GLENDALE, ARIZ. – Two years ago, Apple Valley native and current Timberwolves guard Tyus Jones was the Sports Illustrated cover boy after he helped lead Duke to an NCAA championship in a win over Wisconsin in Indianapolis.
The Blue Devils were a freshmen-laden squad with Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow carrying them to the pinnacle of college basketball.
There are some talented freshmen among the teams in this year’s Final Four, but they will likely take a backseat to upperclassmen who have been the stars of the NCAA tournament so far.
Which players will shine the brightest on the biggest stage Saturday with the chance to play for the national title on the line?
South Carolina senior Sandarius Thornwell, Gonzaga junior Nigel Williams-Goss, North Carolina junior Justin Jackson and Oregon junior Dillon Brooks are All-Americans and represent what the college game used to be before the One-and-Done era.
They’ve been rewarded for sticking around campus a bit longer and not letting the lure of the NBA pressure them into leaving too early.
Last season, Villanova won it all with a starting lineup that featured two seniors and two juniors. A year later, Gonzaga has two seniors and two junior starters. North Carolina has two seniors and three juniors starting. South Carolina has two senior starters. Oregon has a senior and two juniors in the starting lineup.
“It was only three years ago when Duke won it with three or four freshmen starters,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “But I just think that there are so many good players, so many really good teams that you want to be playing your best right at the end of the year. And I think the older guys understand how fleeting it is and how sudden the season is over and perhaps focus a little bit more on that part of it.”
My top 10 players in the Final Four
- Sandarius Thornwell senior forward South Carolina
- Justin Jackson junior forward North Carolina
- Nigel Williams-Goss junior guard Gonzaga
- Dillon Brooks junior forward Gonzaga
- Tyler Dorsey sophomore guard Oregon
- Przemek Karnowski senior center Gonzaga
- Jonathan Williams junior forward Gonzaga
- Joel Berry II junior guard North Carolina
- Jordan Bell junior forward Oregon
- P.J. Dozier sophomore guard South Carolina