As the calendar turns to August, it’s time to familiarize yourself with a number of key names we will all be discussing in the NCAA tournament.
Starting with Michigan State’s impact point guard Cassius Winston, here’s a Sweet 16 of names to know and why:
1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State: Winston should enter the NCAA tournament as the Big Ten player of the year, leading one of the four No. 1 seeds. He’ll be a vocal leader for the Spartans and one of the more recognizable names when next year’s bracket is released. He will also have a chance to etch himself in Michigan State history as the point guard who led the school to its first title in 20 years.
2. Jordan Nwora, Louisville: Nwora should be the ACC player of the year after leading the Cardinals to an ACC title and a No. 1 seed. Louisville will lean heavily on him to continue a remarkable turnaround and deliver Chris Mack his first Final Four in just a few short seasons as head coach of a historic program.
3. Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida: Blackshear didn’t choose the Gators after leading Virginia Tech to a Sweet 16 just to return to his native state. He selected the team most suitable for him to help achieve a Final Four bid. Florida will embrace his activity on the floor and Blackshear will immediately become one of next season’s most important grad transfers.
4. Myles Powell, Seton Hall: Powell will lead the Pirates to a Big East title and be in the hunt for their first Final Four since 1989. He will hit a slew of big shots en route to an epic NCAA tournament run and be dubbed the “big shot” because he won’t shy away from a chance to take Seton Hall across the finish line.
5. Jalen Smith, Maryland: “Sticks” will have a breakout sophomore season and be a dominating player at both ends of the floor. The Terps will play a few showdowns with Michigan State and head into the Big Ten tournament with the chance for a top-two line seed. Smith will be one of the main reasons Maryland potentially reaches a Final Four.
6. Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: Azubuike will remind college basketball fans how dominant he once was in the post before injuries sidelined him last season. He will be the “bully ball” player Bill Self needs to help the Jayhawks reclaim their spot atop the Big 12. And Azubuike will combine with Devon Dotson to give Kansas a 1-2 punch that will be tough to take down on the way to a Final Four.
7. Cole Anthony, North Carolina: Anthony will bring back terrific memories of what his father, Greg, accomplished 30 years ago while leading UNLV to a national title. He’ll dominate the ball for the Tar Heels and push for ACC player of the year honors. North Carolina will be under appreciated early before surging toward the top of the league.
8. James Wiseman, Memphis: Wiseman will lead an all-freshmen starting five for Penny Hardaway and spark a revival in the Home of the Blues. His presence will be felt at both ends of the paint, scoring inside and becoming the top rim protector in the AAC. Basketball will once again be a happening event in Memphis as the Tigers capture a conference title and Wiseman cements himself as the top pick in the 2020 draft.
9. Tre Jones, Duke: Jones will be the top on-ball defender and become the experienced point guard the Blue Devils need to lead another elite freshmen class to a top four-line seed. He may not win a national title like his brother, Tyus, but he’ll enhance his reputation by intensifying his leadership skills.
10. Markus Howard, Marquette: He will score 50 points — let’s say twice because why not? Howard has it in him. He’ll delight the Marquette and Big East fans and keep the Golden Eagles in the hunt for the conference championship. His matchups with Myles Powell will be must-see and he’ll go down as the most beloved Marquette player since Dwyane Wade.
11. Tyrese Maxey, Kentucky: Maxey will surge in the SEC as one of the most talented players in the league. He will help a balanced Kentucky team to another Elite Eight. Plus, the Wildcats, like Duke, will have an experienced point guard in Ashton Hagans. And Maxey will quickly be a known name, proving his ability to stuff the stat sheet.
12. Jordan Ford, Saint Mary’s: Ford will get the Gaels back to the NCAA tournament, but this time they won’t have to win the WCC tournament. Saint Mary’s will be a team that makes appearances in the top 25. Ford will be one of the top playmakers in the country as a leading contender for the WCC player of the year award. And Saint Mary’s will be one of the top picks to reach the Sweet 16.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY: All-time No. 1 seeds and year-by-year results.
13. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois: Learn how to spell and pronounce his name, because he will be one of the top players in the Big Ten and lead a revival in Champaign. All Brad Underwood needed was some patience from the faithful. The players are all in now and Dosunmu will be the one to get this crew back to the NCAA tournament.
14. Tristan Clark, Baylor: Clark will be in the thick of the race for Big 12 player of the year. Scott Drew will rely on him to score and be active inside as the team’s most disruptive force. Clark will also be the newest successor to Baylor players who elevated their game and the program. Book it.
15. Kellan Grady, Davidson: Grady will be back in the NCAA tournament, helping the Wildcats win the Atlantic 10. He will team up with backcourt mate Jon Axel Gudmundsson to form one of the toughest tandems on the East Coast. Davidson will be a trendy pick to advance to a second weekend next spring.
16. Anthony Lamb, Vermont: All that’s missing for Lamb is an NCAA tournament win, which he will get in 2020. The Catamounts will once again win the America East and Lamb will be the conference player of the year. Vermont will remind their fanbase of the historic NCAA tournament win over Syracuse in 2005 by captivating northern New England in March 15 years later.
Andy Katz’s latest Power 36 rankings | 2020 March Madness schedule
Players to watch: SEC | Pac-12 | Big Ten | Big East | Big 12 | ACC | AAC
Rule change: 3-point line extends
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