2014 NCAA Tournament’s 10 Potential Cinderella Players ft. New Mexico St.‘s Sim Bhullar
Jacob Parker (Stephen F. Austin)
Every year the NCAA tournament provides us with a host of often previously unknown players stepping up in a big way on college basketball’s biggest stage. Here are our picks for this year’s 10 Potential Cinderella Players.
Outside of Wichita State, Florida and Arizona, Stephen F. Austin is the only other team entering the Big Dance with 30 or more wins (31-2). And Jacob Parker is a big reason why.
The 2014 Southland Conference Player of the Year, Parker is the Lumberjacks’ second-leading scorer (14.2 PPG) and leading rebounder (7.1 RPG). What’s more, Parker is no one-man gang. SFA is among the nation’s most balanced and offensively efficient squads - one that’s eighth in the country in assists per game and shoots 46.4% from the field as a team.
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Elfrid Payton (UL Lafayette)
The nation’s 13th-highest scoring offense at 81.4 PPG, Louisiana has what it takes (on paper anyway) to keep things close with third-seeded Creighton in the Round of 64. And Elfrid Payton is the catalyst for that.
The son and namesake of a former Grambling State defensive end and Canadian Football Hall of Famer, Payton filled up the stat sheet all season long to the tune of 19.1 PPG (on 51.1% shooting from the field), 6.0 APG and 5.9 RPG. Where he could help the Ragin’ Cajuns the most against the Bluejays, however, is on the defensive end, where he averages 2.3 SPG.
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Sim Bhullar (New Mexico State)
It was just this time last year that the 7-foot-5, 355-pound Aggies center (yes, you read those measurements correctly) first started capturing the nation’s attention with his size and his performance in the WAC tournament. And he’s back at it in 2014.
The sophomore from Toronto increased his points, rebounds, blocks and accuracy over last year in helping New Mexico State reach the Big Dance for a third consecutive time. You can be sure that Bhullar will be looking to erase memories of the ho-hum four-point, three-rebound stat line he posted last March in a Round of 64 blowout loss to Saint Louis.
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Laurent Rivard (Harvard)
Unlike the other players on this list, Rivard has an opportunity to be a Cinderella darling for the second straight year. His five 3-pointers paved the way for Harvard’s 68-62 upset of third-seeded and 10th-ranked New Mexico in the 2013 Round of 64.
In February, Grantland’s Charlie Pierce described the Quebec native as a player “who can (and will) put it in the air from the Plains of Abraham if necessary.” Think of him as a French Canadian, Ivy League-educated version of Northern Iowa’s Ali Farokhmanesh.
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Tony Wroblicky (American)
We’re looking forward to seeing if American can pull off a shocker over Wisconsin after putting a scare into eventual Final Four participant Villanova back when the Eagles last made the tourney, in 2009. And we’re eager to see what kind of damage the 6-foot-10, left-handed Wroblicky can do against the Badgers’ big men.
Of course, that’s all secondary to why we’re really excited to see Wroblicky in action: For the opportunity to see him attempt one of his quirky, one-handed free throw attempts, which he’s converting at an impressive 71.4% rate this year after shooting under 60% each of his first three collegiate seasons.
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David Brown (Western Michigan)
Brown hasn’t been held below double digits in scoring in any game this season, and he’s entering the NCAA tournament - the Broncos’ first since 2004 - with a head of steam. The redshirt senior went off for a career-high 32 points in a 98-77 MAC title game rout of regular season conference champion Toledo.
And at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Brown could also potentially hold a size advantage over whoever is assigned to guard him. He’s just the kind of streaky player that could give fits in the Round of 64 to a Syracuse team fading fast down the stretch.
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Taylor Braun (North Dakota State)
In 2009, No. 14 seed North Dakota State put a scare into defending national champion and third-seeded Kansas thanks in large part to Bison star Ben Woodside’s 37 points. Five years later, NDSU has itself another high-scoring guard capable of similar heroics in Braun.
The senior from Oregon averaged 18.2 PPG on 49.1% shooting from the field, including a scorching 44.1% beyond the arc, en route to Summit League Player of the Year honors. And he’s already warming up in terms of clutch play, having scored eight of the Bison’s final nine points in the last three minutes of their 60-57 conference title game win over IPFW.
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Rhamel Brown (Manhattan)
On a Manhattan team that’s better than average in scoring and rebounding, George Beamon - who leads the Jaspers in both categories (19.2 PPG and 6.6 RPG) - is the headlining star. On the defensive side of the floor, however, it’s all about what Brown can do for you.
2013-2014 marked the third straight season that Brown was named the MAAC’s Defensive Player of the Year. And with good reason; despite only standing 6-foot-7, Brown finished third in the country in blocks (3.7 BPG). Is this the next Kenneth Faried?
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Devon Saddler (Delaware)
Saddler has had an up-and-down senior season that’s a gold mine of material for any producer from CBS or Turner putting together a pregame segment on the Fightin’ Blue Hens.
The Aberdeen, MD, native missed seven games in November and December - including a near-upset at Villanova on Nov. 22 - after being suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Since then, he’s been held below double digits in points just once in the past 25 games and also set Delaware’s all-time scoring record in February.
Saddler is sitting on 2,201 career points entering the Big Dance and must be savoring the chance to add to that. Just as his team is savoring its first tourney berth since 1999.
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Glenn Cosey (Eastern Kentucky)
You’d be forgiven if, at first glance of Cosey, you thought that former Kansas State standout Jacob Pullen had snuck into an EKU uniform.
Like Pullen, Cosey is an undersized, hirsute guard who wears the jersey No. 0. More important for the Colonels, Cosey can also score like Pullen once did. A transfer from Columbus State (OH) Community College prior to the 2012-2013 season, Cosey averaged a team-leading 18.8 PPG this year and shot 42.5% from 3-point land.
Additionally, Cosey forms a dangerous backcourt tandem with Corey Walden, with whom he combined to score 52 points in Eastern Kentucky’s 79-73 upset of Belmont in the Ohio Valley Conference title game. You’ve been warned, Kansas.
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