There are three certainties in this world: Death, taxes, and a mid-major school making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
And while I can be the cookie cutter sports writer and pick five teams primed to destroy your bracket, that’s just boring. I mean, as long as I’m not picking a 16 seed, I’m bound to hit on one of them.
Rather, let’s talk players. The oil that makes teams run.
Who’s the Stephen Curry about to shoot a 10 seed to the Elite 8?
Who wants to be this year’s Gordon Hayward or Fred VanVleet?
It’s going to be someone, it’s just a matter of figuring out who.
So I’ll start with two players that you probably already know about but still fit my narrative. Regardless, these are the players you better know about when filling out your bracket.
Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga
Yeah, I am all in on Arvydas Sabonis’ kid this March. I’m all in on Gonzaga in general. Despite winning their fourth straight West Coast Conference tournament this is not the same Gonzaga team we’ve become accustomed to.
And that’s why they’re going deep. When the ‘Zags get to play the underdog role they excel. The last time Mark Few’s team was an #11 seed they beat St. John’s by 15 points in 2011.
Alongside Kyle Wiltjer, Sabonis can carry a team deep into the tournament and that’s just what he’ll do as the Zags upset Seton Hall in the first round, setting up a second line matchup with another player on this list.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State
Another former NBAer’s kid is going to make a household name for himself in the tournament and that’s Gary Payton II. GPII is already a known commodity in the Pac-12, but playing in Corvallis, Oregon his national recognition is lower than it should be.
Also, I know what you’re thinking. Oregon State is a 7 seed, therefore making the ‘Cinderella’ feel a bit less genuine. But Oregon State is a 4.5-point underdog in Vegas right now and will be without Tres Trinkle.
They’ll need 150 percent of GPII to beat VCU and I think they can do that.
A.J. English, Iona
Now we get into the nitty-gritty, true mid-major studs that you’re probably just learning about. A.J. English is probably the most NBA-ready prospect of them all.
English averages nearly 23 points and six assists per game, is seemingly able to score at will, and the Gaels come into the tourney as one of the hottest teams in the country — winners of 12 of their last 13 games.
One year ago Iowa State slept on UAB and went home early. It would be a shame to see a player like Georges Niang end his college career on that type of note, but if the Cyclones stay asleep Iona will do the same exact thing.
Marvelle Harris, Fresno State
I mentioned there was going to be a mid-major stud to watch against Gonzaga in the second round and that stud is Marvelle Harris of Fresno State.
Harris averages 20.6 points per game and has led Fresno to some pretty impressive wins. Not only did the Bulldogs beat San Diego State twice (knocking them out of the tournament), they hung tough with Oregon, losing by only five points.
Harris is the type of player that’ll either shoot you out of the tournament or onto the next round. I’m hoping for the latter because Utah is a good basketball team.
Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa
Recognize this name at all?
Oh yeah, it’s that guy.
Wes Washpun and Northern Iowa may be boring as hell but they are a gritty, experienced basketball team capable of winning tough games. I mean, they beat North Carolina this season. They are no slouch and if Texas isn’t careful they will be sent packing.
Quenton DeCosey, Temple
Temple vs. Iowa looks like the blandest matchup on paper, right? It very well might be. But that doesn’t mean individual players aren’t going to put on a show. In this particular case, Quenton DeCosey and Hawkeye star Jarrod Utoff are going to be the highlight.
The senior DeCosey averaged nearly 16 points per game in the regular season for the Fran Dunphy-coached Owls. Between DeCosey’s skill and Dunphy’s superior coaching prowess, I’ll play the Owls over the Hawkeyes and then again over the #2 seeded Villanova Wildcats in the Battle of Philly.