5 possible breakout stars for March Madness
We’ve reached the sweetest time of year for basketball fans. The NCAA Tournament is here! There are a host of fantastic college basketball players ready to make their mark on March Madness history.
Let’s dig in a little deeper and find some of the big names from small schools who could become the talk of the tournament after this weekend.
Jason Preston – Ohio
If you haven’t read about Preston’s journey to Ohio, it’s well worth your time. He scored 2 points per game as a high school senior, enrolled at UCF as a regular student, hit a growth spurt, played on the “C” team at a prep school, earned a scholarship offer from Ohio, and is now first team all-conference and attracting attention from NBA scouts.
Preston dropped 31 points and 8 assists at Illinois earlier this season. Virginia will certainly need to be ready for him.
Cameron Krutwig – Loyola Chicago
When the Ramblers step onto the floor, you probably wouldn’t pick out their best player, unless you remember him from Loyola’s 2018 Final Four run. Krutwig is a mountain of a man, standing 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds. When he was a freshman helping the Ramblers sneak through the bracket, he was relied on for rebounds and post moves.
Now as a senior, he’s one of the craftiest players in the nation and draws comparisons to Nikola Jokic. Krutwig isn’t quick or light on his feet, yet every step is in perfect unison with where he wants to go and where he wants to draw the defense. His footwork and his court vision are second to none in this tournament.
Georgia Tech and Moses Wright will challenge Krutwig, but he and the Ramblers look up to the challenge. The nation’s top ranked defense won’t be an easy out.
Bones Hyland – VCU
For NBA scouts to be interested in a player who measures under 175 pounds, he must have some real skills. Hyland certainly does and is attracting attention in all the right ways. He’s a good shooter and offensive creator, while playing defense like a hungry dog on the other end.
The Selection Committee gave him a great match-up in the first round, pitting Hyland against Oregon star Chris Duarte. It’s one of the most intriguing one-on-one matchups of the first round. It would be disappointing if the second half of that game didn’t slow down and become a back-and-forth between the teams’ two stars.
Tank Hemphill – Drake
Drake’s leading scorer and rebounder hasn’t played since February 10 due to an injury. He’s set to return to the lineup for the Bulldogs in Thursday’s First Four matchup. His presence changes the ceiling for a Drake team still depleted by injury. Point guard Roman Penn will miss the tournament due his season ending injury. Without Hemphill and Penn, Drake was destined to head home early, but if Hemphill plays like a man on a mission, he can carry the Bulldogs a few rounds into the Big Dance.
If we get big performances from guys named “Bones” and “Tank”, March should be quite a month.
Osun Osunniyi – St. Bonaventure
So many of March’s heroes are guards who can hit the stepback three to win the game, for good reason. But some times a big man deserves a little bit of the love. Osunniyi is a game-changing rim protector. He has multiple games with 7 blocks this season and is averaging 2.9 per game. Ask Dayton if Osunniyi is a problem in the paint; he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 blocks against the Flyers.
If St. Bonaventure is going to make a run that extends beyond this weekend, Osunniyi will need to come up big at the biggest time. LSU’s Trendon Watford and Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson are tough assignments, but if he can slow both down, the Bonnies could reach the Sweet 16.
Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to the Action Network, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, Rotoballer, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.