The first three rounds of the NCAA tournament have had a little bit of everything. There have been blowouts and huge comebacks. There have been up-and-down affairs and some slugfests where neither team could seemingly find the basket. There have been great coaching performances and as always some great individual play from some of the brightest young stars in the game today.
As the second weekend of the dance rolls around there will be more of the same. Coaches have studied the tape and done all that they can to impress upon the players what needs to be done to advance, but it is the players who will decide who moves on.
Here is a look at the 10 must-watch players as we enter the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Fred VanVleet, junior, point guard, Wichita State
VanVleet isn’t the leading scorer on the Shockers, but he is the engine that makes the whole thing work for coach Greg Marshall. He runs the offense, can hit the glass and make big shots when called on. His big play ability is the key for Wichita State against the Fighting Irish.
On the season, he is averaging 13.2 points, 5.3 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 31.4 minutes a night.
Willie Cauley-Stein, junior, forward, Kentucky
Other players get more hype, but a huge reason for the success of the Wildcats this year has been Cauley-Stein. He has great hands, soft touch and the athleticism to get up and down the floor as good as any guard. His presence on both ends of the floor gives Kentucky some veteran leadership and the chance for a game-changing play at any moment.
On the season, he is averaging 9.3 points on 57.7 percent shooting with 6.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, 1.3 steals and one assist in 25.4 minutes a contest.
Jerian Grant, senior, point guard, Notre Dame
Grant has been a beast for the fighting Irish for the last four seasons. He is a great facilitator who can also score the ball. He led the team in both scoring and assists this time around and has scored in double figures in 11 straight games. He was at his best in the ACC tournament championship game against North Carolina when he put up 24 points and 10 assists while getting to the free-throw line 18 times. For Notre Dame to make noise on the second weekend he will have to play fantastic.
On the season, he is averaging 16.8 points on 48.6 percent shooting with 6.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 36.9 minutes a game.
Frank Kaminsky, senior, center, Wisconsin
Kaminsky has gotten better in each of his four seasons on the floor with the Badgers and this year was no different. He has turned himself from a solid big man into one of the most versatile post threats in the college game. He can beat you with his back to the basket or face you up and knock down a jumper. He can also space the floor with his great range (40.7 percent from 3-point land).
On the season, he is averaging 18.4 points on 55.6 percent shooting with 8.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 blocks in 33.1 minutes a night.
T.J. McConnell, senior, point guard, Arizona
Having a great point guard is like having a coach on the floor and that is exactly what McConnell is for the Wildcats. The senior leader has been the key to Arizona’s monster season with his ability run the show and find all the offensive weapons at his disposal. If the offense isn’t rolling like it should he can take matters into his own hands and beat you by carrying the scoring load as well.
On the season, he is averaging 10.1 points on 50.2 percent shooting to go along with 6.3 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 2.2 steals in 30.1 minutes a game.
Kyle Wiltjer, junior, forward, Gonzaga
Wiltjer would be the perfect fit for the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats this season because of his ability to stretch the floor at 6-10 and create space for other big men to go to work. Thankfully for Gonzaga, Wiltjer no longer patrols the 3-point line in Lexington thanks to his transfer to the northwest.
He has been huge for the Bulldogs in his first season on the floor to carry them to the sweet 16. He has great touch from distance, but also can get it done on the block.
On the season, he is averaging 17.1 points on 54.8 percent shooting, including 47.9 percent from 3-point range to go along with 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 27.3 minutes a contest.
Marcus Paige, junior, point guard, North Carolina
When Paige has it going, the Tar Heels are tough to beat. The junior guard can get to the lane and finish at the rim, or take you from the outside and beat you from 3-point range. He is also a solid decision maker who creates plenty of open shots for his teammates or draw fouls and get to the free-throw line like he did against Arkansas.
On the season, he is averaging 14.1 points, 4.5 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 33.1 minutes a night.
Montrezl Harrell, junior, forward, Louisville
There isn’t much finesse to his game, but that’s what makes him so fun to watch. Harrell is an absolute beast around the basket. The double-double machine can clean the glass with the best of them and is a dominating finisher at the rim. When he is dominating the paint and finishing at the cup, the Cardinals are hard to beat.
On the season, he is averaging 15.4 points on 56.3 percent shooting from the field to go along with 9.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 blocks and one steal in 34.8 minutes a game.
Delon Wright, senior, point guard, Utah
Wright has been a difference maker ever since he arrived on campus at Utah. The silky smooth floor general is unselfish almost to a fault in running the point for the Utes. He has great passing skills, can lock you up on the defensive end and can knock down the long-range bomb. He also does excellent work on the glass from the lead guard spot and even block a shot or two.
On the season, he is averaging 14.7 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the floor with 5.2 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and one block in 33.3 minutes a contest.
Jahlil Okafor, freshman, center, Duke
The only freshman to make the list just might be the best of the bunch. He is as dominating a five man that the college game has seen in quite some time because of his ability to beat you with his back to the basket and pound the glass. He even has a solid handle and can beat you off the bounce. His only real weakness is at the charity stripe where he shoots just 51.6 percent on 5.4 attempts a game.
On the season, he is averaging 18.1 points on 67.7 percent shooting with 8.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 blocks in 30.3 minutes a night.