2011 NCAA Tournament: 10 Best Players in March Madness Casual Fans Don't Know
There are numerous standout players that go largely unrecognized every year in college basketball. Each time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, these players quickly rise to the top, becoming household names in huge upsets or crazy statistical performances. The 2011 NCAA Tournament is no exception.
In a year where parity reigns, good teams and players are spread wide and thin, making upsets more likely and superstar performances hopeful.
The big names will not be the only ones taking the big performances, though, as many under-the-radar studs are poised to take this year's Big Dance by storm and be the face of 2011's Cinderella team.
Here's to bringing some of the NCAA Tournament's best unknowns into your living room on the first weekend of games.
10. Ramone Moore, Temple
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The junior guard saved one of his best games of the season for Thursday's opening round squeaker over Penn State.
Temple was a favored seven seed but played against a scalding hot Penn State team. Moore was instrumental in the Owl victory, notching a tied for game high 23 points on 10-16 shooting.
Moore was primed to step in this year as one of coach Fran Dunphy's go to guys. He assumed 33 minutes per game this year after playing only 18 last year and scoring seven points a game. Seven points a game for a sophomore is nothing special, but indicate a player that could take on a large roll the next season.
Moore has done exactly that, and Temple has enjoyed a great season largely because of his contributions.
9. Justin Harper, Richmond
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Harper is another player in the Atlantic-10 who has made a big leap this year.
The forward, averaging 17.7 points per game, is one of the most accurate shooters in the NCAA, shooting near 54 percent on the season. His 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks are also career highs for Harper, who led the Spiders to a strong third place finish in the conference.
Harper's status as an unknown is in jeopardy after 12th seeded Richmond upset fifth seeded Vanderbilt in the opening round.
Another win over fellow Cinderella candidate Morehead State in the second round could put Harper on the map of the NCAA and NBA landscapes.
8. Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
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The 6'5" sophomore has exploded this season in terms of minutes and contribution. Up to 30 minutes from 12 last year, McGruder is second on the team in scoring with 11.4 points and a team leading six rebounds per game.
McGruder might have broken out last year, but the Wildcats were at full tank on guards with standouts Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen. Clemente is gone, and McGruder has stepped into his shoes admirably.
A deadly three-point shooter, hitting at a 41.3 percent rate, McGruder could erupt in any tournament game with a flurry of long range bombs. He has taken 167 threes this year, which comes out to a mind-boggling five attempts per game. Any player who can shoot 41 percent on that many deep shots has NBA potential.
Listen for McGruder's name as Frank Martin's squad advances in this year's tournament and into next year.
7. Keith Benson, Oakland
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NBA scouts must be drooling over this 6'11" senior.
Benson's 18 points and 10 rebounds are just the tip of his iceberg of accomplishments. The big man is an elite shot-blocker, ranking second in the NCAA with 3.6 swats per game.
The two-time Summit League Player of the Year led his Golden Grizzlies to a 17-1 conference record and a league title. Against Oral Roberts in the Summit Final, Benson was unstoppable with 28 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
He is the best player in his conference, but has gone mostly unnoticed. When the NBA Draft arrives in June, Benson should be a name that generates a lot of buzz.
First, he's looking to generate buzz in the NCAA Tournament.
6. Khris Middleton, Texas A&M
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Middleton is the leading scorer on a team that has enjoyed surprising success in 2010-11.
The sophomore swingman was thrust into the lead scorer role this year, and he's responded very well. He's doubled his scoring average from a not-too-shabby 7.2 as a freshman to a team leading 14.3 this year. He rebounds well for a small forward, and his developing three-point shot will be a huge addition when ready.
If A&M makes a run in the Southwest region, they'll need Middleton to lead them. If he does, there will be a lot of hype for an underclassman with an NBA body to jump to the pros early.
5. Chandler Parsons, Florida
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The 6'11" senior forward has shined brightly for Billy Donovan's Gator resurgence this year.
The athletic and versatile Parsons doesn't score as much as teammates Ervin Walker and Kenny Boynton, but his contributions cannot be ignored. He has improved his rebounding, assist and shooting averages in each of his four years, which indicates improvement across the board.
Most of the time he is content with letting his talented guard teammates do the scoring because he knows that someone needs to set those guys up, play solid defense and do the dirty work on the boards. Guys like this, especially at 6'11", are invaluable to a team's cause.
If ever there were an unsung hero on a national title hopeful, Parsons is it.
4. Cam Long, George Mason
The Patriots won 16 games in a row from mid-January through early March before losing a shocker to VCU in the Colonial Final.
Still, the 16-2 conference record was good enough to get the Patriots an at-large bid as an eight seed.
Long's game is largely intact from the last two seasons with a dramatic improvement in his three-point shooting. As a guard, his 31 percent shooting as a junior is unacceptable for a player charged with leading his team in scoring.
This year, he took a career high 129 threes and is hitting an exceptional 42 percent of them. As a result, he has also improved his scoring by three points a game to 15.3 as a senior. His 1.7 turnovers per game are a testament to his dedication to improve from his 2.5 last season.
George Mason has been a giant-killer before, with that iconic 2006 run to the Final Four. If they're poised to make another Cinderella run, Long will be the one who leads them there.
3. Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
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The freshman point guard has turned up the heat since mid-January, when the Tar Heels really started to make their run to the ACC regular season crown.
Before January 18th, Marshall played 20 minutes in a game just twice. After January 18th, he did that in 16 straight games.
His minute count isn't the only number that spiked. From that point, he averaged 7.1 assists while collecting just 4.4 a game before it. His final two months are a clear indication that the unsung member of the 2010 Tar Heel class should not be overlooked.
On a team loaded with NBA players in front of him, including Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, the young point guard is the one who has quietly conducted the Tar Heel resurgence this season.
His offensive game is rough, but steady improvement should get him above 10 points to go along with seven or eight assists as his career in Chapel Hill progresses.
2. Carleton Scott, Notre Dame
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The 6'8" senior has enjoyed a strong finish to his college career with 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds as Notre Dame's third option.
After a frustrating junior season getting only 19 minutes per game, Scott was leaned on by coach Mike Brey all season long to take pressure off of scorers Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis. He has responded by quietly leading the team in rebounding and shot blocking (1.8 per game) in 31 minutes a game.
His efficiency from the field, at the free throw line and with the ball helps Notre Dame to score a 33rd best 76 points a game. His ability to protect the rim and clear the glass ensures that opposing defenses don't put all their focus on the Irish's perimeter oriented attack.
Scott has silently played a huge role for Notre Dame and will be central to a potential Final Four run out of the Southwest bracket.
1. Terrell "Tu" Holloway, Xavier
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There seems to be a trend of unsung standout players out of the A-10 conference. Holloway is the best of that bunch.
The junior guard played in the best game of the 2010 tourney. He had a huge game with 26 points, but was overshadowed by big performances from ex-teammate Jordan Crawford and Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen of Kansas State.
Holloway is overshadowed no longer, but fights an uphill battle to recognition by playing in the competitive but marginal A-10.
His 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists are the heart and soul of the Musketeers and will be their best hope to advance past Marquette on Friday and Syracuse on Sunday.
Like Crawford, Holloway is looking for a breakout performance in the NCAAs to boost his NBA draft stock.