Players to watch in the Final Four

Every Final Four has great players. Every Final Four has NBA Draft prospects. And every Final Four has those glue guys that play their roles to help their team get to the pinnacle weekend of the sport.

As the national semifinals are set to begin on Saturday, there are players who are ready to shine on college basketball’s biggest stage. We may find our next Kris Jenkins, Keith Smart, or Hakim Warrick over the next few days. Guys who made big plays to solidify a national championship.

So here are the sweet sixteen players to watch — four from each school — to watch in the Final Four.

 

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Looking at the Zags’ roster, it is almost unreal that Ayayi may be the fourth-best player on that team. Ayayi is annoyingly consistent in all facets of his game. For instance: His scoring totals for the tournament are 15, 12, 13, and 9. Rebounding? 9, 8, 8, 6. This season he’s averaged 11.8 points and 7.1 rebounds. In the tournament, he’s averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Consistent. 

 

Jared Butler, Baylor

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Butler is the leader of the Baylor Bears. He is a consensus first-team All-American — the first Baylor player to ever be named to a first-team All-American squad — by leading the Bears in scoring (16.5) and leading the Big 12 in steals. He’s hitting 44% of his threes and is about as automatic as you can get from the free-throw line. Butler may not have had a glowing tournament run offensively, but he has been a terror on defense and has come up with timely plays. Baylor will need him to have a breakout offensive game if they are to cut the nets down in Indianapolis. 

 

Tyger Campbell, UCLA

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One of the most glaring reasons the Bruins are in the Final Four is because they don’t turn the ball over. Campbell has been outstanding in this regard, having a 20-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio in this tournament and just two turnovers against a lively Michigan defense on Tuesday. 

 

Justin Gorham, Houston

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If you’ve been following Houston during this NCAA tournament, you’ve noticed Justin Gorham dominating the boards. He’s not a big scorer, averaging 8.6 ppg and 8.3 in the tournament, but he can be a beast on the glass. He’s grabbed 10 rebounds in each of the Cougars last two games and will be needed to be active against an active Baylor team. 

 

Quentin Grimes, Houston

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Grimes began his college career at Kansas (he hit six threes in his Jayhawks debut) before transferring to Houston after his freshman season. After playing second fiddle to Caleb Mills last season, he has ascended to the star of the Cougars, winning this year’s American Athletic Conference’s co-Player of the Year award. He has turned into a complete player, averaging 18 points, 6 rebounds, hitting 41% of his threes, and being an aggressive defender. 

 

Jaime Jaquez, UCLA

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Jaquez didn’t have a great game against Michigan, but he was so vital in tournament wins over Michigan State and Alabama. Jaquez scored 27 points against the Spartans and was everywhere on a 17-point, 8-rebound win over Alabama. Both those games went into overtime and Jaquez played all 45 minutes each time. In fact, he’s played all but 10 of a possible 210 minutes this entire tournament. He’s been a fantastic defender by being able to cover all over the court, which will be key against a very diverse Gonzaga offense. 

 

DeJon Jarreau, Houston

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Jarreau has made quite a turnaround over his time at Houston. Once a bit out of control (he bit a Cincinnati player in 2020), he’s become a trusted cog in Houston’s run to a Final Four. He has always been good — in 2019 he was named the AAC’s Sixth Man of the Year. In 2021, he was the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He is the anchor of the Cougars’ defensive attack (his work on Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson was outstanding) which will be needed against Baylor’s backcourt. 

 

Johnny Juzang, UCLA

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Michigan had all sorts of problems dealing with Johnny Juzang on Tuesday. The Kentucky transfer scored 28 of the Bruins’ 51 points that night, becoming the first player to score over half his team’s points in a regional final victory since Cincinnati’s Oscar Robertson in 1960. He is averaging 21.6 ppg this tournament (up from his 15.5 average during the regular season) despite playing with a hurt ankle. His ability to score from anywhere on the court is so difficult to defend in today’s layup-or-three game. 

 

Corey Kispert, Gonzaga

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Drew Timme has the size and ‘stache and Jalen Suggs has the NBA future, but Corey Kispert is the West Coast Conference Player of the Year. Kispert is the dagger for the Zags. While teams try to deal with Timme’s size and smarts and Suggs’ pure talent, here comes Kispert to make big plays and hit demoralizing shots. His ability to stretch defenses (he hit 45% of his threes) is almost unfair when defending this team. 

 

Matthew Mayer, Baylor

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Mayer can be an x-factor for the Bears. At 6’9, he plays wing for Baylor and has the ability to drain from a distance, create his own shot, and is athletic. His look may be a throwback to the 1980s but his game couldn’t be more modern, and his ability to be whatever the team needs from him is a testament to how well in tune this team is heading into the Final Four. 

 

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Davion Mitchell, Baylor

Davion Mitchell, Baylor

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Mitchell may be Baylor’s breakthrough player in the tournament. While many fans had heard of Jared Butler and MaCio Teague, it is Mitchell who is wowing fans with his quickness, handles, speed, and aggressiveness … and he’s shooting 45% from three. Oh, and he is the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. He is a problem for opponents and will be an interesting matchup for Houston’s elite defense. 

 

Cody Riley, UCLA

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Riley will be very important against Gonzaga. He’s the Bruins’ best big man and will be tasked with dealing with that big front line and he’s spent much of the tournament dealing with foul problems. When he’s on the floor, he creates problems — note the four blocks he had against Alabama. He’s banged against Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and BYU’s Matt Haarms already in this tournament and now goes up against Drew Timme in the national semifinal. 

 

Marcus Sasser, Houston

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Sasser is a great defender at the top of the defense (four steals against Syracuse) who is the Cougars’ second-best scorer. He’s nearly money at the free-throw line, which is a great trait for a primary ball handler. He’s also a willing shooter, as he showed when he poured in 20 points against Oregon State by hitting 5-of-13 threes. His willingness to take those deep shots may be the key to loosening up Baylor’s defense.

 

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Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

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Suggs will be watched by NBA scouts and fans this weekend as he has an outside shot at supplanting Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham as the presumed No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA Draft. Suggs hasn’t had a dominating tournament — he’s shot 3-of-15 from three and has had two games where he’s failed to score in double-digits — but he’s the most electrifying player on an electrifying Gonzaga squad. He nearly messed around and got a triple-double against USC in the West Regional final and can go rim-to-rim with lightning quickness. 

 

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MaCio Teague, Baylor

MaCio Teague, Baylor

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Teague is wrapping a nice four-year career. He played his first two seasons at UNC Asheville before transferring to Baylor. This season, he has shown the ability to light it up quickly … as evidenced by his 22 point game against Arkansas in the South Region final. Earlier this March, he hit 10-of-12 from three and scored 35 points against Texas Tech. 

 

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

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Timme is possibly the most valuable player in the Final Four. He is a matchup nightmare for the other three teams (even though those are some great defensive units) as shown by his domination of the vaunted USC front line. He does everything you want from a big man. He can score inside and out, he can create his own shot, he can pass, set screens, direct the defense, anything. Plus his facial hair game has been the talk of the tournament. 

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