Twenty Players to Watch in the 2021 Sweet Sixteen

The first Sweet Sixteen in two years starts Saturday. And we’ve been spoiled with 20 appointment-television level players.

Folks, March Madness is in full swing. It’s been quite a long time since we’ve seen this much Madness™, and it’s glorious. There are four double digit seeds left, which is the second most all-time. If you combine the remaining seeds, you’ll get an aggregate score of 94. This is 5 digits higher than the all-time record of 89, set in the 1986 tournament.

This makes sense though, everyone knows how severely COVID sent everything that we know and love into a tailspin. It was inevitable that college basketball would feel the effects.

By now, I’d assume that most college basketball fans are aware of the teams that are left in the tournament. However, I’m not entirely sure that the stars of these teams are getting enough recognition. I felt like the spotlight has been too much on the programs themselves; among other characters like the omnipresent Sister Jean, the apparent prophet known as Bill Walton, and Oral Roberts, for the name and the institution itself. So without further ado, I ranked the stars that are still in Indianapolis.

I graded these guys with a very meticulous, objective, scientific process. I came up with four qualities that I think are the most important for a star during March Madness. I watched all these guys play at least a few times, and I graded these players out of 10 using the following categories. Finally I combined the scores, and ranked the players accordingly.

Watchability: This is the most subjective category. I tried to take an objective look at what makes watching a player fun: personality, energy, verticality, and obvious other reasons that I’ll detail later.

Story: If you were expecting a category that was any more straightforward than the last, sorry to disappoint. I judged this category based on how interesting the narrative surrounding a certain player is. If a player is really flying under the radar and not making headlines, he probably won’t do well here.

Talent: This is much easier to explain. In this category, I score players based on their natural talent, which kind of goes hand-in-hand with their potential to play professionally.

Team Success: Another easy one. This score mostly correlates to a team’s seed, or their potential to reach the Final Four.

20. John Petty Jr., G #23, Alabama

Watchability: 8/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 5/10 | Team Success: 8/10 | Overall: 22/40

John Petty Jr. pretty much only made this list because he kind of resembles Playboy Carti. In addition to this, he’s actually a pretty entertaining player to watch. He plays a little recklessly, in a good way. He takes over six 3’s a game, plays hard on defense, and does not pass the ball. He scores at all costs, which makes him a fascinating wrinkle to Alabama’s potential Final Four run.

19. Ethan Thompson, G #5, Oregon State

Watchability: 7/10 | Story: 4/10 | Talent: 6/10 | Team Success: 5/10 | Overall: 22/40

Ethan Thompson is an absolute bucket-getter. He’s been the best scorer for Oregon State during their highly unlikely Sweet Sixteen run, and it’s been really fun to watch. He’s a super physical player; he doesn’t shy from contact around the rim, which is a cause of some of his higher-scoring games. He can score from all three levels, and it’s a pleasure to watch.

18. Scottie Barnes, F/G #4, Florida State, Fr.

Watchability: 5/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 22/40

Scottie Barnes was a consensus Top-10 recruit coming into this season, and he’s definitely lived up to that billing. He’s a fascinating player to watch; he’s listed as a guard (although he’s more of a forward), and he’s 6’9″, 230lbs. He’s a future lottery pick, and he plays hard, just like most Leonard Hamilton-coached players. He has scoring ability, although he doesn’t do it at a high volume, and he has extremely good instincts on both ends of the floor. He’ll be a player to watch in one of the biggest games this weekend vs. Michigan.

17. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F #24, Villanova

Watchability: 8/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 23/40

Robinson-Earl is another former Five-Star that’s been super fun to watch this season. His game is really similar to Justin Champaigne’s; he’s a bruiser who finishes really well around the rim and occasionally can pop out and hit a couple of threes. He’s kind of the perfect modern 5, except his defense could use some work. He’s got a tough matchup against Baylor this weekend though; we could see an off game from him due to the defensive depth that Baylor has at his position.

16. Marcus Zegarowski, PG #11, Creighton, Sr.

Watchability: 8/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 23/40

Zegarowski is a crafty primary ball-handler for the Bluejays. He’s got ridiculous range and he can whip around passes as well as anyone in college basketball. His brand of basketball isn’t super exciting, and Creighton really isn’t much of a Final Four threat. He’s still fun to watch, and it’ll be cool to see him show his skills versus a team like Gonzaga.

15. Chris Duarte, G #5, Oregon

Watchability: 7/10 | Story: 3/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 24/40

Although Chris Duarte is clearly Oregon’s best player, the rest of Oregon’s starting five is just about as fun to watch. Their starting five, college basketball’s Death Lineup, scored 89(!!) of their 95 points versus Iowa this past weekend. Duarte is the leader of this high-flying group; I wouldn’t be surprised they come to play again with the same amount of earth-shattering dunks and electric defensive plays as they had when they took down the 2-seed. Expect this 7-seeded team to make some noise this weekend.

14. Franz Wagner, G/F #21, Michigan

Watchability: 7/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 8.5/10 | Team Success: 9/10 | Overall: 25.5/40

Franz Wagner, brother of Moe Wagner, is personally one of my favorite college players from this year. He’s a 6’9″ wing with a ton of athleticism, and he can do just about anything you could ask for on a basketball court. His on-ball defense is spectacular, as with his defensive instincts in general. He can finish way above the rim, and he also has a nice outside jumper. He’s a future NBA player, and he’s Michigan’s X-Factor. Strongly recommend watching him.

13. Buddy Boheim, F #35, Syracuse

Watchability: 7.5/10 | Story: 6/10 | Talent: 6.5/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 26/40

This one’s pretty obvious. When I first watched him as a three-star freshman at Syracuse, I wasn’t too bullish on his future as a college basketball player, especially at a high-prestige program like Syracuse. I was dead wrong. Buddy Boheim, the 22-year-old son of 77-year-old Jim Boheim, is a certified bucket. He’s an absolute flamethrower from deep, and he can also create shots for himself on about any level of the floor. He’s been averaging about 28 PPG since the postseason began (including the ACC tourney). He’s a must-watch player right now; you have no excuse to not watch Syracuse this weekend.

12. Hunter Dickinson, F/C #1, Michigan

Watchability: 7.5/10 | Story: 2/10 | Talent: 7.5/10 | Team Success: 9/10 | Overall: 26/40

This guy is a total throwback on the basketball court. He operates primarily with his back to the basket, similar to Luka Garza. He doesn’t have a ton of range, but his footwork and fluidity around the basket is unbelievable. His hands look like they’re covered in glue when he hits the boards, and he’s an above-average passer from the post. He’s an incredibly fundamentally sound player who rarely makes mistakes, and he’s only 20. It’s going to be super interesting to see how the uber-athletic Florida State team handles him.

11. Moses Moody, F #5, Arkansas

Watchability: 8/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 9.5/10 | Team Success: 8/10 | Overall: 26.5/40

Moses Moody is another lottery-level talent that’s left in March Madness. He’s a 6’6” guard that somehow plays bigger than he actually is. He’s a super explosive athlete that also has a seemingly endless bag of moves on the perimeter. Arkansas is looking poised for a potential Final Four run since they’re the highest remaining seed left in their region. In their upcoming game against Oral Roberts, Moody’s probably going to be the best athlete on the floor, so that’ll be interesting to watch.

10. Davion Mitchell, G #45, Baylor

Watchability: 8.5/10 | Story: 1/10 | Talent: 7.5/10 | Team Success: 10/10 | Overall: 27/40

Another one of my personal favorite players left is Davion Mitchell. This is mostly because of how eerily similar this guy is to Donovan Mitchell. Obviously, their names are almost the same. Plus, they wear the same number, play the same position, and they both play the game with a high level of passion and intensity.

Mitchell is the glue guy for Baylor, he’s unbelievably consistent, and he has the ability to set the tone for Baylor on both ends of the floor; as a reliable scorer and an outstanding defender. He’s a huge part of Baylor’s success over the past few years.

9. Jahvon Quinerly, G #13, Alabama

Watchability: 10/10 | Story: 2/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 7/10 | Overall: 27/40

Jahvon Quinerly is one of my six 10/10’s on the watchability scale. He’s got shades of Kyrie Irving in his game; he’s got insane ball-handling skills, and he can hit difficult shots as well as anyone in college basketball. He’s an absolute spark plug off the bench, easily the best sixth man in the nation.

He’s also an interesting story to follow because of the road he took to get to Alabama. As a five-star high schooler, he was originally committed to play for Arizona. After their issues with the FBI, he pulled his commitment and chose to play college ball at Villanova. He then transferred from Villanova due to a lack of fit in their offensive system, and now he’s tearing it up at Alabama. He’s now leading Bama’s bench unit as they try to make their program’s first-ever Final Four appearance.

8. Johnny Juzang, G #3, UCLA

Watchability: 10/10 | Story: 6/10 | Talent: 6/10 | Team Success: 5/10 | Overall: 27/40

I’m going to be completely honest here, I don’t necessarily understand what’s happening when I watch Johnny Juzang play for UCLA. He’s got a pretty unassuming look on the court, with the classic rec-league T-shirt underneath his jersey. And he doesn’t really blow you away with his athleticism or ball-handling.

There is one special thing about him: his shots go in. He scores from about everywhere on the court, and when he gets hot, he gets as hot as anyone. Think Game 6 Klay Thompson. He’s averaging 23 ppg over three games in the tournament, and he’s doing this on 51/39/86 splits, which is outstanding for a college player. UCLA is a pretty heavy underdog this weekend, so watch Juzang while you have the chance.

7. Max Abmas, G #3, Oral Roberts

Watchability: 10/10 | Story: 9/10 | Talent: 6/10 | Team Success: 4/10 | Overall: 29/40

Max Abmas has been in the driver’s seat as Oral Roberts has made their Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen. He led the nation in scoring over the regular season, and he’s been just as hot in March. He’s scored an absurd 55 combined points in the first two rounds, and it’s not looking like he’s going to slow down. The man doesn’t do much else but shoot the damn ball, and I love it. He has NBA range, and he’s got an NBA mindset when it comes to shooting: short-term memory.

I’m expecting their matchup versus Arkansas to be similar to their game versus Florida, which is a recipe for another high-scoring game from Abmas, as the Golden Eagles will likely be fighting a deficit for most of this game.

6. Quentin Grimes, F #24, Houston

Watchability: 9/10 | Story: 5/10 | Talent: 8/10 | Team Success: 8/10 | Overall: 30/40

As we enter the Top 6, pretty much all of these guys have a future in the NBA. Quentin Grimes has played himself up the draft boards in this tournament. The 6’5″ junior has shown a diverse set of offensive skills, and his wide frame and vertical+lateral explosiveness make him an absolute handful for opposing teams on both sides of the ball.

The former Kansas Jayhawk has found a perfect home in Houston, and he’s an absolute pleasure to watch thanks to his high motor and good attitude on the court.

5. Jared Butler, G #12, Baylor

Watchability: 7/10 | Story: 4/10 | Talent: 9/10 | Team Success: 10/10 | Overall: 30/40

Jared Butler gets an honorary Top-5 nod here because he’s the leader of the second-best team left in the tournament. I don’t mean that in a negative way; I’m just guessing that if you’re a college basketball fan, you’ve probably already watched Butler play several times.

Butler is a hyper-intelligent, experienced player who is pretty much the commander of Baylor’s defensive attack. He’s a fantastic all-around player; he doesn’t really have any specialties. He performs at a high level in just about every game; scoring at ease and making a huge impact on defense.

4. Evan Mobley, C #4, USC

Watchability: 10/10 | Story: 5/10 | Talent: 10/10 | Team Success: 6/10 | Overall: 31/40

Honestly, there was a small part of me that thought Evan Mobley’s appearance in March would be similar to Deandre Ayton’s. USC proved me completely wrong. With the emergence of Isaiah Mobley and the persistent dominance of Evan, USC looks like a force to be reckoned with.

Although Evan, the younger Mobley brother, hasn’t been scoring at a high clip in this tournament, his impact is felt on the boards and around the rim on defense. The 19-year-old is a mobile 7-footer who has good instincts when it comes to any aspect of basketball. He’s an outstanding defender and shot blocker, he finishes well on offense, and he’s a surprisingly talented ball distributor. He’s likely to be a Top-3 pick in the next NBA draft, so watch him at USC while you can.

3. Corey Kispert, F #24, Gonzaga

Watchability: 9/10 | Story: 3/10 | Talent: 9/10 | Team Success: 10/10 | Overall: 31/40

Corey Kispert just had an all-time season at Gonzaga and it kind of just slipped under the radar. No matter what conference you play in, a 55/45/90 shooting line (on high volume!!!) is borderline incomprehensible. The 4th-year player is the leader of the title-favorite Gonzaga Bulldogs, and it’s going to be up to him to keep the rest of his team in line as they make their championship run.

He’s another do-it-all kind of player; he scores well, passes well, defends well, and is one of the best shooters in the country. Every time he takes a three, it looks like it’s going in. I swear. Gonzaga is the team of destiny this year, and Corey Kispert is about to make his case as a legend of college basketball.

2. Cameron Krutwig, C #25, Loyola-Chicago

Watchability: 10/10 | Story: 5/10 | Talent: 9/10 | Team Success: 8/10 | Overall: 32/40

All you really need to know about Cameron Krutwig is this: he’s pretty much what would happen if you gave Nikola Jokic’s basketball abilities to a 1920’s strongman.

He’s an absolutely mesmerizing player to watch. Nobody at his size should be that light on his feet. He’s also an incredibly confusing player. He’s almost mastered the offensive aspects of basketball but he cannot shoot from outside the paint. He whips around passes from the post like Jokic, and he has beautiful touch around the rim. For god’s sake, he took Kofi Cockburn to school multiple times with his incredible post moves. He made one of the best, strongest big men in the country look like a chump. Loyola-Chicago somehow has the third-best odds to win the championship right now, so I’d advise you to watch them.

1. Jalen Suggs, PG #1, Gonzaga

Watchability: 11/10 | Story: 3/10 | Talent: 11/10 | Team Success: 10/10 | Overall: 35/40

This is a somewhat subjective list, so obviously I had to put my favorite player to watch at #1. Jalen Suggs looks like a transcendent type of player when he’s out there playing for Gonzaga. He literally moves at a different speed than everyone else on the court.

He doesn’t put up lucrative stats, but when he is on the court, I am watching Gonzaga no matter what. He’s Zion-esque with his combination of fluidity and extreme athleticism. I personally think he’s the most talented player left in the tournament, and he’s on the best team. So as far as watchability goes, you can’t get much better than that. Also….

(I think he’s better than Cade Cunningham)


Other People/Things to Watch:

The living-legend coach who will literally pick his boogers and eat them on the sidelines during games.

That one coach who sometimes takes his shirt off after winning big games. Also known as a bus.

The old woman who exploits one of the world’s largest religions for basketball wins.

The general decline of the University of North Carolina’s basketball program.

Keep watching the transfer portal. One of the most lucrative years of transfers ever.