2014 NCAA Tournament: Look Out For Shabazz Napier, Connecticut In East Region

Shabazz Napier

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been the Michigan State Spartans getting a lot of early attention in the East Region of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, but a sleeper to look out for in that region is the No. 7 seed Connecticut Huskies, and it’s because of point guard Shabazz Napier.

Napier was a freshman and an important complementary player when the Huskies won the national championship in 2011 behind a phenomenal six-game performance by Kemba Walker. Napier is now a senior, and after Connecticut was forced to miss last year’s tournament because of sanctions, this is Napier’s opportunity to lead the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament, and he’s ready to do so.

There are a lot of talented point guards playing in the NCAA Tournament, but few have the moxy that Napier does. He’s a fearless player that doesn’t shy away from big moments and is great in the clutch, much like Walker was for the Huskies a few years ago. Napier is one of the best clutch players in the country, and he’s shown that time and time again throughout his career, including earlier this season when he made a buzzer beater to lead Connecticut past the Florida Gators. The tournament’s top overall seed hasn’t lost since Napier hit that shot.

Of course, the Huskies are more than just a one-man team. Ryan Boatright teams up with Napier to give Connecticut a dynamic backcourt duo that can be incredibly dangerous against teams that can’t handle their quickness. The Huskies also have a versatile and productive front court player in DeAndre Daniels, as well as veteran role players like Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey, who bring a lot of experience to the table and know what to do to help their team win.

Connecticut is lined up to play St. Joseph’s and Villanova the first weekend of the tournament, but they have the talent to match up with both teams, as well as a lot of familiarity with Villanova from their days in the same conference, which should put the two teams on a level playing field if they are to meet.

If the Huskies can survive the opening weekend, they’ll play the East Regionals in Madison Square Garden, which is not only close to home, but also a venue they are familiar with. A trip to the Sweet 16 would put the Huskies on the big stage in the world’s most famous arena, the exact situation where Napier thrives, putting him position to lead Connecticut deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com.  He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer.  Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.

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