2019 NCAA Tournament: Ranking every starter for the Final Four teams from 1-20
The fact that Virginia probably has three of the five best players in Minneapolis bodes well for the Cavaliers
This is your prep guide for Saturday night. While all four teams have had tweaks to their starting lineups throughout the season, the 20 players below are most likely going to be the ones who wind up starting in the national semifinals.
We've got a lot of different types of players, and a number of guys who have been terrific in the past 2-3 weeks. So here you have it, the top 20 starters of the 2019 Final Four. Who will wind up playing the best? Who knows. After all, Donte DiVincenzo won MOP last season -- and he came off the bench.
It's the Final Four. Anything is possible.
Spencer is a starter in name only; he played just 13 minutes in Auburn's 77-71 win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Samir Doughty played 33 minutes, Danjel Purifoy played 32. Spencer got the nod in light of Chuma Okeke's injury. If Okeke was healthy, he'd easily be top 10 on this list.
Clark is responsible for one of the most composed, headiest plays in NCAA tourney history. Let's just watch it again.
What a moment. The diminutive Clark has proven his worth as a D-I player. He is a change-of-pace player for UVA. He provides just enough spice to keep Virginia all the more interesting on offense.
18. Malik Dunbar, Auburn | G/F | 6.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 56.9 2-pt%
Bruce Pearl likes to joke that Dunbar seeks the spotlight more than any other player on the Auburn roster. He's got a penchant for that, as he can be an unsuspecting 3-point bonus for the Tigers. He's primarily an interior/mid-range scorer, but the fact this is another player teams have to watch leak out for a trey, well it's why Auburn wound up getting this far.
Henry is a freshman who's getting better by the week. Henry's best game of the tournament came when Sparty got an unexpected burst from him vs. LSU: 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists. He's a solid distributor for a wing player as well. If MSU wins the title, Henry could be the Grayson Allen of this team, a la what Allen did for Duke in 2015.
Odiase doesn't log a lot of minutes, but he's an offensive-rebounding hound -- one of the three best in the Final Four, I reckon. So keep an eye on him in the game against Michigan State, as the Spartans have the bodies to scoop up the boards, and Odiase's presence is absolutely vital to TTU keep it close in rebound rate.
15. Anfernee McLemore, Auburn | PF | 6.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 bpg
McLemore needs to be great in order for Auburn to have a chance on Saturday, I think. He's good around the rim, nice athleticism, and and improving piece who has not touched his ceiling yet.
14. Kenny Goins, Michigan State | PF | 8.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
Goins will forever be known as the man who hit the big shot to get MSU past Duke. Goins, a former walk-on who opted to play at MSU over taking scholarship offers at smaller programs, has been so productive.
13. Davide Moretti, Texas Tech | SG | 11.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 2.0 rpg, 46.3 3-pt%
Moretti is an Italian 3-point sniper for Texas Tech. He's been an important infusion for the Red Raiders this season. Big picture, I'd buy an argument that, without Moretti, TTU falls just short of being Final Four-good. He's TTU's second-best scorer and was the guy who hit the dagger 3-pointer late to help put away No. 1 Gonzaga.
12. Tariq Owens, Texas Tech | PF | 8.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 67.4 2-pt%
It was Owens who made one of the plays of the tournament when he swatted Gonzaga's Rui Hachimura -- reminder: Rui is a forward -- to help clinch TTU's win in the Elite Eight. This was like the best JV version possible of the Zion Williamson block on De'Andre Hunter from earlier in the season.
Now, Owens should have been called out of bounds on the play, but that's another matter. Regardless, he's an athletic hoss and a menace all over the court. I'd rank him as the best shot-blocker in the Final Four.
11. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State | PF | 10.1 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.7 bpg
Tillman is one of the most improved players in the past three months in college basketball. Tillman's always giving full effort and is on pace to be a top-50 player in college hoops next season. MSU's sophomore gets the nod here, as he and Aaron Henry have benefitted by starting more games this season in light of Nick Ward's injury forcing him to come off the bench. Tillman will be a great/must watch matchup vs. the toughness of Texas Tech.
10. Mamadi Diakite, Virginia | PF | 7.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg
Tony Bennett started Jack Salt most of the season but switched to Diakite in the past three NCAA Tournament games. We'll stick with that assumption here, then, that Salt will come off the bench for UVA's game against smaller/athletic Auburn. Diakite's rise has been impressive if not expected. Great hop, good rim protector, solid rim runner and, of course, got a little clutch in him. His buzzer beater to get UVA to OT against Purdue is an all-time tournament moment. I like his chances of showing well against Auburn on Saturday.
9. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State | SF | 9.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, 42.2 3-pt%
No player in the country has developed to a larger degree as a defender than McQuaid, who once upon a time was a lanky set-shooter who was lethal from behind the arc. Now he's bulked up, grown an inch or two in college and become a terrific on-ball defender. He's also got hops. Uh, we all saw and awed at this throwdown in the Duke game, right?
8. Matt Mooney, Texas Tech | PG | 11.0 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3.2 rpg, 1.9 spg
The South Dakota transfer has been just about everything Red Raider fans could have hoped for. Mooney's got good size, good instinct, hits big shots and doesn't overthink his role. I might be a bit higher on him here than some, but if you watch TTU play, you see Mooney's defense dictating a lot of what makes the Chris Beard's team so stifling on that end of the floor. If he doesn't play well on Saturday, TTU probably loses to MSU.
7. Bryce Brown, Auburn | SG | 16.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 41.0 3-pt%
I love Bryce Brown's game. He had seven 3-pointers and 25 points when Auburn beat Kansas, then put 24 on Kentucky and average nearly 1.5 points per possession. A vintage shooting guard, Brown is the lead 3-point shooter on a team full of them. As he goes, so go the Tigers. Virginia is praying he can't do to them what Carsen Edwards pulled off in the Elite Eight. I'm telling you: it's possible.
6. Jared Harper, Auburn | PG | 15.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.8 apg
Harper is an Incredibly fun player to watch, though sometimes can take shots that have you grabbing your hair. Still, I think he's the best player on Auburn now, since Chuma Okeke's out. (Plus, Bruce Pearl's told me he's as important as anyone on the roster.) Harper's such a tough matchup because he's almost impossible to predict in terms of when he'll shoot vs. when he'll pass. A lot of that is Pearl's scheme, but it's also because Harper's a speedster who uses his quickness to his advantage.
5. Kyle Guy, Virginia | SG | 15.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg. 42.7 3-pt%
As I wrote earlier this week,. Best? On a lot of nights, yes. He's the Cavs' leading scorer, most accurate 3-point shooter and the team's most contagious player. When he's playing well, the tide lifts all boats. If the Purdue game broke his scoring slump, look out. Guy also almost never fouls, committing just 1.1 hacks per 40 minutes, which is the third-lowest rate in college basketball. He's never not in the game in an important moment.
4. De'Andre Hunter, Virginia | SF | 14.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 42.4 3-pt%
Hunter is the Wahoos' best two-way player and best NBA prospect. Hunter's had an up-and-down tournament, but he's the top athlete on the top team in college hoops. His 3-point shooting is underrated -- he doesn't take as many 3-pointers as Guy and Ty Jerome, but is basically just as accurate -- and it's because he can guard 1-5 that Virginia has the best two-way trio in college basketball.
3. Ty Jerome, Virginia | SG | 13.3 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.1 rpg, 1.6 spg
It's a great sign for Virginia's national title hopes that it has three of the five best players left in the field. Jerome is clearly the best because of his killer instinct, his consistency -- no UVA player has been more reliable across this season than him -- and his maneuverability in the lineup (on both ends of the floor) make Virginia so dynamic. Jerome can be a second or third point guard option -- or he can play power forward if necessary. He cannot be rattled, and has great feel for when to shoot and how to take advantages of mismatches.
2. Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech | SF | 18.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.5 spg
Per KenPom's Player of the Year metric, Culver has turned into the most efficient and consistent player in college basketball, pushing past the likes of Ethan Happ, Carsen Edwards, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cassius Winston and Brandon Clarke. Culver was a good player last season. He's now a great college player and a top-10 draft prospect. He can do a little bit of everything. The nation doesn't really know who this guy is just yet, but it's about to find out on Saturday.
1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State | PG | 18.9 ppg, 7.6 ap, 3.0 rpg, 40.4 3-pt%
No team's chance at winning the Final Four rests more on one player than Michigan State with Winston. That's part of why he's listed at No. 1 here. Another obvious reason: he's the best point guard in college basketball (save maybe Ja Morant) and is responsible for Michigan State being statistically the most efficient passing offense in the sport for the past two seasons. Winston assists on 45.4 percent of MSU's plays when he's in the game; only Morant had a higher rate. His instinct, patience, knack for getting into the lanes and his 3-point accuracy make him the toughest scout-then-defend assignment in the field.
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