10. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
By the numbers: Dawson picked a great time to register a career high in scoring, dropping 26 points to lead the Spartans past pesky Harvard on Saturday to grab a berth in the Sweet 16. Dawson was 12-of-15 from the field, and according to ESPN his shooting percentage was the best by a Big Ten player in the tournament since 1992.
Buzz factor: Dawson made headlines earlier this season when, in a moment of frustration during a film session, he broke his hand slamming it on a table. The junior missed nine games, but since his return he’s averaged 12.6 points per game.
Why he’s here: Dawson is 16-of-22 from the field in the NCAA tournament, helping the Spartans to their third straight Sweet 16 berth.
9. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
By the numbers: Cleanthony Early played his heart out against Kentucky by scoring a game-high 31 points. He shot 12-of-17 in the first defeat of the season for the Shockers.
Buzz factor: Early made big shot after big shot for the Shockers throughout the second half as his team battled with Kentucky.
Why he’s here: Early was the best Wichita State player on the floor and he added seven rebounds and shot 4-of-6 from deep en route to his 31 points.
8. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
By the numbers: Thames is living up to his role as a senior leader, leading the Aztecs to its second Sweet 16 appearance in school history after scoring 30 points in a 63-44 win Saturday over North Dakota State. He was 9-of-19 from the field, 4-of-9 from three-point range and 8-of-9 from the line while adding six assists.
Buzz factor: Add in the baskets he assisted on, Thames was responsible for more points (45) than the Bison scored as a team.
Why he’s here: He’ll never shoot the lights out, but Thames’ willingness to take a shot whenever he can usually pays off, while his aggressiveness going to the basket leads to plenty of bonus points. He has gone to the line 21 times in two NCAA tourney games, making 18 of those free throws.
7. Luke Hancock, Louisville
By the numbers: Luke Hancock proved once again that March is his favorite month as he led Louisville in points with 21 in the victory over Saint Louis. Hancock nailed four three-pointers in the third-round win.
Buzz factor: Hancock scored eight points in an 86-second span in the second-round win over Manhattan, and he used that performance to propel him into a hot start against Saint Louis.
Why he’s here: The senior made five of his six free throws and had three assists and three steals to help his team advance to the Sweet 16.
6. T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
By the numbers: The ACC Player of the Year lived up to his hype so far this week, averaging 26.5 points per game in the NCAA tournament. He had 25 points in Tuesday’s First Four win over Xavier, then followed that up with 28 in the 83-80 overtime loss to Saint Louis on Thursday.
Buzz factor: Warren, who set the N.C. State record for most points in a season on Tuesday, finished the season by scoring 20 or more points in 19 consecutive games.
Why he’s here: Warren would have been higher on the list if not for poor foul-shooting against Saint Louis, which contributed to the Billikens mounting a comeback from 16 points down with eight minutes left in regulation. A 71 percent free throw shooter coming in, Warren made just 6 of 14 against Saint Louis.
5. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
By the numbers: Stokes continues to be a force inside for Tennessee, which has gone from the First Four to the Sweet 16 thanks to its junior post’s annihilation of the boards. He had a career-high-tying 18 rebounds (including eight on the offensive end) to go with 17 points and five assists in the Volunteers’ 83-63 win Sunday over Mercer.
Buzz factor: One of the most heralded recruits in Tennessee history, Stokes has posted a double-double in all three NCAA tournament games. He had 26 points and 14 rebounds in the second-round game against Massachusetts after recording 18 points and 13 rebounds in the First Four overtime win over Iowa.
Why he’s here: In three games over a five-day span, Stokes is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds while shooting 56.3 percent from the field and 86.2 percent (25-of-29) from the free-throw line.
4. Bryce Cotton, Providence
By the numbers: Cotton’s amazing career ended on a spectacular yet heartbreaking note, as he scored a career-high 36 points in Providence’s 79-77 loss Friday to North Carolina in San Antonio. He was 13-of-23 from the field (including 7-of-7 from the line) and added eight assists, five rebounds and two steals.
Buzz factor: The 6’1” senior, who averaged just under 40 minutes per game this season, never left the court, and was the Friars’ entire offense for several stretches. He scored 11 straight points over a five-minute period stretching both halves, and gave Providence a 77-74 lead when he drained three free throws with 2:29 left.
Why he’s here: Cotton made or assisted on 75 percent of Providence’s field goals. His only mistake came in the final seconds when he fumbled a rebound out of bounds following a James Michael McAdoo missed free throw.
3. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
By the numbers: Kane led all scorers with 24 points, including Iowa State’s final two baskets, to push the Cyclones into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 with an 85-83 win Sunday over North Carolina. The senior added 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Buzz factor: With the game tied and the Cyclones playing for the final shot, Kane drove to his left into the lane and banked the layup off the glass for the game-winning basket with 1.6 seconds remaining.
Why he’s here: When Iowa State needed him, Kane was there. He had also given the Cyclones an 83-81 lead with 26 seconds left, running out ahead of the defense after Melvin Ejim stole the ball from UNC’s Marcus Paige. The transfer from Marshall has averaged 19 points, 8.5 rebounds and six assists per game in the NCAA tourney.
2. Adreian Payne, Michigan State
By the numbers: Payne fell back to earth after his amazing second-round performance, managing just 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting and four rebounds in Michigan State’s 85-77 win Saturday over Harvard. Foul trouble dogged the senior, who also only attempted four foul shots after making 17 on Thursday.
Buzz factor: Payne was the star in Thursday’s blowout win over Delaware when he set the school tournament record for points in a game with 41.
Why he’s here: Payne has made 20-of-21 free throws in the tournament so far. His 17-of-17 performance at the line on Thursday was a single-game best for any player in NCAA tourney history. He’s tied with North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren for the tournament scoring lead at 53 points.
1. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
By the numbers: Strapped with foul trouble in the first half, Napier scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half as Connecticut outlasted old Big East rival Villanova 77-65 on Saturday to reach the Sweet 16. He made 7-of-9 shots after halftime, including a few NBA-distance three-pointers.
Buzz factor: The American Athletic Conference Player of the Year did his best Willis Reed impression when he came back into the game after being in visible pain on the bench with a right leg injury, and promptly drove in for a layup.
Why he’s here: Napier, who had 19 of his 24 points in Thursday’s overtime win against St. Joseph’s after halftime, has 49 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists in two games this tournament.