There is no better place to cement your legacy as a hoops star than the NCAA Tournament.
Stephen Curry, Harold “The Show” Arceneaux, Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker, Miles Simon, Bryce Drew, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony are America's Darlings of March Madness past.
With the opening weekend now in the books, it's time to examine the best of the bunch, a list strictly comprising the top 16 players (not ranked) remaining as we get set to embark on the Sweet 16. Keep in mind: There is no Diamond Stone, Robert Carter, Justin Jackson, Nigel Hayes, Ethan Happ, Monte Morris, Thomas Bryant, Wayne Selden, Jr., Tyler Lydon or Malachi Richardson.
For my 16 best "prospects," please watch latest for Bleacher Report, here.
Johnson endured a disappointed and enigmatic first three years in Chapel Hill, only to blossom into one of college basketball's premier forwards as a senior. His 21 double-doubles are tied for ninth-best nationally, and he leads the Heels in scoring (16.8 points per game), rebounds (10.5) and blocks (1.5). The combination of him and sophomore Justin Jackson gives Carolina versatile athletes at the 3 and 4 slots. Johnson is one of the most efficient guys around as well, converting 62 percent of his field goal attempts and 78 percent from the stripe.
Ingram's dynamic scoring ability has elevated him into the conversation as the potential top pick in June's NBA Draft. At 6-foot-9, he is a matchup nightmare because of his ability to shoot the triple (41.5 percent), and also because of his sensational playmaking capacity in both the open floor and half-court.
Allen's 17.4 points per game increase from his freshman to sophomore year (21.8 this season) was the largest uptake in all of college basketball and the most in ACC history. The highly athletic combo man has a unique ability to not only create contact in the lane, but also finish through it. Allen's "tripping" issues aside, there is not a more feared perimeter player remaining in the tournament, save for teammate Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield.Correction: A previous edition of the article incorrectly stated that Allen is a junior this year. It has been to changed to correctly state he is a sophomore.
Sabonis and his 22 double-doubles has continually climbed draft boards because of his multifaceted game on both ends of the floor. His recent defense on Utah's First-Team All-American center Jakob Poertl was hounding, as he helped hold the potential top-five pick to a measly 5 points and 4 rebounds in the Zags second round win. At 6-foot-11, Sabonis has a deft touch with his left hand, but he can also face up to the basket, a rarity for young bigs. And he is always around the ball, as his head coach Mark Few says, averaging nearly 12 rebounds. Sabonis has admirably played the 5 this year following the injury to 7-footer Przemek Karnowski. His footwork and baseline spin game are elite.
The former SEC Freshman of the Year at Kentucky has flanked Sabonis to give the Zags a sensational frontcourt duo. The 6-foot-10 Wiltjer is a natural stretch 4 man who shoots 43 percent from deep, but can also get it done in the paint and from the high post. His 20.4 points per game pace Mark Few's surging club.
Hield is a Bahamas native who didn't even play basketball until he was 13, because he was a middle distance runner. And he came back to Norman for his senior campaign to develop the other components of his offensive game. Mission accomplished. His 25.4 points per game rank second in the country, and he did it while shooting a remarkably efficient 46.3 percent from 3 and 50 percent from the floor. In fact, no player in college basketball made more 3s this year then Hield. Watch my latest for Bleacher Report to find out what makes him so special.
Thanks to the stellar play of combo man Jerian Grant, Jackson was in the rear-view mirror during Notre Dame's Elite Eight run last year. This year, Jackson has emerged as one of the premier point guards in the country. He is a sensational, explosive athlete, averaging nearly 16 points and 5 assists for Mike Brey.
The fearless Ferrell has sparked a surprising Sweet 16 run for the Hoosiers, flashing fantastic ability in the open floor and half-court. Ferrell, who connects on 42 percent from distance, paces IU with 17 points and almost 6 assists per game.
Brodgon earned Defensive and Player of the Year honors in the rugged ACC, the first time in league history that a player has accomplished both feats. At 6-foot-5, he can shoot the triple (40 percent) and score in a variety of ways, despite his average athleticism.
Brooks is an aggressive scorer who can attack the basket and post up. At 6-foot-6, he isn't a great shooter (33.6 percent 3s), but he has tremendous scoring instincts and seems to thrive in key moments for the 1-seeded Ducks.
Hart is like a Swiss Army knife and does it all for Jay Wright. He can defend four positions, can shoot it, and can create for others. He loves to go left and at 6-foot-5, is an excellent rebounder for his size, hauling in 7 boards per game.
Consistency is Ellis' calling card. A former McDonald's All-American, the senior power forward has often been maligned for his solid, if hardly spectacular play. Now however, he is enjoying his most productive season as a senior, in part because of his expanded 3-point range. Ellis shoots 44 percent from deep, while averaging a team-best 17 points and 6 rebounds for the top seeded Jayhawks.
Trimble is the best ball screen guard in America. His return to College Park was a surprise to many people. A tad turnover prone, he hasn't shot it all that well during his sophomore season, connecting on 32 percent of his 3s. When he's on though, Trimble presents a wide variety of problems because of his capacity to attack the paint and create for others, while dictating a 40-minute game.
McClellan is a powerful combo guard with top-notch athletic ability. The former Texas standout possesses NBA size at 6-foot-5 and an NBA ready jumper: McClellan connects on 39 percent from deep and 50 percent from the floor.
Niang can't jump, but it hardly matters. As tricky a matchup as there is, his ball handling creativity combined with hyper versatile offensive game make him one of the college basketball's most vexing matchups. The 6-foot-8, 230 lb. point-forward averages 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, all while converting over 81 percent from the free-throw line. Think of Niang as a better version of former Cyclone star and first-round NBA Draft pick Royce White.
Gbinije, a former monster recruit who transferred from Duke, has put together a splendid senior season for the 'Cuse. He possesses tremendous size at 6-foot-7, and is the only ACC player to score in double figures every game this season.
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