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Ten Players You May Not Know–But Should Watch For–In NCAA Tournament

One of the best parts of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is getting the opportunity to watch players that the average college basketball fan may previously not know–players that don’t receive a lot of attention throughout the year, getting lost in the shadows of the star players from the top programs. Yet, every season, some of these previously unheralded players who have flown under the radar all season rise to the occasion and demand attention from college basketball fans across the country.

Here are ten players who have been deserving of praise all season long, but for whatever reason, may not be as well-known to the average fan. Perhaps these, like so many others, will break out and make a name for themselves during this year’s Big Dance.

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Doug McDermott: This 6’7″  sophomore forward from Creighton is definitely one of the players to watch this March. Scoring 23.2 ppg, McDermott ranks 3rd in the nation in scoring and his 61% field goal percentage is the 7th best of any other division one players. In addition, he shoots nearly 50% from the three point line (5th in the nation).

McDermott’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by those in the business; he was named to the USBWA’s All-American first-team this week, the first Bluejay ever to receive the honor. Additionally, he is a finalist for the Wooden Award. However, because he plays for a mid-major program, many fans haven’t gotten the opportunity to see him play, and therefore, he is one that fans should look out for.

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Casper Ware: The Long Beach State senior guard averages 17.4 ppg and 3.3 apg. Behind Ware’s 33 points in the Big West tournament championship game, Long Beach State defeated UC Santa Barbara to secure a berth in this year’s tournament. Considered by many to be one of the best point guards in the game today, Ware is certainly a player to keep an eye on this year and gives the 49ers a chance to upset No. 5 seeded New Mexico in their opening game.

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Andrew Nicholson: St. Bonaventure is peaking at just the right time, and it’s due in large part to the play of Andrew Nicholson. The senior forward led the Bonnies in an upset win over Xavier to capture the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament title. Throughout the year, Nicholson, who earned A-10 Player of the Year honors, has averaged 18.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game in the regular season and played his way into a probable 1st round draft pick. In the conference tournament, he stepped up his game even more, averaging 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.3 blocks per game. He’s definitely a player who seems to be hitting his stride at just the right time.

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Isaiah Canaan: The best player on the 30-1 Murray State Racers squad, Isaiah Canaan is certainly a player to keep an eye on in this year’s tournament, particularly because Murray State could make some noise. Canaan, the team’s junior point guard, is averaging 19.2 ppg and ranks in the top 10 in 3 pointers, making more than 3 per game.  He has scored 30+ points four times this year, and if he is on, the Racers could go far this year. Canaan received the Sporting New’s first team All-American honors this season, but again, because he is not in one of the “major” conferences, many fans don’t know much about him. Yet.

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Ray McCallum, Jr.: Many consider Detriot to have a great chance to be this year’s Cinderella team. Their key player is point guard, Ray McCallum, Jr,. who happens to be the head coach’s son. McCallum, a sophomore, averages 15.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 3.9 apg. He caught fire during the Horizon League tournament, and  fans are hoping it carries on to the Big Dance. If Detroit does in fact end up doing some bracket-busting this month, it will be in large part because of McCallum’s play and leadership.

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Royce White: While some may not think that the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year is an unheralded player, White is included on this list for two reasons: First, he plays for Iowa State in a conference that has quite a bit of big name players, and has therefore taken a backseat to some of the Big 12′s other studs. Second, he is just a sophomore. 

After sitting his freshman year due to transfer rules, the 6’8″, 270 lb. power forward leads the Cyclones in all five major statistical categories: points (13.1), rebounds (9.2), assists (5.2), steals (1.2) and blocks (.9)–a pretty impressive feat. Iowa State has a chance to go fairly deep in their bracket, so be on the lookout for White.

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Nate Wolters: The junior guard for South Dakota State ranks 8th in the country in scoring, at 21.3 ppg. In addition, he also leads the Jackrabbits in rebounds (5.2), assists (6), and steals (1.7).  Though the Jackrabbits with have their hands full with the Baylor Bears in their first tournament game, Wolters should give them a decent chance at pulling off the upset over the streaky Bears.

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D. J. Cooper: Ohio University’s junior guard, D. J. Cooper, has many believing that Bobcats could upset the Michigan Wolverines in their second round match-up. Cooper is very efficient in distributing the ball to his teammates, averaging over 5 apg, but is also a strong defender as well, with 2.4 spg. He also adds 14.6 ppg for the offense. In addition to his ability to make plays and control the game, Cooper has had some experience in the tournament prior to this season during his freshman season with the Bobcats. He could give Michigan fits in their match-up.

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Scott Machado: Iona will play BYU in one of the play-in games this year, so they are certainly one of the tournament’s underdogs. However, if they catch fire, it will be behind the play of their senior point guard. Machado is currently leading the nation in assists, averaging a very impressive 9.9 apg. He is the “quarterback” of the nation’s top-scoring offense as well, with the Gaels scoring over 83 points per game. Iona certainly has the firepower to get the job done, so keep an eye on Machado and the Gael offense.

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Garrett Stutz and Joe Ragland: Yes, I may be cheating a bit, but this duo makes Wichita State a very dangerous team in this year’s NCAA tourney. Stutz, the 7-foot center, leads the Shockers in points and rebounds, averaging 13.5 and 8, respectively. Ragland, a senior guard, adds another 13.4 points per game, but also adds 3.4 apg. Both players earned All-Missouri Valley Conference first team honors. There is a good chance that the Shockers could make it to the Sweet 16 this year, and if they do, it will likely be because of this pair.

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So there you have it: ten players to keep an eye on in this year’s NCAA Tournament. These players have a chance to not only make a name for themselves, but to lead their teams in their quests to play the role of this year’s Cinderella. If you haven’t already filled out your brackets, you make want to take these players and their teams into consideration.

Underdog teams led by unheralded players breaking out and pulling off exciting upset wins in their fight to the top… Yes. This is exactly what March Madness is all about.