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By Matthew Braine

March 13th, 2006


NCAA Tournament: Top 10 Under the Radar Players

This year, as always, the Cinderella's are represented impressively and are looking to unseed the major players.  But behind every upset is a player who is able to elevate him game on the biggest stage in college hoops.  In no particular order, here are the guys who will either make or break their teams upset hopes come tournament time. 
1. Steve Burtt, Iona University
Burtt had a huge season for the Gaels, leading them to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title along with a birth in the dance.  Boasting an impressive 25.2 ppg average, which placed him fourth in the country, the MACC tourney MVP led his team the only way he knew how, by shooting the lights out, scoring in double figures every game.  His 94 three pointers placed him fourth in conference and he would have taken all his accolades to bank and cashed in a Player of the Year award but St. Peter's Keydren Clark had an off the wall senior year so Burtt will settle for first All-MACC honors and a bid instead. The senior lead the Gaels to a 23-7 record this season but the wiry, 6'1", guard isn't done yet.  There is no team that wants a piece of Iona with Burtt at the helm, just ask Iowa State.  Burtt torched the then 23rd ranked Cyclones for 23 en route to a 89-72 victory.  The New York City native, now second place all time on the Iona scoring list, is poised for a strong showing next week against LSU.
2. Ibrahim Jaaber, University of Pennsylvania
As the Ivy league Player of the Year, Jaaber led the league in scoring at 18.4 ppg.  Guiding the Quakers to a second straight league title with a 12-2 record (20-8 overall), Jaaber was more than just a scoring machine who could penetrate like A.I. and beat you off the dribble at will.  The 6'2" junior had 3.4 steals per game making him a defensive dynamo on the court.  In fact his average ranked him first in country and his 95 total broke the school and league records that he himself set last season. However, don't let his defensive prowess distract you, the combo guard/forward shot a blazing 59% from the field this season and scored in double figures 25 times.  While the Ivy league is a rather weak conference, Jaaber has led them to some key wins including a 24 point performance against Hawaii.  In addition to his unanimous Player of the Year honor, he garnered an All-Ivy first team selection.  The only knock on Jabber his sometimes sub par range.  While he can drive with the best of them, his shooting ability is questionable, yet there's no doubt that without him, the Quakers would be sitting home right now.  Drawing Texas means a likely early exit, but Jabber's presence ranks them high on the upset special list.
3. Brendan Winters, Davidson University
His career high 33 points in the Southern title game says it all; Brendan Winters is the go-to guy and a clutch performer for the Wildcats.  During their 80-55 victory over UT- Chattanooga, Winters hit 6-10 threes and 13-21 from the floor overall.  The 6'5" senior is by no means the best player in the conference, that honor goes to UNC- Greensboro's Kyle Hines or even freshman standout College of Charleston's Jermaine Johnson.  However, those guys aren't in the tournament.  That's not to say Winter's isn't impressive.  The guard/forward put up 17.1 ppg and brought down 4.7 rpg in addition to his impressive 84% from the line.  The sharpshooter was a model of consistency all season, scoring in double figures in all but two games and also put up 20 plus seven times.  As an All-Southern first team selection, he led the Wildcats to a 20-10 record helping his team avenge last years disappointment when they went 16-0 in conference but failed to make the NCAA's due to an early conference tournament loss. Step one for this year was winning the Southern title, the next is creating a tourney buzz.  Whatever Davidson's fate is, it lies in the hands of Winters.
4. T.J. Carter, UNC-Wilmington
Carter was neither an All-CAA first or second team selection.  He didn't score a bunch of points, in fact he only averaged 13.2 ppg on the season, good enough for first on his team but far from conference leader Gary Neal's 26.1.  What he did do, however, was come up big in clutch situations which is why he makes this list.  With Hofstra attempting a miraculous comeback in the CAA title game, Carter stepped up, scoring 12 of his 23 in the final three minutes sealing the championship and tournament MVP honors with his performance.  The junior guard was a threat every time he touched the ball and although he only managed 4.2 rpg on the season, he pulled down 13 in the title game despite his 6'3" frame.  But that top notch game wasn't his only, in fact, throughout the year, Carter came up big in ones that mattered most.  His 20 points against Hofstra (3rd in conference) and 28 against George Mason (2nd) propelled his team to important victories which sealed UNC-Wilmington's #1 seed in the tournament. Virtually unrecognized in his own conference, Carter has emerged as a threat in clutch situations.  The Seahawks will be a tough draw for a hurt George Washington team, with Carter sparking at the right time.
5. Jamar Wilson, University of Albany
When you lead a school to its first ever tournament birth, you're going to get some props.  Junior guard Jamar Wilson has done that for the Great Danes, leading them to the America East conference title after only being a Division I program since 1999.  The Danes victory ousted Vermont from the drivers seat of the conference, one that they dominated over the last three years.  Wilson, the Player of the Year in the conference, led the Danes in scoring at 17.3 ppg and also grabbed 4.9 boards.  The 6'1" Bronx prodigy is an up-tempo guard who has solid shooting skills but thrives in the open floor.  His ability to score and take over games was shown to the fullest in the title game where he put up 29 and eight.  He also posted 20 plus points 14 times this season.  Drawing Duke in the first game will certainly be a challenge of mammoth proportions but with Wilson, at least they'll make it competitive and maybe a few highlight reel plays along the way. 
6. Brandon Heath, San Diego State University
There bubble would have been as large as anyone if they lost the Mountain West title game but fortunately for the Aztecs, they had the Mountain West Player of the Year on their side.  Brandon Heath shot terribly from the field (7-27) against Wyoming but his clutch shots and eight points in overtime was the fuel that drove home an NCAA birth. Heath led the Aztecs to a 24-8 (13-3) record this season, the best in the schools Division I history while averaging a conference best 18.5 ppg.  A quick guard with great range, Heath buried shots from all over this year.  The juniors 95 three pointers led the Mountain West while his consistency was hard to ignore as he scored in double figures in every game but one this season.  The Aztecs will take on Indiana in the first round, a team that has shown signs of greatness and despair all season.  Heath's presence will take the Hoosiers to the limit.
7. Charles Lee, Bucknell University
The Bison's are the epitome of the word team.  They lead by example and share the ball well.  Patriot League Player of the Year Charles Lee is the backbone of this squad.  The senior guard has taken Bucknell through an undefeated conference record (14-0) en route to a league title and a #9 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament.  His Player of the Year honor is odd being that his numbers are modest; 12.9 ppg, 6.1 boards.  What makes him special is his leadership on the court.  His willingness to take the ball to the hole and draw fouls make him a threat every possession.  He's quick on the boards despite his 6'3" stature while his shooting range is solid.  Arkansas will have a tough time beating the Bison's who knocked off Big East champs Syracuse this year.  With Lee, they have better than just a chance.
8. Christian Maraker, Pacific University
Last year, #13 Vermont took down the high powered Orangemen of Syracuse.  This year, Pacific gets the chance to play the lucky number thirteen team in a match-up against Boston College. The Tigers could play the role of Cinderella but only if their big time forward comes through.  Christian Maraker, the Big West Player of the Year, boasted strong numbers this season putting up 17.2 ppg and nearly nine boards (8.9).  A smooth, 6'7" big man, the Sweden native can post up well and his shooting touch is right on as he shot over 50% from the field and over 85% from the stripe.  The senior help lead the Tigers to the conference title behind a 24-7 (12-2) record.  Maraker will face a tough challenge down low against Craig Smith but his cunning play may be the difference maker in the match-up.
9. Patrick O'Bryant, Bradley University
The Missouri Valley Conference's Defensive Player of the Year has only started 18 games this season but still managed to tally 69 blocks which is over three per game.  The 7'0" 260lbs O'Bryant was a bully down low grabbing 8 rpg while still scoring 13.2 ppg.  Still young at only a sophomore, his quick moves and "true center" strong frame  puts him in elite company on the collegiate level.  His presence along with other Bradley guards, put them in the MVC title game and earned them a trip to the dance as a at-large #13 seed, but with a tough draw against Big 12 champions Kansas, they could be off the dance floor sooner then they'd like. However, while their backcourt is top notch, the Kansas front court is nothing to brag about which may give O'Bryant the opportunity to dominate.  Whether the Braves like it or not, their tournament livelihood depends how dominant the raw giant can be.
10. Joah Tucker, UW- Milwaukee
Last but certainly not least on this list is Tucker, who dropped 32 on Illinois last year in the sweet sixteen.  The senior forward led the Panthers to their second straight Horizon conference title on his way picking up All-Horizon first team honors.  Tucker led the Panthers in scoring with 16.4 ppg while also notching 6 rpg.  He's a smart player who knows his strengths and plays to them well.  An average shooter who is aggressive in the paint, Tucker has been a scoring machine as of late posting double digits in 26 straight games.  The Panthers drew Oklahoma in the first round, a team that is truly beatable as evident by Nebraska's quarterfinal victory over the Sooners'.  However in order for the Tucker to be successful, he'll have to be patient.  If not, the Panthers will be reminiscing about last year's heroics sooner than they'd like. 



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