Every year in the NCAA tournament, players that you have never heard of become fan favorites with their special March performances. This season, there are guys capable of both grabbing the nation’s attention and leading their teams to a deep run in March. Here is a look at a few of the under-the-radar guys capable of putting their team on their backs.
1. Nate Wolters, point guard, South Dakota State
While he had a good game last year in the Jackrabbits’ near upset over the No. 3 seed Baylor Bears, Wolters has taken his game to another level this season. He has turned into an all-around player, averaging 22.7 points to go along with 5.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds. Never has he been as good as he was on Feb. 7, as he poured in 53 points in an 80-74 overtime victory over IPFW.
At 6 feet 4 inches, Wolters has great size for a point guard and has the ability to dominate a game in more than one facet.
Wolters is surrounded by four other upper-classman starters that are capable of creating some noise in the NCAA tournament. If you are looking for a point guard that is capable of taking over, Wolters is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.
2. Lamont Jones, point guard, Iona
If the name Lamont Jones doesn’t ring a bell, maybe the nickname “Momo” will. Two seasons ago, Jones was the starting point guard of the Arizona Wildcats, a team that went to the Elite Eight. He averaged just under 10 points a game for a team that featured former No. 2 pick in the NBA draft Derrick Williams. When Jones transferred schools, his talents went with him, as he now leads the Gaels with 23 points a game.
The biggest strength in Jones’ game is his will and fearlessness, two things that you need to be successful in the NCAA tournament. With his past experience in the tournament with the Wildcats, Jones will not back down from the spotlight.
Last season, Iona blew a 25-point lead over BYU in the play-in game, something that continues to haunt Jones and his teammates. Look for the Gaels to be tough in the NCAA tournament this season.
3. Mike Muscala, power forward, Bucknell
While Wolters and Jones are guards, here is a big guy for the fans that love a great interior player.
Muscala averages a double-double, scoring 19 points while pulling down 11.2 rebounds on the season.
He has shown the ability to step up in his team’s biggest games. Against Missouri on Jan. 5, Muscala had 25 points and 14 rebounds as the Bison nearly pulled off the upset in Columbia.
While Muscala has the ability to score on the block, he also has a solid touch from 15-18 feet out, making him extremely difficult to stop on the offensive end. But as good as he is on offense, he is also a big-time presence on the defensive end, where he average 2.5 blocks per game, which ranks 27th in the country.
Bucknell has had a history of pulling upsets in the NCAA tournament, most notably against Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks on March 18, 2005. However, they have not had a player of this caliber until now, and Muscala is going to be a load down low for anybody that has to match up against him.
4. Taylor Smith, power forward, Stephen F. Austin
If you are looking for a guy that is going to finish at the rim, look no further than Mr. Smith of the Lumberjacks.
Smith leads the country in shooting, hitting an incredible 68.8 percent of his shots. While he is a short power forward at 6 feet 6 inches, he was still able to average 14 points on 52.5 percent from the field against major conference teams Texas A&M; and Oklahoma.
What Smith lacks in his size, he makes up for with heart as he is an extremely hard worker that will not allow himself to be denied.
At 26-3, the Lumberjacks have been on a roll, winning 21 of their final 23 regular season games en route to the NCAA tournament. They will not wow you with big-time scoring numbers, but are great on the defensive end. In the NCAA tournament the play slows down, which may just play into the hands of Stephen F. Austin.
While there are more players that have the capability of taking over in March, these are the teams to think about when filling out your bracket.
Mark Kern is a senior in print journalism. Please send comments to [email protected]