The Final Four may not exactly be loaded with potential NBA talent this year, but there are a lot of really good college basketball players who will make massive impacts on the way college basketball's championship is won.
Here are the eight best that you need to watch for on Saturday and a quick explainer on what makes them so valuable to their teams.
8. Jordan Bell, Oregon
Bell has turned himself quickly into the best defensive player in college basketball due to his immense athleticism. Equally capable of protecting the rim and switching onto smaller guards, he’s the linchpin of the Ducks’ switch-heavy defense. He’s also become a very useful offensive player due to his ability to crash the glass and dive toward the rim. But if Oregon is to beat North Carolina on Saturday, Bell will play a large role due to way he can handle a variety of assignments on the defensive end.
7. Joel Berry, North Carolina
There is arguably no more important storyline in the Final Four than Berry’s health. The North Carolina point guard is the engine of the the Tar Heels’ attack. When he leaves the game, the Tar Heels uptempo offense often sputters and struggles to get efficient looks. Berry is going to play on Saturday, there’s no doubt about that. But he’s going to do so on a sprained ankle that could limit his effectiveness. For his part, Berry says that the ankle is feeling better than it has in recent days.
“Oh, I feel a lot better,” Berry said on Thursday. “The bruising has gone away. I can run on it now. I can do some more stuff than what I could a couple of days ago, so it’s been a lot better.”
6. Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga
As you’ll see with the rest of the rankings, Karnowski is the best big man remaining in the NCAA Tournament. Hehas the largest array of skills of any big man in college basketball. If he gets the ball on the block, it’s tough to stop him from scoring due to his strength. His passing ability is also remarkable from the lower block, and allows the Zags to run efficient offense through him. But where he’s most underrated is on the defensive end, where his ability to protect the rim is a big reason why the Zags have the No. 1 effective field-goal percentage against in the country at just 41.2 percent. If Gonzaga wins the tournament, Karnowski will be a huge reason why.
5. Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
Dorsey has gone on the hottest streak of his career over the course of the last seven games. During Pac-12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament play, Dorsey has scored at least 20 points in every contest and averaged 23.6 per game on 62.4 percent shooting from the field. No one has risen to the occasion over the last three weeks like Dorsey, and his ability to make clutch shots will need to hold up if the perimeter-oriented attack of the Ducks is going to defeat North Carolina’s impressive size inside.
4. Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Now we’re getting into All-American range. Brooks has been the third-best Duck in the NCAA Tournament thus far, but he’s been the best throughout the course of the season and will need to be the best in the Final Four. The Brooks-North Carolina matchup will hold the key to telling the story of how the game unfolds. One place the Tar Heels have struggled this season is in holding down small ball 4s like Jayson Tatum and OG Anunoby. Isaiah Hicks will likely get the assignment defensively, and he’ll need to contain a player in Brooks who is a tremendous passer, has improved as a shooter and can really create by attacking closeouts.
3. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga
Against South Carolina’s high-pressure defense, Williams-Goss will be the most important player for Gonzaga’s chances to reach the championship game. The consensus All-American will be responsible for navigating a team that forced turnovers at a higher percentage of their possessions than all but three teams in the country. Against West Virginia’s press attack, Williams-Goss struggled. But for the Zags to cut down the nets, the all-around point guard who has shown the ability to pass, rebound, defend, as well as get his own bucket will need to be the best guard remaining in the field.
2. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Thornwell might be the best two-way player in college basketball. He’s a two-time all-defense team member in the SEC, where his length and tenacity really show up in defending elite wings. But it’s the offensive side of the ball that he’s become known for. Thornwell is the second-highest scoring high-major player in the country behind Markelle Fultz at 21.6 point per game, and he’s upped that number this season to 25.8 points per game since the NCAA Tournament started. If South Carolina is to pull off the miracle, Thornwell will need to be the most outstanding player in the field.
1. Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jackson’s growth this year has been remarkable as a scorer. Over the course of his first two years in college, the 6-foot-8 wing had been known as a midrange scorer that struggled from deep. However, this season Jackson upped his 3-point shooting to 38 percent while hitting over 100 this season from deep. More than that though, in this Final Four he’s going to pose a significant matchup problem for the two best teams remaining outside of the Tar Heels. Both Oregon and Gonzaga both start three players under 6-foot-4. Jackson’s going to be able to get his shot off against both of those teams with relative ease. Jackson’s not just the best draft prospect in the Final Four, but he’s also the best player due to his efficient scoring ability.