March Madness Difference Makers

Barry Rothbard

March is here and that means one thing – the best sport in the entire universe is heating up and nearing its pinnacle, College Basketball. In a month, there will be a new National Champion (possibly) and the College Basketball world will undoubtedly be shocked by some crazy upsets and unforeseen heroes. So with that in mind, I will examine the NCAA Tournament landscape to try to come up with the next Lorenzo Charles (who made the game-winning dunk in the 1983 National Championship), Carmelo Anthony or Joakim Noah. Here are some lesser known names that could very well lead their teams to victory and become immortals over the next month.

D.J. Augustin, Texas: I know. You’re probably thinking, “What about Kevin Durant?” Yes, Durant is the best player in the sport and should win the Naismith Award. However, if Texas makes a deep March run, then, it will be because of the neophyte point guard, D.J. Augustin. If Augustin continues his superb play, Texas can win the National Championship. He is arguably one of the best point guards in the nation, as his 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio proves. The first-year is dishing out 6.5 assists a game and has a ridiculous handle, which is why he is the key to Texas’ success in March. If Augustin doesn’t dip below his scoring average of 14.5 points a game and keeps distributing the ball as well as he is now, Texas will make a deep run in the tournament. Just like former Syracuse star point guard Gerry McNamara, who was the X-Factor in the Orangemen’s 2003 Championship run, Augustin will determine whether or not Texas will cut down any nets this year.

D.J. Strawberry, Maryland: No, I don’t have a thing for guys with the name D.J. It took Strawberry awhile, but the once highly touted prospect is finally finding his groove in his senior year and is largely responsible for Maryland’s recent streak of impressive wins (Duke, UNC among others). Darryl Strawberry’s nephew scored 27 points against UNC in an 89-87 Terrapin win last Sunday. Like Augustin, this D.J. has a great assist to turnover ratio, but distribution is not his job. He needs to let stud Greivis Vazquez handle the ball because Maryland needs Strawberry to score consistently, play shut down defense and be the leader on a rather inexperienced team. With the talent in place, this is Strawberry’s time to shine.

Randal Falker and Jamal Tatum, Southern Illinois: Not only is Randal Falker a Renaldo Balkman look alike (sweet hair, cracked out look), but, like Balkman, he can flat out play. During every Southern Illinois game I’ve seen this year, Falker has stood out. He cannot shoot or pass, but he is a very gritty player and an extremely tough defender. His tenacity will carry the Salukis (a Final Four contender in my mind) come March. Tatum’s hair is almost as cool as Falker’s, but his game is silkier smooth. Tatum can shoot the rock from the trey, drive to the hoop, and score whenever his team needs a basket. Every team in March needs a clutch scorer and Tatum fills that role for the Salukis. These two players, who are unknowns to the casual College Basketball fan, will be recognized for their hair and basketball flair. With this grit and glamour combo of Falker and Tatum leading the way, the Salukis can be a force come March.

Nick Young, USC: Young is one of the most exciting players to watch in all of College Basketball, but his efforts seem to fly under the radar. He is a dynamic scorer, who lives for the big moment. He can knock down the deep ball and does so at an accurate rate. While he no longer sporting the faux-hawk, his game, like his past haircut, can no longer go unnoticed. Like last year, he is averaging just over 17 points per game. The one difference is that USC is winning this year and Young has concurrently improved his shooting percentage. The junior swingman has proven that he is one of the premier shooting guards in the entire nation, let alone the Pac-10. Young will become a household name after USC (and the rest of the Pac-10) brings it in March.

Fasten your seat belt and get ready for the ride that these young men and many others will take you on in the coming weeks. It will be turbulent, shocking and as always, unforgettable.