10 Mid-Major Stars You Need to Know Before March Madness 2014

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaSenior Writer IIIJuly 16, 2016

10 Mid-Major Stars You Need to Know Before March Madness 2014

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    At the heart of every mid-major is a star who isn't afraid to hit the ground, jump into the stands or just do anything to win for his team and his school.

    Many of these players are upperclassmen who paid the price with few winning years. But now? Now, their patience—like Sauron—has payed off. They've helped their teams finally reach the Big Dance. And, like Sauron, they want a shiny, gold ring.

    One school hasn't been to the tournament in over 20 years. Another in over 10 years. 

    Many of these players were anonymous—with the exception of the Wichita State's Fred VanVleet—for the greater part of the year. They didn't get much ink, tweets, barely a mention. That is until now, a time when the country and fans of college basketball can find these Aladdins, these "diamonds in the rough", that make the early rounds of the tournament a rich and savory experience.

    Their teams likely won't reach the round of 32, but if they do, you better believe these unsung stars will play a major role in that.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

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    Wichita State is the only undefeated team in college basketball at 34-0, yet the Missouri Valley champs are getting about as much respect as The Phantom Menace. The Shockers will earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but there are still doubts lingering over this team. It doesn't matter. They've heard it all year.

    The MVC Player of the Year, Fred VanVleet, well, he doesn't care what anyone else thinks:

    You can debate what you want to debate. Facts are facts, truth is truth. We're not into debating how good or great we are or how bad somebody else.

    That's for barber shop talk and coffee table arguments. We're not into that stuff. If they feel that way, it's on them. And nobody that's arguing about it is on the selection committee.

    VanVleet averaged 12.1 points per game, 3.9 boards and 5.3 assists for the Shockers this season.

    Perhaps people shouldn't be as surprised that the Shockers are in this position. It was only a year ago when they, as a No. 9 seed, advanced to the Final Four before losing to Louisville, the team that eventually won the entire tournament.

    Some feel the Shockers had an easy run this year, but nothing is easy about 34-0. If their coach, Gregg Marshall, can thwart all the haters, there's no reason to think VanVleet and the Shockers can't advance deep into the tournament.

Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky

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    Eastern Kentucky, one of the early favorites to win the Ohio Valley Conference, defeated Belmont in the conference tournament final to earn its automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

    The Colonels arsenal is led by Corey Walden, the OVC Defensive Player of the Year. Walden poured in 29 points in the OVC championship, proving he's a threat at both ends of the floor. 

    Eastern Kentucky is very experienced, with many of its top players being juniors and seniors. Even if it is a low seed in the tournament, it has a chance to shock a complacent top seed in the first round.

Jesse Reed, American University

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    American University had one of the best one-year turnarounds in recent memory. American was 10-20 in the 2012-13 season and fought its way into the Big Dance with a win against No. 1-seeded Boston University in the Patriot League championship game, 55-36.

    Much of that success came from Jesse Reed, its sophomore 2-guard. He leads the Eagles with 13.9 points per game and is second in the team in rebounds.

    American won with smothering defense, holding the Terriers to 16 points in the first half and just 20 in the second. 

    Mike Brennan, a first-year coach for American, led the Eagles to a 20-12 record this past season, a complete flip from a year ago. American will be a low seed in the NCAA tournament, but with sharp shooting and a blanketing defense, American is the type of team that could take a top seed all the way to the final horn.

Elijah Wilson, Josh Cameron, Warren Gillis, Coastal Carolina

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    That is the last year Coastal Carolina has been to the NCAA tournament, and with its win over Winthrop in the Big South championship game, the Chanticleers are back after a 21-year drought. 

    Coastal Carolina is led by three dynamic guards in Josh Cameron, Elijah Wilson and Warren Gillis. Their coach, Cliff Ellis, who has led four different schools to the NCAA tournament, provides many looks defensively thanks in part to this three-head Cerberus.

    Cameron, Wilson and Gillis are also the three leading scorers on the team. Wilson, a freshman, scored 16.1 points per game with Gillis and Cameron close behind with 14.8 and 14.1, respectively.

    The Chanticleers are projected to be a No. 16 seed, which, historically, is an automatic loss. Given the strength of their guards, the Chanticleers may be one of the rare No. 16 seeds that keep the score within a dozen points by the end of the game.

Sam Dower, Gonzaga

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    America's favorite mid-major, Gonzaga!

    The Bulldogs won the West Coast Conference championship while compiling a record of 28-6. Gonzaga wasn't as dominant as it had been in the past with a record of 2-4 against the RPI Top 50 this season. Still, the Bulldogs made quick work of the WCC and will be a mid-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. As of March 14th, ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Zags seeded seventh in the Midwest against Iowa.

    The Bulldogs are tough to defend with four players averaging double-digit points. Sam Dower leads his team with 15.0 points per game with Kevin Pangos trailing at 14.1. Gary Bell, Jr. and Przemek Karnowski are the others averaging over 10 per game.

    It's tough to get a feel for some of the mid-level squads, but with such a diversified spread of scorers across different positions—led by Dower—Gonzaga is a threat to reach the Sweet 16 this year.

George Beamon, Manhattan

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    The Manhattan Jaspers upset Iona to win the MAAC tournament, 71-68, and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. The Jaspers finished the year 25-7. According to CBS.com's Matt Norlander, the Jaspers could be a "trendy" upset pick as a No. 13 seed.

    Part of that will depend on George Beamon getting his looks and drilling them. Beamon is a total player, averaging 19.2 points per game and 6.6 rebounds. Add to that the solid play Manhattan gets from forward/center Rhamel Brown and guard Michael Alvarado and the Jaspers could very well take down a No. 4 seed on the way to the second round.

Siyani Chambers, Harvard University

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    The Harvard Crimson, hailing from the Ivy League, were the first team to officially qualify for the NCAA tournament. So much for fashionably late. That's only because the Ivy League has yet to pander to the idea of a conference tournament. Imagine that? Something is somehow below the Ivy League?

    The Crimson (26-4) defeated Yale in their penultimate game to clinch the Ivy League crown and reach their third straight NCAA tournament for head coach Tom Amaker. 

    With Siyani Chambers, Harvard's sophomore guard, leading the way, this likely No. 14 seed has a chance to battle and repeat its efforts from a year ago. Chambers sits toward the top in all statistical categories and leads the team's huddle. Harvard goes as Chambers goes.

    Just a year ago, the Crimson, as a No. 14 seed, defeated No. 3 New Mexico to tango with the 32 remaining teams in the land. Sometimes all it takes is that first win to make a believer. Can the Crimson parlay the momentum of that win against New Mexico and a great regular season to one or more wins in this year's tournament?

    They will, no doubt, be the most rested team in the tournament, all the more time for Chambers to rally his team for its biggest challenge of the year. 

Karl Cochran, Wofford

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    The Wofford Terriers started the year 7-9, but finished strong with a record of 13-3 to win the Southern Conference championship. The Terriers leaned heavily on the skill of Karl Cochran. 

    Cochran drilled five three-pointers in the championship game to hold off Western Carolina. He scored 23 points and added five rebounds, four assists and four steals in the win. Cochran has been the Terriers' best player all season, averaging 15.7 points per game.

    The Terriers finished the season with a record of 20-12 and will likely be a No. 16 seed. A No. 16 has ever upset a No. 1, so Cochran will have to have an otherworldly performance for Wofford.

Jarvis Threatt, Delaware

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    What's in a name?

    Delaware took William and Mary to the wire before beating them 75-74 to reach its first NCAA tournament since 1999. Thanks in large part to Jarvis Threatt, the Blue Hens are back in the Big Dance.

    Threatt does it all for the Blue Hens, scoring 18.1 points per game, pulling down 5.8 rebounds, adding 5.6 assists and 2.5 steals per game. 

    The Blue Hens finished 25-9 overall and 14-2 in the CAA. It's been a long time since Delaware's last appearance in the tournament. Back then in 1999 it was a No. 13 seed, and it appears it will be a No .13 seed yet again. If Threatt can get to the rim and facilitate this offense, Delaware will be a tough matchup for any No. 4 seed in the round of 64.

Taylor Braun, North Dakota State

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    North Dakota State took the Summit League crown over IPFW, 60-57, in the championship game to reach its first NCAA tournament since 2009. The Bison lost that year in the round of 64 to Kansas as a No. 14 seed. That performance in that tournament was enough to sway Taylor Braun to sign a year later in 2010.

    This year, led by Braun, the Bison compiled a record of 25-6 overall and 12-2 in the league. Braun was there the entire way. He led his team in scoring, rebounds and assists, averaging 18.2, 5.5 and 3.9 per game, respectively.

    He's incredibly versatile, and as a forecasted No. 12 seed, there's every reason to believe whoever NDSU matches up against could very well go home early.