Here are some usual suspects poised to return to March Madness with a vengeance. These are not just guys with tournament experience, but deep tournament experience. These players are winners. They’ve performed in clutch situations. If you see them performing in March, you’ll ask yourself, “damn, didn’t that kid play against Anthony Davis’s Kentucky squad?” Nope, but one of these guys did play on his Wildcat team.
Scoochie Smith, Dayton Flyers Senior Guard
Who can forget the name Scoochie? Not Syracuse Orange fans. In 2014, Scoochie scored 5 points and dropped 3 assists in 18 minutes of work to help his Flyers ascend into the Sweet 16. Scoochie had an identical stat-line when they beat Stanford and reached the Elite 8. Flanked by 2014 teammates Kendall Pollard and Dyshawn Pierre, the Flyers could rise again this March.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana Hoosiers Senior Guard
On March 28, 2013, a young Kevin Ferrell joined a lineup that included Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Will Sheehey. Ferrell was held scoreless as Michael Carter-Williams’s Orange moved past Indiana and into the Elite 8. In the three seasons to follow, Ferrell has scored about 1,600 points as the cast of characters evolved around him. This season, James Blackmon Jr. was lost for the season with a knee injury, but freshmen OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant are maturing around him. Let’s see what Ferrell can orchestrate in his Big Dance swan song.
Kaleb Tarczewski, Arizona Wildcats Senior Guard
Tarczewski has seen the highs and lows of a college basketball career. He too has played with the studs. In 2013-14, his Wildcats lost a heart-breaker to Wisconsin in the Elite 8. That team featured current NBA players Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell (plus Brandon Ashley and Nick Johnson). Tarczewski has also battled injury. He missed eight games this season. Tarczewski averages 10 points and 8 boards. It won’t be a lack of postseason experience that keeps he and his fellow grizzled veteran, Gabe York, from succeeding in this tournament.
Ron Baker & Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State Senior Guards
Both Baker and Van Vleet played critical minutes in Wichita State’s historic march into the 2013 Final Four. In fact, as freshmen, these guards played a combined 60 minutes in a Final Four matchup against (eventual champion) Louisville. Since that Cinderella run, Van Vleet has contributed 492 assists to 143 turnovers. Van Vleet missed some time early in this 2016 campaign due to an ankle injury. If both these guys are healthy, watch for a serious run reminiscent of the Butler Bulldogs or Shockers of earlier this decade.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga Senior Forward
It would be almost impossible for Wiltjer’s collegiate career to not finish in anti-climatic fashion. As a freshman, the 2011 McDonald’s All-American from Portland Oregon became a member of the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats championship team. He sat a year in order to transfer to Gonzaga. Last season, as you know, his Bulldogs lost to the eventual champion Duke Blue Devils in the Elite 8 game. Wiltjer has bulked up considerably over his college career, especially in that off-year during the transfer. After losing Premet Karnowski, Gonzaga’s ceiling is not as high as he might have hoped. However, Wiltjer is one of few guys in college basketball who still has “in the gym” range. If I were an opponent, I would hate to face this 23-year-old intent on a last hurrah.