It’s March and that means madness is quickly approaching. With conference tournaments already underway–Big South, Northeast–it’s time we start looking toward the Big Dance.
Every year the NCAA Tournament is full of upsets, buzzer-beaters, heartbreak, stars, breakout performers, the whole nine yards. This year won’t be any different. The attention of the entire country will shift onto 18-22-year-old kids for weeks on end.
While some will be rooting solely for their alma maters, nearly everyone will have a bracket of some sort filled out. Whether it’s for a contest amongst friends or competing against coworkers, there’s some type of investment from just about every person.
Everyone has heard of the big name freshmen (Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle and Tyler Ennis) and teams like UNC, Duke, Syracuse, Kentucky and Arizona have been in the news all season long. What makes the madness so exhilarating is seeing the teams and players that you don’t hear much about get their 15 minutes of fame. Dime is here to help you in your quest to field the best bracket possible this year. With that in mind, here’s a list of ten names you should know before filling out your picks.
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Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
The star player for the Shockers was one of the breakout performers of last year’s tournament. Early helped lead Wichita State on a Cinderella run that was only halted by the eventual NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals in the Final Four. As a senior, Early has increased his field goal percentage (46.3 percent), three-point percentage (35.8 percent), free throw percentage (84.8 percent), rebounds (5.9 RPG) and points (15.8 PPG). The lanky and springy 6-8 forward is the key to the Shockers’ success. When Early is playing at a high level it makes Wichita State the best team in the state of Kansas.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
The Virginia Cavaliers won their first ACC Regular Season Championship since Ralph Sampson was patrolling the paint in Charlottesville. However, this year’s team is much more perimeter oriented. Led by senior and All-ACC stud Joe Harris, the Cavaliers have built an impressive resume that includes a 16-1 record in ACC play. However, Harris hasn’t even been the team’s best player this season. That honor goes to sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon leads the team in scoring (12.6 PPG) and is second in both rebounding (5.6 RPG) and assists (2.5 APG). Brogdon’s also has played his best in the Cavaliers’ biggest games. A week ago in the ACC-clinching victory against Syracuse, he scored 19 points, grabbed five boards and dished out five dimes, too.
Michael Frazier II, Florida
The Florida Gators are sitting pretty in early March. They sit atop both the SEC and the AP rankings, the first time Billy Donovan‘s team has been ranked No. 1 since Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer were cutting down nets in 2007.
Donovan once again has a roster full of talent at just about every position. Players like Casey Prather, Dorian Finney-Smith, Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young and Will Yeguete have provided both experience and leadership that have folks in Gainesville giddy about their team’s chances this year.
Fresh off an awe-inspiring 37-point performance against South Carolina, which included 11 threes, Frazier II is looking like the x-factor to the Gators’ sustained success. Frazier II is knocking down bombs from deep at a 44.1 percent clip this year and that’s actually a drop from his freshman season when he was making an absurd 46.8 percent. In his two years at Florida, Frazier II has proven that he can shoot with anyone and that will be counted on if the Gators are looking to get to Arlington this season.
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The Iowa Hawkeyes were the bandwagon of choice during the first part of the season. They entered Big Ten play with an 11-2 record and their two losses were by a combined eight points. But after beating Penn State on February 15, Iowa went on a three-game losing streak. But a win on Sunday over Purdue has the Hawkeyes back on the right side of things. One of the reasons for the emergence of the Hawkeyes has been the play of 6-6 senior guard Roy Devyn Marble. He is the definition of a complete player, there really isn’t anything that he has a problem doing on a basketball court. His stat sheet backs that up: 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 43.1 FG percentage and 37.3 percent from deep.
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Sean Kilpatrick is the best senior in college basketball. The 6-4 Yonkers, New York, product has lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a 14-3 conference record, good for a tie for first place in the American Athletic Conference standings. While it’s been head coach Mick Cronin and his never-back-down attitude that have garnered SportsCenter’s attention of late, Kilpatrick has been on a scoring binge. In the last five games, Kilpatrick has averaged 25.8 PPG. Since enrolling at Cincinnati in 2010, Kilpatrick has seen his scoring output jump every year.
Cincinnati is a hard-nosed, gritty team and they have the length, athletes and attitude to shut anyone down defensively. However, on the other end of the floor, it all starts with Kilpatrick and his ability to stroke the rock.