. He’s one-half of the most exciting backcourt in college basketball.
27. Marcus Foster, G, Creighton
Few transfers in the country have made a bigger impact than Foster, who arrived at Creighton after two productive years at Kansas State. The 6’3 combo guard has grown into a go-to scorer for the Bluejays as a bull going to the basket and a solid three-point shooter (35 percent on six attempts per game). He hit a big one in the Big East tournament semis:
— Creighton Basketball (@BluejayMBB) March 11, 2017
26. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
College basketball has never seen a 7-footer who can shoot like Markkanen, especially not as a freshman. The import from Finland has hit 67 three-pointers this season at a 43 percent clip. He’s the key to Arizona’s Final Four chances.
25. Keon Johnson, PG, Winthrop
Johnson set the tone for his senior season early by dropping 38 points on Illinois in an upset victory on Nov. 21. He kept that pace up all season, placing No. 10 in the country in scoring at 22.5 points per game. Not bad for a dude who is only 5’7.
24. Donovan Mitchell, SG, Louisville
It seems like every great Louisville team is led by a super-athletic two-way guard. Mitchell has filled the role this year. He’s broken out as a scorer (15.7 points per game) and perimeter defender (2.1 steals per game) as a sophomore. He’s also one of the country’s best dunkers:
Here’s Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell’s ABSURD dunk against Syracuse from earlier today! pic.twitter.com/FppqfWHYSF
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) February 26, 2017
23. Melo Trimble, PG, Maryland
There was a time when Melo Trimble looked like a one-and-done. Instead, he returned to Maryland to lead a preseason top-five team as a sophomore. The Terps underachieved last season, but they’re making up for it this year because of Trimble’s late-game brilliance.
Trimble has become one of the sport’s great closers this season. If the game is on the line, Maryland knows who’s getting the ball.
22. Jock Landale, C, St. Mary’s
Years after Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova left campus, St. Mary’s Australian pipeline is still pumping out talent. The latest example is Jock Landale, the junior center who has emerged as a hyper-efficient scorer for the Gaels. Landale, who has been among the leaders in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings all year, is averaging 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 61 percent shooting from the floor.
21. John Collins, C, Wake Forest
No player in college basketball has enjoyed as dramatic a rise as Collins over the last two years. When he committed to Wake Forest, he wasn’t even in the top 200 of his recruiting class. After a solid freshman year (7.3 points, 3.9 rebounds), he’s become one of the most productive big men in the country.
Collins’ numbers are incredible: 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game on 62 percent shooting from the floor. He’s also about to be very rich. DraftExpress has him projected as the No. 15 pick in June’s NBA draft.
20. Mike Daum, PF, South Dakota State
When Daum got to South Dakota State, the coaches redshirted him because they didn’t think he was good enough. As soon as Daum became eligible, he proved them wrong. The 6’9 forward averaged 15.2 points per game as a freshman, and this season he finished No. 2 in the country in scoring at 25.3 points per game. Daum dropped 37 points and 12 rebounds against Omaha in the Summit League championship game to get the Jackrabbits here.
19. Sindarius Thornwell, PG, South Carolina
Among power conference players, only possible No. 1 NBA draft pick Markelle Fultz averaged more than Thornwell’s 21.2 points per game. The senior guard has become an impact player at both ends of the floor this season, improving his shooting stroke (39 percent from three) and growing into one of the SEC’s best defenders (2.2 steals per game). He was rewarded for it with the conference player of the year award.
18. Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
Ojeleye left Duke during its national championship season in 2015 because he couldn’t get consistent minutes. At SMU, he’s turned into one of college basketball’s great scorers. The junior forward has a rare combination of strength, shooting range (43 percent on threes) and touch around the basket. At 6’7, 235 pounds, he’s the matchup nightmare who makes SMU a sleeper to make a deep run in March.
17. Joel Berry II, PG, North Carolina
North Carolina lost Marcus Paige to graduation this season, but the rise of Joel Berry II has helped the Tar Heels maintain their status as one of the country’s best teams. The junior has become a consistent scorer (15 points per game) and knockdown three-point shooter (41.5 percent) this season. Alongside Justin Jackson (more on him later), he’ll have to carry the offense if the Tar Heels are going to get back to the Final Four.
16. Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State
Morris broke records for assist-to-turnover ratio early in his college career and has continued to be one of the game’s top floor generals even as he’s been forced to up his scoring the last two seasons. If you’re a fan of pristine point guard play, Morris is your guy.
15. Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
Duke’s incoming recruiting class was supposed to be one of the best ever. That hasn’t materialized because of injury (Harry Giles) or lack of opportunity (Marques Bolden). Only one freshman has truly lived up to the hype for Mike Krzyzewski, and that’s Tatum.
He follows in Duke’s recent lineage of oversized, one-and-done wings, from Jabari Parker to Justise Winslow to Brandon Ingram. Tatum’s a smooth 6’8 scorer who is playing his best ball of the year right now. Pay attention if you’re a fan of an NBA team with a top-five draft pick.
14. Bonzie Colson, C, Notre Dame
Bonzie Colson has no reason to be this good. He was just a three-star recruit out of high school. At 6’5, he’s at a significant size disadvantage on the inside every night. He isn’t one of the best athletes in the sport, either. Instead, Colson makes up for it with skill and toughness. He’s the key to Notre Dame’s five-out offense and the rock in one of Mike Brey’s best defenses ever.
13. Ethan Happ, C, Wisconsin
Wisconsin turns a slept-on recruit into a college star almost every year. Happ is the next player in that fine tradition. The redshirt sophomore is a great passer, outstanding defender, and surprisingly adept at handling the rock. Just don’t ask him to take a perimeter jumper.
12. Jawun Evans, PG, Oklahoma State
It feels like a short college point guard gets compared to Chris Paul every year, but Evans is the rare player that actually deserves it. The sophomore checks every box: shooting, facilitating, defense, toughness. He’s one of the great floor generals in the sport.
11. Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
Remember when five-star freshmen like Cheick Diallo, Cliff Alexander, and Kelly Oubre had trouble earning consistent minutes under Bill Self? That hasn’t been a problem for Jackson, whose elite athleticism, defense, and competitiveness has made him a staple for Kansas all year. Don’t sleep on his passing ability, either. There’s a reason he’s considered a top-five draft pick in June.
10. Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
When Monk is locked in, he’s the most electric scorer in college basketball. North Carolina found this out the hard way when he dropped 47 points and eight three-pointers on the Tar Heels in December. John Calipari has had a lot of great freshman, but he’s never had one that scores as effortlessly as Monk.
9. Dillon Brooks, SF, Oregon
Brooks had foot surgery in the offseason, missed Oregon’s first three games, and took some time to find his form once he came back. It didn’t feel like he officially arrived until the start of conference play, when Brooks drilled a jumper at the buzzer to give No. 2 UCLA its first loss of the season.
: ESPN 2
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) December 29, 2016
Brooks has been on a tear since February. He’s one of America’s premier two-way wings when he’s at the top of his game.
8. Nigel Williams-Goss, PG, Gonzaga
Williams-Goss represents the biggest change between this year’s Zags and the Mark Few teams that have fallen short in the past. For once, Gonzaga has a big, athletic guard who won’t be outclassed against the blue bloods deep in March. Williams-Goss was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school who spent his first two years at Washington becoming one of the Pac-12’s best guards. He’s Gonzaga’s leader in points and assists and has proven to be a quality defender, too. This is the player Gonzaga has been waiting for.
7. Johnathan Motley, PF, Baylor
Motley finally became a full-time starter this season as a junior and promptly blossomed into one of the country’s most productive players. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds and more importantly helped turn Baylor into a legitimate contender.
6. Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
Luke Kennard was supposed to be a role player for Duke this year. Instead he turned into their biggest star and one of college basketball’s most ruthless scorers. Kennard’s numbers speak for themselves: 20.1 points per game, 44.3 percent shooting from three-point range, a 128.1 offensive rating that ranks among the country’s best. Duke never did become the superteam we were expecting, but at least it found a superstar hiding in plain sight.
5. Justin Jackson, SF, North Carolina
Justin Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American out of high school and a solid starter his first two years at North Carolina. There was only one problem: His inability to consistently hit three-pointers was something of a fatal flaw in his skill set. Jackson has finally found his stroke as a junior and it unlocked his game. He’s hit more threes this year (90) than he did his first two seasons combined (63) and he’s done it at an impressive 37.7 percent clip. The Tar Heels are a favorite to win it all largely because Jackson turned into one of the country’s best scorers.
4. Caleb Swanigan, PF, Purdue
Swanigan got into the best shape of his life in his sophomore season, and it made him college basketball’s most dominant big man. He tied for the nation lead in double-doubles (26), put up four 20-20 games, and helped Purdue to the regular season title in the Big Ten. He’s quietly also become a great three-point shooter. Swanigan was thought to be the biggest recruit in program history when he arrived at Purdue, and he’s delivered on every bit of that promise this season.
3. Frank Mason III, PG, Kansas
Frank Mason III is basically a folk hero at this point. He hits big shots, gets rap songs dedicated to him, and enters the NCAA tournament as a leading national player of the year candidate. Not bad for a 5’11 point guard who was once committed to Towson.
2. Josh Hart, SF, Villanova
What could Josh Hart do for encore after a breakout junior year that ended with a national championship? He cleared the only hurdle left by becoming (arguably) the best player in college basketball. Hart, who was No. 23 on this list last year, has improved significantly as a shooter and playmaker while remaining one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. No team has gone back-to-back as national champs since Joakim Noah, Al Horford, and Corey Brewer did it 10 years ago at Florida. Villanova has a real shot at doing it now, and it’s because Hart has taken his game to a new level.
1. Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
UCLA was a mess only 12 months ago. The Bruins finished 15-17, attendance at Pauley Pavillon was in steep decline, and Steve Alford was squarely on the hot seat. Then Lonzo Ball showed up. In his freshman season, Ball transformed a joyless program into the greatest show in college basketball. UCLA plays fast, scores at will, and has a legitimate shot at a national championship. Ball hasn’t done it entirely by himself, of course, but his imprint is undeniable.