Players putting their fingerprints on March Madness already

A.J. Jacobson –  North Dakota State – Freshman Forward 
Jacobson is the future of Bison basketball, but for now is the best-kept secret in Mid-Major March Madness participants.  The kid from Fargo really helped set the tone in North Dakota State’s Summit championship game against South Dakota State.  He made a three, a jump-shot, then another three all in the first six minutes.  It’s cliche, but he’s a 3/4 man who can “stretch the floor.”  Jacobson missed four games in December with a knee injury. However, he is playing his best basketball at the right time, scoring double-digits in the past eight games now.

Taurean Prince – Baylor – Junior Forward 
Prince fits the mold of lanky stretch-everything athlete that coach Scott Drew has now routinely brought to Waco, Texas.  Prince averages 14 points per game, but half of his last eight have been 20-plus.  In the quarterfinal against West Virginia, Prince beat the Mountaineers at their game.  He got into passing lanes with those long arms and started transition of his own.  If this guy can play with this same fluidness in mid-March, we could see Baylor in the Sweet 16.

Demarcus Daniels – North Florida – Junior Forward
This guy Daniels is the defensive player of the year in the Atlantic Sun Conference.  But he came off the bench to score 22 points in the championship game and looked damn good doing so.  He is 6’7″, can bang and finish, plus he got to the free throw line.  Daniels knocked down all six of his free throws.  I liked his active hands on both offense and defense.  In the NCAA Tournament, when teams like the element of surprise in spontaneously going zone defense,  it’s helpful to have a pivot forward who can face up and make good decisions around the free throw line.  North Florida is long and has great pedigree coming out of a now-respectable Atlantic Sun (see Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast).  The cool thing is that Daniels is the 5th-highest scorer on the team and the other guys above him are all in double figures.

D’Angelo Russell – Ohio State – Freshman Guard 
Okay, North Dakota and North Florida made a cameo.  It’s time to throw some red meat to the base of college basketball fans hungry for a Final Four star.  I don’t like Ohio State to even make the Sweet 16, but Russell is playing so well right now, that a Kemba Walker-like run is not out of the question.  He has catapulted from a nice NBA pick 1-2 years from now to an absolutely sure-fire top 5 overall pick this spring.  What I like watching is how he trusts his teammates.  Russell has been tossing sweet post feeds to guys like Jae’Sean Tate.  In the absence of Marc Loving (Toledo star and McDonald’s All-American) becoming what Russell is now, some other underclassman have had to fill that vacuum of scoring necessity.  Russell is also a lefty, which always appears more difficult to guard.  His quick release reminds me of Chris Lofton, who was an amazing shooter for the Tennessee Volunteers about 6 years ago.  However, Russell’s tools to finish at the rim, penetrate, and distribute will make him the first backcourt player selected in the league.

Sir’Dominic Pointer – St. John’s – Senior Guard 
#SirDom should be trending this March.  It’s only right based on the way he’s playing.  Like the question of whether his hair will be neatly corn-rowed or wildly afro’ed, his game is unpredictable.  Pointer can pop a mid-range jump shot.  He leaps over defenders who don’t expect his attack at the rack.  The one thing he can’t do:  shoot threes.  Pointer has only made 2 three pointers out of 22 taken on the season (0.91%).  His defense is more important to the team than his offense.  When his defensive pressure leads to transition, he, Harrison and Jordan can gain dangerous momentum.  St. John can be special.  He struggled against Providence, which cost them a crucial game.  If the NCAA Gods are forgiving and the Johnnies make the tournament, I predict a street ball attack unlike anyone else in the nation can offer.

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