You’re a diehard college basketball fan. In the fall you couldn’t wait for Midnight Madness. Since November you’ve watched hundreds of games.
By February you were ready to win your bracket pools. You knew which mid-majors were legit. You knew which ranked teams had the depth and talent to make a real run. Then March began.
Players you had written off, or hardly considered to begin with, suddenly look like stars. Everything you thought you knew is different. Never fear, The Open Man is here to identify the players who surprised by getting hot the past couple of weeks, threatening to bust the bracket before it was even released.
MALIK NEWMAN — KANSAS GUARD
It took until the start of the Big 12 Tournament, but former McDonald’s All-American Newman finally looked like the superstar he was expected to be both when he signed with Mississippi State out of high school and then when he transferred to Kansas.
The MVP of the Big 12 tourney, Newman averages 13 points per game, but scored 30, 22 and 20 in the past three games. He took over for Kansas when Big 12 Player of the Year Devonte Graham struggled. With Newman’s emergence, not to mention a huge contribution from freshman big man Silvio De Sousa, a Jayhawks team that many assumed didn’t have the depth to get to a Final Four must be looked at as a true contender.
DUNCAN ROBINSON — MICHIGAN GUARD
Robinson has been a role player for the Wolverines, but the senior has been hot the past few weeks, scoring in double figures in six of his past eight games, pushing his average near 10 points a game.
It’s not a coincidence Robinson has warmed up right about the time Michigan surged to the Big Ten Tournament title, a run that included 16 points versus Nebraska and 13 against Michigan State. Michigan will need Robinson to hit some big shots to advance past the Sweet 16.
DARIUS GEORGE — MARSHALL FORWARD
The Thundering Herd were a surprise winner of Conference USA, which boasted three other strong teams in Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion. Suddenly Marshall looks like a team that could pull an upset or two.
But the Herd hadn’t had a lot of depth. Now the freshman George, who battled a mid-season injury and averaged only 4.6 points per game, has turned into a big contributor off the bench. Over the past six games he’s averaged nine points and four rebounds.
MAMADI DIAKITE — VIRGINIA FORWARD
Anyone looking for a reason to doubt No. 1 Virginia could have pointed to a lack of front court scoring. But starting in late February, reserve big man Diakite started showing a new array of post moves.
For some reason, he didn’t play a lot against North Carolina in the ACC title game, but in the six games leading up to it he averaged eight points, including back-to-back 10-point, four-rebound games in the quarter and semifinals, easily beating his season averages without playing more than 17 minutes.
ALPHA DIALLO — PROVIDENCE GUARD
The Friars sophomore swingman averages 13 points per game, but had a tendency to disappear at times early in the season.
That absolutely has not been the case since Feb. 24. In that time he’s scored 16.3 ppg with 6.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists a night to boot, carrying the Friars to the Big East Championship game and helping solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament field.
If Diallo continues to play that way, there is no reason Providence can’t advance to the second weekend.
JONAH MATHEWS — USC GUARD
The Trojans sophomore has developed into a sharpshooter, the kind that can get hot and take down a higher-seeded team. Mathews hit 11 3-pointers in three Pac-12 Tournament games, including seven in a 27-point effort against Oregon.
After being held to less than double figures in six of seven games to end the regular season, Mathews came alive in the Pac-12 tourney, which could lead to another surprise run for coach Andy Enfield.