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Six Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Coming into the NCAA Tournament, we all know the names of the biggest game-changers in college basketball are John Wall, Evan Turner and Sherron. But what about everybody else? What about the guys who weren’t All-Americans this year? You need to know about them too.

Which is why Hoops Addict has identified a group of six players you need to get to know and watch out for, as we head into the 2010 NCAA Tournament:

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: Don’t worry, I already know what you’re thinking: How can a guy who is very likely going to be a top five NBA Draft pick, a player we should watch out for? Well, if you watched Georgia Tech at all this year, you know that the Jackets did anything but look out for their biggest, baddest player. And it almost cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s because through the regular season, Favors was almost an afterthought on his own team, as he averaged just 12 points and less than eight shot attempts per game. In a related story, the Yellow Jackets limped to a 19-11 regular season record.

Once the ACC Tournament started Favors was a different man, as he averaged over 17 points a game, and Georgia Tech beat North Carolina, Maryland and NC State before ultimately losing to Duke in the conference finals.

Look, it’s pretty simple really. If the Yellow Jackets get the ball to their big guy these next few weeks, there aren’t many who can stop Favors, or the Yellow Jackets for that matter.

But if they don’t? Well, there might not be much madness in their March. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Jon, Leuer, Wisconsin: As hard as it is to believe, Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball over the last decade or so, winning 20 or more games in every year but one since 2003. And in the one year they didn’t, they “only,” got to 19 wins and the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, Coach Bo Ryan knows how to evaluate talent and coach it up.

Well this year, he’s got a pretty special big man in Leuer.

Leuer stands at 6’10 and while not overly athletic, is a smart player, with a nice soft touch around the basket. Which is the biggest reason he finished second on the Badgers in scoring this season, averaging just under 15 points a game.

And after coming back fro a midseason injury, Leuer is just starting to regain his early season form. He’s now scored in double figures in each of the last five games, with Wisconsin going 4-1 over that time frame.

Expect a still improving Leuer to be a headache for opponents all NCAA Tournament long.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette: Watch Marquette enough and you might start to ask yourself, “What am I missing?” They’re not that big, physical or overly athletic, and just don’t seem like they should be as good as their 22-11 record would indicate they are. Only, well, they are that good. And there’s no bigger reason for their success than Hayward.

Like the rest of him teammates, if you were lining Hayward up next to his opponent, he wouldn’t just out at you, but just watch the Golden Eagles 6’6″ power forward. The kid can play.

Hayward was Marquette’s leading scorer (18.1 points a game) and rebounder (7.7) and shot 43 percent from the field, all while facing the opponent’s best low post defender. He’s also gritty and tough, and it was his play that led the Golden Eagles to their fifth place finish in the rugged Big East.

Again, if you pick the Golden Eagles in your bracket, don’t expect to be overwhelmed the first time you lay eyes on Hayward (Honestly, seeing him with his headband and beard, he looks like a 6’6 version of Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. All he’s only missing the kiss tattoo on his neck), but by the end of the game, not only will he be your favorite Marquette player, you’ll probably be looking to buy his replica jersey off Eastbay too.

Either way, the Golden Eagles will make some noise in this tournament, and no one will play a bigger role, than their most important player.

Donald Sloan, Texas A&M: Much like Marquette, if you just caught Texas A&M in passing at any point this season you probably weren’t overwhelmed; they’re the type of team that does everything good, but nothing great. At the same time though, let’s be honest, the Aggies didn’t finish fourth in college basketball’s toughest conference by accident. But as good as Texas A&M is (and believe me they’re good), they would have been a lot closer to the bottom of the Big XII without Sloan.

What makes Sloan so special is his consistency. He never seems to force his offense, yet he’s still scored in double-figures in every game but one since…wait for it…wait for it… The last week of November! Not too shabby huh? What makes Sloan’s feat even more impressive is that the Aggies haven’t had their second leading scorer- Derrick Roland- since right around New Year’s.

Again, Sloan isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with, but you better get to know it quick. Before it’s too late, and he’s knocked your favorite team out of the Big Dance.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Jimmer Fredette? Sounds more like the lead singer of the house band at your favorite local pub than a basketball player right? He actually looks the part too. But get him on the court, and the kid is a stone-cold assassin.

The 6’2 guard from Glen Falls, NY (How’d he end up out in Provo, Utah? Your guess is as good as mine), led the Mountain West with a 21.4 points a game average, while at the same time leading BYU with close to five dimes a game too. More importantly, he saved his best performances for the Cougars biggest games, as he dropped 45 and 30 on back-to-back nights in the Mountain West Tournament.

While BYU ultimately lost to UNLV in the conference semifinals, make no mistake, they will make noise come this NCAA Tournament. And that noise will come from the unlikeliest source: The one man house band himself, Jimmer Fredette.

Johnathan Jones, Oakland: Want a deep, deep sleeper who could blow up on your radar this 2010 NCAA Tournament? Well head out West…well not that far West…but to Oakland, MI, where one of college basketball’s most underrated point guards plays, Johnathan Jones of Oakland University.

Jones is a coaches dream (unless you’re the opposing coach, then he’s more like a nightmare), an experienced floor leader that gets more joy out of setting up his teammates than getting his own points. Jones finished third in college basketball in assists this year averaging 6.4 a game, which wouldn’t be all that bad, except well, he averaged over eight a game a year ago to lead college basketball. Add in over 12 points a game, and you’re looking at one of the best floor generals in college basketball, regardless of school.

Oakland comes into this tournament having won 20 of their last 21 games dating all the way back to the end of December, and won’t lay down to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And if they do win, look for the smallest guy on the court to have the biggest impact.

For the best coverage of the NCAA Tournament, be sure to check back at HOOPSADDICT.com all March long. To read all of Aaron’s work, please visit him at his own personal site, www.aarontorres-sports.com and follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Aaron Torres
With a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Connecticut, Aaron Torres has covered a number of different sports for several different media outlets in the northeastern United States. You can find more of his writing at www.aarontorres-sports.com and you can follow him on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Aaron_Torres).
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