Every year players emerge from no-where to become household names come NCAA Tournament time.
Here are five, that you’ll need to know before filling out your brackets this March.
5. Ben Woodside, G, North Dakota State:
Woodside’s story, like all of North Dakota State’s, is truly amazing.
The fifth-year senior was actually instructed to red-shirt – along with four other classmates, one of which is no longer on the team- in the fall of 2004, as the Bison had their eyes on 2009, the first year they’d be eligible for the NCAA Tournament.
During that season, Woodside, and the rest of the practice squad routinely beat the first teamers, tempting then assistant coach, and current head man Saul Phillips to remove their red-shirts.
But all the heartburn from that season has quickly faded, as the Bison are in the school’s first ever NCAA Tournament, in their first year of eligibility.
Now, if North Dakota State is to actually win a game, they’ll need a super-human effort from their 5’11″ guard.
Woodside has done it before, scoring 60 points earlier this season in a loss to Stephen F. Austin, while topping 30 on three other occasions.
But none were against a team like Kansas, or his likely opposition at point guard, Sherron Collins.
Anyone who watched CBS’ Selection Show on Sunday saw what North Dakota State going to the NCAA Tournament meant to both this school, and the community that surrounds it.
But it will take a truly magical effort from Woodside for the story to continue, and for the Bison to advance to the second round.
4. Robbie Hummel, F, Purdue:
Hummel’s stats don’t jump out at you (12.7 points, 6.9 rebounds per game), but don’t be fooled, the 6’8″ junior is the heart and soul of this team, and having him healthy is Purdue’s only chance at a deep tournament run.
Early in the season, Hummel struggled with injuries, missing five games completely, while being limited in several others. Even in games which he played, Hummel often didn’t practice between contests.
However, since returning to the Boilermakers line-up for good in mid-February, this has been a different team, highlighted by a Big 10 tournament championship last weekend. In it, Hummel appeared to be his old self, averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds in Purdue’s three wins.
Although they should get by Northern Iowa in the first round, Pac-10 regular season champion Washington will likely await, with No. 1 seed UConn a likely opponent in the Sweet 16.
It’s not unfathomable for Purdue to beat either of these teams, and make a serious run at the Final Four. But they’ll need a healthy Hummel, at the top of his game, for it to happen.
3. Devin Ebanks, F, West Virginia:
NBA scouts have been drooling over Ebanks since the long and athletic forward was a senior in high school a year ago. And after playing for Bob Huggins for a year, the true freshman is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
Ebanks, is literally getting better by the day, getting a career-high 20 points in the Mountaineers upset of Pittsburgh in the Big East quarterfinals, and topping it the following night with 22 points against Syracuse. He also has recorded double digit rebounds in five of his last eight games.
But more importantly, Ebanks has a knack for the clutch, making big free throws down to ice the game against Pittsburgh and two that forced overtime in the closing seconds against Syracuse.
West Virginia has had tournament success in recent years, getting to the Sweet 16 three times since 2005.
But they’ve never had a player as talented as Ebanks, and because of it, may advance further than any Mountaineers fan could ever imagine.
2. Toney Douglas, G, Florida State:
We all know that Ty Lawson won the ACC Player of the Year in 2009, but quickly who finished in second? No, it wasn’t Duke’s Gerald Henderson, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague or even Lawson’s teammate Tyler Hansbrough.
It was Florida State’s Douglas.
While the nation may not have known much about the senior guard a week ago, they got a quick acquaintance, after Douglas scored 28 points in the Seminoles stunning victory over North Carolina in the ACC semi-finals, and got another 27 in the loss to Duke.
In all honesty, Florida State wouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament, and maybe not even the NIT if it wasn’t for Douglas.
They’ve got a lot of nice spare parts like wing Derwin Kitchen and 7’1 monster Solomon Alabi down low. But Douglas is the engine that makes this team go.
As a No. 5 seed, the Seminoles can’t look past a good Wisconsin team, or even Xavier in the next round.
But as long as Douglas does what he has all year- score points and lots of them- Florida State should beat both, and advance to the Sweet 16.
1. Tyreke Evans, G, Memphis:
Evans isn’t going to sneak up on anyone, as the freshman has started virtually every game since putting on a Tigers uniform, and was everyone’s high school All-American before that.
But despite all the hype, Evans may be the single most important player to his team in this years NCAA Tournament.
To put it simply, Memphis has not lost since Evans has taken control of the point guard position, just a few days before Christmas.
Since then Memphis has put up 23 wins in a row, sweeping through Conference USA, and beating both Tennessee and Gonzaga on the road.
The Tigers play good enough defense to beat anyone in this tournament, but their half-court offense has been suspect at times. Which is what makes Evans so important.
At the end of the day Evans is still a freshman, and at times it’s shown. He can be turnover prone, and occasionally tries to force things, and do too much.
But he can also take virtually any opponent off the dribble, and is Memphis’ best offensive weapon.
The Tigers have everything a team needs to get back to the Final Four, and compete for a National Championship.
To finish up where they fell just a bit short a year ago, Evans will have to be the star he is capable of being.
(author’s note: this article was originally published at www.aarontorres-sports.com