March Madness 2014: Most Important Players for Fringe Contenders in Big Dance

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2014

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 29:  Kyle Anderson #5 of the UCLA Bruins brings the ball up the court against the Northwestern Wildcats during the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational at the Orleans Arena on November 29, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UCLA won 95-79.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

College basketball doesn't feature a dominant team as the NCAA tournament approaches. Wichita State remains unbeaten but hasn't been seriously tested. Florida, Arizona, Kansas, Duke and Syracuse are some of the other teams in the mix for top contender.

The result should be an extremely exciting edition of March Madness. Since there aren't a select few teams that are a clear step above the rest, it opens the door for other teams to make deep runs and potentially even capture the national championship.

All of those fringe hopefuls will need certain players to step up in the coming weeks if they are going to make their presence felt in the Big Dance. So, let's check out three players who could become household names during the tournament.


Kyle Anderson (UCLA)

It takes a special player to lead a team in rebounds, assists and blocks. Kyle Anderson is doing exactly that. The skill set and the effort necessary to accomplish such a feat, especially for a contending team like UCLA with plenty of other talent on the roster, is rare.

The sophomore is averaging nearly 15 points per game, which ranks second on the team, to go along with close to nine rebounds, seven assists, two steals and a block per game. It's the type of across-the-board production that draws praise from Bruins legend Bill Walton, as noted by Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News:

His ability to help in so many areas is essential to the team's success. He can grab a long rebound at one end, start a fast break and deliver a pinpoint pass for a bucket at the other end with the greatest of ease. It's impressive to watch, and the Bruins will need a lot of it to make a deep run.


Doug McDermott (Creighton)

Doug McDermott is an offensive force for the Creighton Bluejays. He leads the nation in scoring at 26.5 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the field, including a 44 percent mark from beyond the arc. The senior forward is one of those players who can score from anywhere and must be defended as such.

He must continue that torrid pace into the tournament. No other player on the Creighton roster is chipping in more than 11 points per contest. It does have some good depth with a total of five complementary players averaging over seven points, but there are no other go-to scorers.

One thing that will be interesting to watch is what will happen if teams constantly double-team McDermott. He's a shoot-first player and averages less than two assists per game. If opponents make a concerted effort to prevent him from taking over the game, can he become a distributor and will other scorers step up? The answer could decide the Bluejays' fate.


Branden Dawson (Michigan State)

When it comes to Michigan State, most of the attention is focused around the trio of Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. Don't sleep on Branden Dawson, though. He's the do-it-all swingman who can make the hustle plays to turn a game in Michigan State's favor.

He recently missed nine games due to a hand injury. Unsurprisingly, the Spartans went through a lull during that stretch, going 4-5. Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News passed along comments from Dawson upon his return about filling whatever role is necessary:

Whatever I can do to pick the team up I'm gonna do it. I think a few of my defensive plays just uplifted the team and impacted the game on both ends. Whatever I can do I'm gonna do it.

A championship team needs a player like Dawson—somebody who isn't afraid to do the dirty work, whether it's battling in the paint for rebounds or diving on the floor for a loose ball, even if it means not getting the same recognition as a leading scorer. He can help push the Spartans deep into the tournament.