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NCAA Tournament First Weekend Top Players

by Photo of Ankit Ahuja

These players have helped carry their teams to the Sweet 16.

NCAA Tournament First Weekend Top Players

We'll be analyzing the NCAA Tournament all the way to the championship game. Here's a look at the best players from the first weekend of games, split up into a first team and a second team (each featuring a sixth man for good measure):

First Team

Jahlil Okafor, Duke

The best player on one of the best teams, Okafor has not disappointed so far in the tournament. Okafor has probably been the best player in the country all season, and he didn't stop last weekend. In the round of 64 versus Robert Morris, he had 21 points and was dominant. Against San Diego State, Okafor was even better. He had 26 points, and was being fed the ball almost every possession, killing SDSU’s defense. Through two games he's averaging 23.5 points on 77.8 percent shooting. Duke’s offense runs through Okafor and don’t expect that to change in the Sweet 16.

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Kaminsky has gone toe to toe with Okafor throughout the year, and it hasn’t changed at the start of the tournament. In the round of 64, Kaminsky had 27 points and 12 rebounds. In the game against Oregon, he had 16 points and 7 rebounds. Kaminsky’s impact for Badgers goes beyond stats. He is an extremely skilled big man who makes all the right plays. Kaminsky is going to be vital if the Badgers are ready to make another final four run.  

Bryce Alford, UCLA

Not a big name, but sophomore Bryce Alford, son of head coach Steve Alford, has provided a huge spark for the 11 seed UCLA Bruins. The Bruins won an improbable game against SMU, where Alford hit a huge three late in the game, his ninth of the contest. He finished with 27 points, and in the roud of 32, Alford finished with 22 points. Alford wasn’t looked at to be the go-to scorer for UCLA, but these two games have upped his stock.

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

Gonzaga might be the quietest 2 seed in the tournament. They don’t get the same coverage as a teams like Duke or Kentucky, but this team is for real. They are one of the few college basketball teams that play with pace, and they are very smart. During the first two games of the tournament, forward Kyle Wiltjer has averaged 23.5 points per game. He has shot the ball very effectively, and his ability to score from anywhere on the court has made him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Gonzaga’s offense has looked impossible to stop.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Kentucky

One of the best freshman prospects in the game, Karl Towns has been terrific for Kentucky all year. He has been one of the main reasons Kentucky has been undefeated so far on the year. Towns’ defense has been nothing short of impressive, and Kentucky’s defense as a whole has been historic. Towns doesn’t do a lot offensively, but when called he's still averaged 14.5 over his first two games. Towns has helped clean up the glass (nine rebounds a game) and is also swatting away plenty of shots inside (three a game).  

Sixth Man: Terry Rozier, Louisville

When looking at Louisville basketball this year, Montrezl Harrell has been the driving force. He has been exceptional defensively, and mostly been the go to man on offense. Point Guard Terry Rozier has set up the offense nicely, but Louisville has struggled to score. In Louisville’s first game against Irvine, Rozier didn’t score much, but was good late in the game. Against Northern Iowa, Rozier was spectacular. He did everything, scoring 25 points, and dishing out 7 assists. Rozier’s emergence and scoring ability will be key if this team wants to make a final four run. 

Second Team

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

Any member of Wichita State's backcourt could be here, but VanVleet is the driving force behind what makes the Shockers such a dangerous team. In their second round game, VanVleet poured in 27 points to help the Shockers come back to defeat Indiana. In the team's upset over 2 seed Kansas, Van Vleet keyed their comeback with a three that put Wichita State ahead 29-26 at the half. The Shockers never looked back.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Now finally healthy, Paige has returned to his dynamic self for the Tar Heels. He's averaging 17 a game for UNC, and he went a perfect 9/9 from the free throw line in the third round win over Arkansas. Paige might have to elevate his play even more due to forward Kennedy Meeks' knee injury.

T.J. McConnell, Arizona

Arizona's senior guard is one of the headiest players in the nation, and he's crazily consistent on both ends of the floor. Through two games, he's averaging 15.5 points, five rebounds, five assists and four and a half steals per game. His defense at the point of attack and his ability to smoothly orchestrate Arizona's offense (as well as hit key buckets when called upon) is the key behind Arizona's dominance the last couple months.

Brandon Dawson, Michigan State

Michigan State is back in the Sweet 16, and Dawson has been huge for Tom Izzo's club. So far he's scoring 14.5 points a game and is doing a great job on the glass with seven and a half rebounds. In the upset of Virginia, Dawson was all over the floor. He brought down nine rebounds, scored a ton in transition en route to 15 points, and turned away four shots on the other end.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah

Utah's seven-footer came up huge in their win over 12 seed Stephen F. Austin. Poeltl put up a big line of 18/9/5 blocks to help stave off the trendy 12/5 upset. Against Georgetown his scoring and rebounding were down, but he helped smother Hoyas center Josh Smith all game defensively. 

Sixth Man: Devin Williams, West Virginia

West Virginia, or "Press" Virginia as they are known this season, have blitzed teams on their run to the Sweet 16. But in addition of the hounding pressure put on guards, big man Devin Williams is establishing himself as a force inside. He's posted 16.5/9.5 a game so far, and his increased scoring is huge since point guard Juwan Staten isn't 100 percent.

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