Who doesn’t love a Cinderella? Every year, small schools play their way into March Madness, hoping to make their mark on the tournament. Oftentimes, these teams are powered by one special player — the kind you usually see at larger schools. Remember Steph Curry at Davidson? Or Damian Lillard at Weber State? Here are some players from small schools who could make some noise in March Madness this year.
Ja Morant, Murray State
If you can keep your eye on only one player from a mid-major school, make it Morant. He’s the guy all the NBA scouts will be watching. Despite playing at Murray State, Morant is primed to be a top-five pick. He’s averaged 24.6 points per game, thanks in part to stellar dunks, and he knows how to thread a pass as well. If anybody is going to be the next Lillard in this class, it’s Morant.
Fletcher Magee, Wofford
He may have the name of a comic strip character from the ‘30s, but Magee is leading a Wofford team that is entering the tournament ranked in the top 25. The senior has averaged 20.5 points per game, which is actually down from the 22.5 points he averaged last season. Magee has a smooth shot, and if he gets hot a big name team will go down.
Jordan Ford, St. Mary’s
The Gaels were on the bubble, but then they took down Gonzaga in the WCC finals. Ford took his game to a whole new level this season. His minutes jumped considerably and so did his points average, which went from 11.1 to 21.3 over the two campaigns. The junior has gone from a role player to a star, and if he can help take down the Zags then the sky is the limit.
CJ Massinburg, Buffalo
Rarely does a MAC team find itself ranked in the top 25, but the Buffalo Bulls have done just that for much of the season. They were once again led by the senior CJ Massinburg. He’s averaged a hearty 18.5 points per game, but he’s thrown in 6.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per contest to boot. Massinburg is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades — the kind of player who can do some of everything. That’s what mid-major teams like this need sometimes.
Drew McDonald, Northern Kentucky
The Norse are in the tourney for the second time in their history, and McDonald has been a big part of why both times. The senior didn’t quite average a double-double, but he came close. McDonald has averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, but that’s with 19.1 points per contest. While Northern Kentucky will likely be seeded too low to pull off an upset, McDonald will get a chance to show he can get it done against a bigger school.
Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Remember UMBC, the team that captured our hearts last year by upsetting Virginia? They won’t be back this year because Lamb dropped 28 points on them in the America East title game. That’s business as usual for Lamb, as he’s averaged 21.1 points per game. Oh, and he’s averaged 7.8 boards and 2.0 blocks per contest to boot.
Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate
The 6-foot-10 junior was barely playing at Northwestern before transferring. Now he’s led Colgate to the Patriot League title and helped punch its ticket to the Big Dance. He’s averaged 16.5 points to lead the Red Raiders while adding 7.9 rebounds per game for good measure. This is Colgate’s second tourney appearance ever and first since 1996, and the team is certainly glad Ivanauskas decided to transfer.
Scottie James, Liberty
Liberty definitely seems like the kind of team that could actively pull off a first-round upset based on its seeding. James is leading the team in scoring, although he’s averaging only 13.1 points per game. However, that’s with a 67.6 shooting percentage, so you know the guy can get it done around the basket. The 8.8 rebounds per game he averages also bolster that point.
B.J. Stith, Old Dominion
The Monarchs used to make the tournament often before changing conferences, but now they are representing Conference USA as its champs. Stith began his career at Virginia before transferring in state to Old Dominion. This year, he played a whopping 34.4 minutes per game, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest. Now he’s led ODU to its first tournament appearance since 2011.
By: Chris Morgan