When SI.com college basketball empress Amanda Younger asked me to compile a list of 10 names you need to know for the NCAA tournament, I sulked. Normally, I'd love to undertake such a task. After all, I am a connoisseur of quality monikers. But this year, with the exception of Midwest Region No. 4 seed St. Louis and its Alliteration All-stars Jordair Jett and Grandy Glaze, the NIT got pretty much all the good names.
Robert Morris swingman Lucky Jones got tossed for a flagrant foul, but he scored 15 points Tuesday in the Colonials' first-round upset of Kentucky. Meanwhile, Sir'Dominic Pointer scored 15 and grabbed seven rebounds to lead St. John's to a first-round win against Saint Joseph's. Unfortunately, this year's NCAA tournament doesn't feature that kind of nomenclature firepower. But fear not. In the absence of actual interesting names, I'm here to provide you with 10 names that should interest you as you binge on basketball these next few days.
Louisville shooting guard Russ Smith does things on the court that make Cardinals coach Rick Pitino want to hug or strangle him -- often in the same possession. The urge to hug usually wins, though. How much does Pitino love Smith? He named a racehorse after him. Smith enters the tournament averaging 18.1 points and two steals a game for the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region. Pitino recently parted ways with the equine version of Russdiculous, but the coach hopes to ride Smith's shooting and defense all the way to Atlanta.
The McDermotts of Omaha
The younger is 6-foot-8 Creighton forward Doug McDermott, who enters the tournament averaging 23.1 points a game, making him the most prolific scorer in the field. The elder is Greg McDermott, who has coached the Bluejays to two NCAA tournaments in three seasons and who recently showed that Doug's hops are inherited. The McDermotts open this year's tournament Friday against Cincinnati.
Of all the mid-major stars capable of leading their team to an upset win, this South Dakota State guard seems the most likely candidate to blow up the scoreboard and become a national celebrity for at least 24 hours. Wolters is fourth in the nation in scoring at 22.7 points a game, and his Jackrabbits drew Michigan in the first round. South Dakota State will have to overcome a decidedly partisan crowd Thursday -- though any Michigan State fans in Auburn Hills to watch the Spartans later might lend their support to the Jackrabbits -- as well as all-everything point guard Trey Burke, but if Wolters is feeling it, he could be the breakout star of the first full day of tournament action. A South Dakota State upset of Michigan probably would set up the Jackrabbits for a dose of...
This isn't some band that was much cooler when you saw them in a small club. It's the name for the pressing style embraced by VCU coach Shaka Smart. Havoc got the Rams to the Final Four in 2011, and it has made VCU a trendy pick to win a top-heavy but wide-open South Region. SI's Luke Winn studied Havoc thoroughly this year, filing a magazine story and a web story that explain exactly how the Rams drive opposing ballhandlers mad.
Watching Ohio State's point guard play defense is like watching Austin, Texas, pitmaster Aaron Franklin smoke a brisket. Some people simply raise their chosen discipline to an art form. Craft creates turnovers with a suffocating blend of effort and angles, and woe unto the player tasked with bringing the ball up against him. Friday, Iona's Momo Jones -- who was the starting point guard on Arizona's Elite Eight team in 2011 -- will try to keep his wits about him as Craft smothers him.
The wife of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield is a mortal lock to win the Julie Boeheim Trophy for gratuitous coach spouse shots when the Eagles face Georgetown on Friday. Why? Marcum is a former model who has graced the pages of Maxim, Elle and the Victoria's Secret catalog. Their first date was a St. John's NIT game not involving Sir'Dominic Pointer, and Marcum still married Enfield. What's the hoops equivalent of outkicking your coverage? Probably a 15 beating a two. Guess where Florida Gulf Coast got seeded? Look out, Hoyas.
Saint Louis has one of the tournament's most heartwarming stories. After coach Rick Majerus fell ill last fall and died Dec. 1, Majerus disciple and friend Jim Crews coached the Billikens to an Atlantic 10 title and a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. So when St. Louis forward Cody Ellis writes TO WIN... DEFENSE ... REBOUNDS on a board in the locker room before the Billikens face New Mexico State on Thursday, he'll be honoring his former coach with the words Majerus always wrote to remind his players of the path to victory.
After the Ole Miss guard led the Rebels to an SEC tournament title Sunday, he addressed his snub by the league's coaches for the All-SEC first team like this: "They're losers," Henderson told reporters. "They didn't win this tournament. We did." Later that night, he posed for this photo, lovingly posted by Ole Miss linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. To prove it has a sense of humor, the selection committee matched Henderson's Rebels against notorious curmudgeon Bo Ryan and Wisconsin. If Henderson hits a buzzer-beater to beat the Badgers on Friday, there's no telling what he might do. Just be sure to set your DVR, because a Henderson buzzer-beater celebration might not be suitable to replay on a family television network.
The UCLA coach may be fighting for his job when the Bruins face Minnesota on Friday night. How do we know this? When Howland was asked Sunday how important UCLA's tournament performance would be, this was his response. "I think you should contact Dan," Howland told the Los Angeles Times. "Dan" is UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero. When Times beat writer Chris Foster requested to speak to Guerrero about the issue, he received the following response from an athletic department spokesman: "[Guerrero's] schedule is very tight with the shortened week before we head to Austin." So much for a vote of confidence. So Howland will have to coach for his supper. The coach of UCLA's first opponent can empathize. Minnesota's Tubby Smith, who coached at Kentucky from 1997-2007, knows all too well the weight of the crown when one sits on the throne at an iconic program.
The pride of Kamloops, British Columbia is the best player for Gonzaga's first No. 1-seeded team. Like 2012 Final Four Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis, Olynyk was a perimeter player before a seven-inch growth spurt in high school turned him into a post player. Unlike Davis, who helped lead Kentucky to a national title as a freshman and then became the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Olynyk did not arrive on campus fully formed. The seven-footer played two unspectacular seasons before opting to redshirt the 2011-12 season. He returned from his self-imposed game exile to average 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds and lead the nation in Player Efficiency Rating for the Bulldogs, who might have the easiest path to the Final Four of any of the No. 1 seeds.