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.
Shaka Smart, VCU
Shaka Smart is not a basketball player. Shaka Smart is the most important name on this list. Smart is the head coach of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams and as long as he’s on the sidelines, VCU has a chance to defeat any team they play against. Though the Rams haven’t played the toughest schedule in the nation, they are 2-1 against the ranked teams they have faced this year. They split with St. Louis and defeated ACC champs Virginia in Charlottesville–Wisconsin is the only other team to defeat UVA at home this season.
Smart’s combination of basketball IQ, and mind-boggling press and athletes at every position makes VCU the perfect storm of a Cinderella team. So hope your team doesn’t end up drawing VCU in the second or third rounds as that might signal an early exit for your favorite team.
JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova
The Villanova Wildcats have fallen to the side in terms of national media attention. After beginning the year as everyone’s favorite underdogs thanks to wins over Kansas and Iowa, they seem to be getting overlooked once again. That’s not a problem for bruising forward JayVaughn Pinkston. At just 6-7, Pinkston plays much bigger and is a consistent threat to get a double-double. If the Wildcats ever need a basket they station the junior forward on the block and force feed him until the opposing team finds a way to slow him down.
Caris LeVert, Michigan
With Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. leaving for the NBA and losing Mitch McGary for the year to a back injury, this was supposed to be a down year for the Wolverines. Following their Tuesday night rout of Illinois, the Big Blue is officially your 2014 Big Ten regular season champions. A big reason for Michigan’s surprising season was the development of two sophomore wing players, Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. While Stauskas was already a known man after his three-point shooting helped take the Wolverines to the national title game, LeVert was merely a blip on the screen of the national runner up’s roster last season. This year LeVert is the team’s second leading scorer, 13.4 PPG, and his ability to handle the ball and get into the paint have been big pluses for John Beilein‘s team this year.
Jordan Adams, UCLA
The UCLA Bruins haven’t been in the limelight for their play on the court in quite some time. However, under new coach Steve Alford, that could all be changing. With the non-positional Kyle Anderson leading the charge, and the athletically mystifying Zach LaVine off the bench, the Bruins have the talent to compete this year. The biggest name to pay attention to is that of wide-bodied scorer Jordan Adams. Adams can get the ball into the basket in any way possible… jump shots, floaters, you name it, Adams can do it.
As an encore to an impressive freshman season that saw Adams average 15.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 2.2 SPG, the Georgia product upped his averages across the board this year (17.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 2.9 SPG). If the Bruins want to make a run in the NCAAs this year, they will need Adams to continue to find ways to put the ball in the hoop.
Shabazz Napier, UConn
The Connecticut Huskies are fresh off their one-year academic ban from the postseason and have hit the ground running this season. They currently sit tied for third in the American Athletic Conference and Kevin Ollie continues to look like the perfect replacement to Huskies great Jim Calhoun. One of the biggest reasons for the Huskies great year has been the return and play of senior guard Shabazz Napier. Napier has done everything for the Huskies: scoring, 18.1 PPG; rebounding, 5.9 RPG; passing, 5.3 APG and defending, 1.9 SPG. He is the heart and soul of this team and is the engine that makes UConn go. If there’s any player with the potential to have a Stephen Curry/Jimmer Fredette run in the tournament, it’s number 13 for Connecticut.
Who do you think will come out of nowhere in March?
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