The NCAA tournament has a habit of making national darlings out of relatively obscure players from small schools.
These young men are thrust into the spotlight upon leading their underdog teams to upset victories against powerhouse programs, and it should be no different during the 2014 edition of March Madness.
NBA stars such as Stephen Curry, Kemba Walker, Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade all vaulted onto the scene with amazing runs in the Big Dance.
Some less popular stars also shined brightly in March but did not go on to have top-tier professional careers, including Bo Kimble, Jack Givens, Bobby Hurley and more.
Let’s take a look at a couple of stars who could bust out in the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Nic Moore, G, SMU
Southern Methodist University wasn’t much of a basketball powerhouse until Larry Brown arrived, so the 73-year-old coach rightly deserves much of the credit for the team’s 22-6 record and first potential tournament appearance since the 1993 campaign.
However, the Mustangs would not be nearly as great as they are right now if not for point guard Nic Moore. The starting sophomore transferred from Illinois State and has been playing extremely well in his first season with SMU.
Moore is able to do it all for his squad, averaging 14.2 points, 4.6 assists, 2.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. Considering his diminutive size (5’9”, 170 pounds), it’s impressive that the Indiana native is able to contribute at such a high level.
He’s a playmaker who makes everyone else around him better while also taking what the defense gives him. Moore shoots 48.1 percent from the field, 44.6 percent from deep and 85.3 percent from the line, making him deadly from anywhere on the floor.
Will Moore be one of the stars of the upcoming NCAA tourney?
Moore admitted that is his strategy when he steps on the hardwood, per Andrew Kahn of CBSMiami.com: “I’m letting the game come to me. If that means I have to score, I can do that. If it means getting my teammates involved, I can do that.”
If and when SMU makes it into the 68-team field of the Big Dance, opponents should not take Moore lightly. It might be easy to look past an unheralded group led by a small guard, but Moore will make them pay with his elite passing, sweet shooting and smart play as a floor general.
Bryce Cotton, G, Providence
Bryce Cotton stuck around for his senior year at Providence, and it seems that the decision may pay dividends.
The Friars appear poised for their first NCAA tourney appearance since the 2003-2004 campaign, and the senior guard’s vastly improved skills are to thank for this strong stretch of play in 2013-14.
Cotton hardly comes off the floor anymore, averaging 39.9 minutes per game for a team that relies heavily on his scoring ability. The 6’1”, 165-pound guard is putting up 21.5 points on 42 percent field-goal shooting and 37.9 percent on his attempts from three-point land.
He’s also improved drastically as a playmaker in his senior season, upping his assist numbers from 2.9 per game last year to 5.9 per contest during this campaign. Add his 3.5 rebounds and 0.9 steals, and you have a solid contributor who is capable of pushing this team deep into the NCAA tournament.
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports highlighted just how important Cotton is to his program:
Not sure there's a player in America that means as much to their team as Bryce Cotton means to Providence. Does everything for the Friars.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 19, 2014
Bob Driscoll, the school’s VP and director of athletics, pointed out that the young man is finally getting some much-deserved attention:
Bryce Cotton finally getting some of the respect he deserves with his 2nd Big East Player of the Week. Great competitor and humble.#gofriars— Bob Driscoll (@PCBobDriscoll) February 25, 2014
Reid Forgrave of FoxSports.com noted that Cotton was recruited by Providence and only Providence before calling him the most underrated player in the country:
Bryce Cotton was recruited by exactly 1 school (@PCAthletics). Now he's most underrated player in college hoops. Keep grinding, kid.— Reid Forgrave (@ReidForgrave) February 24, 2014
The Friars are currently 18-10 with an 8-7 record in Big East play. The team has three games left on the schedule, including a season-ending contest with No. 9 Creighton.
Winning that finale will be crucial for Providence, as it has a chance to add another signature victory and ensure that Cotton gets a chance to prove himself against the world in the upcoming NCAA tournament.