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Raphielle Johnson

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NCAA South Region: Top Players

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The South region for the 2018 NCAA tournament is headlined by Virginia, which earned the top overall seed by going 31-2 and winning the ACC regular season and tournament titles. And the Cavaliers’ quadrant of the bracket does not lack for talent, thanks in part to the presence of Arizona and Kentucky as the four and five seeds, respectively. Teams in the double-digit seed range will receive attention as well, with Texas being the 10-seed and Davidson the 12.

Here are the links to the other regions: East | Midwest | South

Here are breakdowns on some of the top players in the region, going in order by their team’s seed.

Editor's Note: Since 2004, TeamRankings.com users have dominated NCAA bracket pools and won top prizes. Ready to maximize your edge? Check out their bracket picks and tools for 2018.



Kyle Guy, Sophomore, Virginia, G - A first team all-ACC performer, Guy leads the way offensively for the top overall seed with an average of 14.1 points per game. In scoring those points Guy shot 40.9 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three, with both numbers being below what he’s produced over the course of his two-year career in Charlottesville. Consistent for the majority of non-conference play, he’s also had a couple runs in which shots were not falling at a rate one would hope for from a shooter of Guy’s caliber. More often than not the sophomore does his work away from the ball, running off of screens to get into quality catch and shoot situations. Guy has been used in ball screen situations as well, but generally speaking he’s been at his best when being set up by a teammate. From a distribution standpoint Guy’s averaging nearly as many turnovers (1.2 rpg) per game as assists (1.5 apg). Virginia tends to leave the playmaking responsibilities to the likes of Ty Jerome and Devon Hall, two guards who have shown themselves to be better decision-makers with the ball in their hands.

Devon Hall, Senior, Virginia, G - As noted above, the fifth-year senior is a player who has ample opportunities to make plays within the Virginia offense. Averaging 12.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, the 6-foot-5 Hall is second on the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, and he produces in an efficient manner. Hall’s shooting 46.5 percent from the field, 45.2 percent from three and 89.4 percent from the foul line, and rarely does he force things on that end of the floor. Amongst the players in the Virginia rotation averaging at least five field goal attempts per game, only DeAndre Hunter has been better than Hall when it comes to getting to the foul line. Defensively Hall more than holds his own as part of the Cavaliers’ pack line defense, being more of a positional defender as opposed to one who will gamble for steals and blocked shots. He may not be the flashiest player, but Hall is incredibly effective on both ends of the floor.

Gary Clark, Senior, Cincinnati, F - The 6-foot-7 senior, who won both Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the American this season, is a big reason why the Bearcats went 30-4 and earned the 2-seed in this region. On a team that has four double-digit scorers Clark led the way for Cincinnati, averaging 13.0 points to go along with 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Shooting nearly 52 percent from the field and 74 percent at the foul line, Clark does the majority of his work from 15 feet and in. That being said, Clark has improved his perimeter shooting to the point where he’s made 43.3 percent of his attempts from three. That’s an area where he’s grown more comfortable throughout his career at Cincinnati, going from five attempts as a freshman (no makes) to 60 this season. In the post Clark does a good job of getting into advantageous positions, “doing his homework early” so to speak. The senior is active on the boards and defensively, possessing the ability to make plays both within and outside of his immediate area. If Cincinnati is to play deep into the tournament, it’s likely that Clark will be the one leading the way.

Grant Williams, Sophomore, Tennessee, F -  At 6-foot-5, 234 pounds, many would consider Williams to be undersized for the power forward position he plays within the Tennessee system. But the SEC Player of the Year is highly effective at getting to his preferred spots on the floor, and his strength and wingspan (nearly 6-foot-11) helps matters as well. That’s made it difficult for opponents to slow Williams down despite the height, with the sophomore averaging 15.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. According to hoop-math.com, Williams is shooting 67.9 percent around the basket, with that and the mid-range area being where he does the majority of his work offensively. Williams shoots nearly 77 percent from the foul line, which is big considering the fact that with 206 attempts he’s the only Volunteer with more than 100 attempts on the season. Rebounding-wise, only Kyle Alexander has been better amongst the players in Rick Barnes’ rotation when it comes to attacking the offensive glass.  The one concern is foul trouble, which is something to keep an eye on during the tournament.

Deandre Ayton, Freshman, Arizona, F/C - Productive throughout the season, the 7-foot-1 Ayton was flat-out dominant in leading Arizona to the Pac-12 tournament title last weekend. A mobile, athletic big man, Ayton did go through some growing pains earlier in the season as he got used to playing alongside another big man (Dusan Ristic). But as he grew more comfortable playing alongside another 7-footer who is at his best around the basket, Ayton became an even tougher player for opponents to stop. Ayton’s shooting 61.6 percent from the field and 74.2 percent from the foul line, and while he hasn’t attempted a high number of three-pointers (33) the freshman has shown himself to be capable of knocking down perimeter shots at a serviceable clip. Ayton’s athleticism makes him a threat both inside and outside of his immediate area when it comes to rebounding and blocking shots, and for the most part he’s managed to stay out of foul trouble. When Ayton’s at his best he’s been nearly unstoppable, and with it already being announced that he’s off to the NBA at season’s end Ayton is on the short list of players in the running for top overall pick. 

Allonzo Trier, Junior, Arizona, G - Trier took some criticism last season for his shot selection and efficiency on the offensive end of the floor, but that hasn’t been an issue this season. Averaging 18.4 points per game, Trier’s shooting 50.8 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from three and 86.3 percent from the foul line. For much of the season the three-point percentage was over 40 percent, but the two games missed due to an NCAA suspension may have taken the junior out of his groove for a bit. Having played five games since, that shouldn’t be an issue for Trier in the NCAA tournament. While Trier has been good off the dribble throughout his time in Tucson, he’s become more willing to use that to set up teammates as opposed to solely focusing on getting his. Defensively Trier does have some strides to make, which can be said for just about the entire roster in all honesty, but offensively there aren’t many off guards in college basketball as effective/efficient as Trier.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Freshman, Kentucky, G - Used as a reserve early in the season due to the energy he provided, Gilgeous-Alexander was ultimately moved into the starting lineup due to the fact that he is Kentucky’s best playmaker. At 6-foot-6 he has the size to see above defenders, and with his quickness and athleticism Gilgeous-Alexander is able to get to his preferred spots as well. While he is shooting nearly 40 percent from three on the season, settling for outside shots is not something that the freshman point guard will do. Only 53 of Gilgeous-Alexander’s 342 field goal attempts have been three-pointers, while 43 percent of his shot attempts have been around the basket according to hoop-math. Averaging a team-high 5.0 assists per game, Gilgeous-Alexander is the man entrusted with the task of making sure Kentucky’s offense runs smoothly. The size and athleticism also serve Gilgeous-Alexander well defensively, as he leads the team in steals and can affect the passing angles of the man he’s defending.

Kevin Knox, Freshman, Kentucky, F - While Gilgeous-Alexander is Kentucky’s best playmaker, it can be argued that Knox is the team’s barometer. When the 6-foot-9 freshman is engaged and in attack mode, not only does he get his but lanes open up for his teammates as well. That’s been an issue at times this season, with Knox being a bit too willing to settle for challenged perimeter shots. Averaging 15.6 points per game, Knox is shooting 44.4 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc. Just over 39 percent of Knox’s shots have been three-pointers, while despite his size and skill level just under 22 percent of his shots have come around the basket. That being said, Knox is second on the team in free throw attempts so he can get to the foul line. The key for Knox will be making sure he doesn’t fall in love with jump shots, settling for those looks as opposed to using his skill level to attack opposing defenses. 

Khyri Thomas, Junior, Creighton, G  - While Marcus Foster is Creighton’s leading scorer, with regards to the next level Thomas may be the player whose name is tossed around more often. Why? Because he’s an elite defender, having won Big East Defensive Player of the Year each of the last two seasons. Third in the conference in steals, the 6-foot-3 Thomas has the athleticism and strength needed to keep his assignment from getting to their preserved spots. But defend isn’t all that Thomas does, as he’s steadily improved offensively over the course of his three seasons in Omaha. Averaging 15.3 points and 2.8 assists per game, Thomas is shooting 54.1 percent from the field, 41.9 percent from three and 79.5 percent from the foul line. Just over 44 percent of Thomas’ shots have been three-pointers and 30.6 percent have come around the basket, with the junior being a capable dribble penetrator as well. Well-respected within the Big East, this could be a tournament where Thomas becomes a household name across the country with a good showing this weekend.

Mohamed Bamba, Freshman, Texas, C - After missing three games with a toe injury the 6-foot-11 freshman returned to the lineup for the Longhorns’ loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 tournament. Still quite raw offensively, Bamba’s averaging 12.9 points per game and shooting 54.1 percent from the field and 67.8 percent from the foul line. Slender in build, Bamba does need to get stronger physically as his career continues to progress, but he runs the floor well and moves well both offensively and defensively. He will get the occasional mid-range jumper within the Texas offense, but there’s still some strides to be made which should come as his body matures. Bamba’s incredibly valuable defensively, as he’s averaging 10.4 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, and with his athleticism and wingspan Bamba can be impactful both within and outside of his immediate area. His first round matchup with Nevada should be interesting, in that the Wolf Pack don’t have a “traditional” big man.

Others to watch: DeAndre Hunter, Virginia; Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia; Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati; Jacob Evans, Cincinnati; Kyle Washington, Cincinnati; Admiral Schofield, Tennessee; Rawle Alkins, Arizona; Dusan Ristic, Arizona; Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky; Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky; Quade Green, Kentucky; Nick Richards, Kentucky; P.J. Washington, Kentucky; JaQuan Newton, Miami; Lonnie Walker IV, Miami; Jordan Caroline, Nevada; Caleb Martin, Nevada; Cody Martin, Nevada; Marcus Foster, Creighton; Dean Wade, Kansas State; Barry Brown, Kansas State; Jericho Sims, Texas; Peyton Aldridge, Davidson; Kellan Grady, Davidson; D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State.



Raphielle has been writing about college sports for more than a decade for multiple outlets, including NBC Sports. Focuses have included game recaps, columns, features and recruiting stories. A native of the Northeast, he now calls Pac-12 country home. Raphielle can be followed on Twitter @raphiellej.
Email :Raphielle Johnson



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