They're not stars now, but they may be in position to become breakout players
Becoming a March Madness hero has its perks.
For example, can you pronounce Farokhmanesh? Have you ever had such a hot hand you thought you might try courting Kate Upton in front of the entire world?
That's what it's like for three weeks during the NCAA Tournament for the unlikeliest of stars.
Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh hit four 3-pointers to upset Kansas in the second round in 2010, and for a brief time every college basketball fan could pronounce the name a player who had never even averaged 10 points per game in his career.
And just last year, Michigan’s then-freshman Spike Albrecht briefly became a title game hero with 17 points against Louisville, a total he never exceeded before or since. Things were working out so much for Albrecht he tweeted to swimsuit model Kate Upton, who attended the game in a maize V-neck, “saw you at the game last night, thanks for coming out! Hope to see you again. :)”
Finding the next Farokhmanesh or Albrecht isn’t easy, but we’ll give it a try. Here are a handful of lesser-known players who could become household names for major contenders in the NCAA Tournament.
Gabe York, Arizona
York entered the starting lineup for three games late in the season and immediately gave the Wildcats a boost after their loss to Arizona State. York is a defensive liability, but he is a 3-point shooter on a team without many of them — York has made as many 3s (43) as leading scorer Nick Johnson in 12 fewer minutes per game.
Grant Gibbs, Creighton
Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat have suddenly gone cold from 3, but here’s Gibbs, shooting 7 of 9 in the last three games. The sixth-year senior is the classic glue guy who knows when to take a shot (60 percent from 2, 47.2 percent from 3) or when to pass (four assists per game).
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Remember Brian Zoubek? The Blue Devils center in 2010 helped Duke to the national title thanks to his offensive rebounding prowess. Jefferson isn’t nearly as prolific (77 offensive boards) as the 7-1 Zoubek was (143), but he is Duke’s top offensive rebounding threat this season. Jefferson had five offensive rebounds against Virginia, six against Pittsburgh and six against Syracuse this season.
Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida
Here’s the definition of an unlikely NCAA Tournament hero: Finney-Smith is on a loaded team but had slumped to make one 3-point shot in his last 23 attempts. So who gets the ball with an opportunity for a dagger against Vanderbilt? Finney-Smith. The Virginia Tech transfer also grabbed 10 or more rebounds five times this season.
Wayne Selden, Kansas
The Jayhawks will be led by Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, but the five-star freshman Selden isn’t a bad fourth option. He can finish around the rim, and he’s plenty capable of hitting shots from deep. A secondary scorer on Kansas’ record, he’s managed to find a way to top 20 points three times.
Terry Rozier, Louisville
The freshman Rozier briefly started in place of an injured Chris Jones in an eye-opening stint at point guard this season. Rozier has returned to the bench, but he’s still offering better than 20 minutes per game. He can be a bigger option at point guard (6-1) than the starter Jones (5-10).
Spike Albrecht, Michigan
Albrecht already has been the NCAA Tournament X-factor, when he scored 17 points out of nowhere against Louisville in the title game. A second explosion in the Tournament might not have the shock value of the first time, but it would still be surprising. A consistent contributor off the bench this season, Albrecht hasn’t topped 10 points since the title game.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
After the last two weeks, Syracuse perhaps should’t be on a list of teams preparing to play for the title. A major reason has been a lack of inside scoring. If anyone on the roster is going to provide it, Christmas may be the guy since the Orange have few other options. He’s shown flashes with 10 points against Pittsburgh and 14 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks against NC State.
Josh Hart, Villanova
Hart was briefly one of the nation’s most productive freshmen during an eight-game stretch in December and January when he scored at least 10 points in each game. Hart slumped into Big East play, but he’s showing signs of pulling out of it with 13 points against Marquette and eight rebounds against Butler in the last week.
London Perrantes, Virginia
The Cavaliers freshman point guard has been the key to Virginia’s run to the ACC title and reason the Cavs may be dangerous in March. Not only has Perrantes, who averages 4.8 points per game, been hitting key 3-point shots in wins over Syracuse and Miami, he’s become a more efficient point guard. He has a 5.7-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during Virginia’s win streak.
Darius Carter, Wichita State
Wichita State has its share of established names — Ron Baker, Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton — but Carter may be one of the names that emerges in the Tournament. The 6-7 forward comes off the bench to offer 8.3 points per game, but he’s averaging 18.3 points per 40 minutes, second only to Early’s 22.9. His fresh legs will be an asset.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has its share of impact players — Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust. Of all them, the freshman Hayes may have the highest ceiling. The depth has allowed Hayes to grow into his role to the season where now he’s a consistent threat anywhere inside the arc.