The most exciting part of March Madness is the madness itself, a.k.a. the huge upsets. Behind every shocking win is a star making it happen. Stephen Curry was the latest to wow and create March hoops hysteria, nearly taking Davidson to last year’s Final Four. And while the tournament field may feel naked without Curry’s presence this season, there certainly isn’t a lack of talented players that could step up and create a Cinderella story of their own.
While these stories likely won’t result in a George Mason-like run, here’s a list of potentials (playing for double-digit seeded teams) that could break some brackets in their own way…
Top Ten Bracket Busting Stars (for the 2009 NCAA Tournament)*
10. Cedric Jackson – Senior Guard – (13) Cleveland State
Jackson is one of those typical players that quietly can fill a stat sheet. The numbers may not look gaudy at first, but across the board, his averages speak volumes (10+ points, five plus boards, five plus assists, and three steals per game). He’s a headache for opponents, especially in the steals department (ranked 6th in the nation), where he’s had five or more steals in six games this season. On top of that, he’s scoring more down the stretch, hitting double digits over nine of the last ten games. Jackson and the Vikings will give Wake all they can handle.
9. Tyler Newbold – Sophomore Guard – (11) Utah State
He’s not the flashy scorer that many would expect on such a list, but there’s something to be said about sharing the rock, and Utah State’s Tyler Newbold does so as efficiently as anyone in the game, leading the country with an assist to turnover ratio of 4.12. Along with teammate Jared Quayle, who runs the point, Newbold and the Aggies will need to take care of the ball if they want to upset a balanced veteran Marquette team.
8. Jarvis Varnado – Junior Forward – (13) Mississippi State
Sure, Varnado plays in a power conference, but as a 13 seed, the Bulldogs would be a Cinderella story if they make some noise. Looking to build off the momentum of its SEC tournament run, Mississippi State doesn’t just thrive off having four players score in double figures, but more so off its big man, Jarvis Varnado. The 6’9” forward-center doesn’t just lead the team in scoring (13.1 PPG), but also is among the nation’s best in many defensive categories, most notably blocked shots (4.7 per game), where he shares company with UConn’s Hasheem Thabeet.
7. Jordan Hill – Junior Forward – (12) Arizona
Sure, Hill is a fairly well known player, playing in a power conference like the Pac-10. But while playing for a team who owns the longest running streak of NCAA berths, it’s hard to ignore a player on a 12th seeded team that averages a double-double a game, and that’s just what Jordan Hill does, posting 11 boards and nearly 19 points per game. If Arizona makes a Cinderella run, it will most likely be on Jordan Hill’s back.
6. Ben Woodside – Senior Guard – (14) North Dakota State
The Bison are likely ecstatic to be dancin’ for the first time ever, and many don’t give them much chance against the returning champs. Just don’t tell them that, especially leading scorer Ben Woodside, who not only is among the nation’s top ten leaders in points per game (22.8), but also he also posted 60 back in December against Stephen F. Austin, another tournament team. And oh yeah, by the way, his teammate Brett Winkelman averages nearly 19 a game.
5. A.J. Slaughter – Junior Guard – (12) Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky lost Courtney Lee to the NBA, but returned a number of other explosive players who can give opponents headaches. Most notably, there’s Slaughter (15.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.6 APG), who has risen to the occasion against the nation’s best teams this year. For example, Slaughter scored 25 points in the Hilltoppers’ 68-54 victory over Louisville on November 30th.
4. Jeremiah Dominguez – Senior Guard – (13) Portland State
There’s just something special about rooting for the little guy, and this isn’t just talk of the school itself. Nope, enter Jeremiah Dominguez, the 5’6” guard for the Vikings, who cracks the nation’s top 15 in three-point field goal percentage (43.7%). In fact, the Portland State guard hit five or more triples seven times throughout the season. If you think Xavier is looking forward to facing him, think again.
3. Greivis Vasquez – Junior Guard – (10) Maryland
OK, Vasquez plays in the powerful ACC, but if there’s one double-digit seed that has an outspoken sparkplug, it’s this guy leading this Terps team. Vasquez, who leads the team in scoring (17.2 PPG), also adds in over five boards and assists a game. As Vasquez goes, Maryland goes – and the best example was his triple double in a victory over North Carolina on February 21st (35 points, 11 boards, and 10 assists – plus two steals and three blocks for good measure).
2. Dionte Christmas – Senior Guard – (11) Temple
For the Owls, it’s Christmas in March, as Temple takes the tough road to the dance, by sweeping through its conference tournament. Christmas, the team’s leading scorer (19.2 PPG) added 49 points over the final two games against Xavier and Duquesne. He’s also proven himself in earlier season games against talented tournament teams such as Tennessee (35 points) and on the road at Kansas (21 points). The senior not only cracks the nation’s top 40 in points per game, but also hits approximately three triples a game. He’s a difference maker, who if on his game, could help the Owls make a surprise run.
1. Eric Maynor – Senior Guard – (11) Virginia Commonwealth
When talking about Maynor, one word comes to mind… experience. Just ask Coach K and Duke, who fell to VCU in the opening round of the tournament two years ago. In that game, it was Maynor who had a huge game, including hitting the game winning shot. This season has been more of the same, as the senior guard is 11th in the nation in scoring, posting 22.4 points per game, including five games where he’s scored thirty or more. On top of that, Maynor also has over six assists a game. Coupled with sophomore forward Larry Sanders, VCU has a talented 1-2 punch that will give #6 seed UCLA all it can handle – and then some.
* All stats courtesy of NCAA website (most through 3/12/09)
Originally posted to KP’s Blog (via Fox Sports) on March 15, 2009
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