Mar 24, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
The first weekend could not have been more thrilling, beginning with Vee Sanford’s runner that sent No. 11 Dayton past No. 6 Ohio State and ending with the dunk show that Aaron Gordon put on for No. 1 Arizona.
In between, we unbelievably only had one true buzzer-beater — Cameron Ridley dispatching No. 10 Arizona State — but we did manage to put together the best day of Round of 64 games ever and the single best college basketball game since Louisville beat Michigan for the 2013 title.
We now have just 16 teams left in the dance. Here is our list of the 16 best players left in the field:
1. Russ Smith, Louisville: Smith was not good in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, shooting 6-for-19 from the floor and committing 11 turnovers. The Cardinals will need him to be the guy that was a first team all-american if they are going to get past Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
2. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier is not an overwhelming athlete like Nick Johnson and he’s not a domineering presence on the floor like an Adreian Payne, but there may not be a player with more flair for the dramatic than Napier. He takes over in big moments like no one else.
3. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: Kane went for 24 points, 10 boards and seven assists in Iowa State’s win over North Carolina Sunday. They’ll need more performances like that from him if the Cyclones are going to make it to the Final Four sans Georges Niang.
4. Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Between his ability to shoot and what he’s shown in pick and roll actions, Stauskas is the focal point for the best offensive attack left in the tournament.
5. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: Perhaps the most dominant player left in the tournament when he gets it going, but consistency remains an issue for Payne.
7. Kyle Anderson, UCLA: The dude just puts up numbers: 14.7 points, 8.7 boards, 6.5 assists.
8. Gary Harris, Michigan State: As good as Harris has been this season, he’s shown a penchant for hitting big jumpers this month.
9. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle may be the most physically overwhelming post player left in the tournament, but I just don’t know how many touches he is going to get on the block.
10. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State: Like Kane, Ejim’s role is all the more important now that Georges Niang is out of the lineup.
11. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida: There may not be a better “closer” in all of college basketball than Scottie Wilbekin. He’s made some ridiculously tough shots seem easy in critical moments late in the season. He’s the most underrated player in college basketball.
12. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: At one point in SDSU’s win over North Dakota State, Thames had 30 points and eight assists and was responsible for 46 of SDSU’s 55 points.
13. Aaron Gordon, Arizona: Gordon is averaging 17.0 points in the first two NCAA tournament games. We know how good he in defensively and in transition, but if he’s going to start knocking down jump shots, he’s going to be too low on this list.
14. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: A relentless rebounder and an abusive dunker. I’m not sure anyone left in the field plays as hard as Harrell does.
15. Jordan Adams, UCLA: As good as Anderson is, Adams is actually their go-to scorer on the offensive end. He’s almost as underrated as Wilbekin.
16. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Frank the Tank! A 7-footer with three-point range, an array of post moves and the ability to put the ball on the floor and beat slower big men off the dribble is not a common thing to come across.
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