Who to watch out during March Madness

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:02 PM ET

Critics have slagged this year’s NCAA tournament as a low-wattage affair that compares more to staid Atlantic City than glitzy Las Vegas.

Sure, fewer star players are sticking around in college than ever and it’s true there is no Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin or John Wall style player with jaw-dropping talent.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a number of players well worth watching.

The usual suspects

Jared Sullinger, the best player on the No. 1 overall seed is a dominant NCAA presence.

From a family that has produced hoops standouts for almost 100 years, scouts say if Sullinger stood a couple of inches taller, he’d undoubtedly be the top pick of the NBA draft in June. Listed at 6-foot-9, 280, but probably an inch or two shorter, college teams simply can’t stop the freshman of the year down low.

North Carolina forward Harrison Barnes started the season as the first freshman pre-season all-american ever. “What does this guy not do?” Raptors assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo asked Yahoo! Sports this summer.

“He seems to have a complete game and is equally as impressive as an individual.”

Barnes didn’t live up to the hype — struggling mightily to connect from the field for months — but finished the regular season in style, serving notice that maybe his time is now.

Connecticut’s Kemba Walker is roughly six feet tall, but rarely passes the ball unlike most guards his size. Who cares? At this level, few can keep the explosive Walker from going off offensively.

Playing five games in five days, Walker carried the Huskies to Big East tourney glory last week, notching a record 130 points, including one unforgettable, ankle-breaking game-winner.

Many are wondering who’s next to get Jimmered? Birgham Young University might have lost its best rebounder when Brandon Davies was suspended in that unfortunate recent sex scandal, but Jimmer Fredette, the NCAA’s top scorer, doesn’t seem willing to let BYU fade away.

Fredette scores 30 or more points more often than not, adds four assists and has drawn comparisons to the likes of Stephen Curry and Mark Price — not bad company. He might not notch 52 again, but don’t hold that against him.

The quiet assassins

Kentucky forward Terrence Jones is not a consistent shooter or scorer, but his length and intensity allows him to anchor one of the top defensive squads in the tourney. A multi-purpose spring-loaded forward in the Shawn Marion mold, Jones is the Wildcats’ wildcard.

If the NCAA had fantasy leagues, Arizona forward Derrick Williams probably would have been the top selection.

Williams scores, shoots 61% from the field, a ridiculous 60% from three, grabs 8.1 rebounds and collects about a block and a steal every game. When he feels like playing hard, nobody can stop this guy.

By now, everybody in Canada knows all about Texas big man Tristan Thompson, but here’s a refresher. The Brampton native is the defensive anchor on an excellent defensive team. He is one of the hardest workers in the tournament and a shot-blocking force.

If he can’t hold his own against Oakland’s Keith Benson, an even bigger future NBAer, Texas will be in trouble.

Don’t forget about

Duke’s Nolan Smith (great last season as Duke won it all, even better this year) and Kyle Singler (probably Duke’s best player in 2010 tournament); Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson; Kansas’ Marcus and Marcief Morris; North Carolina’s towering centre John Henson and steady point guard Kendall Marshall.

Finally, if there is one player that can determine the outcome of this whole bonanza more than anybody else, it probably is Duke’s Kyrie Irving.

The fantastic freshman who averaged 17.4 points and 5.1 assists before getting injured in early December might make a Willis Reed-esque return to action as soon as Friday. Irving would be worked back in slowly and will be rusty, but adding the potential top pick of the NBA draft to a team that is already a No. 1 seed is almost unfair.


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