With the Final Four just over 24 hours away, we turn to the greatest early April tradition in sports: Palestra Back’s March Madness All-Handsome Team.
For those new to this wonderful exercise, this started as a joke among a group of dudes watching the NCAA Tournament in a college dorm room, more years ago than I’d like to admit. Now it has a home on this website, where we take time each year to discuss and appreciate the best looking, most handsome, hottest, hunkiest, studliest, most attractive players in the men’s NCAA Tournament. Joining me as always are a few friends (Eddie and Stan) and my wife (Emily), to keep us in line.
For those who are very familiar with the All-Handsome Team, welcome back to another year of buff bros and pretty boys. When I started compiling a list of contenders during the early rounds of tournament play, I was worried that we had a weak class on our hands. After two more weeks of play and some vigorous research on Google and Instagram, I feel like this group stacks up with some of the great scintillating squads of the past.
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
Shane: It’s good to start out with someone we can rely on. Our only returning member of the 2021 class is also one of the flat-out spunkiest hunks we’ve ever had on our hands. If and when (?) we did an All-Handsome Best of the Decade Team, Agbaji would likely find a spot there. Thousand-watt smile, built like a racehorse, symmetrical as the day is long and thanks to the bozos in Washington working to pass never-ending Daylight Savings Time, the day is very damn long.
Eddie: A. As I lay my head to sleep last night with anticipation for contributing to this and visions of handsome men dancing in my head, I thought to myself, how long have we been doing this? When will we do the All-Handsome Hall of Fame? All-Decade team could work too.
B. What type of monster is against daylight savings time?
C. Last year I compliented this man’s shoulders. This year I will do the same AND swoon over his smile. With that look on his face mid-game you can consider yourself Allstate because you are in good hands both on and off the court.
Stan: I have spent the one and a half Kansas games I watched this year doing the Leo pointing meme every time Ochai is on the screen trying to show my wife how handsome he is. She’s always on her phone and never catches him. Her loss, he’s an all-timer.
Emily: Just like last year, I want to point out his great eyebrows! He’s very handsome and I’m glad to have a guy back from last year. As an experienced vet in the All-Handsome game, it’s nice to see the guys coming back and grow into their handsomeness.
Peter Kiss, Bryant
Shane: Tough one here. Peter Kiss does not photograph as a pure stud. There’s something lost in translation between him on screen and him in a picture. But I’ll stand up for Kiss, mainly because the thing that is getting lost in translation is the fact that he’s an utter psycho on the basketball court. He also led the nation in scoring. He’s a hooper, no doubt about it.
In the NEC title game, he went absolutely bonko, raining 3s and dunks and stuntin’ on Wagner:
Potentially related: That game nearly ended early when a fight broke out in the stands that spilled onto the court. Did Peter Kiss ignite the fight? Is it even worth fighting over a guy if he isn’t handsome? You be the judge.
Stan: A deeper Google image/highlights search shows that not only is his haircut awful, but he had a gross chin patch too. He looks like skinny Gronk, which isn’t a compliment. The man has a nice hesi pull up jimbo though: real hoopers know.
Emily: I like that you guys use the word “hooper.” I like it. Hooper! Well, hooper or not, I’m proud he nixed that soul patch he used to have. That thing is impossible to forget. Good decision, Peter!
Eddie: I may be coming in hot with lists but I have things to address:
- With hooper in the public lexicon now, I need to hear people yelling variations of this at basketball games into the future:
- I am proud to say I got a high school rec league game ended almost five minutes early because I elbowed a kid in the gut for some shenanigans during a free throw. Did anyone in the gym see me do it? Nope. But chaos erupted and the refs called the game. Were we down at least 30 points and I was mostly mad because I couldn’t indiscriminately chuck as many threes because of the running clock during the kid’s free throw antics? Yes. Can you blame a hooper like me? Of course not. (Editor’s note: Eddie is decidedly not a hooper.)
- I don’t think this man is handsome.
Sam Mennega, Davidson
Shane: Is this dude like, handsome handsome, like in the dictionary? Or is he just ripped and tan? This is not the All-Ripped and Tan Team, although maybe there’s an audience for that. You never know on the internet these days.
Stan: You did Sam quite the favor with that photo selection. Gotta give it to him, the man is shredded, but when he’s not flexing he looks like a 13-year old Ike Barinholtz when he’s rocking his middle part haircut. No thanks.
Emily: Middle part haircuts are in! Don’t be such a cheugy millennial, bro. Have you seen him with the side part? It’s middle or bust for Sam. I want to know more about the tan. Is it natural? Or does he have a spray tan contact that he could share?
Eddie: I clicked on that link Emily and I almost lost my lunch, and it’s 9 AM as I write this so I haven’t eaten lunch yet. That’s right, this man is so ugly he almost forced me to preemptively vomit up food I haven’t eaten yet. Talk all you want about parting hair different ways or putting on muscle, you either have it or you don’t and this young man is a hard don’t, perhaps the hardest don’t on record. Am I too mean? Maybe the better question is was Simon Cowell too mean on American Idol. Or was Jenna Maroney too mean on America’s Kidz Got Singing? Many people would say yes to all three.
Xavier Johnson, Indiana
Shane: I think the thing that people (read: my co-collaborators here) don’t appreciate about creating the All-Handsome Team is the lack of posed or appropriate photos of these guys available. There’s a lot of pictures of Xavier Johnson online, dating back to his days at Pitt. In most of them, he’s driving to the cup and making a goofy, frowny face that screams “I am currently playing basketball. It is not my intention to look handsome right now.”
I think that stinks. Smile! Pose! Maybe a wink? Wouldn’t kill you, X-man.
Stan: Xavier has the quiet confidence of a man who knows he is about to take you on the best date you have been on in years. A nice sushi dinner, followed by a serene walk along the water to a trendy but not too trendy cocktail bar with an excellent jazz quartet providing the background music. The conversation is effortless. You sense you’re not the first person he’s taken here, and maybe you won’t be the last. But tonight that doesn’t matter. Tonight, you’re in the moment with Xavier and the moment is perfect.
Emily: Wow, that date sounds great to me. If it’s with Xavier? Even better. All-Handsome for sure.
Eddie: As for Xavier, I may be biased because my nephew/god son’s name is Xavier, but when I scrolled down to his picture before even seeing his name, I reflexively said out loud to myself, “This is more like it.” The man is handsome. No bones about it. If he doesn’t want to smile he doesn’t have to, Shane (down with the patriarchy).
I also like that his arms are approachably muscular. None of that overcompensating for his gross face that Sam is doing above. He works out but it’s not his life. I am his life.
Tyson Walker, Michigan State
Shane: Wife Pick! This one is an Emily selection. She noticed Tyson after he hit the game-winning three to beat Purdue. Was she watching the game? Not really. When our relationship first started sometime in the late 17th century, Emily would ask for me to tell her when the game reached the final two minutes so she could enjoy the end. Well, generations of our lives have passed and now she exclusively wants to be informed when one of the two teams has a possession to win the game. There she sees either her favorite thing about basketball (a buzzer-beater) or least favorite (overtime, which just means more game).
Anyway, Tyson drilled a step-back three to beat a top five team and she pointed out his model good-looks, smooth skin, and sharp angles. He’s handsome.
Stan: Picturing Emily running a bizzaro-Buffalo Wild Wings operation where she puts in calls to the powers that be to make sure the buzzer-beater goes in so Shane doesn’t get to yell at the TV for 5 more minutes. Tyson doesn’t do it for me, though I see the appeal.
Emily: Well, first off, based on the 25 seconds I saw him play basketball, this guy is a hooper. As for his looks and my recommendation, Tyson is giving off All-Handsome Team potential. I like that he doesn’t look like a basketball player. He’s got A-List actor vibes. Catch him at the Oscars, but keep him away from the Pinkett-Smith family table.
Eddie: Emily has watching basketball nailed. Just show me the last possession or two. Overtime isn’t bad though because it’s an excuse to open another beer and not pay attention again until the last possession or two. I think Tyson is pretty run-of-the-mill. Could you do worse? Sure. But could you do better? No doubt. In fairness to Tyson, that heinous Michigan State font combo on the front of his jersey is not helping in the least.
Tucker Richardson, Colgate
Shane: This is a tough one when you dig into the background research. Right now? I think he’s a looker. In the past, he’s been a little softer looking. Maybe it was just the addition of the faintest five of the clock shadow that morphed him from boy to man.
Stan: *Assumes everyone has watched all 38 seasons of MTV’s The Challenge multiple times* Tucker is really giving me Dustin Zito vibes here, which means he’s disastrously underrated. He’s handsome as long as he’s not doing weird late 2000s stuff with his hair. He’s on the cut line for me.
Emily: Hmmmm. Stan, he might look like Dustin Zito, but…so do you? So where does that leave us? I’m confused because you don’t look like Tucker. Dustin Zito is the mid-point between you.
Eddie: Googled Tucker and said, again to myself in an empty room, “Oh he’s cute, oh he’s cute” based on this photo. If you look good in your team headshot, you’re handsome because they can make even the most handsome men look absurd (just look at how truly horrendous Tom Brady looks in some of his early headshots for proof). The best part about Tucker is that he is becoming better looking with age. High school Tucker? Certified uggo. For now, I make Tucker the captain of the All-Cute team, but give him a few years, let him hit his 30s and he will be Grand Marshall of the All-Handsome parade.
Bennedict Mathurin, Arizona
Shane: I would NEVER use a big name player with NBA Draft buzz to juke the stats of the All-Handsome Team. Does my day job involve website page views and search engine optimization? That’s not important. What is important is that ol’ Benny boy is a smooth, silky drop of maple syrup, sliding down from North of the border to bless our televisions.
Stan: Bennedict? More like I been-addicted to looking up pictures of that million dollar smile. I don’t know what I am doing here anymore, he is fairly handsome.
Emily: Ah, a Canadian in Arizona. I support Arizona alumni, like our guy Nick Foles, but Bennedict is a double threat: a hooper-hunker.
Eddie: Did you know Canadians call the garbage disposal the garburator? Some also pronounce the first syllable in pasta like the word “past”. These are the things you learn when you are betrothed to genuine Canadian. Was the way she pronounced pasta almost a deal breaker for our relationship a month or so in? Maybe. It definitely gave me pause and it wasn’t until I realized it was because she is Canadian that I felt comfortable with it.
Anyways, Canadians are cool. Benedict is alright.
Tyler Burton, Richmond
Shane: Interesting corollary here. I generally try to avoid just using the school sanctioned headshot for a guy’s picture. That’s not really the nature of the beast. This concept is about who catches your eye on the court. We can’t, however, ignore that’s a damn fine headshot. Photoshop out the jersey and put him in a weird purple V-neck sweater out of 2011 and the man would look ready for a bio page before an upcoming season of The Bachelorette.
Between the lines? Not too shabby either:
Stan: I gasped when I saw the headshot. The deeper dive is a bit disappointing. With a strong crop this year I think Tyler just misses the cut. If he goes back to school for his senior year to work on his body a bit, I think he could make a run at the squad next year.
Emily: Oh he’s hunky. A guy his height walking around Richmond’s campus? That’s sure to turn heads.
Eddie: My thoughts on a good headshot are already well established and I second those Bachelor vibes. Should Michelle’s season have just been basketball players who were hand picked from All-Handsome teams of the past? 100%. Is Tyler here for the right reasons? Harder to say, but if the reason he is here is to be handsome, then I would say yes.
Jeremy Roach, Duke
Shane: Another headshot, I know. But another scorcher! That looks like the cast photo in a Broadway production of Rent. I’ve never seen Rent on Broadway but I sat through Tick, Tick…boom! (and enjoyed portions of it), so I feel like I can comment here.
Why has Jeremy Roach not stood out to me before this week? Is it because I spent all last year perilously confused about him and teammate DJ Steward, fully unsure of who was who and who did what? Yeah, that’s probably it. In the win over Texas Tech, he played great but that’s not our concern — he looked dashing as well.
Stan: I think we just disproved the multiverse because there is no reality where Jeremy is not on the squad.
Emily: What’s a multi-verse?
Eddie: The multiverse is real because in this reality I am going to leave Jeremy off my team just to spite Stan. Deal with it.
Emily: Also want to jump back in and say I did not enjoy Tick, tick…boom, or really any musical. I think Jeremy has good eyes and eye-lashes. Captivating!
Eddie: Musicals can be good! Don’t you sit here and tell me you don’t just love a good reprise. I live for the reprise.
Emily: What’s a reprise?
Russell Stong, UCLA
Shane: Not a typo. His last name is Stong. Hmmmm. Stong. Sounds like an Eastern European soup. Anyway, this is also another headshot. Sorry, it’s mostly all we got from the Stonger. He doesn’t play much. He has five total points in four years. But LA legend Bill Plaschke wrote a column about Stong’s cult celebrity status as the fun walk-on. Shrug. I was always more of a Tim Cowlishaw man myself.
Stong’s Instagram might help our panel decide. I feel like he’ll be TikTok famous by 2023. Living in a Hype House. Hobnobbing with Bryson Dechambeau and Malala. Hell yeah.
Stan: He’s an Eddie Haskell lookin’ [redacted] in that headshot, but I appreciate the direction to the Insta. He is HandZome with a capital Gen Z, there is no doubt about it. Would love to see Stong IV on the next season of Twenty Somethings.
Emily: Wow, very punny, Stan. I don’t know much about Gen Z and I don’t know anything about Tik Tok, but I know Stong’s a cutie. He’s got some serious locks and I wonder how they’d hold up if he got some playing time.
Eddie: Is anyone else getting Mac Jones vibes here? It’s in the eyebrows and the eyes a bit. I could see them being brothers. At the very least they are the same brand of kind of doofy looking guy that some people find cute. No word on whether Russel likes to house a spaghetti dinner before games like an absolute psycho like Mac but it seems possible. The reality is, he and Mac have a vibe that just isn’t for me. Take away the D1 athlete bump and be honest with yourself, at best just a normal looking guy.
Brock Cunningham, Texas
Shane: An all-time One Photo All-Star. Look at that picture!
He looks like a bad guy in the Twilight series. Now, do a little digging and you’ll see our man Brock has some ears on him and kind of looks like if a Pixar character came to life. I don’t know. The internet seems to think the dad from Inside Out is bae or whatever the kids say. Maybe I’m just attracted to Brock’s Glue Guy game and team first mentality. Maybe I’m running out of steam here.
Stan: Brock looking like a carbon copy of Caleb Wendt in this picture, but unfortunately doesn’t hold up on further digging. Gonna be a pass for me, but hopefully he has a future in music, acting and studded-belt make like our man Caleb.
Emily: I don’t know what any of you are saying. Who is Caleb? What is glue game? Let’s put this analogy into terms the ladies will understand: This guy’s got Gossip Girl vibes all over him. XOXO.
Eddie: What year does this guy think it is with that haircut? 2007? Get it together Caleb and get the hell out of here thinking you’re handsome.
Jabari Smith, Auburn
Shane: Remember the thing I said about not picking guys just for NBA Draft stock and search engine clicks? Eh, maybe that was a tiebreaker for our man Jabari. Screw it, let’s go all in. Jabari Smith NBA Draft Mock Draft Fantasy Basketball girlfriend dunk instagram highlights what time is the super bowl bill self toupee? There that oughta do it. Welcome, new readers!
Stan: I wanted to sneak Jabari onto my ballot but he’s missing a little sizzle with that steak. He’s handsome, I am just not sure he’s All-Handsome
Emily: I gotta disagree here. He’s very stately looking! Like, regal. Royalty, I’d say. He’s got a spot on my squad. And based on some context clues, I assume he’s also a hooper.
Eddie: Easily the best picture ever chosen for this exercise in all its years. Jabari is oozing confidence, charm, and masculinity as he points directly at my heart. I love him? I love him.
The 2022 March Madness All-Handsome Team
G: Jeremy Roach, Duke
G: Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
G: Xavier Johnson, Indiana
F: Tucker Richardson, Colgate
F: Jabari Smith, Auburn
Off the Bench: Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona), Tyler Burton (Richmond)
Shane: I say it every year, but damn, that’s at least a Sweet Sixteen team right there. Maybe a little small and weird to have the Pac-12 Player of the Year come off the bench, yet I’m loving what I’m seeing, both aesthetically and on the court.
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and senior writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to ESPN.com, The Action Network, Rush The Court, Larry Brown Sports, RotoBaller, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. You can find every post from this blog on Twitter by following @PalestraBack.