Stars from one-bid leagues savor chance to take center stage
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) How much can a mid-major player’s life change with one memorable NCAA Tournament performance? Just ask Middle Tennessee’s Reggie Upshaw.
Upshaw scored 21 points last year as the 15th-seeded Blue Raiders stunned No. 2 seed Michigan State 90-81 in the first round of the NCAA Midwest Regional. Then he discovered how popular he had just become.
”It was very crazy,” Upshaw said. ”I never thought that my phone would be able to get that many notifications, that many text messages and missed phone calls and stuff like that. My phone was definitely blowing up. It was just people congratulating me and telling me they were proud.”
Upshaw says he had ”probably about 1,000” text messages or missed phone call notifications stemming from that game.
As Middle Tennessee attempts to produce another March memory this week, other players from one-bid conferences are seeking to leave their own mark on the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a list of 10 players from one-bid conferences who are definitely worth watching:
PATRICK COLE (guard, North Carolina Central)
First opponent: Wednesday vs. UC Davis at Dayton, Ohio
Cole ranks second in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in scoring (19.5), third in rebounds (7.0) and first in assists (5.7). The former Coppin State and Siena guard was the MEAC’s player of the year and the most outstanding player in the league tournament . Cole, a 6-foot-5 senior, had a triple-double against Jackson State.
T.J. CROMER (guard, East Tennessee State)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Florida at Orlando, Florida
In a victory over Samford last week, Cromer had 41 points and became the first player to score 40-plus points in a Southern Conference Tournament game since Stephen Curry did it for Davidson in 2009. Cromer, a 6-3 senior, averages 19.1 points.
MIKE DAUM (forward, South Dakota State)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Gonzaga at Salt Lake City
Daum is averaging 25.3 points to rank second among Division I players. He also has 8.2 rebounds per game. The 6-9 sophomore had 37 points and 12 rebounds in a Summit League championship game victory over Omaha. Daum, the Summit League player of the year, had a 51-point performance this season.
NANA FOULLAND (center, Bucknell)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. West Virginia at Buffalo, New York
Foulland is just the second player ever to be named the Patriot League’s overall player of the year and defensive player of the year in the same season. The 6-9 junior averages 14.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He had a double-double in a victory at Vanderbilt .
BRANDON GOODWIN (guard, Florida Gulf Coast)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Florida State at Orlando, Florida
This versatile Central Florida transfer averages 18.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4 assists. Goodwin, a 6-2 junior, was the most valuable player of the Atlantic Sun Tournament . He scored 22 points against Baylor and 18 against Michigan State earlier this season.
JIMMY HALL (forward, Kent State)
First-round opponent: Friday vs. UCLA at Sacramento, California
Hall is averaging a double-double this season with 18.9 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. The 6-8 senior leads the Golden Flashes in points, rebounds, assists (2.6) and blocks (1.4). Hall, a Hofstra transfer, earned first-team all-Mid-American Conference honors for the third straight season.
KEON JOHNSON (guard, Winthrop)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Butler at Milwaukee
This 5-7 senior averages 22.5 points to rank second in the Big South and was named the league’s player of the year as well as the most valuable player of its tournament. Johnson scored 26 points in a Big South championship game victory . Johnson scored 38 points in a victory over Illinois and had 24 points in a loss to Dayton .
MARCUS MARSHALL (guard, Nevada)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Iowa State in Milwaukee
Marshall, a 6-3 senior, has 19.8 points per game to lead the Mountain West Conference. He’s the third player in Mountain West history to make at least 100 3-pointers in a season. The Missouri State transfer scored 25 points in a loss to Saint Mary’s and had 32 points in a victory over Washington .
JORDAN WASHINGTON (forward, Iona)
First-round opponent: Friday vs. Oregon at Sacramento, California
Notable: Washington has a history of producing in the NCAA Tournament, as he collected 26 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to Iowa State last March . He had 21 points and 10 rebounds in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game and was named that tournament’s MVP. Washington, a 6-8 senior, averages 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds.
JaCOREY WILLIAMS (forward, Middle Tennessee)
First-round opponent: Thursday vs. Minnesota at Milwaukee
Notable: Williams didn’t play in Middle Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament run last year because he was sitting out the season after transferring from Arkansas. He has averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds this season to earn Conference USA player of the year honors. The 6-8 fifth-year senior had double-doubles in a victory over Vanderbilt and a loss to VCU .
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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