That time of year we all love so dearly is finally here–it’s March, folks. Once a year we crowd around our television sets and engulf ourselves with endless brackets to get a glimpse of potential upsets and stars of tomorrow. So who are they?
Every year, there are players that are perhaps the center of their teams and flourish in the face of adversity. That said, these are 25 players that deserve your attention during this year’s NCAA tournament because let’s be honest, they are a big deal. So while you watch the NCAA tournament, make sure you’re paying attention to these 25 names.
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25. Montrezl Harrell
Harrell’s athletic 6-8 frame has the potential to be a force in the tourney. Throughout the season he has blossomed into a superior athlete and bonified defensive force. The leader on the defensive end for the Cards, you can bet he will be the difference maker for the team.
24. T.J. Warren
The ACC’s leading scorer is riding off a spectacular ACC tournament and besides being the leading scorer, his efficiency is not that bad, either. Potentially a Cinderella team, N.C. State will look to Warren to lead them through the tournament.
23. DeAndre Kane
Kane might be the nation’s most versatile player… and yet most of the people reading this probably haven’t seen much of him. During his first season with Iowa State, Kane averaged 17 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He’s a big, physical guard at 6-4 and 200 pounds and heads one of the most explosive offenses you’ll see this weekend. The Cyclones are a trendy Final Four pick and Kane is one of the biggest reasons why.
22. Sam Dekker
Sam Decker is a potential NBA prospect who can shoot the three or drive to the hoop. His versatility makes him a tough person to guard but his willingness to get his team involved makes him that much better.
21. Sim Bhullar
Possibly the hidden gem of the NCAA tournament, the 7-5 (you read right) Sim Bhullar is playing his best basketball going into the tournament. He has the ability to put his massive frame to work and possibly be the biggest force in the tournament this year, not to mention, he is averaging a mere 3.3 blocks a game. Look out for the big fella–he has the ability to beast his way through the tournament.
20. Joe Harris
“He’s a shooter” is a phrase much of the ACC got accustomed to this season and Joe Harris was the reason behind that expression. To simply put it: Joe Harris shot lights-out and is a focal point on opposing team’s scouting reports. With Virginia grabbing a No. 1 seed, look for Joe Harris to continue to push Virginia deep into the tourney.
19. Briante Weber
When you have a player that specializes in defense, and in turn, a whole team that does the same, you have the opportunity to run the table. With VCU’s Briante Weber, his defense will be the biggest component in VCU’s success in the tournament. Leading the country in steals, Briante is a nightmare that will propel VCU’s “Havoc” defense and take them far into March.
18. Sean Kilpatrick
Pound-for-pound the toughest player in the AAC this season, Sean Kilpatrick is the Bearcat you need to pay attention to in this tournament. The All-American lead the Bearcats to a share of the American Athletic Conference title while averaging 20-plus points a game. While shooting 42 percent and staying productive from all areas of the floor, Sean Kilpatrick will be a tough matchup for opposing guards.
17. Russ Smith
Russ Smith, a.k.a Russ-diculous, is one of the premier players in this tournament. The senior guard can affect the game in so many ways, whether through his scoring or passing, and can potentially have the Cards cutting down the nets once again.
16. Shabazz Napier
The big question is if he can channel Kemba Walker and lead this Huskies team to an NCAA title. The senior point guard will have one more chance to take this team to a title and it will be interesting to see if he can pull it off.
15. Marcus Paige
With UNC’s scoring load practically falling on the shoulders of the young point guard, it will be interesting to see how he will help UNC navigate through the tournament. If leading the team in points (17.4) and assists (4.3) isn’t enough, Marcus Paige will have to lead the team through a tough East bracket.
14. Melvin Ejim
The 48-point man will definitely be a force in the tournament. With Iowa State ooking to steamroll their success from the Big 12 tournament into March, Melvin Ejim will be a player to watch out for.
13. Aaron Craft
Highly regarded as the best on-ball defender, Aaron Craft has a chance to take the Ohio State Buckeyes back to Final Four dreams. The definition of a leader, Craft holds the Big Ten’s all-time record in steals and will be a terror to get past in the tourney. Look for Craft to erase the dreadful Big Ten tourney loss to the Michigan Wolverines and get the Buckeyes back and rolling.
12. Adreian Payne
Now that he is at 100 percent, the Spartans are looking real good… like Final Four good. Payne’s ability to handle the rock and score from the perimeter makes him so deadly, not to mention he is an absolute beast inside. Watch out for the Spartans, but more importantly Adreian Payne, to leave a mark in the tournament.
11. C.J. Fair
C.J. Fair’s decision to come back to the Orange for a senior season is a big component in their success. The John Wooden Award nominee led Syracuse to a 25-0 start as he’s an example of seniors being important to a team. C.J. Fair will definitely be a player to hone in on this tournament.
10. Joel Embiid
Possibly the biggest difference-maker for Kansas, Joel Embiid has the ability to practically change the outcome for KU if he is healthy. Battling injury right now, KU’s future depends solely on the play/return of Joel Embiid.
9. Rodney Hood
Possibly the most consistent player on the Duke roster, Rodney Hood will be difficult player for opposing guards due to his scoring and athletic ability. His athleticism is unmatched and will likely be asked to guard the best players on opposing teams. Watch out for Rodney Hood.
8. Scottie Wilbekin
There is a reason why coming into the NCAA tourney the Florida Gators are the top overall seed in the tourney. There is no question that the fuel behind this impressive Gators team is their point guard. The SEC Player of the Year is averaging 13 ppg and his leadership will be a clutch proponent if Florida wants to cut the nets down.
7. Wichita State’s Whole Team
It’s clear Wichita State is the team everybody is focusing on in the tournament. Despite going undefeated, their schedule still showed doubt in whether or not they were as good as their record. Ending up in perhaps the toughest region, it will be interesting to see if they can get through the gauntlet and show doubters they are “the” team to beat.
6. Aaron Gordon
Well, now we get to the big fella out West in Aaron Gordon. There are not that many words that can describe his athleticism, but look for Aaron to take the Arizona Wildcats deep into the tourney. He didn’t get as much notoriety as the other freshman phenoms this season but look for him to use this platform to raise his game and show why he should be mentioned with the likes of Randle, Wiggins and Parker.
5. Julius Randle
One word to describe him is “beast”. The 6-9 bruiser has been the shining star for the Kentucky Wildcats and his aggressiveness makes him a terror down low. His leadership will be crucial for the young Kentucky team and with him playing at the highest level, he can take them far.
4. Doug McDermott
Well, this was a pretty obvious entry, wouldn’t you say? Perhaps the most talked about player this season, Doug McDermott now has the platform to raise his game as well as his NBA stock. Currently ranking fifth on the all-time points list, Doug McDermott has accomplished a lot this season but it’s clear he is not done yet. With Doug McDermott firing on all cylinders, the Creighton Bluejays will be hard to beat.
3. Andrew Wiggins
With potential big man Joel Embiid’s playing time lingering on a cliff, Andrew Wiggins will be looked to take Kansas deep into the tournament. Wiggins is a vital part to Kansas’ overall scoring output and their Final Four dreams depend on the production of the young freshman.
2. Jabari Parker
The Wayman Tisdale Award winner was clearly the most exciting freshman to watch this season. It’s going to be even more exciting to see how productive he will be in this year’s NCAA tourney. If leading Duke in scoring and rebounds as a freshman wasn’t enough, the highly-touted freshman will be a marquee player to watch in the tournament.
1. Marcus Smart
Showing leadership and the intangibles as a leader, there is no question why Marcus Smart should be a player to watch in the tournament. His overall impact on Oklahoma State can’t be measured in stats and his resiliency to take over games is what sets him apart from other players. He clearly brings out the best in his teammates and possibly can get them far with his focus at 100 percent.
What do you think?
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