The Final Four tips off Saturday evening in San Antonio with Michigan-Loyola (Chicago) followed by Villanova-Kansas. Here’s an attempt to rank the starters on all four teams from 1 to 20.
1. Jalen Brunson, G, Villanova
There’s a reason Brunson has been a part of a high school state title team, a U-19 World Championship team and two Final Four teams at Villanova. The All-American point guard consistently makes winning plays. He’s shooting over 50 percent from the field and over 40 percent from behind the arc while averaging nearly three times as many assists as turnovers.
2. Devonte Graham, G, Kansas
Graham has made a stunning ascent from late-blooming Appalachian State commit, to sidekick to Frank Mason, to first-team All-American. The senior guard is averaging 17.2 points and 7.3 assists and shooting 40.3 percent from behind the arc. Bill Self is so adverse to the thought of his team without Graham that he hardly ever removes him from the game.
3. Mikal Bridges, G, Villanova
In a Final Four devoid of one-and-dones, Bridges is the best NBA prospect in San Antonio and a testament to Villanova’s ability to develop talent. He has evolved into a quintessential NBA 3-and-D prospect, a 43.6 percent shooter from behind the arc with the ability to defend multiple positions and attack close-outs off the dribble.
4. Moritz Wagner, F, Michigan
Not only is the 6-foot-11 Wagner a matchup problem for most teams because of his ability to score in the post or from behind the arc, he’s also a much-improved rebounder and defender. His ability to grab rebounds outside his area and defend ball screens effectively has been one of the keys to Michigan’s improvement defensively this season.
5. Malik Newman, G, Kansas
So much for Malik Newman not living up to expectations. The former McDonald’s All-American has been one of the best players in the country this March. In seven games in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, Newman is averaging 22.7 points and shooting over 50 percent from behind the arc. He torched Duke for 32 points on Sunday and hounded Grayson Allen from start to finish.
6. Omari Spellman, F, Villanova
Spellman’s ability to rebound and protect the rim at one end and knock down 3-pointers at the other makes him an extremely difficult matchup for most opposing big men. Not only will it be difficult for Udoka Azubuike to defend him out to the 3-point arc on pick-and-pops, Spellman is capable of putting the ball on the floor and getting the Kansas center into foul trouble.
7. Charles Matthews, G, Michigan
The MVP of the West Regional is a Kentucky transfer who struggled to earn playing time with the Wildcats. At Michigan, Matthews has evolved into a formidable perimeter defender and capable slasher. He has an NBA future if his 3-pointer gets more consistent.
8. Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas
Whether Azubuike can stay out of foul trouble against Villanova’s perimeter-oriented frontcourt will be one of the keys to Saturday’s marquee national semifinal. The anchor of a thin Kansas frontcourt averages 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds while also providing the rim protection the Jayhawks otherwise lack.
9. Svi Mykhailiuk, G, Kansas
He’s a lethal shooter and improved defender. His ability to use his size and length to defend opposing forwards has been one of the reasons Kansas has been so successful in its four-guard set. The Jayhawks wouldn’t still be playing if Mykhailiuk didn’t hold his own against Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the glass last Sunday against Duke.
10. Clayton Custer, G, Loyola-Chicago
The Valley’s player of the year is the perfect example of why transfers can benefit players. Instead of sitting behind Monte Morris for three years at Iowa State, he is now the leading scorer and top playmaker on a Loyola team that has ousted two league champs and two other power-conference teams en route to the Final Four.
11. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, G, Michigan
For a two-star recruit that Michigan only took late after losing a pair of wings early to the NBA draft, Abdur-Rahkman has produce one heck of a career. He is a capable playmaker and scorer at one end and an improved perimeter defender at the other. It’s no accident he averages more than five more minutes per game than any other Michigan player.
12. Zavier Simpson, G, Michigan
One of the catalysts for Michigan’s defensive renaissance was Simpson gaining the trust of the coaching staff and reentering the starting lineup in early January. The 6-foot bulldog of a point guard is exceptional at staying in front of his man, pressuring the ball and disrupting the rhythm of opposing point guards. That’s something that will be vital for Michigan at a Final Four that features Custer, Graham and Brunson.
13. Eric Paschall, F, Villanova
He guards multiple positions. He rebounds. He knocks down open jumpers. He runs the floor in transition. On a Villanova team with more heralded players, the versatile, athletic Paschall is one of the unsung heroes.
14. LaGerald Vick, G, Kansas
Vick has been a model of consistency in this year’s NCAA tournament. He is averaging 13.5 points per game, knocking down nearly 50 percent of his threes and playing solid perimeter defense. That’s exactly what Bill Self wants from him in San Antonio too.
15. Phil Booth, G, Villanova
It’s a testament to the strength of Villanova that the Wildcats’ fifth or sixth best player scored 20 points in the national title game against North Carolina two years ago. Booth has fought injuries the past two seasons and has endured a quiet NCAA tournament so far, but he remains one of Villanova’s best playmakers and perimeter defenders.
16. Marques Townes, G, Loyola-Chicago
While former high school teammates Karl-Anthony Towns and Wade Baldwin are more accomplished than he is, Townes is making a name for himself too. The 6-foot-4 wing scored 18 points and sank the game-clinching 3-pointer against Nevada in the South Regional semifinals. He followed that up two nights later by scoring 13 points against Kansas State.
17. Ben Richardson, G, Loyola-Chicago
Custer’s close friend and teammate since third grade, Richardson was the Valley’s defensive player of the year this season. That is typically the end of the floor at which he shines, but he also excelled offensively against Kansas State in the South Regional final, scoring a career-high 23 points on 10 shots and adding six rebounds and four assists.
18. Donte Ingram, G, Loyola-Chicago
The hero of Loyola’s opening-round victory against Miami hit a last-second go-ahead 3-pointer to beat the Hurricanes. The 6-foot-6 senior endured a couple of quiet games the next two rounds, but he bounced back to chip in 12 points and 8 rebounds against Kansas State.
19. Isaiah Livers, F, Michigan
While Livers starts for Michigan and contributed back-to-back-to-back double-digit scoring games in January, the freshman only averages about 15 minutes per game. It’s senior sharpshooter Duncan Robinson who receives most of the playing time at power forward, especially since Robinson has become a more complete player as the season has gone along.
20. Cameron Krutwig, C, Loyola-Chicago
Loyola’s big but skilled center will have a tough matchup on his hands Saturday against Michigan. Moritz Wagner is strong enough to defend Krutwig in the post, but is Krutwig quick enough close out on pick-and-pop 3-pointers or defend Wagner off the bounce?
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