The 2017 NCAA Tournament field is set and while everyone is breaking down matchups and can’t-miss games, here’s a look at five players you can’t miss during this year’s tournament.
Lonzo Ball, UCLA
With Washington and Markelle Fultz out of the tournament, Lonzo Ball is the best player in this tournament. Ball is the maestro who orchestrates the beautiful music UCLA makes on offense. While his defense is suspect at times, Ball makes everyone around him better and is an absolutely joy to watch.
Ball is averaging 14.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and an NCAA-high 7.7 assists per game. He is essentially Jason Kidd with a jumper. Unless something crazy happens he’ll be a top three pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Enjoy what’s left of his college basketball career.
Frank Mason III, Kansas
What Kemba Walker was to UConn in 2011, Frank Mason is to Kansas this year. He’s a diminutive, do-everything guard who gets guides his team to wins by the sheer force of his will. At barely 5’11” the senior leader is averaging 20.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while shooting a ridiculous 48.7 percent from 3-point range. If I had a vote for National Player of the Year (and I should), Mason would just edge Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan on my ballot.
Kansas will go as far as Mason can take them. His ability to drive, score, find teammates and hit big shots make him quite possibly the most important player in this year’s tournament.
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Monk is the best pure scorer in college basketball and while his team was up and down at times this season, he’s been spectacular. Monk is an explosive combo guard who can penetrate at will and racks up points in bunches. He enters the tournament averaging 20.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Monk has near-unlimited range and at 6’3″ and 200 pounds he has great size for a college guard. If he was more of a point guard or three inches taller he’d be the best player in this year’s draft class. Still, he’s going to be a high lottery pick and is the key to a deep tournament run for Kentucky.
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
While he may have had the worst flop in basketball history this year, Brooks is a lot of fun to watch. The 6’7″ forward had an up and down season for the Ducks, but kicked things into gear halfway through conference season and looked looked unstoppable. Over Oregon’s final 14 games, Brooks averaged 19.6 points per game, helping push the Ducks to 11 wins in 14 contests.
The Pac-12 Player of the Year and Ontario native is a great all-around player. He’s smart, a great passer, can score in multiple ways and is all over the floor for Oregon. When he’s on, he’s one of the best players in the country.
Jayson Tatum, Duke
Tatum was hyped as one of the best players in the country entering his freshman season and he’s finally living up to that billing. The St. Louis native missed the first eight games of the year after a foot injury and it took him a while to get going. Despite that, he finished the season averaging 16.9 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
A long, 6’8″ wing, Tatum isn’t a great 3-point shooter, but he’s a fantastic, athletic finisher at the rim. An explosive athlete, Tatum can be downright intimidating with the ball in his hands. The freshman’s development has been a huge part of Duke’s late-season run to a two seed. Enjoy him while you can, he’ll be a lottery pick in a few months.
Keon Johnson, Winthrop
Johnson is a 5’7″ guard who managed to average 22.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as a senior. Want another fun stat? He somehow got off 245 3-point shots this year despite his lack of size. Winthrop’s all-time leading scorer will try to keep his collegiate career alive when the Eagles face Butler on Thursday.
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
Daum is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.3 points per game. The beefy, 6’9″ 245-pound forward dropped 51 points on Fort Wayne this season and also averages 8.2 rebounds. The sophomore finished the year hitting 51.6 percent from the field, 41.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line and 87.1 percent of his free throws. Daum will lead the Jackrabbits up against No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday.