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Evans Seven: The Final Four's most important players

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Cassius Winston
Cassius Winston (AP Images)

It's what every player in America works toward: the Final Four and having the chance to cut down the nets on Monday night. In this week’s Evans Seven, we look at the seven most important players who will hit the floor this weekend and how each program landed them.

MORE: College coaches' Final Four predictions | Top 10 one-and-done players of the past 10 years


The head of the snake in East Lansing, Winston led the Big 10 in assists while also sitting among the best nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. Not just a facilitating agent, Winston averaged close to 19 points per game, all while making over 40 percent of his perimeter attempts. There are not many others as sturdy and as efficient as Winston, and he's a big part of the reason why the Spartans are still dancing.

How he got here: Winston was Tom Izzo’s guy from day one. The Spartans prioritized the class of 2016, in-state prospect early on, and while there was some back-and-forth between Winston and now-Michigan standout Zavier Simpson, the Spartans knew they needed to hit it out of the park at the lead guard position. Winston’s commitment turned into what might be their best point guard since Mateen Cleaves, and while Miles Bridges garnered most of the spotlight from the 2016 class, Winston looks to have been Michigan State's most crucial recruit.


De'Andre Hunter
De'Andre Hunter (AP Images)

Arguably the best long-term prospect suiting up in Minneapolis this weekend, Hunter has all the tools of a versatile, multi-positional forward that the NBA has come to covet. Last year’s early exit at the hands of UMBC came with a caveat: UVA did not have Hunter due to injury. Now healthy, Hunter is the X-factor who has put the Cavaliers over the top. He is averaging over 14 points and five rebounds and is likely an early pick in June’s NBA Draft.

How he got here: Hunter was a relatively big-time recruit early on in high school. An injury shelved him for practically his entire sophomore year, but he had a tremendous senior summer on the travel circuit. Virginia’s skill development, system and fit was too much for the hometown Villanova program to overcome, allowing Tony Bennett to land maybe his best pro prospect yet.


Jarrett Culver
Jarrett Culver (AP Images)

Culver could be the next in line to be selected after the Zion-Ja-RJ triumvirate in June’s NBA Draft - and for good reason. A solid role guy his freshman season, Culver has developed into one of the most lethal offensive weapons in college basketball, sitting atop of KenPom’s player-of-the-year rankings. There isn't much that he can't do on either side of the floor. Culver is one of the best, if not the best, two-way players in America.

How he got here: Culver has grown over two inches and filled out during his time in Lubbock, but it was not like college interest was in short supply during his high school days. The heavy hitters came on late for the three-star prospect, as Baylor, Illinois, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas all pursued him. However, he bought into being a catalyst for change at Texas Tech, paving the way for the Red Raiders' first Final Four appearance.


Kyle Guy
Kyle Guy (AP Images)

Guy has been Virginia’s heartbeat over the past three years. Despite struggling to shoot the ball with efficiency this month, the Cavaliers would be nowhere near the sport’s grandest stage if it wasn’t for him. He is the type of guard who can score in a variety of ways, and he has shot close to 40 percent from 3-point range during his three-year college stay. He upped his averages across the board each season in Charlottesville.

How he got here: Guy is Tony Bennett’s lone McDonald’s All-American recruit thus far. Guy bought in early to Bennett’s sell, picking the Cavaliers over in-state Indiana and Butler, Iowa, Iowa State and NC State. Guy committed after an unofficial visit to Charlottesville in the fall of his junior year. As early of a commitment as that was, Guy was actually the second member of their 2016 class, following Ty Jerome’s pledge a month earlier.


Jared Harper
Jared Harper (AP Images)

He didn’t find his name on the All-SEC First Team this month, but that hasn’t stopped Harper from helping Auburn win 11 of its past 12 games, thanks to his quickness and fearlessness at the point guard position. He is a more-than-capable shooter, but he is at his best as a playmaking agent. Averaging nearly six assists and 15 points per game, Harper is the engine to Bruce Pearl’s program. Without him, the Tigers would be nowhere near Minneapolis at this point in time.

How he got here: Some questioned the legitimacy of Harper in high school because his size - or lack thereof. But Pearl targeted him before his national breakout during his senior summer, as he picked up Harper’s commitment in March of his junior year. Kansas State and Ole Miss were the only other power conference programs involved as Auburn primarily beat out a bevy of mid-majors for the standout producer.


Ty Jerome
Ty Jerome (AP Images)

Ty Jerome isn't the best of athletes, but if there was one prospect who is tailor-made for what Tony Bennett looks for in his guards Jerome would be that guy. The team’s top facilitating agent can create for himself and others, all while providing his fair share of intensity, both as an offensive weapon and on the defensive end. Jerome has been a model of efficiency at UVA, and he averaged over 13 points, five assists and four rebounds this season. He is an All-American who has improved each year at Virginia.

How he got here: Jerome had just begun his junior high school year before he decided to end his college recruitment. George Washington and a bevy of Ivy League programs were among the programs that Bennett defeated for the Iona Prep product's commitment. Bennett’s keen eye and early investment in Jerome helped pave the way for Virginia’s inclusion in this year’s Final Four.


One of the sneakier guard standouts in the college game this season, Brown has been the team’s X-Factor during the stretch run this month. He has made over three 3-pointers per game while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc. He has scored in double figures nine straight games and made close to half of his 3-pointers in the NCAA Tournament, all while pitching in 18 points per game and playing 33 minutes during the most pressure-packed time of the year.

How he got here: Brown was ready to attend Charlotte, as he committed to the program in the fall of his senior year. However, his eyes were always on Auburn, and after the Tigers missed out on soon-to-be Cincinnati standout wing Jacob Evans, Brown decided to hold off from signing, picked up an Auburn offer and then quickly accepted thereafter. The rest is history, as Brown went from potentially playing in Conference USA to playing on the biggest stage in college basketball Saturday evening.