The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament saw a lot of good teams eliminated, primarily from the Big Ten. Along with those teams, some of the best players in the country also bowed out of the Big Dance, most notably, players like Luka Garza and Ayo Dosunmu.
But even with five teams seeded No. 8 or lower, there is no shortage of star power in the Sweet 16. In fact, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the teams with the best players have survived to reach the second weekend.
With the field whittled down to 16 teams, let’s take a look at the top-10 players who are still left in the NCAA Tournament.
10. Franz Wagner, Michigan
For what it’s worth, Wagner has yet to truly shine in Michigan’s first two games of the NCAA Tournament. However, his 15 points and seven rebounds against LSU were enough to help the Wolverines survive.
At his best, Wagner is one of the biggest mismatches in the country for opposing teams. He’s 6-9 but has the skill set of a guard. While Wagner has had a few rough games this year, he’s also scored at least 20 points in a game four times. His upside is high and is a critical part of Michigan’s chances moving forward.
9. Cameron Krutwig, Loyola
Just because we didn’t pay much attention to Krutwig during the regular season doesn’t mean he wasn’t good. We get it, he plays for a mid-major and doesn’t exactly look the part of a star player. But the results speak for themselves.
Krutwig had 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals against Illinois, one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the tournament. He made an impact on both ends of the court, doing so against Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who was one of the nation’s top big meant this season.
Krutwig can score, he can pass, and he’s physical enough to make an impact on the boards. He does it all and should be considered one of the best players left in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Chris Duarte, Oregon
To be fair, it’s a team effort at Oregon with five players averaging double figures. But Duarte is the leader and has been one of the most reliable scorers in the Pac-12 all season.
He averages 17 points per game while knocking down 42.8% of his perimeter shots. In the biggest game of the season against Iowa, Duarte stepped up with 23 points and seven assists. He’s not even a point guard, yet he was happy to pass the rock to his teammates when defenses focused all of their attention on him.
Duarte is just a veteran player who knows how to score and has helped carry the Ducks on a great run late in the season.
7. Davion Mitchell, Baylor
On most teams, Mitchell would be the main attraction. Yet, he’s somehow just the second-best guard in the Baylor backcourt.
Of course, he’s been instrumental in making the Bears a championship contender. He’s arguably the team’s best ball-handler and passer, leading the way with 5.4 assists per game. But he also scores 14.1 points per game and shoots 46.1% from three-point range.
Just because he doesn’t always get the spotlight on a stacked team doesn’t mean he’s not among the nation’s elite players.
6. Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
Even as a top prospect coming out of high school, few could have projected that Dickinson would make this much of an impact as a freshman. Young big men typically can’t do everything that Dickinson has done this season.
He’s averaging 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while also serving as a rim protector at the defensive end. It’s not as if he’s getting garbage points either. Dickinson is a polished post scorer who’s dangerous if he catches the ball anywhere close to the basket. Like any young player, he’s had some ups and downs. But his double-double against LSU is a sign that he’s going to be a difference-maker for Michigan moving forward in the NCAA Tournament.
5. Drew Timme, Gonzaga
Let’s be honest, Timme’s new mustache makes him an even better player.
Frankly, the results speak for themselves after his 30-point, 13-rebound performance against Oklahoma in the Round of 32. In fairness, Timme has been doing that all season. He’s nearly doubled his scoring from last season, going from 9.8 to 18.8 points per game, stepping into the void in Gonzaga’s frontcourt. He’s far more skilled and eloquent around the basket than he gets credit for and has been remarkably consistent all season.
Timme has failed to score in double figures just once this season, which is a big reason why the Bulldogs are still undefeated.
4. Evan Mobley, USC
We were wondering if Mobley was the type of freshman who could put his team on his back during the NCAA Tournament. He’s gotten a little help from his older brother, Isaiah. But the younger Mobley brother has very much looked the part of a lottery pick all season and continued to play at a high level during the tournament.
On the season, he’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, not to mention three blocks per game. Since the start of the Pac-12 Tournament, Mobley is averaging just under 20 points, 10.5 rebounds, and four blocks per game.
He’s playing his best basketball right now and looks more than ready for the next level based on the impact he’s made for the Trojans this season.
3. Corey Kispert, Gonzaga
As expected, Kispert has been a scoring machine this season. On the season, he’s shooting 54.5% from the field, 45.8% from three-point range, and 90.1% from the free-throw line. In the NBA, that’s called the 50-40-90 club, an accomplishment achieved by fewer than 10 pro players. Needless to say, only elite college players pull off such a feat.
It’s almost been easy to take for granted everything that Kispert does because he’s been so consistent for the Bulldogs all season. He can score at all three levels while also contributing as a rebounder and a solid defender. Obviously, he’s a huge part of why Gonzaga is still undefeated and the betting favorite to win the national championship.
2. Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga
As brilliant as both Timme and Kispert have been this season, we believe that Suggs is the best player on the Gonzaga roster. He’s not the leading scorer but he’s the engine that makes the Bulldogs go. He can score, he’s a top-notch passer, and he’s an outstanding defender, averaging two steals per game during the season.
Suggs is a big reason why Timme and Kispert have had such great seasons. His play at point guard elevates the entire team, and when they need him, Suggs is there to deliver. His best games have come against the likes of Kansas, Iowa, and the West Coast Conference final against BYU when the Bulldogs trailed.
Suggs holds back and defers to his teammates, but when he needs to step up, he shows why he’s the best player on the court.
1. Jared Butler, Baylor
While he gets plenty of help from his friends, Butler is the biggest reason why Baylor has been such a juggernaut this season. He scores at a high rate, averaging 16.9 points per game while shooting 47.9% from the field and 41.5% from three-point range. But he also spreads the wealth and shares the basketball, averaging 4.8 assists per game.
Meanwhile, he’s also an elite defensive player who averages more than two steals per game. To his credit, Butler has no problem deferring and sharing the credit on such a talented team. But everybody knows that he’s the secret sauce for the Bears. With Garza and Dosunmu sitting at home, there’s no question that Butler is the best player left in the NCAA Tournament.
Photo: Getty Images