Keon Johnson – Winthorp
The 5’9” dynamo from Winthrop is starting to get more exposure as the tourney nears, but watching Keon Johnson in game is the only way to get the full experience. Johnson is a scoring savant that can attack the basket with scorching speed as well as rain threes from the outside. He’s the closest thing we have in the tournament to the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas. Look for Johnson to have a scoring explosion in his first tourney appearance.
Mike Daum – South Dakota St
We won’t get to see the nation’s leading scorer, Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene, because of the Chippewas eight-game losing streak to end the season, but we will be treated to the second leading scorer in South Dakota State’s big man, Mike Daum. Daum is scoring over 25 points a night while shooting an efficient 50-percent from the field and 41-percent from three. Daum can flat-out score the basketball from everywhere on the floor and is the Jackrabbits main source of offense.
Devontae Cacok – UNC-Wilmington
The man who never (or rarely) misses, UNC-Wilmington’s forward, Devontae Cacok. Cacok is shooting an almost unrealistic 79.9-percent from the field. The efficient slasher rarely takes bad shots and finishes nearly everything at the rim. He’s one of the key reasons why UNC-Wilmington is near the top of any advanced offensive categories and will be key if the Seahawks want to upset Virginia in the Round of 64.
Markus Howard – Marquette
No team in the nation shoots the three better than Marquette, and no single player shoots the outside shot at a higher clip than Markus Howard. Howard enters the tourney shooting 55-percent from three on just under five attempts per game. Look no further than Marquette’s game against Xavier earlier on in the year for an example of Howard’s shooting prowess. The Golden Eagles’ guard hit a season high nine threes on just 12 attempts. The resident sniper in the field, Howard can get hot from the outside in an instant.
Kyron Cartwright – Providence
Outside of UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Providence’s Kyron Cartwright might be the best playmaker in the field. The guard from Compton, California is averaging 6.7 assists per game on the season and is the engine that make the Friars go. After losing Kris Dunn to the NBA Draft last year, there was a gaping need for somebody to take over for the lead guard duties in the offense. Cartwright has blown away any expectations set for the junior guard, and has the Friars in the tournament for the fourth straight year.
After being dismissed from Missouri State, Marcus Marshall took his talents to the University of Nevada where he has starred this past season. The high-scoring guard sports an all-around offensive game. He has great size for the position and has been shooting it from three with a high success rate this year (38.6-percent on 8.4 attempts). He’s an exciting offensive talent that can take over a game at any given time.
Jordan Washington – Iona
Iona plays at an extraordinarily quick pace. Their three-point happy, defense-as-an-afterthought style makes them one of the more aesthetically pleasing teams to watch for in the tournament. The Gaels’ pseudo-big man and most important player is Jordan Washington who leads the team in both points and rebounds this season. The versatility and athleticism of Washington allows the Gaels to play the style they want to play, running up and down the court and finding looks early in the shot clock.
Joe Rahon – St. Mary’s
St. Mary’s features two guards that could be the starting point man for many teams around the country, and one of them is Boston College transfer, Joe Rahon. Rahon has a great all-around game; he plays good defense, is a gifted playmaker, and can spot-up from the outside with consistency. Currently playing through a knee injury, Rahon hopes that his game isn’t too hampered by the ailment as St. Mary’s heavily rely on his contributions on both ends of the floor.
Rams guard E.C. Matthew gets most of the press, but it’s the big man Hassan Martin that has been the steadying force for Rhode Island throughout the year. Martin is the anchor of the Rams defense, and is an absolute force protecting the paint. Averaging over 2.5 blocks a game, points near the hoop will be tough to come by for any team that gets matched up against Rhode Island.
Having started his collegiate career at UNLV, senior transfer Demetris Morant has carved himself a nice niche as a vital piece for this Florida Gulf Coast squad. His athletic ability brings back old memories of “Dunk City” and he hopes to carry on that tradition with a few rim-rocking dunks throughout the tournament.
Sources: Marvin Gentry, James Snook, Jeff Hanisch, Noah K. Murray, Lance Iversen, Chris Nicoll, Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports, News-leader