8. Kellen Martin, Butler Sophomore Small Forward
A lot of focus for Texas Tech’s defense will be on senior Roosevelt Jones, and rightfully so.
But this boy Kellen Martin is a grinder as well.
Some have compared him to Paul Pierce. Martin certainly has the lower center of gravity. He likes to initiate the contact, create a bump for the elevating defender, and finishes well. Martin averages 16 points this season on 45% shooting and getting to the foul line about 4 times a game. He has an attitude that’s ready to take over.
I could go on and on, but Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson are more qualified. Listen to their thoughts during this highlight tape…
7. Stefan Jankovic, Hawaii Junior Power Forward
We admit, this is a stretch. It’s a stretch because Hawaii is a projected 13 seed at this point. But Jankovic is also a stretch forward who is peaking at the right time. He scored 25 in a critical late season road win against UC Irvine. His Rainbows came back from a 5 point deficit with 2 minutes left to play. The Missouri transfer’s offensive game has really improved over his 3 years. Jankovic banked in a 3-pointer to help Hawaii win this one. He averages 16 points per game, including 41% from behind the arc.
6. Markis McDuffie, Wichita State Freshman Forward
In 2014, we learned who freshmen Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker were as the Shockers marched into the Final Four. Coach Greg Marshall is willing to let his talented freshman play a role. We were introduced to Markis McDuffie in a larger dose over the holidays as Van Vleet was injured and Connor Frankampt was still unavailable. At 6-8, McDuffie’s game reminds us slightly of Tracie McGrady. Buckle up.
5. Shonn Miller, UCONN Sophomore Forward
In 2013-14, forward DeAndre Daniels shot out of a canon as the Huskies embarked on their championship run. With a fleet of guards at Connecticut, having a power forward put his stamp on a game can be a matchup nightmare in a tournament setting. Miller jumps out of the gym, defends his position well, and, is frankly playing under his potential as this season winds down. If he has a DeAndre Daniels-like contribution in mid-March, look out. It could be…another “revelation.”
4. Isaiah Taylor, Texas Junior Point Guard
Isaiah Taylor has done a 180 compared to last year. Last season as a sophomore, there were times that he stubbornly penetrated into the middle of a zone, only to throw up a flailing floater to hit back rim. Shaka Smart has been lauded for keeping Taylor at Texas. Taylor should be lauded for turning his game around. This season he is more of the prototypical point guard, not as fixated on his own offensive game, but, wait for it, “letting the game come to him.” Texas is a really dangerous team! Taylor epitomizes why. He has grown under Shaka Smart’s leadership. Taylor is averaging two points more per game (15.1) than last year, while taking essentially the same number of shots. He has 36 more assists this time versus last. And, Taylor has cut his turnovers from 2.6 a game to 1.9. We don’t often get stat geeky, but the numbers support what we’re seeing during the games. Taylor has matured and this team is gaining confidence that Shaka Smart’s inaugural year does not have to be a throw-away transitional one.
3.DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s Junior Forward
Is it possible to go 22-4 and still be under the radar? While A-10 teams like George Washington and VCU got national airtime early in the season, the Hawks have steadily been one of the best teams in the Northeast.
Bembry looks a little bit like Scottie Pippen out there. He is a point forward, able to take one of his eight rebounds per game coast-to-coast. Bembry scores 16 points per game.
2. Ben Bentil, Providence Sophomore Power Forward
As Kris Dunn received accolades for being a great NBA prospect and defender, his teammate Bentil has quietly become one of America’s most improved players. Bentil went from scoring 7 and grabbing 5 boards as a freshman to now averaging 21 and 8. His aggression in the low post is a handful at 6-9 235 lbs. Bentil can also hit a long jumper, even knocking down a whopping 48 threes this season (at 33%). We’re interested to see what scrums he gets into for loose balls with UNC (assuming Providence beats USC), because Bentil’s ferocity is something that has not been exhibited this season by the Tar Heels.
(Note: Jaylen Brown was removed from this article because his team is a 4 seed and should no longer be considered an unknown as a potential lottery pick).
1. Troy Caupain, Cincinatti Junior Point Guard
On a very deep and athletic Bearcats team, Troy Caupain can easily be the x-factor. Take, for example, the game against UCONN February 20th. It was a game that Cincinatti needed to stay on the right side of the bubble. Caupain was clutch! He played 37 minutes, dropping 8 assists with just one turnover.