One great facet of the NCAA tournament is how it makes instant stars out of rather unknown players. Each year, some guy from Second Rate State drains five 3s to key a first-round upset. Within minutes he, and his team, are embedded in college basketball lore.
More often than not those players are obscure outside the dining hall until their big day in the Big Dance. Until they make a splash, here are some players we know will be factors as long as their team is still alive:
Anthony Davis, F, Kentucky
The favorite for National Player-of-the-Year honors, Davis led top-ranked Kentucky in scoring and rebounding and easily topped the nation in blocked shots with nearly five swats a game. The 6-foot-10 freshman can dominate on both ends for the top-ranked Wildcats, who went more than three months without a loss before falling in the SEC title game Sunday.
Kendall Marshall, G, North Carolina
Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes and John Henson get plenty of pub for the Heels, but Marshall makes them go and this event is rife with tales of great point guard play propelling a team to the top. As a freshman in last year’s tournament, Marshall averaged 9.8 assists to get UNC to the Elite Eight. He ranked second in the country in assists per game this season.
Thomas Robinson, F, Kansas
The top rebounder in the Big 12 and the Jayhawks’ leading scorer, Robinson is a double-double machine. He shot 46 percent from the floor in the Jayhawks’ six losses and 55.1 percent in their 27 wins.
Doug McDermott, F, Creighton
McDermott, a sophomore, has a grand total of 10 assists in his last 14 games. That’s another way of saying he is a pure scorer, the guy the Blue Jays want holding the ball in a tight game. He had 73 points in three days to lift Creighton to the Missouri Valley Conference crown.
John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt
The SEC’s leading scorer made more 3-pointers than anyone in the country this season, averaging nearly four a game. If he gets hot, Vandy can cruise into the second weekend for the third time in nine years. Jenkins had 17 points in the Commodores’ upset of Kentucky on Sunday, including the game’s final four points from the line.
Jared Sullinger, C, Ohio State
Draymond Green of Michigan State won the Big 10 Player of the Year award, but Sullinger is the kind of interior force (like Davis and Robinson) who can control these tournament games. He had 21 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 last season and scored 54 in the first two rounds of the Big 10 tournament this year.
Tu Holloway, G, Xavier
Gained national fame, and plenty of criticism, when he uttered these words after a brawl-marred win over rival Cincinnati in December: “We got a whole bunch of gangstas in the locker room, not thugs but tough guys on the court. We went out there and zipped ‘em up at the end of the game.” The senior’s numbers dipped a bit this season, but he’s battle-tested and obviously has a little chip on his shoulder. Holloway averaged 20.8 points in four games in the A-10 tournament.
Other names to watch this March:
1. Kevin Jones, F, West
Virginia Jones, a senior, had 21 double-doubles, leading the Big East in
scoring and rebounding. He helped WVU to the Final Four as a sophomore.
2. Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State A member of the All-Biblical team,
Canaan can score in droves. He topped 30 points four times this year.
3. Four McGlynn, G, Vermont They may not make it past the play-in game
but watch out if the Catamounts do. McGlynn does severe damage from long