Mid-major stars to watch during championship week

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The beauty of the mid-major tournaments that we will be obsessed with this week is that this is where stars will be born.

They’ll burst onto the national scene if they find a way to get to the NCAA tournament, but this is where they’ll earn themselves the right to have that chance. 

So who might end up being the next Harold Arceneaux or the next Jairus Lyles? Can anyone go from being a cinderella to an NBA player like C.J. McCollum or Kyle O’Quinn? Who might end up giving us a memory that lasts longer than Bryce Drew’s game-winner or a double-order of onions like Ronald Moore did?

These are your best bets:

CONFERENCE TOURNEYS: 21 Mid-Major Stars | Best Bets | Bid Thieves | Schedule

1. JA MORANT, Murray State

If you don’t know who Ja Morant is at this point, I don’t think you can call yourself a college basketball fan. He’s going to be a top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft — he might go No. 2 — because he is an uber-athletic dunking machine that just so happens to lead the country in assists (10.3 per game) while averaging 24.1 points. The world needs Morant in the NCAA tournament, trying to put a 50-burger on whatever poor No. 4 seed happens to draw Murray State in the first round.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/8, 9:00 p.m. in the OVC semis

2. CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell

Clemons is 5-foot-9. He’s currently averaging 30.1 points, and no Division I player has finished a season averaging 30 points since Charles Jones (LIU) and Bubba Wells (Austin Peay) did it in 1997. He is currently sixth on the Division I all-time scoring list at 3,136 career points. He’s 14 behind Doug McDermott for fifth on the all-time scoring list with a very real shot of getting to No. 2 if he can find a way to play four more games.

And if you’re not careful, he will dunk on you:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/7, 6:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 seed Hampton

3. MIKE DAUM, South Dakota State

Clemons is not the only 3,000 point scorer in college basketball right now, because the 6-foot-9 Daum has climbed past Hersey Hawkins and Oscar Robertson into ninth on the career scoring list. He makes threes. He dominates the glass. He can’t really guard anyone, but it doesn’t matter all that much when he’s putting up 25 and 10 every night. The Jackrabbits have reached the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons, so Daum is hardly a secret at this point in his career.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 6:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 Western Illinois

4. C.J. MASSINBURG, Buffalo

You really should know who Massinburg is at this point. He averaged 18.5 points in the NCAA tournament last season, when he led Buffalo to an upset win over No. 4 seed Arizona in the first round of the tournament and gave Kentucky all they could handle in the second round. Then he went for 43 points as the Bulls won at West Virginia in the first week of the season.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The MAC tournament starts 3/11

5. FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford

Magee is 14 made three-pointers away from becoming the all-time Division I leader in career three-pointers made. He’s averaging better than 20 points for the second straight season. He shoots more than 10 threes per game, and he’s never had a season where he shot worse than 42.3 percent from beyond the arc.

But here’s the craziest part — the threes that he shoots look like this:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 12:00 p.m. in the SoCon quarters

6. JORDAN FORD, St. Mary’s

Ford might be the best guard that St. Mary’s has had since the days of Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavadova. He’s averaging 21.5 points this season, nearly doubling his scoring output from a season ago, and he has a chance to one day play in the NBA. The Gaels have the best chance to win the WCC automatic bid of teams not named Gonzaga and that’s going to be the only way that St. Mary’s can actually get to the NCAA tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/11, 8:30 p.m. in the WCC semis

7. JORDAN DAVIS, Northern Colorado

Northern Colorado is second in the Big Sky. That’s good. Davis averages 23.7 points and 4.7 assists for UNC. That’s better. But the real reason that you need to know who this dude is? He might do this again:

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Big Sky tournament kicks off March 13th

8. DYLAN WINDLER, Belmont

Windler needs his breakout moment. While Morant is out here setting records, Windler has a case to be the OVC Player of the Year. He’s the only Division I player averaging 20 points, 10 boards and 2.5 assists, and in OVC play, he’s putting up 23.0 points and 10.9 boards while shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s an NBA prospect, but he has yet to have a blow-up game in front of the world.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 7:00 p.m. in the OVC semis

9. MIYE ONI, Yale

Bryce Aiken of Harvard is the guy that gets all the hype in the Ivy League, but Oni is probably the best player in the league. A 6-foot-6 native from California, Oni is a junior that is averaging 18.3 points and 6.5 boards. He’s a borderline first round pick as of today, and the best part? He was originally committed to the same Division III school that former Michigan guard Duncan Robinson played for.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Ivy League tournament starts 3/16

10. JALEN PICKETT, Siena

Pickett is probably the best freshman in the country that you have never heard of. He averaged 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and 4.6 boards for the Saints, who finished tied for second in a wide-open MAAC. He had 46 points and 13 assists in a game earlier this year. Keep an eye on this dude, he could end up being an NBA player.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 9:30 p.m. vs. No. 4 Rider

11. JUSTIN WRIGHT-FOREMAN, Hofstra

Hofstra steam-rolled the CAA this year thanks in very large part to the nation’s second-leading scorer, Wright-Foreman. He put up 26.8 points this season, and he also hit what might be the shot of the year:

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 12:00 p.m. in the CAA semis

12. JOHN KONCHAR, Fort Wayne

The season did not end well for the Mastadons, as they lost their last four regular season games to fall out of the Summit League title race. That will make it that much more difficult for Konchar, who averages 19.7 pints, 8.5 boards and 5.3 assists, to make a national name for himself, but it is doable.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 South Dakota

13. ANTOINE DAVIS, Detroit

Antoine is the son of Detroit head coach Mike Davis. He’s the nation’s third-leading scorer at 26.0 points. He’s a freshman. He has made 128 threes this year, which breaks the record that was set by one Stephen Curry. The problem? Detroit is the No. 7 seed in the Horizon League tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/6, 7:00 p.m. vs. No. 2 Northern Kentucky

14. ANTHONY LAMB, Vermont

We all know how good the UVM program is at this point, and Lamb is currently the star in Burlington. He had 24 points at Kansas this year. He put 34 on Yale and 37 on Harvard. He had 42 points against St. Bonaventure. People that loved Georges Niang will be thrilled to see his dopplegänger get some run if UVM can get to the Big Dance.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 7:00 p.m. vs. No. 8 seed Maine

15. GRANT RILLER, Charleston

There may not be a more dangerous scorer in college basketball than Riller right now. The junior guard is averaging 22.3 points and 4.0 assists, but he popped off for 43 points against Hofstra, 33 points against Northeastern, 32 against Memphis and 30 at VCU.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/10, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 Drexel

16. CHARLES BASSEY, Western Kentucky

Bassey is a former five-star recruit and a future NBA draft pick. He hasn’t quite lived up to expectations playing for WKU this year, but he’s still averaging 15.1 points and 10.6 boards. He’ll be the big body that will allow the Hilltoppers to matchup with the frontline of whatever power conference team they face off with in the NCAA tournament.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The CUSA tournament starts on 3/13

17. JAKEENAN GANT, Louisiana

The former Missouri forward is currently averaging 20.8 points, 8.7 boards and 2.7 blocks, the only player in Division I to post a line like that. The Sun Belt regular season hasn’t come to an end yet, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are currently sitting at .500 with two games left. They likely aren’t destined for the NCAA tournament, but you never know.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Sun Belt tournament starts 3/12

18. JAYLIN WALKER, Kent State

Walker has finally moved his way into the starting lineup, but the 6-foot-3 senior spent much of the year averaging 21.6 points off the bench for the Golden Flashes. Kent State is going to have to beat out Buffalo for the MAC automatic bid if they are going to be dancing.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The MAC tournament starts 3/11

19. D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State

Simonds had a bunch of NBA hype heading into his sophomore season, but the jump shot never came around. He’s still not shooting it great this year, but he is averaging 18.9 points, 4.9 boards and 3.7 assists for a team that is tied for first in the Sun Belt right now.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Sun Belt tournament starts 3/12

20. LAMINE DIANE, Cal St.-Northridge

If Pickett isn’t the best freshman you’ve never heard of, Diane is. He’s the Big West Zion Williamson, averaging 24.2 points, 10.8 boards, 2.2 blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals. I know this is going to shock you, but Diane is putting up these numbers for a team coached by Mark Gottfried that is currently sitting at 7-7 in the Big West.

WHEN HE PLAYS: The Big West tournament starts 3/14

21. MATT RAFFERTY, Furman

Furman’s star has as well-rounded of a stat line as you’ll find: 17.4 points, 9.2 boards, 4.2 assists, 2.6 steals, 1.1 blocks, 62.8% FG, 36.4% 3PT. That’s how you upset Villanova on the road, I guess.

WHEN HE PLAYS: 3/9, 8:30 p.m. vs. No. 6 Mercer