Top 12 NCAA tourney players

Cleanthony Early among best performers of the first weekend

Updated: March 25, 2014, 6:02 PM ET
By Jay Bilas | ESPN Insider

Cleanthony Early Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsCleanthony Early scored 54 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in two NCAA tournament games.

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament was what we have come to expect: overtime games; upsets in the round of 64; some semblance of order being restored in the round of 32; a few close games; a few blowouts; a few well-played, great games; a few close but poorly played games. It all blends together to produce the most compelling and lengthy college basketball bender of the year.

Then there were the players, who fought, scrapped and competed their tails off, some performing at extraordinarily high levels. A dozen caught my attention specifically and prompted yet another list: the top performers of the opening weekend of the tournament.

Without any further preamble, here's who most impressed me most through Sunday's action:


1. Cleanthony Early | F | Wichita State Shockers

Players usually don't get accolades after a loss, but Early was the best player in the first weekend of play. In two games, the versatile, stretch big averaged 27.0 points and 7.0 rebounds while hitting 21 of 32 field goal attempts, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range. Early hit big shot after big shot, ran the floor and defended at a high level. For anyone who doubted whether Wichita State had any pros, the Shockers did. Early is an NBA player and was magnificent in the tournament.


2. Shabazz Napier | G | Connecticut Huskies

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst