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Raphielle Johnson

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NCAA West Region: Top Players

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


For the first time in program history Xavier is a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, and despite the talent on Chris Mack’s roster the Musketeers have been the team mentioned by more than a few pundits when the question of “which top seed will lose first” is asked. And they’re in a region that has the potential to churn out a few surprises, with North Carolina, Michigan and Gonzaga among the teams in the West. And while many of the top talents in the West are upperclassmen, there’s also a certain freshman who just returned to the floor to keep an eye on.

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.

Trevon Bluiett, Senior, Xavier, G - Bluiett has been one of the best scorers in the country this season, averaging 19.5 points per game while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three. While the overall field goal percentage could stand to be a tad higher, that’s due in part to his reliance on the mid-range shot. Just over 30 percent of Bluiett’s shot attempts have been two-point jumpers according to hoop-math, and he’s making only 37.9 percent of those shots. Getting more opportunities either around the basket or from beyond the arc would likely have a positive impact on Bluiett’s overall shooting percentage moving forward. Bluiett’s also a good foul shooter, as he’s converted those attempts at an 86.1 percent clip. What truly stands out regarding Bluiett is the physical transformation, as he’s work on his build throughout his time at Xavier. That’s been big for Bluiett, as he played 35.1 minutes per game last season and is averaging 34.3 minutes per game in 2017-18. If he can avoid taking too many challenged twos, Bluiett becomes an even more dangerous offensive weapon for the Musketeers.

Joel Berry II, Senior, North Carolina, G - Berry’s a household name at this point, as he’s been a part of two Final Four teams with last year’s group winning the national title. Averaging 17.1 points and 3.3 assists per game, Berry’s been freed up to do more scoring by the presence of Theo Pinson, who’s arguably North Carolina’s best playmaker when it comes to getting others quality looks. Berry’s shooting percentages, 43.8 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three, aren’t the best but he’s still a player teams have to be mindful of. What should also be noted here are the changes in personnel; with the likes of Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks gone from last season’s team that’s changed things with regards to Berry’s role and his shot volume. Berry doesn’t shrink away from the moment; when a big play needs to be made late there’s a good chance that Berry will take it upon himself to get the job done. What also helps the senior is the fact that he’s shooting nearly 89 percent from the foul line, which can help make up for the other percentages.

Luke Maye, Junior, North Carolina, F - While Berry’s role did change somewhat from last season to this, the difference has been far more drastic for Maye. A rotation player as a sophomore, Maye has been a focus of the North Carolina offense this season with the Tar Heels having two young bigs in Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley getting minutes at the five. Maye’s done well with the shift, averaging a team-high 17.2 points while also grabbing 10.1 rebounds and dishing out 2.4 assists per night. After shooting 40.0 percent from three last season, Maye has that number up to 44.0 percent as a junior and he’s also shooting 49.5 percent from the field overall. One of the best front court players in the ACC, Maye also rates among the best in college basketball as a whole. When Brooks or Manley is on the court Maye will play the four, but there are times when North Carolina shifts him to the five with Pinson playing the four in a smaller, more dynamic lineup. Either way, Maye has managed to rise to the challenge all season long.

Moritz Wagner, Junior, Michigan, F - Coming off of a solid sophomore season, the 6-foot-11 junior has been even better for the Wolverines. At 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game Wagner leads the Wolverines in both statistical categories, and he’s doing so while shooting 52.9 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from three. Wagner shot a higher percentage from the field as a sophomore, but that was on more than two fewer attempts per game. As for where Wagner’s shots come from, 39 percent of his attempts have been three-pointers with shots around the basket accounting for just under a third of his overall attempts. When around the basket Wagner has been highly effective, making 80 percent of those shots according to hoop-math. He runs the floor well and is a solid defender on a team that’s grown by leaps and bounds on that end of the floor. Wagner will be key if Michigan, which won four games in as many days to take the Big Ten tournament title, is to continue on its hot streak and play deep into March.

Charles Matthews, Junior, Michigan, G - Matthews, in his first season on the court for Michigan after transferring in from Kentucky, has been a good addition to the rotation. Averaging 12.6 points per game, Matthews is shooting 49.3 percent from the field. Matthews isn’t the best perimeter shooter, but he plays within himself when it comes to the quality of shots he looks for. The 6-foot-6 wing is more likely to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket, which works well within a Michigan offense that doesn’t lack for shooters. And with his length Matthews has proven to be a good finisher around the basket as he’s converting just over 74 percent of those shots. If there’s a concern it’s the foul shooting, as Matthews is just a 56.1 percent shooter. And of the main scoring options in the rotation, only Zavier Simpson has a higher free throw rate than Matthews. Getting better at taking advantage of those “free” points would add a couple more points to Matthews’ scoring average, and in turn make him an even tougher matchup for opposing teams.

Killian Tillie, Sophomore, Gonzaga, F - Productive throughout the season as part of a balanced rotation that boasts five double-digit scorers, Tillie took it to another level in the WCC tournament. In Gonzaga’s three wins in Las Vegas, the 6-foot-10 sophomore averaged 24.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, shooting 77.8 percent from the field and a staggering 92.9 percent from three. On the season as a whole Tillie’s accounting for 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, shooting 59.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from three. Comfortable either around the basket or on the perimeter, Tillie’s offensive versatility makes him an incredibly dangerous option in the Gonzaga attack. With the losses of Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins from last season’s team, Gonzaga needed others to step forward in the post. Tillie has been one of the players to do so, and he’s playing his best basketball of the season at the right time.

Johnathan Williams III, Senior, Gonzaga, F - Also in that front court rotation is a redshirt senior in Williams who leads the Bulldogs in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Unlike Tillie, who’s displayed the ability to step away from the basket and make shots at a good rate, Williams is most effective from 15 feet and in. The 6-foot-9 Memphis native is shooting 56.5 percent from the field, with nearly 60 percent of his shot attempts coming around the basket. Williams is active on the glass at both ends, and while not a major shot-blocker he’s capable of at the very least changing some shots. Williams works well alongside Tillie, due to the latter’s ability to step away from the basket and thus open up space in the paint.

Keita Bates-Diop, Junior, Ohio State, F - After playing in just nine games last season due to injury, Bates-Diop took the Big Ten by storm this season. Averaging 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, Bates-Diop was the unquestioned choice for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. At 6-foot-7, Bates-Diop is shooting 48.4 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from three, and his free throw percentage of 77.9 percent is solid. Becoming a better shooter from deeper distances is the likely next step for Bates-Diop, especially given the fact that 34 percent of his field goal attempts have been three-pointers. The majority of those looks come by way of a pass from a teammate; it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see Bates-Diop playing around with the dribble before hoisting up a challenged three. When he puts the ball on the deck it’s with a purpose, and more often than not Bates-Diop has managed to get to where he needed to be on the court.

Michael Porter Jr., Freshman, Missouri, F - Prior to Missouri’s SEC tournament opener the highly regarded Porter played a whopping total of two minutes, as a back injury suffered prior to the team’s season opener proved to be too much to deal with. Porter underwent a surgical procedure on his back, and while he looked rusty in that SEC tournament loss to Georgia at the very least he looked healthy. Porter does have the ability to make shots from anywhere on the floor, and he can use his dribble to break down opposing defenses. Should he decide to enter the NBA Draft this summer it’s a safe bet that Porter would be a lottery pick. The question now is how his abilities will mesh with those of players such as Kassius Robertson and Jontay Porter, two contributors who flourished in Michael Porter Jr.’s absence.

Robert Williams, Sophomore, Texas A&M, C - Williams is an interesting case for a Texas A&M squad that hasn’t been as good as many expected before the season began. As a freshman Williams was regarded as a tantalizing “upside” project, with some even questioning if he could be a lottery pick. But Williams decided to return to school, looking to improve his skill set with another year at Texas A&M. While the scoring has dropped from 11.9 ppg last season to 10.3 this season, Williams is shooting 62.0 percent from the field while also grabbing nine rebounds per game. Texas A&M’s backcourt situation may have something to do with this, as that part of the rotation has been hit hard by injuries and suspensions throughout the season. That can impact the number of touches a player like Williams (or even Tyler Davis) gets in the post. But the 6-foot-9 Williams has continued to work, and he remains a presence that opposing teams have to account for when putting together their offensive game plans. Williams is averaging 2.5 blocks per game, and he changes countless other shots as well. A deep run for the Aggies in which he’s a major player could give Williams a significant boost when it comes to projections at the next level.

Others to watch: J.P. Macura, Xavier; Cameron Johnson, North Carolina; Theo Pinson, North Carolina;  Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga; Josh Perkins, Gonzaga; C.J. Jackson, Ohio State; Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State; Rob Gray, Houston; Tyler Davis, Texas A&M; D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M; Jontay Porter, Missouri; Kassius Robertson, Missouri; Phil Cofer, Florida State; Terance Mann, Florida State; Kyron Cartwright, Providence; Rodney Bullock, Providence; Trey Kell, San Diego State; Malik Pope, San Diego State; Mike Daum, South Dakota State; Francis Alonso; UNCG; Ahmaad Rorie, Montana; Michael Oguine, Montana; Rob Marberry, Lipscomb; Garrison Mathews, Lipscomb; Raasean Davis, North Carolina Central; Dontae Clark, Texas Southern, Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern.



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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