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The top 50 players in March Madness, ranked

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These are the players in the 2019 NCAA tournament you need to know.

The NCAA tournament is upon us, and with it a new batch of college basketball players are ready to become household names. March Madness brings us so many great stories.

This tournament will feature a once-in-a-generation talent in Zion Williamson, who looks to be destined for NBA greatness. It includes mid-major stars like Murray State’s Ja Morant and Belmont’s Dylan Windler. There are college veterans who just keep getting better in Grant Williams and Cameron Johnson. It has a heavy international flavor with Rui Hachimura (Japan), R.J. Barrett (Canada), and Bruno Fernando (Angola).

In trying to determine the best players in field, defense was factored in just as heavily as offense. Box score plus-minus, a statistic that estimates the number of points contributed by a player vs. an average player, per 100 possessions, was also consulted.

Before the tournament kicks off, these are the top 50 players you need to know.

50. Marcus Santos-Silva, F, VCU

Santos-Silva is a monster in the paint for VCU at 6’7, 250 pounds. The sophomore big man put up 26 points and 22 rebounds in the Rams’ A-10 tournament loss to Rhode Island. Teammate Marcus Evans carries a bigger scoring load, but Santos-Silva’s tough two-way play paced VCU all year on the way to a regular-season conference championship.

49. Shizz Alston Jr., G, Temple

Alston Jr. is a 6’4 senior guard who has put up big numbers for Temple all season. He averaged 19.7 points and five assists per game, both team highs. He enters the tournament on a roll, scoring 20 points or more in his last eight games.

48. Miye Oni, G, Yale

Oni is a 6’6 junior guard who has led Yale in scoring for three straight seasons. Read Mid Major Madness on his improbable story to get here.

47. Jordan Murphy, F, Minnesota

Murphy is the senior workhorse for the Golden Gophers, averaging a double-double on the year with 14.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. He’ll have to carry Minnesota along with teammate Amir Coffey if they want to get out of the first round against Louisville.

46. Tacko Fall, C, UCF

Fall is going to be a national phenomenon if UCF can make a run to the second weekend. The 7’6 center led the team in rebounds and blocks while also averaging better than 10 points per game. Fall has been legend dating back to his days as a recruit. It’s time for the whole country to fall for him.

45. Jared Harper, G, Auburn

The 5’11 point guard was the driving force behind Auburn’s surprising run to the SEC tournament championship, putting up back-to-back 20-plus point games to get the Tigers into the final, where they demolished Tennessee. Harper is a lightning-quick guard who can get into the teeth of the defense, hit a jumper, or get his teammates involved with a team-high 5.8 assists per game.

44. Phil Booth, G Villanova

Booth went from being a role player on last year’s national title winner to the leading man for Villanova this season. The 6’3 senior led the team in scoring and assists. He’ll have to carry the offense with teammate Eric Paschall if the Wildcats have another run in them.

43. Marial Shayok, F, Iowa State

Shayok transferred from Virginia and turned into Iowa State’s leading scorer in his first year with the Cyclones, averaging 18.2 points per game. The 6’6 wing can fill it up from the three-point range, rarely misses a free throw, and also has a knack on the offensive glass. The Cyclones look like a bracket-buster as a No. 6 seed after winning the Big 12 tournament.

42. Corey Davis Jr., G, Houston

Most expected Houston to take a step back this season after the loss of star scorer Rob Gray. Instead, the Cougars turned into one of the best teams in the country, finishing the year 31-3 and winning the AAC. Davis was the team’s leading scorer by turning into a knockdown shooter.

41. Jordan Ford, G, Saint Mary’s

After averaging 11 points per game last season as a sophomore, Ford put up more than 21 points per game this season to turn into St. Mary’s leading man. His efficient three-level scoring was huge for a Gaels team that finished dead last in the country in assists per field goal made.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

40. Tyus Battle, G, Syracuse

Syracuse will always be known for its 2-3 zone defense against Jim Boeheim, but someone has to score. For the last two seasons, that’s been Battle. He averaged more than 17 points per game this year in a volume scoring role. The 6’6 junior missed the ACC tournament with a back injury, but will be in the up as the Orange begin play in the NCAA tournament.

39. Tre Jones, PG, Duke

Duke needs Jones playing well to reach its potential. The freshman point guard is a lockdown defender who helps breathe life into the Blue Devils by turning defense into offense. While a spotty outside shooter, Jones is a tough and smart facilitator who knows how to find his talented teammates.

38. Kevarrius Hayes, C, Florida

Florida has bigger scorers, but Hayes is their heart and soul. The senior center anchored Florida’s top-15 defense while almost contributing 8.1 points per game on offense. No opponent will want to go inside with Hayes in the middle.

37. Sam Merrill, G, Utah State

All Merrill did during his junior season was become Mountain West Player of the Year. His 21.2 points per game were almost 10 more any of his teammates. Merrill’s star turn is the biggest reason Utah State enters the tournament at 28-6 overall and with a Mountain West tournament championship already under their belt.

36. Eric Paschall, F, Villanova

Paschall is one of two holdovers from last season’s national title game. Jay Wright is happy to have him. The 6’7 senior forward is an explosive athlete who can score inside, rebound, and stretch the defense with his jump shot. Villanova still won the Big East even in a supposed rebuilding year in large part thanks to Paschall’s experience and production.

35. Zavier Simpson, G, Michigan

Simpson has become Michigan’s emotional leader in his junior season. The point guard is a bulldog defender who sets the tone for the entire team with his intensity. He struggles to shoot on offense, but has developed a mystifying hook shot he deploys with devastating effectiveness. Michigan made a run to the national title game once Simpson took over a starting spot last season. This team has all the talent to do it again.

34. Quinndary Weatherspoon, G, Mississippi State

The 6’2 senior guard will finally get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament after a productive four-year career for Mississippi State. He averaged a team-high 18.2 points per game and shot 40 percent from three. With the Bulldogs are dancing for the first time since 2009, Weatherspoon will get a chance to show out in front of the entire country.

33. Jordan Nwora, F, Louisville

Nwora has gone from a scarcely used freshman to Louisville’s best player as a sophomore. He led the team in scoring (17.2 points per game), rebounding (7.5 per game), and steals while also being its most dependable outside shooter. This is the type of 6’7 combo forward every team in the country would like to have.

32. Jarron Cumberland, G, Cincinnati

Cumberland played a supporting role to Jacob Evans and Gary Clark the last couple seasons, but has come into his own as the focal point of the Bearcats this year. The 6’3 junior guard averaged 18.8 points per game on better than 40 percent shooting from three-point range. He needs to get hot and stay hot if Cincinnati is going to make a run.

31. Jon Teske, C, Michigan

Teske could be one of the most underrated players in the tournament as a junior center who holds together Michigan’s elite defense. Teske blocks shots and swallows up post-ups and pick-and-rolls defensively, while also providing capable inside-out scoring on offense. Michigan has bigger names, but no player is more important to its success than Teske.

Wofford v North Carolina Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

30. Fletcher Magee, G, Wofford

Magee needs just two three-pointers to set the DI record for makes in a career. He is impossibly good as a shooter, hitting threes even when off-balance after running around screens. The Terriers became a legitimate top-25 team in the polls this season as a mid-major because they never stop firing threes. Magee’s excellence is the biggest reason why.

29. Caleb Martin, G, Nevada

Martin and his twin brother Cody make up the backbone of a Nevada team that has had Final Four expectations since the preseason. While Cody is the superior defender and playmaker, Caleb averaged 19.2 points per game to become the Wolf Pack’s go-to scorer. If Nevada wants to make a run to the second weekend for the second year in a row, Caleb Martin will have to lead the way offensively.

28. Tremont Waters, G, LSU

Kentucky and Tennessee have established themselves as front-runners to make the Final Four, but it was LSU that won the SEC’s regular-season crown. Waters was the Tigers’ best player. He is an undersized point guard with a quick trigger as a shooter and craft as a passer who served as the catalyst of the offense. The scandal surrounding head coach Will Wade has put a damper on LSU’s magical season, but don’t write off the Tigers just yet.

27. Anthony Lamb, G, Vermont

Lamb ascended to being one of the best mid-major players in the country this season as a junior, averaging 21 points and six rebounds per game while shooting better than 40 percent from three. He’s the reason UMBC isn’t in the NCAA tournament again this year: Lamb’s 28 points in the America East final gave Vermont the conference’s auto-bid over last year’s darlings.

26. Dylan Windler, F, Belmont

Belmont’s at-large bid is worthy of celebration just so the rest of the country can get a look at Windler, a 6’8 senior forward who impacts every facet of the game. Windler finished the year by averaging 21.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on 67 percent shooting on twos and 43 percent shooting on threes. Stopping him will be Temple’s No. 1 objective in the play-in game.

25. Admiral Schofield, F, Tennessee

Schofield is a 6’6, 240-pound wing who has gotten better all four years he’s been with the Vols. As a senior, Schofield has grown into Tennessee’s best three-point shooter while averaging a career-high 16.2 points per game. He’s the perfect co-star for Grant Williams and a big reason why the Vols are a trendy Final Four pick.

24 Kyle Guy, G, Virginia

Guy is the leading scorer on a top-seeded Virginia team that is ready to erase the memory of its nightmare loss to UMBC one year ago. He’s a terrific shooter off the bounce, making 46 percent of his threes on 7.2 attempts per game. The 6’2 guard has to continue being a walking bucket for the ‘Hoos to finally breakthrough to the Final Four.

23. Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

Edwards is the engine for everything Purdue does. The junior guard had to carry a ridiculous load for this season, putting up 23 points per game but seeing his efficiency take a hit as a result. Edwards took 10 threes per game this season, so expect him to come out of the gates firing in the NCAA tournament.

22. Matisse Thybulle, G, Washington

Thybulle is the king of STOCKS, AKA steals and blocks, where he averaged a ridiculous 7.2 per 40 minutes. On top of being arguably the most intimidating defender in the country, Thybulle also averaged 15.5 points per game and started to make strides as a shooter. Elite defenders deserve love, too.

21. Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

Fernando has grown into one of college basketball’s great centers as a sophomore, swatting shots, finishing everything around the rim, and even growing as a passer this season for the Terps. Fernando just looks intimidating with a muscular, 240-pound frame, but his advanced stats back up the fact that this is one of the better big men in America.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Florida State vs Virginia Tech Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

20. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, G, Virginia Tech

The 6’6 sophomore guard can score, facilitate, and shoot from the outside. Alexander-Walker can drive, finish, or pass with either hand. While he looked overmatched at times trying to be a go-to scorer in the absence of teammate Justin Robinson, his do-it-all game is the biggest reason Virginia Tech enters the tournament as a No. 4 seed. With Robinson reportedly healthy enough to play in March, the Hokies suddenly became scary.

19. Coby White, PG, North Carolina

More of a scorer than a true facilitator, White has thrived taking over point guard duties for a four-year starter in Joel Berry at North Carolina. His game is equal parts step-back jumpers and daring drives to the rim, acting as the engine of a North Carolina team that aspires to make the Final Four for the third time in four years.

18. C.J. Massinburg, G, Buffalo

Massinburg is the go-to senior scorer behind Buffalo’s brilliant 31-3 season. He packs the box score with points, rebounds, assists, and steals every night while also being a 40-percent three-point shooter. If the Bulls need a bucket late, Massinburg is getting the ball.

17. Ty Jerome, G, Virginia

Is there anything Ty Jerome can’t do? The 6’5 junior is a skilled shooter and playmaker who also plays a key role on the other end for a defense that finished top five in efficiency. What he lacks in athletic explosion he gets back with skill and smarts.

16. Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall

Powell has shined in a featured offensive role for Seton Hall as a junior, entering the tournament averaging 23 points per game. He is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, attempting 8.6 threes per game with a rare ability to hit them off the dribble or as a catch-and-shoot threat. Just ask Kentucky fans how good he is: Powell dropped 28 points on the Wildcats to power an upset back in December.

15. Shamorie Ponds, G, St. John’s

Ponds is a one-man offensive show for the Red Storm. The 6’1 guard is a fearless isolation scorer with the quickness to take anyone off the dribble. He’s also made noticeable strides as a three-point shooter and playmaker this season. Watching Ponds cook has been one of the great joys in college basketball the last two seasons. Finally, the whole world gets to see it.

14. Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

Johnson has been a blessing for North Carolina as a grad transfer from Pitt, giving the Tar Heels a 6’8 wing with refined scoring instincts and deep shooting range. Johnson hit 46 percent of his threes this season and also averaged career-highs in rebounds and steals. There won’t be many players in the NCAA tournament with the size and skill to matchup with him.

13. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

The Japanese-born Hachimura has been a sensation for Gonzaga as a junior, averaging 20 points and six rebounds per game to help lead the Bulldogs to a No. 1 seed. There aren’t many inside-out scorers in the country who can match Hachimura’s soft shooting touch and finishing strength on the inside. His defense can be be spotty and his feel for the game remains a work in progress (he had more turnovers than assists), but his scoring ability could be enough to carry the ‘Zags through a loaded West region.

12. R.J. Barrett, G, Duke

Barrett entered this season as the No. 1 recruit in the country and presumptive favorite to be the first pick in the NBA Draft before being usurped by his more talented teammate (more on that guy later). He’s still been as productive as any freshman in recent memory, averaging 23 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game to give Duke an offensive battering ram capable of carrying the team on any given night. The only problem for Barrett is efficiency: his shaky jump shot (his three-point percentage is actually worse than Zion Williamson’s) and lack of refined court vision often leads to hero ball. As long as he can play a team game, Duke is the obvious favorite to cut down the nets in Minneapolis.

11. De’Andre Hunter, F, Virginia

Hunter’s broken wrist days before last year’s NCAA tournament is a critical asterisk next to Virginia’s historic opening-round loss to UMBC. Hunter will be healthy this year, and that makes the ‘Hoos an entirely different team. This is the oversized two-way wing every team wishes it could have, a player who can hit a jump shot or score inside while using his length to smother ball handlers and clog passing lanes on the defensive end. Virginia has never had an NBA lottery pick under Tony Bennett. Hunter will be the first.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan State vs Wisconsin David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

10. Ethan Happ, C, Wisconsin

It’s easy to take Ethan Happ for granted given that he’s been one of the best big men in college basketball for so long. He remains a skilled inside scorer, blessed with the type of post moves that feel like they belong in a bygone era. He’s also a deadly passer out of the high post who finished in the top 15 in the country in assist rate while maintaining his ability to clean the glass as a rebounder. Whatever the Badgers do in March, Happ will be the star of the show.

9. Dedric Lawson, F, Kansas

Lawson has been everything Kansas dreamed he would be when he transferred in from Memphis, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game in his first season in Lawrence. The Jayhawks failed to live up to their preseason hype as the No. 1 team in the polls at the start of the season, but Lawson’s enormous production gives the team a chance to make a run in March just as everyone is forgetting about them.

8. Cassius Winston, PG, Michigan State

Winston has been one of college basketball’s preeminent facilitators for three years. This season, as a junior, he took his game to new heights as a scorer by averaging 19 points per game. Winston won’t blow you away with speed or size, but he’s a smart player who can make any pass or beat you with his jump shot. Michigan State might lack the NBA talent it has had the last few years, but Winston ensures that Tom Izzo still has a superstar as he heads into the tournament.

7. P.J. Washington, F, Kentucky

Washington declared for the NBA Draft last year, but returned to school when he was deemed a likely second-round pick. He might be a lottery pick now after taking his game to a new level as a sophomore. Washington has always used his combination of length and strength to be a skilled inside scorer, but he’s added a new dimension to his game this year with his outside jump shot. He’ll enter the tournament shooting 42 percent from three-point range. There might not be a better inside-out threat in the sport.

6. Jarrett Culver, G, Texas Tech

Culver has been the best offensive player on college basketball’s No. 1 defensive team during a breakout sophomore season. This is a do-it-all wing with few holes in his game, showing the ability to carry the Red Raiders as an isolation scorer, a facilitator, or as a key cog in the defense. Culver brings so much to the table while taking almost nothing off of it. That’s a big reason why he’s projected to be a top-10 pick in June’s NBA Draft.

5. Markus Howard, PG, Marquette

Howard is college basketball’s most prolific three-point sniper, averaging 25 points per game on the strength of his pull-up shooting. He’s popped off for 50 points once this year, and more than 40 points two other times. Howard isn’t the next Steph Curry, but he plays like Curry at the college level. Marquette’s hopes of breaking through as a No. 5 seed rests on his outside shooting.

4. Grant Williams, F, Tennessee

Williams won SEC player of the year last season as a sophomore, and somehow improved his numbers across the board during a breakout junior year. Williams is a throwback power forward in many ways, finishing inside through contact and drawing fouls. He’s also an imposing defensive player and has made major strides with his jump shot. This is not only the emotional leader of Tennessee; he’s one of the very best players in the country, too. The Vols’ national title hopes run through him.

3. Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

How does a player from the Ohio Valley explode onto NBA radars and become possibly the No. 2-overall pick in June’s draft? Morant’s rise is a testament to his immense raw talent, combining classic point guard instincts with nuclear athleticism in a way few ever have. His jaw-dropping highlights are only matched by his impossible numbers, leading the country in assist rate while also finishing top-10 in points per game. Morant finally gets his coming out party in the NCAA tournament, and the entire basketball world will be watching.

2. Brandon Clarke, F, Gonzaga

Clarke has been flying under the radar all season, but at a certain point it’s become impossible to ignore his historic two-way production. A transfer from San Jose State who sat out all of last year, Clarke put himself on the map by dominating against Duke in a ‘Zags win at the Maui Invitational. He’s been the best defensive player in the country ever since. All he does offensively is shoot 70 percent from the field, finding intuitive ways to score on lobs, floaters, and putbacks. Clarke isn’t the biggest name on Gonzaga, but he is the biggest reason they can win the whole damn thing.

1. Zion Williamson, F, Duke

Williamson has transcended college basketball during his one year at Duke. He proved that by putting a personal straightjacket around media coverage all year long, and by nearly bringing the sports world to a halt when his foot busted out of his shoe against North Carolina in February. Williamson’s unparalleled physicality and statistical dominance have converged to make him one of the biggest phenoms the sport has ever seen, with every incredible moment documented relentlessly on ESPN or through social media. This season has felt like one long coronation of Williamson’s greatness. The only thing he’s missing is a national championship.