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Sweet 16 2014: Underrated Players to Watch in Regional Semifinals

Scott HarrisFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2014

Sweet 16 2014: Underrated Players to Watch in Regional Semifinals

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    Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (left) after sinking the game winner against North Carolina Sunday.
    Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (left) after sinking the game winner against North Carolina Sunday.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Remember the push brooms.

    Over the past four days, these humble cleaning tools and the brave men and women who operate them worked around the clock in office break rooms, sports taverns and college dorm corridors around this nation.

    Whenever another hapless hoops Nostradamus reduced his or her bracket to confetti in a fit of grief and shame, the push brooms were there. When another billion-dollar dream joined the dust, they were there. Whenever another Duke or Wichita State or Kansas went down, time and again, they were there.

    Now, with the dust having settled, the push brooms find themselves in much-needed repose. Bruised, battered, but unbowed. Yet this terrible symbiosis continues unabated, as the work of the fan is now ramping back up.

    Who do we pull for in the tourney's second weekend, where only 16 teams will compete? Which upstarts stand a real chance to survive and advance in, you know, the big dance? And which players will make must-see TV out of themselves and their teams?

    These are the most underrated players still alive and lurking somewhere in this wonderful debacle—just waiting to surprise everyone in their path and press those valiant but exhausted push brooms back into service. Don't you let them do it. Be forewarned, and be forearmed.

    Players selected based on one or a blend of the following factors: their high value to but relatively unsung status on a top-performing team, or being a top player on a team not widely known by casual fans and/or expected to reach the Sweet 16. 

DeAndre Kane, Point Guard, Iowa State

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    DeAndre Kane is probably better known this week than he was last week. Averaging 19 points, six assists and 8.5 boards in two tournament games—not to mention hitting the game-winner to down North Carolina and carry the Cyclones to their first Sweet 16 since 2000—will do that.

    Yes, a strange officiating twist marred the end of the North Carolina game. But that shouldn't overshadow the fact that Kane once again outdueled a more touted floor general in UNC's Marcus Paige.

    Kane is underrated compared to the likes of Paige and others, but he is firmly ensconced as the leader of one of the highest-octane squads remaining in the field. With injuries hampering the Cyclones up front and another higher-profile point guard on deck in Connecticut's Shabazz Napier, he'll need to maintain that elite form if Iowa State wants to keep rolling.

Dyshawn Pierre, Forward, Dayton

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Plenty of fans both casual and serious probably assumed that Ohio State was Dayton's basketball Super Bowl. And when the 11th-seeded Flyers took down their larger, more glamorous in-state cousins in the sixth-seeded Buckeyes, it looked like they had done what they were destined to do.

    In the lede of every story was Jordan Sibert, the Ohio State transfer who helped guide the Flyers into the tourney in the first place.

    While the copy wrote itself, it overlooked two things. First, Dayton wasn't done. Second, Sibert isn't the true engine powering the Flyers.

    On the former, as you likely know, Dayton went on to win in its second consecutive thriller, upending third-seeded Syracuse. On the latter, that would be Dyshawn Pierre, the wiry and versatile forward who led the Flyers in rebounding and ranked third in scoring this season and has averaged 13 points and seven boards thus far in the dance.

    The native Canadian was clutch down the stretch in both contests, including three ice-cold free throws to give Dayton the lead over Ohio State in the final minute. He can take it inside, he can shoot it from the outside (how about that 40 percent clip from three?) and he can play solid defense. Pierre may not be a one-man gang for the Flyers, but he's the one man in the gang who can least afford to slip up.

Chasson Randle, Guard, Stanford

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Freshmen gonna freshmen.

    When reporters at a news conference asked Kansas' dynamic frosh duo, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden, about Chasson Randle, they paused and giggled. Apparently they had never heard of Stanford's leading scorer.

    Think they know him now?

    Actually, maybe they're still in the dark. If they had heard of Randle, would they have allowed the guard to hit six of his 12 shots for 13 points in the Jayhawks' 60-57 shocker loss to the Cardinal? Would Randle have been able to grab four rebounds and swipe six steals? And it's not like they didn't know he was out there; he never left the court, playing all 40 minutes. 

    All that happened even as Randle helped hold Wiggins to four points. He later admitted that the perceived slight provided extra motivation. We'll see how Dayton scouts him for this weekend. In the meantime, one can only assume Randle will remain an underrated player on an underrated team.

Patric Young, Center, Florida

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Patric Young is a man among boys—and the 6'9", 240-pound center has been keeping the other kids in check on behalf of the freight-training Gators.

    He's not the most polished offensive player (see that 3-of-11 shooting performance against Pittsburgh), but he can get his share via putbacks and transition buckets.

    His true calling card, though, is defense. He was a menace against the Panthers, patrolling the paint and punishing trespassers with a bullying array of blocks and authoritative rebounding. When time finally let Pittsburgh off the hook, Young had netted four rejections and a steal on top of eight rebounds and seven points.

    Let Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather bask in the spotlight. It's the underrated Patric Young who gives the Gators their bite.

Jordan Morgan, Forward, Michigan

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Like Stanford's Randle, Jordan Morgan entered the weekend with a bruise on his ego and a chip on his shoulder.

    Earlier this season, Michigan's hyper-intense senior swallowed his pride and took to the bench following the emergence of talented sophomore Mitch McGary. But then McGary went down with an injury, and Morgan re-emerged in the Wolverine rotation.

    And he has emerged with extreme prejudice in this tournament, posting 10 points and 10 boards against Wofford and then throwing up 15 and 10 against Texas and Cameron Ridley, the forward about whom Michigan coaches spent days taunting Morgan.

    The senior leader now seems to be at the core of the Wolverines, a team that looks red-hot entering the Sweet 16.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Forward, Arizona

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    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (left) dunks against Gonzaga last weekend.
    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (left) dunks against Gonzaga last weekend.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson get all the ink, and deservedly so. But this is not a two-man band. 

    Rondae Hollis-Jefferson—Arizona's other freshman forward, alongside Gordon—is a dangerous force inside for the Wildcats. He's the team's sixth man and provides rocket fuel for Arizona's demolition derby of a defensive scheme.

    And he seems to be coming on at just the right moment for the 'Cats. In their 84-61 thumping of Gonzaga, Hollis-Jefferson filled the stat sheet with 18 points, five rebounds, five assists, four blocks and one steal.

    If that wasn't enough, he did all this while shooting 5-of-7 from the floor and 8-of-8 from the stripe. Not too shabby for a sub.

Jarnell Stokes, Forward, Tennessee

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Jarnell Stokes is on a short list of the tournament's best players to this point. But as a member of a relatively under-the-radar team like Tennessee, Stokes, despite posting huge numbers thus far, remains underrated on the national stage.

    In three Volunteer wins (they defeated Iowa in a play-in game last week), Stokes has averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds. That includes a career-high 26 points and a new school tournament record 14 rebounds Friday against UMass. Then he broke that school record with 18 boards against Mercer.

    The punishing forward (along with frontcourt running mate Jeronne Maymon) caused matchup night terrors for each of his first three opponents. Tennessee's next opponent, Michigan, might also struggle to handle those big bodies. If the Vols stay aggressive down there and feed their horses, the 11th seed might be poised for a big upset this weekend behind Stokes.

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