Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, March 27, 2014
Hello, Sweet 16! The first three rounds of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament are in the books. Three Big Ten teams remain in the field as Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin will attempt to stamp their ticket to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
Through three rounds of play, we have seen plenty of upsets, as well as outstanding individual and team performances. I've watched as many games I could, so here is a breakdown of my NCAA Tournament all-region teams, leading up to this week's college hoops madness.
There are plenty of familiar Big Ten names on this list.
[ MORE: Dienhart: Scouting the Big Ten in Sweet 16 ]
Scottie Wilbekin, Florida. He has totaled 31 points in wins over Albany and Pittsburgh. The Gators' senior guard was outstanding against No. 9-seeded Pitt, scoring a game-high 21 points, including 11 of the team's 13 during a 7-minute stretch in the second half. Florida may ride their senior point guard all the way to a Final Four.
Jordan Adams, UCLA. The guy has been a scoring machine for the Bruins this season, and he has carried that over into the NCAA Tournament. He has scored 40 total points on 15-of-24 shooting (.625) in two games. Adams is also averaging 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest. Can he continue his outstanding play against the No. 1-ranked Florida Gators?
Dyshawn Pierre, Dayton. Dayton has been one of the best stories in this year's tournament, and Pierre has been the Flyers' best player in back-to-back upset wins over Ohio State and Syracuse. The talented sophomore forward is making a name for himself while averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds for this year's cinderella team of the tournament.
Chasson Randle, Stanford. He has been outstanding in upset wins over No. 7 New Mexico and No. 2 Kansas. Randle has totaled 36 points on 13-of-27 shooting (.482) from the field. Most importantly, this guy has played a full 40 minutes in both of Stanford's NCAA Tourney wins. Now that's impressive.
C.J. Fair, Syracuse. It's tough to choose a guy from a team that didn't advance to the Sweet 16, but that certainly wasn't Fair's fault. This guy posted double-double's in back-to-back games for the Orange, the second of which resulted in an upset loss to No. 11 Dayton.
Joe Harris, Virginia. The leader of the Cavilers has been rock-solid in two NCAA Tourney victories over Coastal Carolina and Memphis. He always seems to play his best in big games, which was the case this past Sunday when he posted 16 points and five rebounds in a convincing 78-60 victory over Memphis.
Branden Dawson, Michigan State. This guy has been near unstoppable after missing a month with a broken hand. Dawson is averaging 18 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in victories over Delaware and Harvard. Perhaps most impressive has been his efficiency from the field. He has made 16 of the 22 shots he has attempted, good for a 73 percent shooting clip. If he continues this pace, the Spartans may be the most dangerous team in the field.
Adreian Payne, Michigan State. He gets my vote for the most dominant player in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Of course, much of that has to do with his 41 point outburst in the Spartans' opening round win over Delaware. But the senior forward followed that up with a solid outing against Harvard as well. He is averaging 26.5 points and 6 rebounds per game.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State. The Cyclones' senior guard is playing like a man amongst boys in this year's NCAA Tourney. He has posted 38 points, 17 rebounds, and 12 assists in wins over North Carolina Central and North Carolina. He has done all this while only sitting out a total of five minutes in those two games. What a talent.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut. It was just three years ago when the Huskies had a talented point guard lead UCONN to a memorable national title run. Now, the Huskies have another talented guard leading the way in Shabazz Napier. This guy is a scoring machine, putting up 49 points in wins over St. Joe's and Villanova. He totaled 25 points in 25 minutes on 9-of-13 (.692) shooting in the victory over Jay Wright's Villanova team. That's not even fair.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona. This diaper-dandy has backed up all the freshman hype he had coming into this season. Through two tournament games, Gordon has totaled 34 points, 14 rebounds, 9 assists and 5 blocks. Arizona may ride its freshman star all the way to the Final Four.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State. This guy has been a stud for the Aztecs in the NCAA Tournament. The talented senior guard has posted 23 and 30 points in wins over New Mexico State and South Dakota State, respectively. If you like instant offense, this kid is a treat to watch out on the basketball court.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor. Baylor is one of the biggest teams throughout college basketball, and Jefferson is as big and powerful as it gets. He uses his size (6-9, 220 pounds) and skill-set to score in a variety of ways, which is what makes this Baylor team so dangerous in the postseason. He has totaled 30 points and 10 rebounds through two games, while shooting 11-of-20 (55 percent) from the field. What a force.
Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin. The Badgers' point guard struggled down the final stretch of the Big Ten season, but he has been nothing short of outstanding through two NCAA Tourney wins over American and Oregon. Jackson is averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game in this postseason. If he can keep up this pace, the Badgers could be a Final Four team.
Nick Johnson, Arizona. The Wildcats' most consistent player this season has been nothing short of that in this year's tourney. A 6-3 point guard, Johnson uses his size and skills to score in a variety of ways. He is averaging 17.5 points and has hit 6-of-10 shots from 3-point range.
Julius Randle, Kentucky. The National spotlight has been placed on Randle and several other outstanding freshmen this season, but this youngster has delivered on the biggest stage of his young college career. He has posted back-to-back double doubles and has been an absolute force on both ends of the court. In fact, Randle was just four assists short of posting a triple-double in the Wildcats' thrilling 78-76 win over No. 1-ranked Wichita State. Simply great.
Luke Hancock, Louisville. Last year's Final Four MVP could be on his way to securing that award again with the numbers he has been putting up as of late. This talented senior has posted 37 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 steals in wins over Manhattan and Saint Louis. This team is going to need much the same if Louisville is going to get past in-state rival Kentucky.
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee. As good as Randle has been for Kentucky, this guy is the MVP of the Midwest Region thus far. Through three games, Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds per game. He has recorded a double-double in wins over Iowa, UMass and Mercer. He will be tested against a talented Michigan team on Thursday.
Jordan Morgan, Michigan. Jarnell Stokes isn't the only guy who has posted multiple double-doubles through the opening rounds of the NCAA Tourney. Morgan has been the unsung hero on this Michigan team. He put up 10 points and 10 rebounds in an opening round win over Wofford, and followed that with an impressive 15 point, 10 rebound outing in a commanding 79-65 victory over Texas. If this guy continues to play at this pace, Michigan could make another run to the Final Four.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan. The Big Ten player of the year has been solid in Michigan's two wins over Wofford and Texas. He is averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists per game, while shooting at a 47 percent clip from 3-point range. This guy seems to play his best on the biggest stage, which means we may be in for a real treat this weekend.