Unlikely Stars Breakout in the NCAA March Madness Tournament

The March Madness tournament has become an American holiday every mid-to-late March. College communities unite to support their basketball program with the hope of winning a national championship. Aside from those who support their respected universities, others watch the tournament for the superstar athletes predicted to be drafted to the NBA later in June. One of the most fascinating things about the tournament is that every year there are breakout stars that shine on the big stage when it matters most.

This past season the Duke Blue Devils were on center stage due to their three phenomenal freshmen: Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish; all three are projected to be drafted among the top ten players this upcoming June. When the ACC tournament was played, all media attention was put on Duke basketball and Zion Williamson, and the Duke Blue Devils were heavily favored coming into the NCAA tournament as the number one overall seed.

Although Zion Williamson and company were in the spotlight for the first and second rounds, a few breakout stars carried their teams and shocked the world. Ja Morant, a sophomore guard from Murray State, is now being regarded as the second best player in the upcoming draft, right behind Williamson. Morant opened up round one with a victory over Marquette with an impressive triple-double where he had 16 assists.

Throughout the regular college season, the only programs that receive coverage from the media are the universities with large national followings such as Duke and Kentucky. However, the upside of The March Madness tournament is that it allows for athletes at smaller Division 1 schools to make an impact. A good example of this is Warriors point guard Steph Curry, who was severely under recruited due to his small size. The eventual three-time NBA champion’s introduction to the national media happened back in 2008 when he scored 40 points and led the Davidson Wildcats in upsetting the number 7 seed, Gonzaga. Curry ended up leading his team to the elite eight where they were knocked out by number 1 seed Kansas. As a result, Curry was later drafted in 2009 by the Golden State Warriors as the 7th overall pick.

The NCAA tournament provides such a large platform for college players to make their mark and be noticed, and the benefits can be enormous. Kemba Walker, for example, was not a highly regarded point guard when he led his UConn Huskies to the National Championship in 2011. Walker and the Huskies entered as a 3 seed where they ultimately beat Butler and claimed their third national championship. During their championship run, Walker played sensationally and was awarded the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award. Walker was later drafted 9th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and has been on three all-star teams.

The NCAA tournament provides opportunities for players in smaller programs to showcase their talent on a national level. The media will always follow the athletes and programs that dominate in the regular season, and this is why March Madness is so special. Players like Steph Curry, Kemba Walker, and Ja Morant all have a place in NCAA history where their names were made.


Tyler Pesavento

Currently studying broadcast journalism at the University of Arizona. Coming from the Bay Area, I have had an interest in all major American sports.

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