With the brackets out and official, the speculation about potential upsets in key matchups is at full throttle. There will be key players who take over the game, keeping their team afloat with nothing more than heart and clutch play. Everyone knows about players like Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and Nolan Smith, but the headliners are always in the upsets. The names we remember come from the small schools that pull the upset in the opening rounds and carry their team on an improbable run. We tried to select players from lower seeded teams that could be in a position to make some noise in potential close matchups.
That said, SwishScout.com presents ‘The Top 15 Bracket Busting Stars in Opening Weekend.’
Note: On most players, you can click their name or school to take you to a more detailed profile for a more extensive scouting report on the respective prospect.
Despite a season-ending slump that has seen the Wildcats fall from grace, Wayns has been their one constant and will have to make good decisions. If he can get his team back to midseason form during the tournament, he could lead remake Villanova into a sleeper with a deceiving seed.
Demontez Stitt (Clemson)
The senior guard had a solid second half to his season and a nice ACC Tournament outing, averaging more than 20 points against Boston College and North Carolina. The Tigers have been slowly gathering steam and Stitt should be the powering force behind any potential Tigers upset.
Nikola Vucevic (USC)
Quietly one of the better players in the nation, Vucevic is a tough post player who averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks during the season. USC upset Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, Washington and Arizona this season, and the Trojan’s go-to guy was a big reason why.
Mike Muscala (Bucknell)
The Bison’s big postman has been their rock this season, putting up 14.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the Patriot League. Bucknell has a history of pulling big upsets in the tournament (mot notably against No. 3 Kansas in 2006) and could be a dangerous team to pull a first-round surprise behind Muscala’s muscle.
The Volunteer’s swingman has been their primary scorer all year and despite playing uneven during a turbulent season, Hopson and UT have had some nice tournament runs in recent seasons. Hopson has been the man for head coach Bruce Pearl this year, and the success of the team will hinge largely on his explosive scoring ability.
The cagey leader of the Fighting Illini has been lights out from the three all year, shooting an incredible 45.5 percent on his 154 attempts this season. If McCamey gets hot from deep and can get his teammates involved like he did in wins earlier this season versus Gonzaga and North Carolina, Illinois is a team to be reckoned with.
Tim Hardaway Jr. (Michigan)
The son of "The Killer Crossover" has been coming on strong for Michigan as of late, averaging over 19 points per game in his last nine. The talented freshman can get hot in a hurry, potentially taking over an early-round game with his scoring prowess.
Ian Clark (Belmont)
The Bruins have been talked about nationally as a team with a chance to stir the pot this year and, Clark has been a big reason why. The scoring-savvy sophomore is shooting 43.6 percent from the three, as his team has lost only four times all season, including two close losses to Tennessee and one to Vanderbilt.
Justin Harper (Richmond)
The 6’10” forward is practically an unknown outside of the Atlantic 10 conference and NBA Draft circles, but just ask teams like Purdue and Temple what the Spiders' star is capable of. He’s a threat from beyond the arc and can really get out in transition, and if he’s on, Richmond has a good shot of pulling an upset.
Steven Gray (Gonzaga)
Gray has been uneven this season, but showed signs early in the season of being able to take over a contest with some late-game heroics. The senior is the premier scoring threat for Gonzaga, but he will have to play at his prime in order for Zag nation to go on another magical run.
Faried has been an absolute stud in the OVC this year, rocking the conference for 17.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2 steals per game. The modern era’s all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history will look to go out with a bang, as the senior will anchor the defensive end and hold down the boards to give his team a good shot to win early.
Cam Long (George Mason)
When you hear George Mason, you think back to the immaculate run by the Patriots back in 2006, but that team never had a scorer of Long’s caliber. Cam is a shot-taker and a shot-maker, hitting 42.6 percent of his attempts this season. You can count on the Colonial Conference first-teamer to take the last shot for Mason.
Talor Battle (Penn State)
One of the few NCAA players capable of winning a game by himself, Battle’s dreams of playing in the big dance will finally come true in his senior season. Talor is one of the nation’s premier floor generals and a volume three-point shooter who will keep the game from getting out of hand.
While only 5’9”, Thomas has one of the biggest hearts and is one of the best clutch shooters in the tournament. His epic performance in the Pac-10 Tournament this year solidified him as a national power player, and the Huskies won’t go down without a fight from the fiery playmaker.
One of the best-kept secrets in the NCAA, Benson is a 6’11” big man with a sweet inside-out game. As the Summit League Player of the Year two seasons in a row, don’t be surprised if Benson puts up big numbers when the Golden Grizzlies make a serious attempt to knock off a highly ranked first-round foe.