NCAA Tournament heroes play for schools big and small, and March often is a time when some not-so-familiar names take center stage and briefly overshadow their more-popular counterparts.
It happens every year. A previously unknown star of a small-school program gets introduced to the national stage and creates his “One Shining Moment.” Said program makes a run to at least the Sweet 16, furthering his popularity for a couple weeks.
This year won’t be any different. It’s just a matter of who that mid-major standout will be. Let’s take a look at some – in no particular order – who have the ability to steal the show and potentially propel their team to an unexpected run during March Madness.
Top Mid-Major Players In NCAA Tournament
Mike Daum, South Dakota State
Daum only received a scholarship at South Dakota State because he hit 12 3-pointers in an AAU game in front of coaches who were there to see someone else. Then he redshirted his first year. Now, the kid from small-town Nebraska is the nation’s second-leading scorer averaging 25.3 points per game for the 16th-seeded Jackrabbits, who will face Gonzaga in the first-round.
Daum’s 51 points against Fort Wayne on Feb. 18 are tied with Campbell’s Chris Clemons for the most in a single game this season. The 6-foot-9 sophomore is averaging 33.8 points over a five-game stretch beginning with that performance and dropped 37 in the Summit League championship game.
It’s common knowledge that a No. 16 seed never has beaten a No. 1, but Gonzaga might get threatened if it lets Daum go off.
Jacorey Williams, Middle Tennessee
You certainly remember No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee’s stunning victory over No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. What you might not realize is that Williams wasn’t even a part of that team.
The graduate transfer from Arkansas won this season’s Conference USA Player of the Year award and is averaging 17.3 points for a Blue Raiders team that enters this year’s Tournament with a 30-4 record. And with help from Williams, they appear primed to pull off another upset as a No. 12 seed against No. 5 Minnesota.
Williams is shooting 54.1 percent from the field, and the 6-foot-8 forward also chips in 7.3 rebounds per game. Names like Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts might ring a bell for last year’s Cinderalla, but Williams could be the main reason Middle Tennessee makes a run this season.
Keon Johnson, Winthrop
Winthrop’s diminutive guard is a big-time player. The 5-foot-7 Johnson is averaging 22.5 points per game and was named Big South Player of the Year for the Eagles, who take on No. 4 seed Butler in the first round. And it’s not as if his effort this season is much of a surprise to Winthrop fans.
Johnson averaged 18.7 points last season as the Eagles shared the Big South regular-season title before falling in the conference championship game. This season, he’s the catalyst for a Winthrop team that is 26-6 and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009-10.
Johnson especially has been on a tear lately, averaging 29.3 points while knocking down 14 of 29 from 3-point range over his last three games. If Butler can’t contain him, the Bulldogs might be exiting the Tournament quickly.
Brandon Goodwin, Florida Gulf Coast
The UCF transfer quickly became the leader in his first season at Florida Gulf Coast. Goodwin is averaging 18.2 points and was named All-Atlantic Sun first team while also chipping in 4.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest. The 6-foot-2 guard will guide the No. 14 seed Eagles in an all-Florida first-round matchup against No. 3 Florida State in Orlando.
Goodwin is a big reason why many believe FGCU can pull off the upset and maybe even get to the Sweet 16 to give fans another look back into the Dunk City years. The Eagles head into the Tournament having won seven in a row, and Goodwin is averaging 22.3 points while shooting 48.3 percent over his last 10 games. They lost at Baylor and at Michigan State by a combined 10 points earlier this season, with Goodwin netting 22 against the Bears and 18 versus the Spartans.
Jimmy Hall, Kent State
Hall has played in relative obscurity this season while Kent State finished fourth in the MAC East Division and received only a No. 6 seed in the conference tournament. But three straight upsets by a combined 10 points have the Golden Flashes and their star in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 14 seed taking on mighty UCLA.
Hall originally declared for the NBA Draft after last season before returning for his senior year, and Kent State couldn’t be more happy with his decision. The 6-foot-8 forward leads the Golden Flashes in scoring (18.9 points per game), rebounding (10.5) and assists (2.6) and has recorded 22 double-doubles, which are tied for the fourth-most in the nation.
Hall is going to have a tough matchup against the Bruins’ front line, but expect him to put up a good fight as Kent State hangs tough.
Honorable Mention: Jordan Varnado, Troy; Giddy Potts, Middle Tennessee; Landry Shamet, Wichita State
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