It’s March Madness time! That means there’s a lot of teams and a lot of games to follow. Here’s some exciting players in the tournament nobody should miss.
Josh Jackson, F, Kansas
Frank Mason is the best player on this Kansas team, and possibly the best player in college basketball, but it’s Jackson who will be the most interesting Jayhawk to watch. He does it all — scoring, defending, rebounding and playmaking.
It’s no coincidence the Jayhawks fell to TCU 85-82 in the Big 12 tournament without Jackson, after whooping the Horned Frogs 87-68 a few weeks prior.
Kansas suspended Jackson from the TCU game for his involvement in a car crash on Feb. 2. When coach Bill Self was asked if Jackson would be suspended for the NCAA tournament, he said “Hell no!”
Of course! He wants to win. And they’ll need Jackson — who’s averaging 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists — to stay out of trouble if they’re going to make a deep run.
Semi Ojeleye, F, SMU
The 6-foot-8 forward was a top recruit in 2013, and he ultimately chose Duke. Unfortunately, he never saw the floor for the Blue Devils. He was averaging just 3.0 points in 10.5 minutes per game his sophomore year before transferring.
Ojeleye averaged 18.9 points and 6.8 rebounds this season for the 30-4 Mustangs, anchoring them on offense and defense. He’s really fun to watch.
The Mustangs have not lost a game since January 12 and are fresh off of an AAC Tournament win. With that said, the 11 seed will have to pull out a win against red-hot USC today at 2 p.m. if we’re going to see more of Ojeleye.
Lonzo Ball, G, UCLA
Lonzo Ball and forward TJ Leaf have revitalized a UCLA program that embarrassingly failed to make the tournament last year. Despite having one of the ugliest shots I’ve ever seen, Ball is shooting 54 percent from the field and 41 percent from three, and he isn’t afraid to take long shots. He’s also one of the best playmakers in college at age 19 — possessing incredible court vision.
As Ball will likely go top 3 in the NBA draft this summer, make sure to catch one of his games, as it’s the first and last NCAA tournament the freshman will ever play in.
UCLA has a very tough road to the final four, with potential matchups against Cincinnati, Wichita State and Kentucky early on. That’s too bad for them, but hey, more great matchups for us.
Malik Monk, G, Kentucky
Despite coach John Calipari’s extensive resume and enormous salary, it never feels like Kentucky is very well coached. Perhaps it’s because the team often relies on ultra talented yet inexperienced freshmen, but they often look disorganized come tournament time.
It’s no different this year, as freshman lottery picks Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox own the Kentucky backcourt.
Monk can catch fire at any moment and take over a game. His pull-up game is impossible to guard.
No team knows this better than the Tar Heels, who outplayed Kentucky for 40 minutes only to lose to a shooting explosion from Monk. He put up 47 points on 18-of-28 shots from the field and 8-of-12 shots from three-point range, including a contested, off-the-dribble three with seconds remaining to give his team the lead and the win.
If he’s hot, Kentucky has a good shot of making it out of the hardest pool I’ve seen in a long time. If not, their potential is limited. Even their potential second round matchup with Wichita State could be a nail-biter.
Josh Hart, G, Villanova
Hart already has a national championship under his belt, and the senior will surely be looking to repeat.
Hart led the team with 18.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
He won 2017 Big East Player of the Year, leading the Wildcats to the conference title.
I don’t have much else to say … next!
Jayson Tatum, F, Duke
Where Grayson Allen and Harry Giles have disappointed, freshman Jayson Tatum has picked up the slack.
Tatum is as polished a scorer as any in college basketball, able to break down his defender one on one in isolation through post-ups and triple threat moves. He’ll be huge for the Blue Devils in crunch time, when defense ramps up and plays inevitably break down.
Tatum torched Louisville and North Carolina with 25 and 24 points, respectively, in back to back ACC tournament wins for the Blue Devils, a team that’s is catching fire at the right time. He and sophomore guard Luke Kennard lead the charge for one of the scariest teams in the tournament.
Lauri Markkanen, F, Arizona
Markkanen is a talented seven-foot freshman from Finland. He’s so good that Sen. John McCain made sure he had his visa sorted out before the school year started.
The big man dominated UCLA with 29 points and 12 rebounds in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal en route to a comfortable victory.
One of the best shooters in college, Markkanen’s ability to space the floor causes all kinds of problems for opposing defenses, giving guards Rawle Alkins and Kadeem Allen room to operate.
Caleb Swanigan, F, Purdue
At age 13, Swanigan stood at 6-2 and weighed 360 pounds. Six years later, he’s 6-9, 250. Oh, and he’s also the best power forward in college basketball.
Teams have not found a way to stop him yet, as his diverse offensive game is a matchup nightmare.
Purdue has a real chance to pick off Kansas, provided both teams aren’t upset in the first two rounds.