Sunday, March 13, 2011

NCAA Tournament Players to Watch in the First Round

Even though I’ve invested hours and hours into college basketball, I would never call myself an expert. There are just too many teams and players to ever really get one head wrapped around. Most experts, however, like to investigate “bracketology” and make predictions on which teams are going to make the NCAA tournament. I am more than content to let the committee do their job and select the pairings for the now 68 teams. That said, here are my five teams that are most likely to get snubbed by the committee. Nah, I am just kidding. Here is a list of five players who are unlikely to make it past the first round, but should be fun to watch on basketball’s greatest stage

Keith Benson, center, Oakland Golden Grizzles

Oakland will be a chic pick to upset whomever they play in the first round because they ran through the Summit league with a 17-1 record and had little trouble winning the conference tournament. Benson, a 6-foot-10 senior, is the biggest reason why (both literally and figuratively). The Golden Grizzly center averaged 18.1 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks. Fouls can be an issue and he did foul out of three games, but he has improved his ability to stay away from whistles. If Oakland were matched up in the first round against a team like BYU, Benson could have a big game and be a value pick.

Devin Gibson, guard, Texas-San Antonio Road Runners

The Road Runners were not the top seed in the Southland conference tournament, but they had the best player. Gibson, a 6-foot senior, had a triple-double (28 points, ten rebounds, ten assists) in the first round of the tournament and a 26-11-6 game in the second round. His teammates lifted him up against McNeese State in the final, but Gibson was bound to have an off game sooner or later. For the season, the Houston native averaged 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 2.7 steals. It was the third time he had provided more than 80 steals in a season. UTSA did not play any likely NCAA teams, but Gibson will likely do all that he can to extend his collegiate career.

Kenneth Faried, forward/center, Morehead State Eagles

Faried is a well-known commodity in fantasy circles because he has been producing big numbers for the last three seasons. The 6-foot-8 postman led the nation in rebounding with 14.5 boards and also provided 17.6 points, 2.0 steals, and 2.4 blocks as a senior. He even has tournament experience from back in 2009 when the Eagles won the play-in game for the right to play Louisville in the first round. Faried had 14 points and 21 rebounds in the win over Alabama State and 14 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to the Cardinals. Morehead State will not likely be a 16-seed this year and Faried could have a big game if his first round opponent can not man up against him.

Orlando Johnson, guard, UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos

The Gauchos were just 8-8 in the Big West regular season and will likely be one of the bottom seeds in the conference, but they have Johnson and a slight reason to hope. The Loyola-Marymount transfer led the Big West in scoring at 21.1 points. Like Faried, he has experience losing in the first round of the tournament. Last year, the Gauchos represented the Big West and were beaten by Ohio State. Johnson scored 20 points in that game. In the Big West tournament, Johnson provided 85 points in three games and hit 50% of his three-pointers. He is on a hot streak and someone is going to have to guard him, even if he does have to play on Tuesday or Wednesday in one of the “First Four.”

Zeke Marshall, center, Akron Zips

If you only saw Marshall, a 7-foot sophomore, for one game this season and it was the MAC championship, you would have to think he has NBA potential. For one game, Marshall dominated like pundits thought he would prior to his freshman season. He had nine points, 13 rebounds, and nine blocks in the overtime win against Kent State to lead the Zips to the Big Dance. Unfortunately, the rest of his season was not quite as terrific. He routinely got into early foul trouble and managed averages of just 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks. Marshall only played 22 minutes per game, so if he can stay on the court for 30 minutes, he could provide big first round returns.