March Madness is a great time of the year for die-hard sports fans and casual fans alike. The close games and the upsets provide plenty of drama on the court, and every year we have new heroes that come out of nowhere. It’s always amazing to see a young kid in his first NCAA tournament become a household name overnight with a stellar performance on the big stage.
After day one yesterday (I don’t count the Wednesday games), we already have some freshman making a splash, and we have others we can expect to hear from today as well.
Fourth-seeded Michigan streaked to a 71-56 win over 13th-seeded South Dakota State on Thursday night, and not surprisingly, freshman phenom Glenn Robinson III had plenty to do with the win. Robinson scored a team-high 21 points, chalking up a whopping 17 in the second half, and he also grabbed six rebounds. His three three-pointers in the second half really fueled Michigan. The Wolverines are very young, so Robinson and the other freshman will have to come up big for this team to go far in the tournament. They wilted in the Big Ten tournament, but maybe that adversity will get them ready to make a run now.
Freshman Gary Harris of Michigan State had a solid night as the third-seeded Spartans defeated 14th-seeded Valparaiso 65-54. Harris wasn’t the leading scorer, as Derrick Nix dominated while dropping 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, but Harris was making jumpers as he contributed 10 points to the winning effort. With the 6’ 9” and 270 pound Nix powering the offense from the inside, Harris and Keith Appling can stretch the defense by making outside shots. On a good team like Michigan State, a freshman like Harris doesn’t have to be the star. He just has to know his role and do his job.
Today will feature a number of talented freshman making their tournament debut, and Shabazz Muhammad will be getting a ton of attention as the sixth-seeded UCLA Bruins take on the eleventh-seeded Minnesota Gophers. Muhammad has versatility on offense as he averaged just under 18 points per game while averaging over 5 rebounds per game. He is very effective down low but he also shot 40 percent from the three-point line. With guard Jordan Adams suffering a broken foot, there will be plenty of pressure on the freshman to step up on the big stage. The Pac-12 is off to a great start in the tournament which has silenced some critics, but we’ll see if UCLA can get past a Big-10 team in the first game.
The Kansas Jayhawks are a number one seed so we can’t expect too much drama on Friday in their opening game, but it will be interesting to see how freshman Ben McClemore looks in his tournament debut. This guard averages 16.4 points per game. He’s deadly shooting from the outside, and we’ve seen in the past that hot shooting can propel a team to the Final Four. McClemore is shooting 44 percent from three-point land. This kid could be a top pick, if not the top pick, in the NBA draft so the pressure goes well beyond a potential Kansas run to the title. You never know just how good a player can be until he’s tested at crunch time, so it will be fun to see what this kid can do.
We all love to focus on points and stats when evaluating players, but of course the game of basketball can’t be simply defined by stats. Indiana has a real shot at a national title, and Yogi Ferrell is a big part of that success. The freshman point guard has solid stats with 7.8 points and 4.2 assists per game, but his leadership and solid ball-handling make life much easier for stars like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. There’s every reason to believe this kid will carry this composure into the tournament. James Madison shouldn’t pose much of a problem in the first game but then the real fun begins.
Enjoy the games and hopefully we’ll see some smiles on the faces of these young faces as they march through this incredible tournament.