College Basketball
March Madness 2023: 10 names to know ahead of the NCAA Tournament
College Basketball

March Madness 2023: 10 names to know ahead of the NCAA Tournament

Updated Mar. 15, 2023 5:31 p.m. ET

It was 15 years ago when the Davidson men’s basketball team entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 10 seed, fresh off a SoCon Tournament title.

The Wildcats had a flashy, sharp-shooting guard on their roster who averaged 25.9 points per game, which ranked fourth among all Division I players. However, despite his swagger and gaudy stat lines, he was far from a known commodity heading into the Big Dance.

Following the first weekend of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, though, everyone knew the name: Stephen Curry.

Now a nine-time NBA All-Star and two-time league MVP, Curry put together one of the most magical runs in tournament history during his sophomore campaign. Curry led the 10th-seeded Wildcats to three straight tournament upsets before falling to the eventual national champion Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.


Curry dropped 40 points in an opening-round win over Gonzaga, and then followed that up with a 30-point outing in an upset of No. 2 seed Georgetown. He then put up 33 points in a Sweet 16 win over No. 3-seeded Wisconsin.

While Curry will be remembered for his memorable 2008 tournament, he is certainly not alone when it comes to small-school players who have made a household name for themselves in the NCAA Tournament.

Who has the chance to be this year’s version of Curry and make a big splash in the NCAA Tournament?

Here are 10 names to know ahead of the Big Dance.

[View the 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket here]

Nick Wright's Final Four predictions

Nick Wright shares his Final Four picks, including upset wins from Gonzaga and Kentucky, despite a 'down year' for John Calipari.

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

Abmas is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles were the darlings of the 2021 tourney, making a run to the Sweet 16 behind the heroics of Abmas, who totaled 55 points in back-to-back upset wins over Ohio State and Florida

Fast-forward two years and Abmas is back in the Big Dance and still getting buckets. The 6-foot, 174-pound senior guard is averaging 22.2 points per game, which led the Summit League and ranked seventh nationally among Division I players. 

Abmas and the Golden Eagles finished with a perfect 18-0 mark in conference play en route to earning a No. 12 seed in this year’s tournament. They will go up against No. 5 Duke in the opening round, which will pit Abmas against standout guard Jeremy Roach, who has played a large role in the Blue Devils’ six-game win streak heading into the tournament.

If the Golden Eagles are going to pull off an upset and get by the ACC Tournament champion Blue Devils, it will be because Abmas has a big game. 

Tucker DeVries, Drake

DeVries recalls watching the father-son duo of Greg McDermott and Doug McDermott lead Creighton to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014. His father, Darian, was an assistant on that Creighton staff under Greg McDermott. Now, Darian is the head coach at Drake, and he has the luxury of coaching his son Tucker, who is the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year.

A 6-foot-7, 210-pound sharp-shooting guard, DeVries averaged 19.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season for the Bulldogs. He put up 22 points in Drake’s win over Bradley in the MVC Tournament final to secure a spot in this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

DeVries will make his tournament debut Friday when 12th-seeded Drake takes on 5-seed Miami in an opening-round matchup in the Midwest Region. The sophomore guard, who became the fourth sophomore in conference history to win the player of the year award, will have the chance to make a name for himself against a Miami team that finished 25-7 and 15-5 in ACC play.

Jalen Slawson, Furman

The history surrounding Virginia and Furman could not be more different. The Cavaliers are making their ninth NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012, while the Paladins will make their first appearance in the Big Dance in 43 years.

Leading the charge for Furman is senior Slawson, who was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward is a force on both ends of the court and could present problems for a Virginia defense that held opponents to under 61 points per game this season. Slawson is a true stat-sheet stuffer, averaging 15.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, while also shooting 39.4% from downtown.

This should be a fascinating matchup of elite offense vs. elite defense. Slawson and the Paladins rank No. 1 among all Divison I programs in two-point field goal percentage at 60.1%, and 18th in overall field goal percentage at 48.3%. Slawson & Co. put up more than 82 points per game this season, ranking eighth among Division I teams.

Remember, it was just five years ago when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 16-seed in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Could Slawson and the Paladins deliver Tony Bennett’s team another first-round exit?

Chase Audige, Northwestern

Audige is the only player from a major conference on this list, but when your program is making just its second NCAA Tournament appearance ever, it’s understandable why the average college basketball fan might not be familiar with the Wildcats.

A 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior, Audige is a lockdown defender. He was named the conference’s co-defensive player of the year this season, sharing the honor with RutgersCaleb McConnell. While he might not be a household name, chances are Boise State fans are going to get to know the name real quick, as Audige has the ability to match up against any guard in the country and alter a game from a defensive standpoint.

In addition to his superior defensive play, Audige can also get it done on the offensive side of the ball, averaging 13.8 points per game. He had five games with 20-or-more points this season, including a 28-point offensive explosion in a win over DePaul back in December.

Steven Ashworth, Utah State

One of the most difficult matchups to pick in the NCAA Tournament is always the 7 vs. 10 game. Missouri vs. Utah State should be no exception, and one reason the Aggies will make things difficult on the Tigers is the play of Steven Ashworth.

The Aggies junior guard has been exceptional this season, averaging a team-high 16.3 points per contest, while also leading the team in assists (4.5) and steals (1.2). Ashworth has had five games where he put up 25-plus points this season, which includes a 30-point outburst against Oral Roberts, who is a tournament team as well.

Missouri’s Achilles' heel this season has been the play of its defense. The Tigers allowed 76.4 points per game, while Ashworth and the Aggies averaged more than 78 points per game, second in the Mountain West Conference. Ashworth, along with fellow backcourt mate Max Shulga, could present some major problems for the Tigers in their first-round game.

Ajay Mitchell, UC Santa Barbara

Mitchell is one of the most explosive scorers in the South Region and should be a name that fans familiarize themselves with ahead of the Gauchos’ first-round matchup against Baylor. The talented sophomore guard is putting up 16.4 points per game this season and is also an elite distributor, averaging 5.1 assists per contest. 

Mitchell and the Gauchos are riding a seven-game winning streak heading into the Big Dance, while Baylor has dropped two in a row and four of its last six. However, as good as Mitchell and UCSB have been this season, they don’t have many standout victories on their résumé that suggests they are poised for a big run in this tournament.

Scott Drew’s team has really struggled on the defensive side of the ball, allowing more than 70 points per contest, ninth in the Big 12. This is a game that could be closer than people think, and Mitchell has the chance to become a known commodity if he can deliver his team an upset win over the 2021 national champs.

Jordan Brown, Louisiana

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Brown was one of the highest-ranked recruits coming out of high school in the 2018 class. The former five-star prospect signed with Nevada, where he spent one season before transferring to Arizona to play for Sean Miller and the Wildcats. However, after the school fired Miller, the former McDonald’s All-American made the move to Louisiana, where he has shined over the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-11, 225-pound forward enjoyed an outstanding season, averaging a team-best 19.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Ragin’ Cajuns. He recorded 10 double-doubles this season, which included a 26-point, 20-rebound outing in a win over Marshall earlier this year.

Brown and the Ragin’ Cajuns draw a Tennessee team in the opening round that will have the challenge of playing without standout point guard Zakai Zeigler, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury. Look for the Volunteers to have their hands full on the defensive side of the ball, as Brown possesses an elite combination of size and skill and has the ability to lead Louisiana to a first-round upset.

Nelly Junior Joseph, Iona

A 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man from Nigeria, Junior Joseph is a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the ball. He averaged 15.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game this season in helping guide Iona to a 27-7 record and a MAAC Tournament title.

The junior big man will likely be matched up against UConn standout Adama Sanogo, which should be one of the most fascinating individual matchups in the opening round of the tournament. The winner of that matchup could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

The Gaels are no stranger to the NCAA Tournament, making their second appearance in three years. If the Gaels can somehow pull off an upset victory over the Huskies in the opening round, Junior Joseph will have a big role in doing so.

Drew Pember, UNC Asheville

When it comes to elite-level scorers in this tournament, Pember is among the best of them. The 6-foot-11 star is averaging 21.2 points per game, which ranked 14th nationally. He had the highest-scoring individual game of any Division I player this season, putting up 48 in a victory over Presbyterian back in late January. 

A No. 2 seed has been knocked off by a 15-seed on 10 separate occasions, dating back to 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams. While the Bulldogs are certainly a long shot to get past the Bruins in the opening round of this year’s tournament — listed at +18, per FOX Bet — it is worth noting that UCLA is dealing with a bevy of injuries, including one to big man Adem Bona. The freshman standout exited the Bruins’ Pac-12 semifinal win over Oregon and did not play in the team’s conference title matchup against Arizona.

With Bona’s status up in the air heading into the tournament opener, this could be Pember’s chance to shine.

RaeQuan Battle, Montana State

The Bobcats are a really good team, but their first-round matchup against Kansas State is quite a challenge. If Montana State has any chance of pulling off an upset, it will need junior guard Battle to be at his best.

The first-team All-Big Sky performer has enjoyed an incredible campaign, averaging a team-high 17.4 points and leading a group that thrives on the defensive side of the ball, ranking first in the Big Sky Conference in defensive efficiency while forcing turnovers on 20% of their opponent's offensive possessions.

Battle and the Bobcats will have the challenge of trying to slow down Kansas State’s dominant 1-2 punch of Keyontae Johnson and Marquis Nowell. Both are elite-level scorers, which will make this a fascinating matchup of offense vs. defense.

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