Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is No. 2 behind Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.
Here’s how we’re ranking the Final Four starters.
No. 20 — Gavin Schilling, Michigan State: Schilling was the second-to-last place starter in the Sweet 16, and assuredly has his work cut out for him going against Jahlil Okafor in the Final Four this week. Tough matchup for the Spartans, there.
No. 19 — Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Michigan State: A defensive player that only plays 15-20 minutes per game, Tum Tum tends to cede time to Bryn Forbes late in games. His energy will be critical on the defensive end though against Tyus Jones.
No. 18 — Matt Jones, Duke: He had a big game against Gonzaga in his home state of Texas, dropping 16 points that included four 3s. If he can give Duke anything on the offensive end, it’s hard to envision them dropping games.
No. 17 — Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig actually ceded control of the Wisconsin offense to Trae Jackson for portions of the game late against Arizona. I’d expect he still gets more minutes than Jackson moving forward due to the devastating offensive efficiency the Badgers have had with him in charge, but it’ll be interesting to monitor.
No. 16 — Josh Gasser, Wisconsin: I wrote about Gasser at length last week, as he’s among the more indispensable role players in America. His defense is terrific, and he’s a knockdown shooter. The fact that he’s in the bottom-five of this list shows just how much unbelievable talent is left in this tournament.
No. 15 — Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson made a couple of key baskets against Louisville to get the Spartans here. He’s the team’s senior leader, their lone top-90 recruit out of high school. The Spartans will need him to do extremely well against Justise Winslow to have a shot to beat Duke.
No. 14 — Aaron Harrison, Kentucky: Harrison has an injured finger, which drops him down this list slightly. Still, if someone is going to hit a game-winner in any of these games, it seems likely to be Harrison given his penchant for big shots.
No. 13 — Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: One of the two hinging pieces on offense for the Spartans. His ability to space the floor by knocking down 3s and vision when passing the ball is so important for their offense.
No. 12 — Travis Trice, Michigan State: The catalyst of the resurgent Spartan offense, Trice has been great in the pick-and-roll and knocked down shots at key times for Tom Izzo’s group. For them to continue to advance, he’ll need more excellent play from his point guard.
No. 11 — Quinn Cook: Cook’s been instrumental as a senior leader in the Blue Devils’ success this year, and his floor spacing has been essential to their offense. However, his contributions have been slightly diminished of late due to the emergence of the No. 5 guy on this list.
No. 10 — Andrew Harrison, Kentucky: It was Harrison’s free throws that clinched the Wildcats’ game against Notre Dame, and they were typical of his February and March. He’s begun attacking with much more confidence, which makes him a totally different, better player.
No. 9 — Trey Lyles, Kentucky: Lyles often presents something of a matchup problem for the opposition due to his combination of size and skill. It’ll be interesting to see how Wisconsin tries to handle him, as Sam Dekker is the likely matchup. Can Dekker slow him down?
No. 8 — Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: Hayes has been a good two-way player this year, and his ability to step away from the hoop has really improved throughout the season. However, he’ll need to use his bulk to play against the big men of Kentucky in the Final Four.
No. 7 — Tyus Jones, Duke: The freshman point guard has been unflappable this season, and he’s been at his best in big games. He’ll need to be great in this one. If he outplays Trice, it’s hard to see a way that the Spartans win the game.
No. 6 — Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: The West Region’s Most Outstanding Player has set career highs in each of his last two games, and seems to be peaking at the right time for the Badgers. Don’t think the Wildcats have a great matchup for him defensively in this one, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep his magic going.
No. 5 — Justise Winslow, Duke: The South Region’s Most Outstanding Player was terrific in his home town of Houston, dominating each game with his sheer energy and athleticism. If he keeps up his play, Duke could cut down the nets.
No. 4 — Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: The nation’s best defensive player was great in the Midwest region. He’ll be charged with defending Dekker and Frank Kaminsky at various points throughout the Wildcats’ game against Wisconsin, proving his versatility yet again.
No. 3 — Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky: The Midwest Region’s MOP winner, Towns literally took over the game against Notre Dame and put the Wildcats on his back. He recently ascended to No. 1 on my draft ranking board, and he’ll be the guy that needs to lead Kentucky in the Final Four.
No. 2 — Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Despite moving Towns ahead of him on my draft board, Okafor is still the guy that consistently dominates the college game. However, he did struggle a bit this weekend against the size of Utah and Gonzaga, it was no matter. The Blue Devils moved on, and he’ll need to have a repeat of his performance against Michigan State early this year when he dropped 17 points on 8-10 shooting.
No. 1 — Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Kaminsky is the national player of the year, and he dropped 29 points in the Badgers’ win over Arizona in the Elite Eight. His ability to score on the Wildcats will be the tipping point of their game. If he can, the Badgers will have a shot. If he can’t, it’s going to be tough for their defense to keep them in the game. Can the nation’s best player this season live up to his billing? We’ll find out Saturday.