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March 22, 2006

SCS.comKevin Pittsnogle. Alando Tucker. Randy Foye. Each of these players is now a household name in college basketball. Why? The 2005 NCAA Tournament. They all rode big games in the Big Dance to preseason accolades this season. And they are also now three of the best players in the country.

It happens every season. Players that were solid during the regular season break out in the NCAA Tournament and become everyone's favorite player. "Experts" start to tout the potential of these types of players. Some end up living off of their postseason performances. Others use their postseason glory as a springboard to a high spot in the NBA Draft or to a huge college season the following year.

The 2006 NCAA Tournament is no different. Several players have seemingly come out of nowhere to jump on the map. Some were under the radar throughout the season, while others are just living up to the potential they have flashed during the regular season. A couple of these players are likely to ride the wave of their NCAA Tournament and enter the NBA Draft. Others will be on All-American teams next season. Either way, remember these names.

Patrick O' Bryant, Bradley

After missing the first eight games of the season, O'Bryant put the nation on notice with a combined 50 points and 39 rebounds in his first three games back. He played well throughout the rest of the season, although he was inconsistent at times. However, people began discussing him as a possible difference-maker once the Braves received an at-large bid. He had a solid game against Kansas in the first round, but had his break-out performance against Aaron Gray in the second round. From the opening tip, he dominated the interior, going for 28 points and 7 rebounds. Already getting some attention from NBA scouts, his stock skyrocketed, and he may have played himself into a first-round pick. Watch for him to dominate Memphis in the Sweet Sixteen.

Roy Hibbert, Georgetown

Following in the footsteps of legendary Hoya centers Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, and Patrick Ewing, Hibbert did not seem like he would develop into the type of player that could rival their type of production. In his final five games before the NCAA Tournament, he averaged just above 5 points per game. However, with his 7'2" size and all-around ability, the big man has started to come around in the NCAA Tournament. In the first round, he controlled the paint for 17 points and 9 rebounds, but his coming-out party was against Ohio State in round two. Going against Big Ten Player of the Year Terence Dials, Hibbert dominated the interior for 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Moreover, he has demonstrated very good passing ability from the inside. Look for him to get some looks as an All-Big East player next season if he continues to play like this.

Joakim Noah, Florida

Going into the NCAA Tournament, I felt that Noah might make the biggest difference in the Big Dance for a non-All American. From what I've seen so far, I just might be right. Noah has been a major matchup problem for anyone that has had to guard him because of his ability to take defenders off the dribble, pass the ball, and post people up. He's also extremely athletic and can run the floor like a guard. Don't forget his defense; he has nine blocks and five steals in the two games thus far. Playing for what has been the most dominant team in the Tournament, Noah has been the star. NBA scouts are touting him as a top five pick if he continues playing this way. In other words, the Gators better enjoy him for the rest of this season, which might last until the first week of April.

Josh McRoberts, Duke

This is what we have been expecting from McRoberts all season long. After an up-and-down regular season in which he flashed some of his immense potential but also laid several eggs, McRoberts began to come out of his shell in the ACC Tournament. He averaged over 13 points and 6 rebounds per game and has continued that play in the NCAA Tournament. He had an decent game in the first round against Southern with 8 points and 4 rebounds to go with 4 blocks, but then again, the Blue Devils did not really need him that much. In the next game against George Washington, McRoberts patrolled the interior and dominated. Finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds, he might be starting to realize his full potential. NBA scouts already know his potential; he is likely to be a lottery pick whenever he decides to come out. If he outplays LSU's Tyrus Thomas in the next round, look for his stock to jump up even higher.

Sean Ogirri, Wichita State

Finally, the whole nation gets to realize what Missouri Valley fans have known all season: Sean Ogirri can shoot. He finished the season hitting 10 of his last 14 three-point shots and has kept up the hot shooting from long-range in the NCAA Tournament. In the first round against Seton Hall, Ogirri torched the Pirates for 23 points on 6 of 10 shooting from beyond the arc, and he hit another two in an upset win over Tennessee. If he keeps shooting like this, don't be surprised to see Wichita State in the Elite Eight, giving Connecticut all they can handle. Next season, Ogirri might be the 2007 version of Missouri State's Blake Ahearn, a phenomenal shooter getting some national pub as a bonafide scorer.

Justin Dentmon, Washington

He may not be a big-time performer in the Sweet Sixteen this season, but watch out for Dentmon next year. He is only a freshman, but he has improved by leaps and bounds as the season went on. In the NCAA Tournament, he is averaging 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals per game. More importantly, though, is the fact that he has zero turnovers. For a freshman point guard, that is outstanding. He will face a tough matchup next round in Connecticut's Marcus Williams, who is playing as well as any point guard in the country. I wouldn't expect him to outplay Williams, but he might be able to hold his own. If he can improve his shooting, he could be one of the top point guards in the country next season.

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