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Five players who could deliver memorable “March Madness Moments” during the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Oh, the memories of March Madness.
Tyus Edney going coast to coast in 4.8 seconds. Bryce Drew sinking a 23-foot buzzer-beater. Christian Laettner taking that iconic fadeaway.
March is all about moments.
Moments of triumph, moments of despair and moments that live forever.
Uh…and moments fans will search for on YouTube nearly 30-years later.
As the 2022 NCAA Tournament is set to tip-off this week, I’ve put together my top five players to watch in the tournament.
Players, who each have the make-up to deliver the next classic “March Madness Moment.”
Boogie Ellis, PG, USC Trojans
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Boogie Ellis is the X-Factor for USC. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: “BOOGIE ELLIS IS THE X-FACTOR FOR USC!”
Last year the Trojans made a run to the Elite-8 before falling to Gonzaga. The loss to the Zags exposed Andy Enfield’s need for a true point guard.
Enfield utilized the transfer portal to land Ellis, who spent his first two seasons at Memphis.
Since day one, the former Tiger has been the starting point guard in Southern California.
Overall, he’s been serviceable this season with minor stretches of inconsistency. He’s also shown glimpses of his ability to take over games, like scoring 18 second-half points in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal game.
USC will hope Boogie can tap into the same “mojo” he had in the PAC-12 tournament, where he led the team in scoring with 22 PPG and shot 57% from behind the arc.
Isaiah Mobley is often considered USC’s best overall player. Drew Peterson has spurts when he’s the team’s best scorer.
But who is the player that ‘glues’ everything together and has the highest potential for a memorable performance in March? Boogie Ellis.
Bennedict Mathurin, SG, Arizona Wildcats
This kid is exciting! He’s long, rangy and immensely athletic.
But don’t get it twisted; Bennedict Mathurin is incredibly skilled and crafty as well.
He’s an inside-out threat that teams have struggled to keep out of the paint this year. He loves to play above the rim and shoots respectably from long-range (37.6%).
He’s a projected top-10 pick and is looking to improve his draft stock while leading Arizona to its first national championship in 25-years.
His team is loaded with talent and size. Though he’s just a true freshman, he’s embraced the role of team leader for the conference champion Wildcats.
Despite playing most of the Pac-12 title game without a point guard (due to injuries and foul trouble), Mathurin scored a game-high 27 points and went 13/15 from the free-throw line.
He was named a finalist for the Wooden Award and won Pac-12 Player of the Year. Now his sights are set on a national championship.
Arizona has top-tier players at every position and will have the size advantage against any team they face in the tournament.
All eyes are on the Wildcats, and Bennedict Mathurin has a prime opportunity to solidify himself as a March Madness legend.
J.D. Notae, PG, Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas is in the midst of a typical Musselman-Era season. Start out hot, hit a lull, get hot again. Rinse and repeat.
Last season, the Razorbacks followed this formula all the way to the Elite-8, where they fell to eventual national champion Baylor. In 2022, they are eager to build on last year’s tournament success.
All season long, the Hogs have relied on J.D. Notae. He’s the only player who has been on the Razorback roster for each of the three seasons Musselman has been in Fayetteville.
He sat out his first season due to NCAA transfer rules. Played the role of Sixth Man in his second season, winning SEC Sixth Man Of The Year.
And now, in year three, Notae is leading the charge for Arkansas.
Notae plays with a chip on his shoulder. He attacks opponents with a mentality that no one can stop him.
He’s a threat to score from anywhere on the floor. This season, he’s showing the ability to create open looks for teammates, making him unguardable at times.
If he can play smart, not force the issue and let the game come to him, the Hogs could be in for a fun ride.
He’s battled through adversity, waited his turn and now it’s his time to shine. If Arkansas is going to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1995, then rest assured, it will be on the shoulders of J.D. Notae.
Jabari Smith Jr., PF, Auburn Tigers
The projected #1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft can literally do it all. He can shoot, defend, rebound and distribute. He can create his own shot off the dribble or be utilized as a catch-and-shoot threat.
Auburn raced out to a 22-1 record to start the season but went 5-4 down the stretch. If Auburn makes another magical tourney run as they did in 2019, they’ll need to recapture their early-season swagger.
Bruce Pearl knows to do this, he will have to rely on Jabari Smith Jr.
Smith Jr’s unique combination of size and skill is what propelled Auburn to a regular-season conference championship that included a 19-game win streak.
The 6’10 freshman accumulated several accolades in the process, including SEC Freshman of the Year, All-SEC First Team and Second Team All-American.
He has an uncanny ability to score in spurts which makes him a threat to take over a game at any moment. Auburn may find itself in a come-from-behind situation or a situation when a quick scoring run is needed.
If such a circumstance occurs, I anticipate Jabari Smith Jr. will put on a show. One that cements his legacy in March Madness history.
Oscar Tshiebwe, C, Kentucky Wildcats
Usually, ‘March Moments’ are reserved for guards and shooters. At least in the modern era of college basketball.
Moments like Steph Curry’s scoring display that led Davidson to the Elite-8 in 2008. Or Jimmer Fredette’s barrage of three-balls from beyond 25-feet that lifted BYU over Gonzaga in 2011.
Both guys were primary ball-handlers and could shoot it from anywhere on the court.
But if any player is going to take over a game from the low post in the 2022 tourney, it’s Oscar Tshiebwe.
Tshiebwe has been wreaking havoc on opponents all season, earning himself Sporting News National Player of the Year, First Team All-American, SEC Player of the Year and All-SEC First Team.
To put it plainly, Tshiebwe is a man amongst boys.
The 6’9, 255 lbs monster has dominated inside for Kentucky all season. What makes him so valuable is the impact he makes on both ends of the floor.
He leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding while averaging nearly two blocks per game.
Scoring? Check. Rebounding? Check. Rim protecting? Check. Brandishing the most intimidating physical stature in the country? Check!
Tshiebwe has all the tools to achieve a dominating performance in the NCAA tournament. One that fans will remember for years to come.
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