1. Brady Heslip, Sophomore Guard, Baylor
The tournament’s frattiest player put on a three-point-shooting clinic against Colorado in the second round, hitting 9-12 on the way to 27 points. With his Canadian charm, floppy hair and the best three-monocle since DeShawn Stevenson, Heslip, along with Speedy Pierre Jackson (10 assists), can take pretty much all the credit for Baylor’s Sweet 16 spot.
2. C.J. Leslie, Sophomore Forward, North Carolina State
ACC followers and college-basketball zealots know the story of C.J. Leslie, but they’re probably alone. Saddled with the burden of “character problems” by observers and critics, Leslie has exploded as a part of the resurgent Wolfpack, which is trying to become relevant for the first time since the ’80s. N.C. State is one of the tournament’s three Cinderellas, and if you’re not pulling for them and Leslie, you haven’t seen this incredible clip of their reaction to making the tourney.
3. Cody Zeller, Freshman Forward, Indiana
Being a Hoosier means something again, and Indiana faithful largely have Cody Zeller to thank. Zeller’s had a huge tourney, taking over what looked like a losing effort against seemingly fate-bidden VCU with five straight points in the final five minutes. (He and the Hoosiers have also slipped into the Sweet 16 with their starting point guard sidelined.) He’d had a rough go of things earlier, making the ultimate triumph even more impressive, and now he’ll have a chance to knock off the best team in the Dance — the Kentucky Wildcats.
4. C.J. McCollum, Junior Guard, Lehigh; Kyle O’Quinn, Senior Center, Norfolk State
Despite both guys falling in the second round — although Lehigh nearly knocked off Xavier — C.J. McCollum and Kyle O’Quinn make this list together for pulling off two of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history. Friday afternoon, O’Quinn and Norfolk State vanquished Missouri to become the first 15-seed to beat a 2-seed since 2001. Later that night, McCollum and Lehigh became the first 15-seed to beat a 2-seed since a few hours earlier when they downed the mighty Duke Blue Devils. Even though both teams lost their second games, they’d already made it farther than anyone expected.
5. Jae Crowder, Senior Forward, Marquette
Respect the dreads. Marquette has won its two tournament games by 20 and 9 points, and forward Jae Crowder is a huge reason why. Scrappy and hyper-athletic, Crowder has 42 points and 29 rebounds so far. That’s the most boards of any player in the tourney, and top-20 scoring.
6. Robbie Hummel, Senior Forward, Purdue
Ladies and gentleman, we present you: the Victorian novel that is Robbie Hummel. After tearing his ACL in two consecutive seasons, the 23-year-old senior sealed an incredible comeback by dropping 22 points in the first half last night against 2-seed Kansas. Although he couldn’t get 10-seeded Purdue past the Jayhawks at the end of the day, Hummel’s resilience is easily one of the best stories of the Dance so far.
7. Elijah Johnson, Junior Guard, Kansas
Speaking of Purdue-Kansas, the Jayhawks’ tandem of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor — as good as any guard-forward pair in the country — struggled massively against the Boilermakers, and Kansas won anyway. Much of the credit for that can go to Elijah Johnson, who logged 38 minutes, scored 18 points, and had a steal-layup that put Kansas ahead for only the second time — and for good.
8. Teams From The Great State Of Ohio (Xavier, Ohio University, The Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati)
Ohio stand up. The swing-state has four teams in the Sweet 16, making it the first to ever accomplish such a feat. Of the four, 13-seed Ohio University and 10-seed Xavier are two of the three Cinderellas left, and 2-seed Ohio State has a legitimate shot at the national championship — provided they can get past 6-seed Cincinnati.
9. President Barack Obama
We challenged President Obama to a bracket pick-off before the tournament, and while we’ve picked a respectable 10 Sweet 16 teams, the commander-in-chief has us beat: 11 of his Sweet 16 picks were correct, putting him in the 98th percentile. Although his bracket is all chalk, with seven Elite Eight choices coming from one- and two-seeds, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due — he wisely shunned Duke in favor of Baylor, and we all know how that turned out.
10. And Charles Barkley (of course)
Charles Barkley hears “Hardcore Pawn,” and what do you think it reminds him of?