UCLA basketball

It’s one thing to have a good game, but it’s another to continue that play in the next one. These players shined during the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

It’d be hard to say that anyone had a better all-around tournament than Johnny Juzang. The UCLA star scored 23 points or more in four of his six games. He encaptured the fans of the underdog and did so with style, hitting 15 threes, connecting on over 50% from the field, and just turning the ball over SEVEN times during the entire tournament.

But it’d also be a crime to not highlight some of the other players from each weekend who had their own mini parties in Indianapolis. I come up with the best players each weekend – nixing the ‘First Four’ – who deserve to be highlighted before we completely move past the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

Round of 64 / Round of 32

1. Buddy Boeheim

He ain’t just a coach’s son. Buddy Boeheim is that good and showed the country why and then some in the first two rounds.

The sharpshooter dropped 30 and 25 in consecutive upsets while connecting on over 50% from shots behind the three-point line.

2. Kevin Obanor

Speaking about upsets, enter Oral Roberts!

Look before you fry me about having Obanor above his teammate Max Abmas, remember that they’re a TEAM and that’s why the Golden Eagles were able to make the run. And it wouldn’t have been without Obanor, who averaged 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in those first two games.

3. Luka Garza

Garza didn’t carry the Hawkeyes as far in the 2021 NCAA Tournament as most probably expected, but he sure gave it his best.

The 2021 Naismith Award Winner scored 60 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the first weekend, only to come up short in the Round of 32 against Oregon.

4. Max Abmas

Here he is! America’s favorite player on America’s Cinderella team encapsulated, well, America!

He scored 29 against 2-seed Ohio State and followed it up with 26 and seven assists against Florida in the next round. Abmas and Obanar were easily the top duo that first weekend and really in the tournament.

5. Cameron Thomas

If you didn’t know Cameron Thomas’ name before the 2021 NCAA Tournament started, you definitely did after LSU’s close loss to Michigan.

Coming off a 27 point game against St. Bonaventure, the star freshman did it once again, posting 30 on Michigan, nearly helping the Tigers pull off the upset in the process.

6. Javion Hamlet

It took overtime, but Hamlet and North Texas upset Purdue in the first round. Hamlet scored 24 points and brought down 12 rebounds in the win.

In a blowout loss to Nova, he still shined, going for 25 on 16 shots. A gifted scorer who made his mark this March.

7. Johnny Juzang

As noted prior, Juzang was the best player during the entire tournament. In the first rounds, he was nearly unstoppable, going for 27 points against BYU. Abilene Christian limited him to 17 points, but he was still effective as the Bruins won by 20.

8. Justin Smith

Smith’s underrated first two rounds shouldn’t go unnoticed. Against Colgate, he was nearly unstoppable, posting 27 points, 12 rebounds, and five steals.

In the following game against Texas Tech, Smith had another 20-piece with six rebounds and did it on an impeccable 9-of-11 from the field.

Sweet 16 / Elite 8

1. Drew Timme

Don’t let his National Championship game blunders fool you – Drew Timme is a talented big man with a lot of potential to get even better.

In the Sweet 16, Timme had 22 points against Creighton. Two days later, the center scored 23 on Evan Mobley and USC. It wasn’t the ending he wanted, but Timme shined for a good stretch this March.

2. Ethan Thompson

Thompson had an impressive 22 point, four rebounds, four assist showing over America’s darling Loyola-Chicago. Even though his Oregon State Beavers put up some blanks against Houston in the Elite 8, Thompson made up for his 3-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds and six assists.

3. Johnny Juzang

13 points on 5-of-18 field goals against Alabama won’t get Juzang many places.

But how about going off for 28 in an upset over one-seed Michigan? Juzang’s tournament will go down in history, and his game against the Wolverines was one of his best.

4. Eugene Omoruyi

Oregon was upended in the Sweet 16 by USC, but Omoruyi’s game was so good, he had to make this list.

The Ducks’ big put up 28 points and 10 rebounds, along with a block and two steals for good measure. It wasn’t the ending the Ducks wanted, but Omoruyi certainly got his.

Final Four / National Championship

1. Jared Butler

Butler’s Final Four was beyond comprehensible. He scored 17 against Houston in the Final Four, with every point coming in the first half.

Need a bigger reason to put him at first? How about the first player to score 20+ and dish out at least seven assists in a National Championship game since Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Butler was THAT GUY in the Final Four.

And he got Baylor its first Natty. It’s a party for Butler!

2. Jalen Suggs

Suggs averaged 19 points in the Final Four and was about the only guy who played half-decent for the Zags against Baylor.

He also led the tempo, finishing with six assists against Houston. And I’d be remiss to not mention his all-time great buzzer-beater over UCLA.

3. Johnny Juzang

Speaking about UCLA, how about one more hurrah for Juzang. The budding star had 29 and six in the rough loss against Gonzaga.

Juzang had the best tournament of anyone in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, so fitting that we end with him.


Featured image from UCLA basketball Twitter page