March Madness 2014: Star Players with Most to Gain in NCAA Tournament

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March Madness 2014: Star Players with Most to Gain in NCAA Tournament
Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Even though teams get the ultimate prize in the NCAA tournament, it is the individuals who create moments who are remembered forever. Players can earn millions of dollars from the NBA with a strong showing in March or turn into a goat with one bad day. 

Kemba Walker went from a great player in Connecticut history to one of the most memorable stars in the month of March by leading the Huskies on an improbable run to a Big East tournament title and NCAA tournament victory in 2011. 

This year's crop of star players have a lot at stake, both for their NBA prospects and creating their own identity as a college basketball player. Here are the names to keep an eye on as they try to raise their stocks in the month of March. 

 

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas

Via ESPN

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Before the season started, there weren't enough superlatives to describe Andrew Wiggins. He could have been the top pick in the 2013 NBA draft, which admittedly says more about him than what appears to be a weak class. 

Now, with nearly a full season of college basketball under his belt, Wiggins hasn't fallen off a cliff, but he's not the all-world player most expected when he committed to Kansas. 

ESPN's Chad Ford (Insider subscription required) had Wiggins ranked second on his last big board, citing excellent defense and an aggressive mindset as the main reason. But he also pointed out Wiggins' inconsistent shooting as a problem. 

Wiggins does lead the Jayhawks with 16 points per game, but he is shooting just 44.1 percent from the field. He's still going to be a top-three pick in the NBA, though a strong tournament could elevate him back into contention for the No. 1 pick because of his size (6'8", 200 pounds) and speed at shooting guard. 

 

Jabari Parker, Duke

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

It's hard to fly under the radar when you play at Duke, but Jabari Parker continues to grow and improve as a player to the point where Bleacher Report NBA National Columnist Ric Bucher says scouts believe he could jump Kansas teammates Wiggins and Joel Embiid as the No. 1 pick in the draft. 

There have been many comparisons between Parker and Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant because both have long limbs, came out of college with a great shooting touch and play small forward. 

Durant even got in on the comparisons, telling Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports that Parker is going to have a very bright future:

Duke has had problems with consistency shooting and defending this season. Parker has had his own slumps, including a dreadful 3-of-11 performance against Virginia Tech on February 25, but his growth as a player makes it so the slumps never last long. 

In a loss against Wake Forest on March 5, Parker bounced back with 19 points and 10 rebounds. 

An impressive NCAA tournament run could cement Parker as one of the best one-and-done players in Duke history and propel him into the top spot in the NBA draft. 

 

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

Via ESPN

Big things were expected of both Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State entering the year. Neither side has lived up to the prognostications, with the Cowboys sitting at 20-10 after being a preseason top-10 team. 

Smart has had his own issues on and off the court. Things came to a head during a game against Texas Tech when he shoved a fan in the stands, resulting in a three-game suspension. He may have been provoked by the fans, but that doesn't excuse his actions. 

There is good news, as Smart has played a key role in Oklahoma State's current four-game winning streak that has pushed the team off the bubble and squarely into the NCAA tournament. He's still not shooting well, just 42.3 percent on the season, and has just a 4.7-2.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

Smart is still trying to rebuild his stock following the fan incident and an underwhelming statistical season. If he peaks in March, most of the problems will be forgiven and the NBA will be very happy to welcome him if he decides to leave college this year. 

 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted. 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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