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You'll Know These 7 Studs Soon

You'll Know These 7 NCAA Studs Soon | Tipico
You'll Know These 7 NCAA Studs Soon | Tipico
Alex Valdes
Published: 2023-03-12

By Mike Miller

The NCAA Tournament’s famous for its buzzer-beaters, its upsets, and its star-making turns of players most fans never knew existed.

This season’s no different. There will be upsets. There will be dramatic endings. And there will be guys who step into the spotlight and become stars. At least for a few weeks. Here are seven names you should know.

Ace Baldwin, VCU

They don’t come any tougher than Ace Baldwin. He broke his wrist on Nov. 12, missed four games, and played 33 minutes just 2½ weeks later in a 70-65 win over Vanderbilt. Oh, he scored 28 points on just 14 shots, too. He’s not just tough, the 6-1 junior was the Atlantic 10’s best player, and the driving force behind its best team. Simple as that.

Baldwin can score (37 against Saint Louis barely a month ago) and he can pass (2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), but mostly? Baldwin defends. He hounds opposing point guards like teenager guards his phone – never out of arms’ reach.

That’s why he’s perfect for VCU’s pressing defense. He heads the point of attack, and wins follow. He’ll be focused on Saint Mary’s freshman point guard Aidan Mahaney, who might endure flashbacks the rest of his college career.

Tucker DeVries, Drake

How did Drake get a player of DeVries’ caliber? After all, most 6-foot-7 wings who make 37.6 percent of their 3-pointers and score nearly 20 points a game don’t usually end up in the Missouri Valley. Guess when your dad’s the coach, it explains a few things. Like how Drake won 27 games (one shy of a school record) or boasts a defense that’s akin to what Indiana or Marquette might do.

All of which is to say, DeVries elevates the Bulldogs to a level they usually don’t occupy. He’s something else unusual: When they face Miami on Friday, DeVries might be the best player on the floor. That’s no small thing when you’re facing an ACC team.

Jalen Slawson, Furman

A prototypical point-forward, Slawson and fellow senior Mike Bothwell made a pact to return this season and get Furman to the NCAA Tournament, a place it hasn’t been since 1980. Now, the 13-seeded Paladins have a new goal: Solve Virginia’s Packline defense. Usually, it takes more than player to do that (See: Bothwell), but Slawson might emerge as the biggest factor.

Virginia’s defense pressures a ball-handler into either a mistake or a bad shot. But Slawson is 6-foot-7 and will be able to see over Virginia’s defense. And if he can spot open shooters, Furman’s in great shape. Only a dozen teams attempt more 3-pointers per field-goal attempt, and they connect at a 34.4% clip.

More important? Once Furman (Slawson) spreads out the defense, the Paladins connect inside the arc. No team boasts a better shooting percentage inside the arc. And it’ll depend on how Slawson performs.

Ajay Mitchell, UCSB

Let me be clear: The Gauchos aren’t beating Baylor. The Bears’ have too much firepower for a team with an average defense to handle. But that doesn’t mean UCSB will get blown out. Not when Ajay Mitchell’s around.

The 6-foot-5 sophomore and Big West Player of the Year regularly stuffs the stat sheet – 16.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 2.7 rpg – but he isn’t a guy who throws a couple jab steps, then chucks a 3-pointer. The native Belgian shows off his European influences with hesitation moves, a sly change of pace, then a floater in the lane.

That’s what happened for most of the Big West Tournament when Mitchell averaged 24 points a game. He’ll have chances to exploit Baylor’s porous defense – and maybe even give them a scare in the process.

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

Rooting against Duke is a March tradition. That makes Max Abmas America’s new favorite player. Some might remember him from Oral Roberts’ Sweet 16 run two years ago when he scored 29 points, 28 points and 25 points against the likes of Ohio State, Florida and Arkansas.

Well, half-court Max is now a senior. And he’s even better. He’s got a green light to shoot once he brings the ball across court. He makes 38 percent of his 3s, but that’s not all. He’ll create off the dribble, set up teammates and basically be the focal point for everything the Golden Eagles (30-4) do.

They’ll be a popular upset pick in the 12-5 matchup against Duke. If Oral Roberts does get the W, it’ll be behind Abmas.

Taylor Funk, Utah State

Pro tip: If you’re a fan of offense, Thursday’s Missouri-Utah State showdown is perfect. And Taylor Funk might be the perfect player for it.

After five seasons at Saint Joseph’s, the 6-9 forward leveled up with a transfer to Utah State. He’s a cheat code in sneakers, stretching the defense with his outside shooting (79-of-209, 37.8 percent). He’s not their best shooter (that’s junior guard Steven Ashworth), but he’s frequently the key to their wins.

Funk’s just 17-of-59 in the Aggies’ eight losses. He’ll have plenty of looks against the Tigers, too. Teams attempt 44% of their shots beyond the arc against Missouri; only 16 teams allow more 3-point attempts. Think of him of as a clean-cut Brady Manek. Only with more range.

Drew Pember, UNC Asheville

March isn’t kind to 15 seeds. They’ve beaten No. 2 seeds just 7 times in 128 games. But not every 15 seed has someone like Drew Pember. The 6-foot-11 senior began his career at Tennessee, languished on the bench, then found his groove at UNC Asheville. The Big South Player of the Year merely led the Bulldogs to a school-record 27 wins and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016.

He’s doing the heavy lifting, too. Pember led the conference in scoring (21.2 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg), stats similar to Drew Timme, Jalen Wilson and Azuolas Tubelis. Yet, Pember’s a better 3-point shooter (37.3%) and rim protector (2.3 bpg). And with UCLA potentially without big man Adem Bona, we might see Pember put up silly number against the Bruins, which would be fairly standard for him.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ZUMA wire

You'll Know These 7 NCAA Studs Soon | Tipico


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