Ranking the 68 best players in this year's NCAA tournament

They come from every corner of the globe the stars of this year's college basketball season, from the beaches of the Bahamas, to the snow-capped mountains of Austria.

There are sons of everyday Joes and sons of former NBA stars. There are centers who eclipse 7 feet tall and point guards who don't even stand 6 feet. There are guys who grew up in picture-perfect homes and guys who survived tough upbringings.

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Here's a look at the 68 best players in this year's NCAA tournament. The rankings are based not on NBA potential but on a player's impact on this year's college basketball season. Stats matter, but so does the level of competition a player faced and the amount of success his team enjoyed.

1. Denzel Valentine, G, Michigan State

Years ago, Valentine would stand outside the Michigan State locker room with hats or shirts for players to sign,  Now he is who today's Lansing kids come see after a season in which he has averaged 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists.

2. Buddy Hield, G, Oklahoma

Oklahoma's smiling assassin is college basketball's most lethal scorer. He averages 25.0 points per game and his 3-point percentage has actually dipped to 46.4. In an epic triple-overtime loss to Kansas this season, he had 46 points on 23 shots.

3. Tyler Ulis, G, Kentucky

Kentucky is lucky top Class of 2014 point guard target Emmanuel Mudiay chose SMU over the Wildcats. Otherwise they likely wouldn't have pursued Ulis and the first-team All-American might be starring for Michigan State instead.

4. Malcolm Brogdon, G, Virginia

Maybe the nation's best perimeter defender, the ACC's player of the year is also Virginia's top scoring threat. Brogdon averages 18.7 points per game despite the Cavaliers' methodical tempo.

5. Jakob Poeltl, C, Utah

Utah assistant Andy Hill spotted Poeltl on the first day of the 2013 U-18 European Championships. Three years later, the skilled Austrian 7-footer is the Pac-12 player of the year and a projected NBA lottery pick.

6. Yogi Ferrell, G, Indiana

The only thing missing from Ferrell's resume at Indiana is a long NCAA tournament run. The senior point guard will try to change that this March after leading the Hoosiers to a second Big Ten title in four years this season.

7. Brice Johnson, F, North Carolina

Tar Heels fans will overlook the fact Johnson is dating a Duke women's basketball player. After all, the 6-foot-9 senior is averaging a double-double this season and racked up 48 points and 40 rebounds in two games against the Blue Devils.

8. Jarrod Uthoff, F, Iowa

Once best known for being the player Bo Ryan blocked from transferring, Uthoff has shown why the Wisconsin coach wanted him so badly. The 6-foot-9 senior is averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.

9. Kris Dunn, G, Providence

Once a favorite for national player of the year, Dunn has faded a bit since opponents began clogging the lane and daring Providence to shoot from the perimeter. He's still averaging 16 points and 5.6 assists, but turnovers have been a bugaboo.

10. Grayson Allen, G, Duke

When he's not tripping opponents, Allen is typically scoring on them. The hero of last year's national title game has proven that was no fluke, averaging 21.6 points and shooting 41.6 percent from behind the arc.

11. Georges Niang, F, Iowa State

In addition to averaging 19.8 points on 54.8 percent shooting, Niang delivered one of this year's most poignant senior night speeches. "As I got on the court and saw all 14,000 of you guys, I realized I'm not leaving," Niang told the Hilton Coliseum crowd. "I've got a home forever in Ames."

12. Perry Ellis, F, Kansas

No, Perry Ellis was not a starter at Kansas since the Naismith era. It just seems that way. The soft-spoken senior is closing in on a spot in Kansas' all-time top 10 in both scoring and rebounding.

13. Jamal Murray, G, Kentucky

Firing off fake arrows has become Murray's trademark celebration after burying a 3-pointer, and he's had ample opportunity to do it lately. The Kentucky freshman is averaging 20.1 points per game and shooting well over 40 percent from the field.

14. Domantas Sabonis, F, Gonzaga

The son of one of the greatest international players in the history of basketball, Arvydas Sabonis, Domantas has drawn intrigue among NBA scouts with his mix of physicality and skill. He is averaging 17.4 points and 11.6 rebounds for the Zags.

15. Ben Bentil, F, Providence

The nation's most improved player has evolved from role player, to Kris Dunn's sidekick, to a bonafide co-star. Bentil is averaging 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, and you can make a compelling case he was the Friars' MVP in Big East play.

16. Monte Morris, G, Iowa State

How deft a distributor is Morris? His assist-to-turnover ratio is nearly 4-to-1. That's ridiculous. Niang is Iowa State's premier scorer, but Morris is the engine that drives the Cyclones' fast-paced, free-flowing attack.

17. Brandon Ingram, F, Duke

If it indeed is no longer a foregone conclusion that Ben Simmons will be taken No. 1 overall this June, then that's a testament to Ingram's development. The rapidly improving freshman scored 20 or more points six times in ACC play.

18. Kyle Wiltjer, F, Gonzaga

One of the best scorers in college basketball, Wiltjer can hurt opposing defenses in numerous ways. The 6-foot-10 forward can post up smaller defenders or rain down pick-and-pop jump shots if he has a big man on him.

Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)
Wichita State senior Fred VanVleet (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

19. Fred VanVleet, G, Wichita State

He's already been part of Wichita State teams that reached the Final Four, completed an undefeated regular season and toppled in-state rival Kansas to advance to a Sweet 16. Now the elite point guard will try to make some more March history.

20. A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue

Since reentering Purdue's starting five three games into Big Ten play, Hammons has shed his reputation for immaturity and played to his full potential. The 7-footer is averaging 14.9 points and 8.0 rebounds and earned BIg Ten defensive player of the year honors.

21. Melo Trimble, G, Maryland

His outside shooting slump is a major concern for Maryland. Unless Trimble starts knocking down threes, teams will keep going under screens and it will be harder and harder for him to get into the lane and create.

22. Isaiah Whitehead, G, Seton Hall

Can a guy shooting below 40 percent from the field really be one of the 25 best players in the nation? Yes. Whitehead is averaging 18.4 points and 5.0 assists and has put defensive-oriented Seton Hall on his back recently in leading the Pirates to an NCAA bid.

23. Josh Hart, G, Villanova

If Villanova is going to exorcise its NCAA tournament demons this week, the second-seeded Wildcats need Hart to come up big. The 6-foot-5 wing averages 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds and is also the team's best perimeter defender.

24. Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon

One of the keys to Oregon's success is Brooks' ability to create mismatches at one end and neutralize them at the other. The 6-foot-6 small-ball power forward uses his quickness to score 16.8 points per game and his strength to keep opponents from hurting Oregon on the block or glass.

25. Josh Scott, C, Colorado

The biggest difference between Colorado's 2014-15 CBI team and 2015-16 NCAA tournament team? One is the departure of volume-shooting Askia Booker. Two is the health of Scott. The 6-10 senior is the Pac-12's best big man who does not hail from Austria.

26. Deandre Bembry, F, Saint Joseph's

If you haven't seen the Atlantic 10 player of the year yet, carve out a few minutes to watch him. The statsheet-stuffing forward did a little of everything for St. Joseph's this season, scoring 17.3 points, grabbing 7.7 rebounds and dishing out 4.5 assists.

27. Gary Payton II, G, Oregon State

First Oregon State had the glove. Now it has the mitten. Twenty-six years after his dad led the Beavers to their last NCAA tournament bid, they're back behind the younger Payton, a dynamic point guard who like his father is an elite defender.

28. Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame

One reason Notre Dame limped into the NCAA tournament dropping four of seven is that its point guard is slumping. Jackson's season-long 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per game are still very good, but he has shot 27.8 percent from the field during that stretch.

29. Nigel Hayes, F, Wisconsin

Put Hayes in front of a microphone and good things happen. The Toledo native's best moment this season? This zinger at Ohio State's expense.

Mic drop, indeed.

30. Jameel Warney, F, Stony Brook

Maybe the most dominant player at a small-conference program this season, Warney dragged hard-luck Stony Brook to its first NCAA bid after numerous previous near misses. He averaged 19.8 points and 10.7 rebounds and scored 43 points on 22 shots in the America East title game.

31. Ryan Anderson, F, Arizona

Though teams with length and athleticism inside can swallow up the undersized Anderson, the Boston College transfer is a crafty scorer and an effective rebounder. He averages a double-double with 15.5 points and 10.1 rebounds.

32. Taurean Prince, F, Baylor

Overlooked by major colleges in Texas, Prince initially signed with LIU Brooklyn before changing his mind when its coach left and Baylor began showing interest. The Bears are glad he did because the 6-7 forward has emerged as a do-it-all forward and an NBA prospect.

33. A.J. English, G, Iona

There may not be a better marriage of scorer and system nationally than A.J. English and Iona. The 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 22.4 points per game and has the freedom to fire at will.

34. Michael Gbinije, G, Syracuse

Gbinije has gone from afterthought at Duke to star at Syracuse. The smooth, steady senior is averaging an efficient 17.8 points and is also Syracuse's best playmaker.

35. Jaylen Brown, F, Cal

Consistency is the one thing lacking from the future lottery pick's game. The bulldozing 6-foot-7 forward has scored 20 or more points six times this season and has failed to crack double digits six others.

36. Sheldon McClellan, G, Miami

One half of a dynamic transfer-led Miami backcourt, McClellan averages an efficient 15.8 points per game and gets to the foul line early and often. McClellan arrived from Texas. Point guard Angel Rodriguez came via Kansas State.

37. Frank Mason, G, Kansas

When ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla listed Mason as the Big 12's sixth best point guard, the Kansas standout didn't forget the snub. He took to Twitter after thoroughly outplaying Texas' Isaiah Taylor a few weeks ago and wrote "6th best PG in the Big 12" but what is my team?" Big 12 champs, Frank. Again.

38. Ivan Rabb, F, Cal

While Rabb has scored in double figures his last seven games, it's his impact on Cal's outstanding defense that elevates him this high on the list. The 6-foot-11 freshman'is mobility and length allow him to defend pick-and-rolls effectively and alter shots around the rim.


39. Trevon Bluiett, F, Xavier

Big East assistant on Xavier's star sophomore: "If you have to take one guy away, it's Bluiett. You have to try to make him a two-point shooter and make him work for everything."

40. Roosevelt Jones, F, Butler

This is how assistant coach Terry Johnson described Jones to the Indianapolis Star earlier this season: “You know what position he plays? He plays SOB.” Great line, and indeed the awkward, crafty 6-foot-4 Jones defies definition while averaging 14.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

41. Joel Bolomboy, F, Weber State

For the first time since Damian Lillard graduated, NBA scouts are showing up to Weber State games again. The reason is Joel Bolomboy, a 6-foot-9 senior forward averaging 17.2 points and 12.7 rebounds for the Big Sky champs.

42. Anthony Gill, F, Virginia

The departure of Darion Atkins left Virginia without its most versatile defender. The departure of Justin Anderson left Virginia without one of its most dependable scorers. Gill has helped fill both those holes while serving as co-star to Malcolm Brogdon.

43. Michael Young, F, Pittsburgh

How consistent has Young been for Pittsburgh? The junior averages 16.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game and has scored in double figures in 28 of the Panthers' 30 games.

44. Jalen Jones, F, Texas A&M

The first-team all-SEC forward is Texas A&M's most consistent scorer and rebounder. He's a huge reason the Aggies have gone from missing the NCAA tournament last season to a co-SEC title and a No. 3 seed this year.

45. Isaiah Taylor, G, Texas

He's still not an efficient scorer, but the volume-shooting Taylor has improved as a distributor under Shaka Smart. The point guard is averaging 14.8 points and 4.9 assists and is the biggest catalyst for Texas earning a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.

46. Wade Baldwin, G, Vanderbilt

Though Baldwin's scoring has taken a nice leap since last season, he still has considerable room for growth in his decision making with the ball in his hands. Baldwin needs to elevate his shooting percentage and diminish his turnovers.

Allonzo Trier (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Allonzo Trier (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

47. Allonzo Trier, G, Arizona

The key to Trier's success as a freshman this season was learning to defend well enough for Sean Miller to trust him. His improvement defensively coupled with his ability to attack the rim or shoot from deep has been key for Arizona.

48. Kelan Martin, F, Butler

What a revelation Martin has been this season for a Butler team that wins with offense not defense this season. The sophomore forward contributes 16.1 points per game for a team ranked No. 19 in adjusted efficiency.

49. Devin Williams, F, West Virginia

After struggling down the stretch in the regular season, Williams erupted in the Big 12 tournament, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds over three games and shooting 62 percent from the floor. West Virginia needs more of that from the goggled junior.

50. Zach Auguste, F, Notre Dame

Already a skilled, efficient scorer in the paint last season, Auguste has improved his rebounding dramatically this season. He has cracked double figures in each of his last six games including 22 against Duke in the ACC tournament.

51. London Perrantes, G, Virginia

The reason you can't speed Virginia up is Perrantes, a point guard who controls tempo better than anyone and also has shown a knack for sinking big shots. The Los Angeles native is the perfect floor general for a Tony Bennett team.

52. Damian Jones, C, Vanderbilt

There are two Vanderbilt players on this list. 7-foot sharpshooter Luke Kornet could easily have been a third. So how was Vanderbilt so decidedly mediocre all season?

53. Isaiah Cousins, G, Oklahoma

A capable defender with an accurate outside shot and a dangerous mid-range game, Cousins can score at all three levels. He is averaging 13.0 points, 4.6 rebound and 4.6 assists for an Oklahoma team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

54. Julian Jacobs, G, USC

Explosive off the dribble and an excellent on-ball defender, Jacobs has emerged as USC's most indispensable player. He has averaged 11.8 points and a Pac-12-best 5.5 assists for a USC team that has made a huge jump this season.

55. Wayne Selden, G, Kansas

Big 12 assistant on Selden's inconsistency: "Wayne Selden surprises you with his lack of confidence when he misses one. I know that sounds crazy, but he'll make one and it changes the way he approaches the rest of them."

56. Marcus Paige, G, North Carolina

This ranking is partially on reputation, partially out of respect for Paige's leadership qualities and partially because he's still maybe the most important player on a national title contender. Paige has regressed for a second straight year playing off ball, but he's averaging 12.1 points and 3.7 assists.

57. Justin Sears, F, Yale

Yale's first Ivy League title and NCAA tournament bid since 1962 would not have been possible without Sears' contributions. He averaged 15.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, helping the Bulldogs earn a No. 12 seed.

58. Diamond Stone, C, Maryland

The most skilled low-post scorer in this year's freshman class, Stone has developed nicely at Maryland. He scores with his back to the basket and is a target for Melo Trimble when opposing defenses collapse on the point guard.

59. Bryn Forbes, G, Michigan State

If there's a shooter having a better season than Forbes, it's probably Stephen Curry. The Michigan State senior is hitting an incredible 48.4 percent of his 3-pointers, forcing opposing defenses to mark him at all times and creating space for his teammates as a result.

60. Quentin DeCosey, G, Temple

The only other unanimous selection on the American Athletic Conference's all-league team besides Bembry, DeCosey has enjoyed an excellent season. The versatile senior is averaging 15.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

61. Ron Baker, G, Wichita State

His shooting percentages have dropped a bit this season because he has been asked to do so much, but Baker is still one of the nation's elite wings. Fred VanVleet's co-star is averaging 14.2 points and score off the dribble or from deep.

62. Thomas Walkup, F, Stephen F. Austin

The MVP of the Southland Conference has Stephen F. Austin back in the NCAA tournament for a third straight year. He finished the season on a high note too with a Feb. 29 triple double and then a 37-point eruption less than a week later.

63. Tonye Jekiri, C, Miami

If Jekiri isn't the nation's best defensive center, he's certainly high on the list. The Nigerian-born 7 footer alters shots around the rim, rebounds and blows up pick-and-rolls with his mobility on the perimeter.

64. Chris Boucher, F, Oregon

He's one of the keys to Oregon's success at both ends. On offense, his outside shooting forces opposing big men out of the paint and clears the lane for Oregon's drivers. On defense, his shot blocking presence gives the Ducks freedom to choke off the passing lanes and gamble for steals.

65. Marvelle Harris, G, Fresno State

It's a shame the Mountain West was so mediocre this season because Harris probably deserved more attention nationally. The high-scoring guard is a tough shot maker — as evidenced by some of the deep threes at the shot clock buzzer he sank Saturday against San Diego State.

66. Charles Cooke, G, Dayton

With Dyshawn Pierre unavailable the first 11 games of the season and Kendall Pollard fighting through injuries more recently, Cooke has been Dayton's most consistent player. The James Madison transfer has averaged 15.7 points and 6.0 rebounds while also playing solid defense.

67. Wes Washpun, G, Northern Iowa

The hero of Northern Iowa's Missouri Valley title game victory over Evansville is a 6-foot-1 senior from Cedar Rapids. Washpun leads the Panthers at 14.6 points per game and also has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

68. Daniel Hamilton, G, UConn

While Hamilton is still not an efficient scorer for UConn, he contributes in so many ways. He rebounds exceptionally well for a perimeter player and also contributes 4.8 assists per game.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!