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Every Player In The Sweet Sixteen

Today I want to talk about all 154 players that have made some noise for the teams in the Sweet Sixteen this year. While I am ignoring a handful of players who stayed glued to the bench all year, today I will discuss everyone else, from the role players to the superstars.

Injured or kicked off the team (8): Iowa St.’s Georges Niang, Arizona’s Brandon Ashley, Michigan’s Mitch McGary, Stanford’s Aaron Bright, Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs, Florida’s Eli Carter, Louisville’s Chane Behanan and Kevin Ware.

Niang is the most recent player to get injured, but he certainly isn’t the first. Perhaps the most interesting story belongs to Kevin Ware. A year ago, he broke his leg. In the fall, he was back playing in an exhibition. But some combination of off-court issues and injuries have caused him to no longer travel with Louisville this season.

New to lineup thanks to those injuries (3): Iowa St.’s Daniel Edozie, Arizona’s Elliott Pitts and Jordin Mayes.

With Niang and Ashley going down, these players have seen their minutes tick up lately. But we still don’t know very much about how good these players can be. As much as injuries hurt, sometimes the best news is that the opposition doesn’t have a detailed scouting report on these players yet.

Cut from the rotation late in the year (15): Baylor’s Ish Wainwright, Connecticut’s Omar Calhoun and Tyler Olander, Dayton’s Devon Scott and Kyle Davis, Florida’s Devon Walker and Jacob Kurtz, Kentucky’s Dominique Hawkins, Louisville’s Tim Henderson, Michigan St.’s Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd, San Diego St.’s Dakarai Allen, Stanford’s Grant Verhoeven, Tennessee’s AJ Davis, Virginia’s Darion Atkins.

These players may play a few minutes this weekend. And one or two might even play a larger role if there is some unexpected foul trouble. But all these players have seen their minutes cut at the end of the year. The reasons are fairly straightforward. Everyone on this list either has a low ORtg or never shoots. And you can’t afford to put non-scorers on the floor in the NCAA tournament.

Never plays but you should care (1): Florida’s Chris Walker.

Walker was an elite recruit but eligibility issues prevented him from practicing with Florida for most of the year. If Florida can get a commanding lead and get to garbage time, look for him to get a monster dunk.

They started as walk-ons (2): Kentucky’s Jarrod Polson and Stanford’s Robbie Lemons.

Because both teams lack guard depth these two players will sometimes play meaningful minutes. They are mainly in to help with ball-handling.

One game wonders? (2): Virginia’s Evan Nolte and Connecticut’s Terrence Samuel

Nolte was starting to fall out of the rotation but he hit two huge threes against Coastal Carolina when the game was still in doubt. Samuel scored a career high 11 points in the NCAA tournament game against Villanova.

He’s a big body (4): Wisconsin’s Duje Dukan, Michigan St.’s Gavin Schilling, Tennesee’s Derek Reese, Arizona’s Matt Korcheck.

The rotation patterns suggest these team’s head coaches are not in love with these players. They play because big men get in foul trouble and need rest. But these players are only on the court for short stretches. Schilling is one of only two Spartans to play in every game this season.

Defensive subs (8):

Player

Team

Steal Rate

Block Rate

Justin Anderson

Virginia

1.1

4.1

Dwayne Polee

San Diego St.

3.7

3.3

Lasan Kromah

Connecticut

3.1

1.8

Aqeel Quinn

San Diego St.

2.8

0.4

Alvin Ellis III

Michigan St.

2.7

1.2

Armani Moore

Tennessee

2.3

5

Kendall Pollard

Dayton

2.3

4.2

Marcus Allen

Stanford

2.3

0.7

Defensive subs is sometimes a code word for “this guy can’t shoot.” That isn’t quite fair to everyone on this list. Dwayne Polee is actually a pretty solid spot-up shooter. But it is fair to say that none of these guys are scoring stars. They get their hands on steals, or in Justin Anderson’s case, they block a lot of shots from the wing position. And that still earns them some rotation time.

Get the opening tip, then come sit on the bench (2): Connecticut’s Philip Nolan and Dayton’s Matt Kavanaugh.

Despite starting a ton of games for these two teams, these two play shockingly few minutes.

Defensive rebounding specialists (6):

Player

Team

DR%

Jon Horford

Michigan

25.6

Josh Davis

San Diego St.

24.9

Akil Mitchell

Virginia

23.7

Dustin Hogue

Iowa St.

20.5

Cory Jefferson

Baylor

20.8

Will Yeguete

Florida

18.6

There are elite defensive rebounders in the groups that will follow (Kenny Kaminsky, Rico Gathers, Branden Dawson, Kyle Anderson, Jarnell Stokes, Adreian Payne, Julius Randle), but for these six, it is their defining quality.

Two point scorers (7):

Player

Team

eFG%

Royce O’Neale

Baylor

61.6

Anthony Gill

Virginia

59.7

Kaleb Tarczewski

Arizona

57.6

Stefan Nastic

Stanford

57.4

Norman Powell

UCLA

57.3

Travis Wear

UCLA

56.1

David Wear

UCLA

55.7

These are all players with a high eFG% without taking a lot of threes. I am cheating a bit with this category, as these players do not have all that much in common. But I honestly did not know what to do with these guys. They aren’t great rebounders, they are not really their team’s primary ball-handlers, and they aren’t three point gunners. But they can all score when you get them the ball inside the arc.

O’Neale is probably the most versatile player on the list. He has solid assist numbers, makes wide open threes, and is decent on the boards. But he makes 56% of his twos and that is probably his biggest contribution at this point.

Rim Protectors (7):

Player

Team

DR%

Block%

Amida Brimah

Connecticut

11.3

15.4

Willie Cauley-Stein

Kentucky

16.0

12.2

Isaiah Austin

Baylor

13.5

11.9

Skylar Spencer

San Diego St.

11.8

11.5

Mangok Mathiang

Louisville

13.2

9.9

Matt Costello

Michigan St.

14.8

9.8

Mike Tobey

Virginia

12.3

7

I might be stretching a bit with Tobey, but these are the best shot-blockers left in the field.

No one left in this tournament is both an elite shot-blocker and defensive rebounder. These guys are all tall and explosive enough to have defensive rebounding rates above 20%, but none of them come close. Because these guys go for blocks, they tend to be out of position when fighting for defensive boards.

When you get the offensive rebound, it is easier to score (16):

Player

Team

OR%

Rico Gathers

Baylor

18.2

Dakari Johnson

Kentucky

17.5

Jeronne Maymon

Tennessee

13.9

Stephan Van Treese

Louisville

13.9

Branden Dawson

Michigan St.

13.3

Jordan Morgan

Michigan

12.8

Patric Young

Florida

12.8

Tony Parker

UCLA

12.5

Dorian Finney-Smith

Florida

12.1

Alex Poythress

Kentucky

11.6

Dyshawn Pierre

Dayton

10.6

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Arizona

10.5

Jalen Robinson

Dayton

10.5

Taurean Prince

Baylor

8.7

J.J. O`Brien

San Diego St.

8.3

Winston Shepard

San Diego St.

7.2

Most of these guys are not skilled offensive players, but by getting offensive rebounds, they tend to get high quality put-backs. Shepard is a surprisingly good passer for a rebounder of his size.

Finney-Smith is a little hard to classify, but given his shooting woes this year, his put-backs are probably his greatest contribution.

The Shooters (26):

Do not leave these players open:

Player

Team

3P%

3PM

3PA

Michael Frazier II

Florida

44%

110

248

Brady Heslip

Baylor

46%

109

235

Ben Brust

Wisconsin

39%

89

229

Jordan Sibert

Dayton

43%

79

184

Joe Harris

Virginia

40%

70

173

Luke Hancock

Louisville

34%

65

192

Naz Long

Iowa St.

41%

63

154

Zak Irvin

Michigan

41%

58

142

Caris LeVert

Michigan

41%

57

139

Gabe York

Arizona

39%

56

144

Niels Giffey

Connecticut

52%

55

106

Anthony Brown

Stanford

45%

52

115

Zach LaVine

UCLA

38%

48

125

Josh Gasser

Wisconsin

46%

47

103

DeAndre Daniels

Connecticut

45%

46

103

Khari Price

Dayton

41%

46

113

Wayne Blackshear

Louisville

40%

45

112

Matt Thomas

Iowa St.

34%

44

130

Sam Dekker

Wisconsin

32%

39

121

Devin Oliver

Dayton

39%

37

95

Kenny Kaminski

Michigan St.

49%

37

75

Matt Shrigley

San Diego St.

35%

35

100

Josh Richardson

Tennessee

34%

33

96

John Gage

Stanford

36%

26

73

Josh Huestis

Stanford

34%

25

74

Bronson Koenig

Wisconsin

32%

19

60

A lot of these guys don't fit in just one category. Luke Hancock and Anthony Brown are very good at driving and getting fouled. Wayne Blackshear is a versatile defender. Devin Oliver and Josh Huestis are great rebounders. Sam Dekker is a very good driver for a big man. Regardless, you don't want to leave any of these guys open.

Pass-First PGs (13):

Player

Team

ORtg

A%

A/TO

T.J. McConnell

Arizona

112.5

31.1

3.1

Kasey Hill

Florida

99.0

25.5

2.0

Darius Thompson

Tennessee

104.3

25.2

2.7

Spike Albrecht

Michigan

127.0

24.8

4.6

London Perrantes

Virginia

118.3

24.3

3.6

Scoochie Smith

Dayton

88.7

20.7

1.8

Monte Morris

Iowa St.

125.2

20.5

5.0

Derrick Walton Jr.

Michigan

112.3

20.3

1.9

Gary Franklin

Baylor

105.1

19.9

1.7

Bryce Alford

UCLA

110.3

19.2

2.1

Travis Trice

Michigan St.

118.2

18.9

2.3

Terry Rozier

Louisville

116.9

17.0

3.0

Antonio Barton

Tennessee

111.1

15.8

2.2

Hill, Thompson, Smith, and Franklin are the only guys without a solid jump shot, and that hurts their ORtg overall. But Hill makes up for it by getting to the free throw line at an elite rate. Barton has not been an effective creator this year and thus the ball-handling duties have fallen more on Tennessee's Jordan McRae.

Scoring and Passing (7):

Player

Team

PPG

PctPoss

ORtg

A%

A/TO

Kenny Chery

Baylor

11.5

23.1

115.6

34

2.3

Keith Appling

Michigan St.

11.7

21.5

110.1

26.3

2.2

Traevon Jackson

Wisconsin

10.8

22.5

107

25

1.8

Andrew Harrison

Kentucky

11

21.7

104

23.1

1.4

Ryan Boatright

Connecticut

11.9

22.5

104.7

22

1.8

Chris Jones

Louisville

10.4

21.7

110.2

20.6

2.1

Vee Sanford

Dayton

9.9

25

103.4

17.5

1.2

Appling, Jackson, and Harrison live at the FT line. Appling is obviously still not 100%, and the biggest question left in this tournament is whether Appling's injury will hurt Michigan St. when they play a close game against a quality opponent.

The stats don’t tell the story (3): Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson, and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.

Aaron Gordon should be a lottery pick in the draft, but when you look at his stats, he doesn’t dominate in any statistical category. But I strongly believe the stats are missing something here. Sean Miller has taken a team to the NCAA tournament 7 times, but he’s never had a Top 10 defense in his career until this season. And I believe Gordon and Hollis-Jefferson are largely responsible for the peak defensive success. Gordon has an incredible ability to both help in the lane and close out on three point shooters. Gordon has a superstar level impact even if that isn’t reflected in the stats.

Glenn Robinson has seen his draft stock slip substantially this season, and his numbers aren’t great. But he is still an impressive player in the open floor and he has the athleticism to frustrate opposing players.

Finally, Nigel Hayes is statistically a liability for the Badgers. He is one of the least efficient players on the team. But what makes him so important is that Hayes is the Badgers only true inside big man. Hayes has a free throw rate of 94, meaning he gets 94 FTs for every 100 shots he takes. For a perimeter oriented Badger team, he provides some key balance.

They Do Everything! (5):

Player

Team

PPG

DR%

A%

Steal%

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut

17.8

15.2

30.9

3.0

Kyle Anderson

UCLA

14.7

25.4

34.3

3.0

Dwight Powell

Stanford

13.9

17.3

20.5

2.3

Malcolm Brogdon

Virginia

12.6

17.3

19.4

2.4

Denzel Valentine

Michigan St.

8.1

18.3

23.0

1.9

Napier is one of the best rebounding guards you will ever see. Brogdon is a super-versatile wing player. And Anderson and Powell are talented playmakers with the size of forwards. Valentine doesn't have the scoring of the others, but he's still a dynamic point forward. Other than Powell, all are quality three point shooters too.

The Pure Scorers (19):

These players all score a lot, but let’s break down the contributing factors. Jarnell Stokes is scoring a lot despite Tennessee’s slow tempo. Adreian Payne is scoring a lot, despite playing limited minutes.  Meanwhile Russ Smith is the highest volume scorer left in the field, and Nik Stauskas is the most efficient.

Player

Team

PPG

Tempo

PctMin

PctPoss

ORtg

Nik Stauskas

Michigan

17.4

62.7

85.4

23.7

124.5

Frank Kaminsky

Wisconsin

13.6

63.7

66.3

24.9

123.0

Jordan Adams

UCLA

17.4

70.1

72.6

25.6

121.7

Xavier Thames

San Diego St.

17.3

63.4

77.3

27.6

120.6

Montrezl Harrell

Louisville

14.0

69.1

72.9

22.1

117.6

Jarnell Stokes

Tennessee

15.2

62.8

80.3

26.0

117.4

Aaron Harrison

Kentucky

14.1

66.5

79.7

20.7

116.6

Jordan McRae

Tennessee

18.6

62.8

79.4

28.6

115.8

Casey Prather

Florida

14.1

62.8

66.8

25.2

115.4

Russ Smith

Louisville

18.1

69.1

72.9

30.8

114.5

Nick Johnson

Arizona

16.3

64.6

80.7

24.8

114.4

Gary Harris

Michigan St.

16.9

66.4

73.2

25.5

114.1

Adreian Payne

Michigan St.

16.6

66.4

55.1

27.2

114.0

Melvin Ejim

Iowa St.

18.1

71.9

74.3

25.8

113.0

Chasson Randle

Stanford

18.7

67.0

87.0

25.5

112.9

Scottie Wilbekin

Florida

13.1

62.8

72.4

21.5

112.9

Julius Randle

Kentucky

15.1

66.5

75.9

26.3

111.2

DeAndre Kane

Iowa St.

17.1

71.9

84.2

26.7

110.9

James Young

Kentucky

14.3

66.5

80.1

22.0

110.4

Harrell, Stokes, and Julius Randle are all monster offensive rebounders. Other than those three and Casey Prather, all these players are dangerous from three point range. Surprisingly, Jordan Adams has the best steal rate, though Russ Smith isn't far behind. Kane and Smith are also dynamic passers and creators for their teammates.

Michigan State Undercover: The Most Complete Team In Tournament

Before the season started, Michigan State was considered one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Dallas. They were ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, behind only Kentucky. And while the Wildcats were counting on four freshmen to play huge roles, the Spartans started two seniors, a junior and two sophomores. After bringing everyone back from a team that made the Sweet 16, it was all lined up for Tom Izzo to make his seventh trip to the Final Four.

Michigan State was off to an 18-1 start, looking like they would wrap up a No. 1 seed by February, when the injuries struck. Their top four players - Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, Branden Dawsen and Keith Appling - all went down for significant amounts of time and they started racking up losses in conference play. The Spartans didn’t get everyone healthy until the Big Ten conference tournament, where they showed everyone how scary they could be at 100%.

They didn’t just win this weekend. They beat the tar out of teams - Northwestern by 16, Wisconsin by 18 and Michigan by 14. Michigan State had an average margin of victory of 16 points playing on a neutral floor against some of the best teams in the country. Even that number understates how dominant they were - the Badgers and Wolverines are No. 2 seeds and they could barely stay on the floor against the Spartans. Both games were over by halftime.

When their five starters are in, Michigan State has an NBA prospect at every position who can impact the game on offense and defense. Unlike the rest of the field of 68, they don’t have an exploitable weakness on either side of the ball. Michigan State can win with offense, where they have multiple players who can create their own shot and four players who can shoot 3’s, or defense, where they have four elite athletes who can defend multiple positions.

There isn’t a more athletic frontcourt in the NCAA Tournament than the duo of Payne (6’10 245) and Dawsen (6’6 225). Payne has the size to bang with centers on the block, the athleticism to protect the rim and the quickness to cover ground on the perimeter. Dawsen, who missed most of the Big Ten season after breaking his hand, is an absolute freak athlete who plays much bigger than his size. They combine to average 16 rebounds and 2 blocks a game.

On offense, Payne is an impossible cover, a 6’10 big man who can post up smaller players, face-up slower ones and knock down 3’s. The rare senior with a chance to go in the lottery, he will have a huge edge in talent or experience in every game they play. Dawsen, who could double as a TE or a DE in the NFL, can post-up smaller wings and use his athleticism to get around slower ones. The only non-shooter in their starting 5, he finds ways to get points around the rim.

The Spartans are just as dangerous on the perimeter with Appling (6’1 185), Harris (6’4 200) and Denzel Valentine (6’5 225). Michigan spreads the floor and attacks the opponent’s worst defender; their problem on Sunday was there was no one to attack. Appling and Harris, two of the most physical guards in the country, are capable of switching on D and locking up bigger wings. You can’t count on anyone drawing double-teams when you play Michigan State.

On the offensive side of the ball, all three guards can shoot, put the ball on the floor and make plays. Appling isn’t a natural PG, but he’s turned himself into a solid decision-maker in his four years in school, with an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 2:1. Harris, Appling and Valentine all average at least 3 assists and shoot at least 35% from beyond the arc. There’s nowhere to hide a weak defender against the Spartans - they can attack at all 5 positions.

Their ability to play well on both sides of the ball makes them extremely dangerous in transition. They can go quickly from defense to offense without missing a beat - their big men can fly down the floor and their guards can all push the ball. There’s no way a traditional big men can stay with Payne in transition and cover him out to the three-point line. Run-outs into transition 3’s was how Michigan State was able to pull away from Wisconsin and Michigan.

If the Spartans have a weakness, it’s when they go to their bench, where they have only one reliable scorer in senior guard Travis Trice. Improved depth is where their rash of mid-season injuries was a blessing in disguise, as Izzo had to adapt on the fly and find lineups that could keep his team afloat. The versatility of his top five, all of whom can play multiple positions, means it isn’t too difficult to hide reserves in lineups where their weaknesses aren’t as exposed.

There’s no coach better at playing the match-up game than Izzo, who has thrived in the one-and-done format for more than a decade. Despite lacking the talent of some of his Hall of Fame peers, his teams always find a way to win in March. Under Izzo, the Spartans have made the Sweet 16 in 11 of their 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. If Payne and Appling don’t make the Final Four this season, they will be the first of his senior classes not to make it at least once.

When picking a team to go all the way in March, you want a team with multiple NBA prospects, a proven head coach and the ability to play elite offense and defense. You can never predict how the bracket will play out, so you want a team with the versatility to win any type of game against any type of opponent. Michigan State is the most complete team in the country. If they had been healthy all season, they might have been the clear favorite this year’s field lacks.

Michigan State's Senior In The Season Of The Super-Freshmen

Largely because of the play of Adreian Payne, Michigan State has taken over the top spot in the AP Poll. With the era of one-and-done phenoms, the senior forward has been a rare gem for the Spartans early on.
 
Payne, a 6-foot-10, 245 pound power forward with great length, has played exceptionally for Tom Izzo's Spartans. After a junior season in which he averaged 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, Payne made the decision to return to school despite appearing as a possible first round selection. The decision could definitely pay off, as his play early in the season has him as a fringe lottery pick.
 
After a 10 point, 10 rebound performance against McNeese State, Payne burst onto the big stage against formerly top-ranked Kentucky last week. He had 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting with a three, one dribble pull-up, and multiple finishes in the post. Payne also did a good job defensively on freshman sensation Julius Randle despite foul trouble that limited him to 25 minutes.
 
"I played a lot more in the block today instead of out by the perimeter," Payne told Mike Griffith of MLive.com after the game. "They had some length down low, coming from the baseline help side. I tried to play through it and find other ways to score. That's what I'm still trying to figure out, find a happy medium, mix my game up with jumpers and still play on the block to help my team.''

After the huge victory, Michigan State survived a scare when it took on Columbia the following game, but Payne had some clutch baskets during crunch time to seal a 62-53 win. He used his frame to dominate in the post, as he refused to settle for jumpers. Payne finished with a career-high 26 points on an efficient 9-of-15 shooting and 11 rebounds. As a result, he was awarded Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

Payne has shown the ability to dominate down in the post, but has added a much more consistent jump shot. Most were skeptical of his 38 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range as he only attempted 42 shots from behind the arc last season. This year, Payne has shown he can legitimately stretch the floor, as he’s 4-of-10 from 3-point land. Sure, he’ll need to continue to shoot well to truly hold this status, but it’s been a good indication so far. Draft Express currently ranks Payne as the 18th best prospect in the country and the second best senior behind Creighton’s Doug McDermott.

As a lengthy big man with a high motor, it’s no surprise that Payne is averaging an additional 7.75 rebounds to go with his 17.75 points per game. He’s extremely athletic which helps him corral rebounds in addition to finish with high-flying dunks.

It’s early in the season, but Payne might be the most improved returner in the country. With Payne and other key experienced pieces in the mix for Michigan State, the Spartans should hang around the top of the rankings for most of the season.

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