Sweet 16 Preview: The top 16 players left in the tournament
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: There isn’t a tougher matchup in the college game than Kaminsky, who overpowers smaller defenders and beats the centers that match his size off the dribble.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor singlehandedly destroyed San Diego State’s vaunted defense in the round of 32. He’s the best post scorer at the college level since ... Tim Duncan?
3. Karl Anthony-Towns, Kentucky: Towns doesn’t put up numbers like Okafor or Kaminsky, but there is a reason that he has a shot to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He’s become the go-to player in crunch time for the best team in the country. That’s not a coincidence.
4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is not much of an offensive threat at this point, but there is not a better defensive player at the college level than Cauley-Stein.
5. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Notre Dame’s ruthlessly efficient offense is led by Grant, who is the best playmaker left in the tournament. He cannot be kept out of the lane 1-on-1, and if you help, he finds open shooters as well as anyone.
6. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: McConnell flies under the radar, but he was arguably the best pure point guard in college basketball this season. His performance in the round of 32 was arguably the best game anyone has played in this event.
7. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright’s better defensively than any of the other point guards on this list, and he’s a terrific playmaker on the offensive end of the floor. That said, we’re still waiting on seeing him play his best basketball this month.
8. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: We’re not waiting to see VanVleet play his best, as the Shockers’ leader was terrific in wins over Kansas and Indiana last weekend.
9. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Pangos is the best player on the Zags. I’ll ride that bandwagon until Gonzaga is knocked out of the tournament. He distributes and facilitates until Gonzaga needs him, when he turns into one of the best clutch shooters in the country.
10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: Wiltjer is a matchup nightmare that would be higher on this list if he wasn’t a liability on the defensive end of the floor. If he plays well enough on that end to remain on the floor against the likes of Kevon Looney and Justise Winslow, Gonzaga can win a national title.
11. Justise Winslow, Duke: Winslow essentially plays a stretch-four role for this Duke team, and his ability to hold his own on the glass on the defensive end of the floor allows him to cause headaches for opponents offensively and in transition.
12. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield is a bit erratic shooting the ball, but on the nights when his threes are going down, he’s as dangerous as anyone. Hield is also a terrific defender.
13. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson was be a bit of a chucker offensively, and he has some struggles scoring around the rim, but he’s a terrific defender and the leading scorer for Arizona.
14. Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier may be the smoothest scorer on this list. He’s terrific in the mid-range and scoring in and around the rim.
15. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell may be the most physical player on this list. He’s undersized but plays harder than anyone left in the tournament. Keeping him from doing damage around the rim will be priority No. 1 for N.C. State.
16. Quinn Cook, Duke: Cook has two key roles for this Duke team: 1. He’s been tasked with face-guarding the best perimeter player on Duke’s opponents, and 2. He seemingly hits every big shot that he takes.