Selection Sunday has come and gone, brackets are out, the regular season is no more. On to the Big Dance!
At last the field is set and a total of 29 mid major programs making the NCAA Tournament. Here are some intriguing lesser known players to watch for in the tournament, plus a recap who got in and who they will be playing.
Reggie Upshaw, F, Senior, Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
If anyone made a bracket in last year’s tournament, you remember how busted your bracket was when the Blue Raiders, as a No. 15 seed, upset the No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans. One of the top guys of that squad was junior Reggie Upshaw, who finished with a team high 21 points and owned the Spartans.
Now, Upshaw is back as a senior and had another great year. Middle Tennessee is arguably even better than they were last year, with the addition of Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams who is their leading scorer. Upshaw has taken a leader role with this team and knows what it takes to pull a big upset and win in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how his Blue Raiders fare against a solid Minnesota team in the first round.
Semi Ojeleye, F, Junior, SMU Mustangs
Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye, or Semi Ojeleye, has had one of the best seasons in SMU basketball history this year. Averaging 18.9 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game, he muscles through competition with his 6’7”, 235-pound frame but can also shoot very effectively from outside and at the free throw line. He took home the American Athletic Conference player of the year award after he led the Mustangs to a regular season and conference tournament title.
The Mustangs first matchup as a No. 6 seed is in the East bracket against the winner of 11 seeds Providence and USC. Ironically, in the same bracket as SMU is the Duke Blue Devils, where Ojeleye transferred from previously to come to SMU. SMU is a very underrated team in this tournament, ranking in the top 10 nationwide in points allowed per game and overall defensive efficiency. Ojeleye could and should flex his muscles and exert his influence all over his opponents in the first round. If he plays Baylor in the second round and has a big game, it could very well be a huge upset. Imagine if SMU plays Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, it would be a storybook matchup for Ojeleye to extract some revenge.
Cam Oliver, F, Sophomore, Nevada Wolfpack
Nevada is set to square off with Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State in the first round, but I’m not sure the Cyclones are prepared for what big man Cam Oliver is going to bring to the table. The 6’8”, 225-pound power forward was one of the most versatile and powerful big men in the country this season. He averaged 15.8 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game and a whopping 2.6 blocks per contest. He’s a glass eater, with countless games in double digit rebounds. He can also score just as well, with ferocity in the paint and a smooth outside jump shot. I can very well see Nevada, their strong guard play and the brute force of Oliver overwhelming Iowa State. If Nevada moves on to the next round and potentially plays Purdue, I think Cam Oliver is the perfect beast to stop Player of the Year candidate Caleb Swanigan and end Purdue’s season. Oliver can be a major part in Nevada’s success these next two weeks and his play could lead them to the Sweet Sixteen if he is on.
Devontae Cacok, F, Sophomore, UNCW Seahawks
UNC Wilmington comes into this tournament off winning the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and conference tournament. The Seahawks were one of the best offensive team in the country, ranking 10th in points per game, 29th in assists per game and had a stellar 116.2 offensive efficiency. One of their biggest cogs is Devontae Cacok, the forward who led the entire nation in field goal percentage with a 79.9 percent clip. Their whole offense is efficient and they put up a ton of shots, but Cacok could make them a bounce or break team against a stout Virginia defense.
Mt. Saint Mary’s/New Orleans (16) vs Villanova (1)
UNCW (12) vs UVA (5)
ETSU (13) vs Florida (4)
SMU (6) vs Providence/USC (11)
New Mexico State (14) vs Baylor (3)
Troy (15) vs Duke (2)
S. Dakota State (16) vs Gonzaga (1)
Princeton (12) vs Notre Dame (5)
Bucknell (13) vs West Virginia (4)
FGCU (14) vs Florida State (3)
Saint Mary’s (7) vs VCU (10)
N. Dakota (15) vs Arizona (2)
N.C. Central/U.C. Davis (16) vs Kansas (1)
Nevada (12) vs Iowa State (5)
Vermont (13) vs Purdue (4)
Rhode Island (11) vs Creighton (6)
Iona (14) vs Oregon (3)
Jacksonville State (15) vs Louisville
Texas Southern (16) vs UNC (1)
Middle Tennessee State (12) vs Minnesota (5)
Winthrop (13) vs Butler (4)
Cincinnati (6) vs Wake Forrest/Kansas State (11)
Kent State (14) vs UCLA (3)
Dayton (7) vs Wichita State (10)
N. Kentucky (15) vs Kentucky