As the focal point of the nation's top-ranked team, Dee Brown will spend much of March in the national eye, his Q rating rising by the day. Elsewhere, though, are high-excitement players with Brown-style entertainment value who will get much less attention and much less praise. Most of them have little chance of ending up in this year's Final Four. The members of the quintet pictured here were selected as SI's Favorite Players because they embody the spirit of college basketball. They work hard, play hard and make their teammates better. They exude passion and do whatever it takes to win. And they're fun to watch. For that they deserve a moment in the spotlight.
1. Jose Juan Barea
Ever since the 1980s, when Aparicio Curry played at Detroit and Crosetti Speight at Hawaii, we've been searching for a player who doesn't just sound like a shortstop but plays like one. Northeastern point guard Jose Juan Barea is that guy. The 6-foot junior from Mayag√ºez, Puerto Rico, who at week's end was averaging 21.9 points and 7.2 assists for the 19--8 Huskies, moves left or right with quick, biting steps. He fearlessly goes deep into the hole of the lane. When he whips a pass to a spotted-up teammate, he does so as if he's executing a pivot at second base. When he shoots, the ball comes out of his hand with what must be the quickest accurate release in the game. Turns out that like most Puerto Ricans, Barea played his share of baseball as a kid. Any shortstop? "No," he says. "Second base." Doesn't matter. The search is over. --Alexander Wolff
March 7, 2005
2. Chuck Hayes
No player squeezes more out of his abilities than Kentucky's 6'6", 242-pound senior power forward Chuck Hayes. It's no accident that the Wildcats have gone 103--22 over his four seasons. Through Sunday, Hayes was averaging 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds and was on the verge of becoming the first player in SEC history to pile up 800 rebounds and 300 assists over his career. His hallmark is toughness: He never takes a play off. On Jan. 25 he broke his nose in an 84--62 win over Tennessee. Four days later, wearing a mask, he stepped onto the court against Arkansas, keeping his streak of consecutive starts (which had reached 102 at week's end) intact. Hayes hasn't spent his final season trying to impress NBA scouts by scoring a ton of points. But he has impressed them with his hustle and tenacity. --Seth Davis
3. Derek Raivio
Maybe it's the Opie buzz cut or the shoulder art, which looks as if it came straight from a Fisher Price My First Tattoo kit. But Derek Raivio doesn't exactly instill fear in opposing defenders. "They'll say, 'Who's this skinny little white boy?'" says Raivio, Gonzaga's 6'3", 168-pound sophomore point guard. "But once they see me handle the ball, their ideas change real quick." Georgia Tech knows. In the Zags' 85--73 win over the Yellow Jackets on Dec. 18, Raivio took Jarrett Jack to the hole and scored. He also stripped Jack at half-court, and then instead of going in for an easy layup, he pulled up and hit a long-range jumper. Not only does he have strong numbers--13.6 points, 5.2 assists per game at week's end--but he's also been fearless, scoring 21 points against Georgia Tech, another 21 in a win over Washington and 32 in a triumph at Santa Clara. --Grant Wahl
4. Turner Battle
His teammates call him Textbook, an apt moniker for an old-school point guard at a school that's new to winning. "I guess I'm about the fundamentals," says Buffalo senior Turner Battle. At week's end here were the fundamentals on Battle: 15.6 points and 4.4 assists per game, and a 3.56 GPA. Battle has helped give a once woebegone program postseason possibilities for the first time since it moved up to Division I in 1992. The Bulls were 14--71 in the three years before Battle's arrival in 2001; they were 35--19 over the past two seasons and 18--7 this year. When Battle signed with Buffalo out of East Forsyth High in Kernersville, N.C., four years ago, recruiting guru Bob Gibbons called him "the steal of the millennium." We call him the best thing to happen to Buffalo since the invention of the snowplow. --Richard Deitsch
5. Ike Diogu
FORWARD, Arizona State
There's a reason why longtime observers of the Arizona State athletic program compare Ike Diogu with late football star Pat Tillman. The two have shared not just surpassing talent but also an almost regal combination of dignity and respect. We could go on for hours about the 6'8" junior forward's sculpted physique, his cash-money midrange jumper, his psyche-smashing blocked shots. He was leading the Pac-10 in five of its 13 individual statistical categories through Sunday, for God's sake. But Diogu is one of our favorite players just as much for what he doesn't do. Once when Diogu was being roughed up by his defender, Arizona State coach Rob Evans asked him to tell the referee about it. Diogu returned to the game and never said a word. It may have been the only time he has ever disobeyed orders, but it's more evidence of why we like Ike. --G.W.