The Big Dance is upon us and I’m starting to feel giddy and excited like a school girl on the morning of her quinceanera. Try and pretend that I never said that. You can’t, can you? Some things just can’t be undone. Anyway…
This tournament is loaded with impact players primed for superlative performances. Here are 5 guys that should have you glued to your TV sets, computer screens, and smart phones.
My Tar Heel friends are gonna kill me for throwing a Dukie on this list but it had to be done. Nolan is such a classic Coach K guy that it almost makes me sick, but it also makes him a tremendous basketball player and the kind of guy you want leading your team into the tournament. Like all Coach K disciples, Nolan is a heady ballplayer with a high basketball I.Q. and a fundamentally sound game. Originally the starting shooting guard, he’s done a terriffic job of running the point since freshman star Kyrie Irving went down with a definition-defying toe injury, averaging 21 points per game and finishing 2nd in the ACC in dishing. The kid deserves a lot of credit for re-working his game on the fly. In fact, Irving’s injury may prove to be a blessing for Smith as it has shown NBA scouts that he is capable of operating as a playmaker and not just a shooter. This should significantly increase his draft stock as he’s undersized for an NBA 2. Look for Nolan to have some big games and lead Duke on a deep run.
I am not in love with this Ohio State team (in fact, I’m not really in love with any of the #1 seeds but that’s another post entirely). I think they are overrated and I can easily see them losing to Syracuse. That said, there’s no question that Jared Sullinger is a beast. He put up big numbers this year (17 pts, 10 boards per) and was clearly one of the best freshman in the country. He’s a mobile mountain-of-a-man with quick feet and great hands. He also has a soft touch and can shoot from distance, but he seems to like playing inside and doesn’t spend too much time trying to be a perimeter player, like so many other bigs who are blessed with shooting range (ahem, Chris “Down Pillow” Bosh). Sullinger should put up some big numbers in the first couple of rounds.
There are 3 important questions when it comes to The Chaste One: How many points is he going to put up? How many chucks is it going to take for him to get those points? And, most importantly, how many wives is this dude going to have down the line? In all seriousness, this kid can light it up. By now, everyone knows that. During last seasons tournament he put up 37 in a win over Florida. This year, he had games of 47 and 52 (which came during the Mountain West Conf. Tournament, no less). I have BYU losing to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 so that should give Jimmer, the nation’s leading scorer, a chance to put up some gaudy statistics and mind-boggling shot totals (he’s like a short, white, Carmelo Anthony).
Kawhi (pronounced Kah-Why) might be my favorite player in the country. The 6’7″ sophmore is a joy to watch. He has a non-stop motor, he’s a tremendous rebounder (11 per game this season), and he’s an active and effective defender, capable of defending multiple positions on the floor. He’s also one of the best pure athletes in the tournament. This guy is only going to get better as he adds more polish to his offensive game and gains a more-consistent jump shot. I have SDSU making a deep run in the tourney so Kawhi should have plenty of chances to showcase his game. If you haven’t seen this kid play yet, he’s a must watch.
This kid is BIG TIME. I usually hate on undersized 2 guards coming into the NBA draft but Kemba’s got me believing that he’s going to be an impact player for a long time. His offensive game has evolved so much from his freshman year to this, his junior season, and he’s shown the ability to knock down big shots, as we saw in the Big East Tournament. Kemba might be the quickest guard I’ve seen since Allen Iverson and, actually, their games are very similar. They are both explosive athletes with tremendous lateral quickness. They both have great handle and utilize the crossover dribble (although, AI’s crossover may never be equalled) to create space for their excellent mid-range jumpers. I’m not saying that Kemba is going to be as good as The Answer, but he has a chance to be something special. I expect him to lead The Huskies on a run to, at the very least, The Sweet 16, and possibly even further. He’s the kind of player that seems to love the spotlight and is at his best when it matters most. This should be fun to watch.
-by Max Joice