Every year, the NCAA Tournament is where players few had ever heard of emerge into the national consciousness, even if only for a fleeting moment. Someone has a big game or makes a big shot, and they etch their place in the history of this great event. In other cases, a team wins a couple of games and a player comes into view helping his team out alongside bigger names. There is no reason to expect this year’s to be any different in that respect, even if the names and faces may change.
We begin our look at players to watch with those whose teams play their first game on either Tuesday or Thursday.
Rawle Alkins, Fr. G, Arizona
He doesn’t get the attention other freshmen get, including on his own team, but all year he’s had to do more than originally expected and has responded.
Nana Foulland, Jr. C, Bucknell
The Patriot League Player of the Year does it at both ends inside for the Bison, and he’s done so since he arrived on campus.
Andrew Chrabascz, Sr. F, Butler
Few players fit this program as well as he does. There isn’t any one thing he does exceedingly well other than win, and he did it in high school before doing it again in college.
T.J. Cromer, Sr. G, East Tennessee State
The Buccaneers’ leading scorer has been held in single digits just four times all season, three of which they lost. He has also come up big, though, including a 41-point effort in the Southern Conference semifinal win that included going 9-12 from long range.
Brandon Goodwin, Jr. G, FGCU
He is not only their best player, but perhaps their most improved, making a big jump in scoring in part from shooting the ball better, as he went from 43.7 percent to 51.6 percent from the field, a terrific percentage for a guard. He also increased his assists and cut down on turnovers.
KeVaughn Allen, So. G, Florida
Just like his team is better than a lot of people realize, so is Allen, who shoots 40 percent from long range and leads them in scoring.
Jonathan Isaac, Fr. F, Florida State
He wasted little time making an impact for this team as their leading rebounder. While Dwayne Bacon is the star, he and Xavier Rathan-Mayes are the primary complements.
Monte Morris, Sr. G, Iowa State
While a few freshmen floor leaders get a lot of the publicity, Morris is a seasoned senior who is terrific as well. He doesn’t turn the ball over and just knows how to win.
Wesley Iwundu, Sr. F, Kansas State
Although they Wildcats are pretty balanced, he led them in scoring and rebounding and is second in assists and three-point field goal percentage, so he carries a little bigger load than his teammates.
Justin Jackson, Fr. F, Maryland
The Terrapins are undeniably Melo Trimble’s team, but how Jackson plays will have a say in how far this team goes. He’s their top rebounder and three-point shooter.
JaCorey Williams, Sr. F, Middle Tennessee
After three years as a role player at Arkansas, he found a great home and led the Blue Raiders in scoring and rebounding en route to dominating Conference USA. He has 11 double-doubles on the season.
Nate Mason, Jr. G, Minnesota
Mason has improved every year in impressive fashion – he has raised his scoring, assist and assist-to-turnover numbers each year in Minneapolis.
Elijah Long, So. G, Mount St. Mary’s
Long is a big part of this team being in the NCAA Tournament, as he’s done it all for them this year and made a big leap from his freshman year.
Cameron Oliver, So. F, Nevada
A solid two-way player, he’s hidden away out west and in a down year in the Mountain West. All the same, he gives teams fits at both ends and now more people can get to see that.
Erik Thomas, Sr. F, New Orleans
The Privateers reaching the NCAA Tournament is a wonderful story, and he leads them in scoring and rebounding. He has scored in double figures in every single game this season, including nice games against NCAA Tournament teams Oklahoma State, USC and Northwestern.
Quinton Hooker, Sr. G, North Dakota
One of the best players in the Big Sky, he’s another one of those power guards who can score, and he also shot a career-best 43.6 percent from long range. He had 28 points in the Fighting Hawks’ thrilling overtime win in the Big Sky championship game.
Bryant McIntosh, Jr. G, Northwestern
The Wildcats have a lot of good players to watch as they finally reach the NCAA Tournament, but McIntosh is the glue behind it all at the point. This team has grown up as he has grown up over his college career.
Matt Farrell, So. G, Notre Dame
One of the most improved players in college basketball, he went from being a bit player last year to an important part of this team that tied for second in the ACC and made the championship game.
Steven Cook, Sr. F, Princeton
Teammate Spencer Weisz may have been the Ivy League Player of the Year, but Cook was a very big part of this season. He scored 30 points on 13-16 shooting when they clinched the top seed for the league tournament against Harvard.
Dakota Mathias, Jr. G, Purdue
Purdue has the bodies up front to compete with anyone, but Mathias and his 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio and 46.5 percent mark from deep do a lot to keep defenses honest.
Jock Landale, Jr. C, Saint Mary’s
After showing promise his first two years, the big man emerged as one of the West Coast Conference’s best players this year to lead them into the NCAA Tournament.
Mike Daum, So. F, South Dakota State
You may have already heard about him since he scored 51 points in a game earlier this year. If not, this will be your chance, and there’s a lot to like.
C.J. Bryce, So. G, UNCW
He led this well-balanced team in scoring and has quickly become one of the best guards in the CAA. He finished in the top ten in the CAA in scoring, assists, field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Luke Kornet, Sr. C, Vanderbilt
He can step out and shoot a little, though his percentage isn’t great, but when he plays well the Commodores have a chance. He scored 21 points against Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge and 24 in their second win over Florida, and has five double-doubles on the season.
JeQuan Lewis, Sr. G, VCU
The leader of this team has made a steady progression from a complementary player to their best player, and also a clutch player. He’s more than ready for the challenge ahead.
Trae Bell-Haynes, Jr. G, Vermont
There isn’t one big star on this team, but the America East Player of the Year makes this team go with the way he runs the show.
Mikal Bridges, So. F, Villanova
The Wildcats are not loaded with NBA prospects, but he is probably their best one. With more opportunity this season, he has shown some of that potential and harnessed some of it, and could be a difference-maker now.
London Perrantes, Sr. G, Virginia
This year’s version of the Cavaliers are not very offensively gifted, and he’s one of the few who can get points for them in between running the show.
Zach LeDay, Sr. F, Virginia Tech
The Hokies’ best player, he gets lost easily amidst the bigger names in the ACC but has more than held his own as their leading scorer and rebounder.
John Collins, So. F, Wake Forest
One of the most improved players in the country, he became one of the ACC’s best players this season and nearly averaged a double-double.
Jevon Carter, Jr. G, West Virginia
The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year is the Mountaineers’ best player as their leading scorer and assist man, and a big part of their pressing team.
Keon Johnson, Sr. G, Winthrop
The Eagles’ top scorer had a great run in the Big South Tournament, averaging 29.3 points per game to lead them to the title.
Ethan Happ, So. F, Wisconsin
Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes get plenty of attention, but Happ has arguably had a better year than both. He showed promise a year ago and turned into a star performer this year.
Trevon Bluiett, Jr. G, Xavier
The Musketeers’ best player scored 40 in a tough loss to Cincinnati, and he’s been challenged since the season-ending injury to Edmond Sumner. If there’s one player capable of coming up big when they needed, he is it.