One is a bearded 300-pound 7-footer from Poland who’s as skilled as he is big. Another is an ultra-athletic wing from South Carolina starring in his home state. A third is a fiercely competitive swingman from Canada known for his scoring and intensity.
All of them have one thing in common: They’re starters at this year’s Final Four.
This year’s 20 Final Four starters are a diverse group. With the Final Four tipping off on Saturday, here’s a list of starters on each team ranked from most to least valuable:
1. Sindarius Thornwell, G, South Carolina
The catalyst for this year’s most surprising Final Four team, Thornwell has scored at least 24 points in all four of South Carolina’s NCAA tournament victories. The 6-foot-5 senior has always been dangerous attacking the rim, but this year he shoots more consistently from the perimeter and gets to the foul line more often off the bounce.
2. Justin Jackson, F, North Carolina
After slumping late in the regular season, Jackson has reemerged in the NCAA tournament, averaging 19.8 points per game and using his length to bother Malik Monk in the South Regional final. The ACC player of the year will have a big size advantage over whichever one of Oregon’s guards check him Saturday.
3. Nigel Williams-Goss, G, Gonzaga
Shots aren’t falling with the consistency that Williams-Goss would like so far in the NCAA tournament, but Gonzaga’s standout point guard is still finding ways to impact games. He smothered West Virginia’s Jevon Carter on three straight 3-point attempts in the final possession last Thursday, then sank 4 of 7 3-pointers against Xavier’s zone two nights later.
4. Dillon Brooks, F, Oregon
The Pac-12 player of the year has been Oregon’s third best player in the NCAA tournament, but he may be the Ducks’ most important player against North Carolina. It will be up to Brooks to hold his own on the defensive glass against the bigger, stronger Tar Heels while taking advantage of his quickness edge on offense.
5. Jordan Bell, F, Oregon
Already the Pac-12’s best defender during the regular season, Bell has upped his game even further in the absence of injured fellow shot blocker Chris Boucher. Bell played Michigan’s Moritz Wagner off the floor in the Sweet 16 and controlled the paint against Kansas two days later, tallying 11 points, 13 rebounds and 8 blocks.
6. Joel Berry II, G, North Carolina
Roy Williams say he’s “scared to death” that the left ankle injury Berry suffered on Sunday may limit him against Oregon six days later. If so, that would be crippling for a Tar Heels team that relies on its junior point guard’s ability to score off the dribble or via his outstanding jump shot.
7. Tyler Dorsey, G, Oregon
After averaging 12.4 points during the regular season, Dorsey has caught fire since the start of the Pac-12 tournament. Dorsey has scored 20 or more in Oregon’s last seven games, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the second round against Rhode Island and the game-clinching 3-pointer in the Elite Eight against Kansas.
8. Kennedy Meeks, F, North Carolina
Why is North Carolina the nation’s premier offensive rebounding team? It starts with Meeks. The 6-foot-10 senior gobbles up boards like Pac-Man gobbles dots, posting 39 in his last three games alone. His offensive rebounding could be key for North Carolina on Saturday against an Oregon team ranked 179th on the defensive glass.
9. Przemek Karnowski, C, Gonzaga
Defending Gonzaga starts with a question to which there is no good answer: Is doubling Karnowski the right idea? Let the massive 7-footer go one-on-one in the post, and he has the size, strength and skill to consistently score on the low block. Send help on the catch, and the Polish big man is an excellent passer capable of finding an open shooter spotted up behind the arc.
10. Johnathan Williams, F, Gonzaga
From chasing South Dakota State’s sharpshooting stretch forward Mike Daum around screens to staying in front of high-scoring Xaiver wing Trevon Bluiett off the dribble, Williams has excelled defending multiple positions. The former Missouri transfer also has been hard to guard, especially around the rim.
11. P.J. Dozier, G, South Carolina
The most coveted recruit of Frank Martin’s South Carolina tenure, Dozier has all the physical tools of an NBA guard, but his skill level has yet to catch up. His outside shot deserted him by the start of league play this season, but he has enjoyed a strong NCAA tournament, averaging an efficient 15.3 points per game.
12. Isaiah Hicks, F, North Carolina
Persistent foul trouble and the emergence of Elite Eight hero Luke Maye reduced his role the past couple games. But when Hicks is playing, the 6-foot-9 senior is effective crashing the glass, scoring with his back to the basket or attacking off the bounce from the high post.
13. Jordan Mathews, G, Gonzaga
A graduate transfer from Cal, Mathews has been Gonzaga’s best perimeter sniper this season. He has sunk multiple 3-pointers in each NCAA tournament game, scored in double figures each round and sunk the biggest shot of the Zags’ season to date, a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute against West Virginia in the Sweet 16.
14. Dylan Ennis, G, Oregon
Oregon’s best perimeter defender, Ennis will almost certainly draw the assignment of shadowing Joel Berry II against North Carolina. The 6-foot-2 combo guard is also effective on offense as a complementary scorer who is capable of hitting a spot-up 3-pointer or creating off the dribble for himself or a teammate.
15. Chris Silva, F, South Carolina
The native of Gabon journeyed to the U.S. to pursue basketball a few years ago despite hardly speaking any English. The 6-foot-9 sophomore is best known as a rim protector but has scored in double figures in all four of South Carolina’s NCAA tournament games and tallied 13 second-half points in the East Regional final against Florida.
16. Theo Pinson, G, North Carolina
Best known for crashing press conferences with his blend of humor and charisma last March, Pinson makes an impact in multiple ways on the floor. He’s North Carolina’s best perimeter defender and an outstanding passer, as evidenced by his dish to Luke Maye for the last-second jumper that waylaid Kentucky on Sunday.
17. Josh Perkins, G, Gonzaga
Mostly a non-factor against Northwestern and West Virginia, Perkins sank a trio of big first-half 3-pointers in the West Regional final against Xavier. The former four-star recruit has unselfishly accepted a reduced role with Nigel Williams-Goss coming aboard this season but has struggled with consistency the second half of the season.
18. Duane Notice, G, South Carolina
Notice is one of the SEC’s best on-ball defenders thanks to his ability to keep opposing guards in front of him. The 6-2 senior takes nearly two-thirds of his shots from behind the arc on offense but he has hit a career-low 34 percent of his threes this season.
19. Payton Pritchard, G, Oregon
The offensive spark that Pritchard provided for Oregon during the regular season has been scarce sine the first round of the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-3 freshman point guard has just three field goals in his past three games and has not hit from behind the arc during that stretch.
20 Maik Kotsar, F, South Carolina
The 6-foot-10 freshman regained his starting job when South Carolina chose to go with a bigger lineup during the NCAA tournament, however, it wasn’t until Sunday’s win over Florida that he truly earned it. The Estonia native scored 12 points to help ensure his parents will get a chance to see him play in person at the Final Four.
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