Small School Players to Watch in the NCAA Tournament
While the players from teams in the Power 5 conferences (Big East, Big Ten, Pac 12, ACC and Big 12) receive the most attention and screen time, there are some superbly talented players from mid-major schools as well who do not receive as much notoriety. I have compiled a list of unsung heroes that will be crucial to their team's chances come tournament time and that you should keep an eye on.
Max Abmas- Sophomore- Guard-15 Seed Oral Roberts
First Round Matchup: 2 Seed Ohio State
Abmas can light up a scoreboard and has been doing so all season, to the tune of an NCAA-leading 24.2 points per game. Abmas is almost a member of the 50-40-90 club, shooting the ball at nearly 50% (48.4), the three-ball at 42.1% and boasting a 89.9 free throw percentage. Not to mention leading Oral Roberts to a Summit League Championship and an automatic berth in the tournament. If he gets going, look out! Oral Roberts draws a tough matchup in Ohio State though, so he may have to go go for 40 if they are to stand any chance of pulling off the huge upset in round one.
Cameron Krutwig- Senior- Centre- 8 Seed Loyola Chicago Ramblers
First Round Matchup: 9 Seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Remember when Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean made that Cinderella run to the Final Four in 2018? Well, Krutwig was a baby-faced freshman that year. Fast-forward to his senior season and he has been playing like an All-American, averaging 15 points on the year and a 57.9 field goal percentage. Not to mention being an instrumental part in the Ramblers being crowned the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament Champions. Loyola Chicago will likely be a popular first-round team to win as they face a beatable Georgia Tech squad. Then they would likely be in tough in round two against Illinois, but this is March Madness, anything can happen!
Nah'Shon Hyland- Sophomore- Guard- 10 Seed VCU Rams
First Round Matchup: 7 Seed Oregon
Another guy who knows how to put the ball in the net, and can get scorching hot from the field at any moment. He's a bit more of a streaky shooter than a Max Abmas, but Hyland still averaged 19.5 points on the year and shot a respectable 44.7% from the field and 37.1% from deep. He is the catalyst that makes this Rams team go and could certainly lead them to an "upset" of Oregon in round one. Should the Rams make it past Oregon it would lead to a likely intriguing matchup with Luka Garza and Iowa.
Isaiah Ross- Senior- Guard- 15 Seed Iona Gaels
First Round Matchup: 2 Seed Alabama Crimson Tide
Ross is the straw that stirs Iona's drink, averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting at 39.1% from downtown. it will interesting to see how they matchup against a formidable opponent in Alabama, a team that has played 30 games this season. I say this because Iona has only played 17 games this season due to various COVID stoppages. Nonetheless they were able to win the MAAC Tournament and if they are to have any hope of upsetting the Tide, Ross will likely have to have the game of his collegiate career.
Quentin Grimes- Junior- Guard- 2 Seed Houston Cougars
First Round Matchup: 15 Seed Cleveland State Vikings
Grimes has followed an interesting path during his collegiate career. He was a five-star recruit and top 10 in the nation coming out of high school, where he signed with Kansas. As a freshman he struggled in limited minutes with the team and then declared for the NBA draft, only to withdraw his name and transfer to Houston. After sitting out his sophomore year due to transfer rules, he has had a stellar junior year for the Cougars, putting up All-American numbers with 18.0 points per game and shooting 40% from three, on a team that looks poised to make a run to the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four.
Matt Haarms- Senior- Forward- 6 Seed BYU Cougars
First Round Matchup: Winner of 11 Seed Michigan State vs. 11 Seed UCLA
The Purdue transfer, who hails from Amsterdam, Netherlands has the size and skill to be a difference maker in the tournament. Also take into account that BYU very nearly handed Gonzaga their first defeat of the year in the WCC Tournament and this is a team that could make some noise and bust some brackets.
Neemias Queta- Junior- Centre- 11 Seed Utah State Aggies
First Round Matchup: 6 Seed Texas Tech Red Raiders
Queta is a 7 foot, 245 pound brick wall at the rim, averaging 3.0 blocks per game on the year and a double-double on a nightly basis with 15.1 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game. Queta's size and defensive prowess could certainly come in handy against a smaller Texas Tech team, and may make Utah State a trendy upset pick in round one of the tournament.
Tyson Etienne- Sophomore- Guard- 11 Seed Wichita State Shockers
First Round Matchup: Play in game vs. 11 Seed Drake Bulldogs
Some people may question the selection committee's decision to put the Shockers into the field of 68, but one thing you can't question is the dynamic play of Etienne. The unquestioned leader of the gritty, hard-nosed Shockers team, he averaged 17.1 points per game and 40 % from deep. How far Wichita State advances will likely rest squarely on Etienne's shoulders.
Jaquori McLaughlin- Senior- Guard- 12 Seed UCSB Gauchos
First Round Matchup: 5 Seed Creighton Blue Jays
First of all his name is just fun to say, and he plays for the Gauchos; I think people will be picking this team to upset the Blue Jays for this reason alone. Fun names aside though, this team could make a Cinderella run and McLaughlin is a big reason why. The uber-talented guard runs the show and averaged 16.2 points per game, while shooting 48.9% from the floor. Don't be surprised if you see the Gauchos in the Sweet Sixteen.
Isaiah Miller- Guard- Senior- 13 Seed UNC Greensboro Spartans
First Round Matchup: 4 Seed Florida State Seminoles
Miller not only averaged 19.3 points per game and 46.6% from the floor, but he is an excellent disruptor on the defensive end, averaging 2.7 steals per game. Steals lead to transition opportunities and easier points which UNC Greensboro are going to need if they hope to upset Florida State.
Jordan Burns- Senior- Guard- 14 Seed Colgate Raiders
First Round Matchup: 3 Seed Arkansas Razorbacks
Burns originally committed out of high school to Division II Midwestern State, but uncommitted and chose to go to Colgate, his only Division I offer. The small but lightning quick Burns shoots at over 40% from beyond the arc and can score from anywhere on the floor. Burns contributed in large part to the Raiders' convincing run to win the Patriot League Tournament, and if he and his fellow Raiders get hot from deep against the Razorbacks, that game could be a lot closer than many people might anticipate.
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