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Mid-Major Stars to watch in the NCAA Tournament

This group could become household names in March.

NCAA Basketball: Missouri Valley Conference Tournament-Drake vs Loyola Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Every year we get to see the introduction of mid-major stars that make a name for themselves in March. Hard-core college basketball fans have known about these guys all year, but now they get to finally introduce themselves to the rest of the country. We have seen mid-major superstars have their share of One Shining Moments from Steph Curry, Gordon Hayward, Mike Daum, CJ McCollum, Jameer Nelson, and many more. We will break it down to see which players you need to look out for.

Note: We omitted all of Gonzaga’s starters since they have already gotten the attention they deserve heading into the NCAA Tournament. We still love Jalen Suggs, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, and Drew Timme.

Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland - VCU

The Rams made the tournament as a comfortable at-large team despite being projected to finish 9th in the conference during an expected “rebuilding” year. A lot of that had to do with the emergence of Bones Hyland. Hyland was awarded A-10 Player of the Year after averaging 19.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, and making 37.1 percent of his threes. Hyland has exploded for over 30 points three times this season. The sophomore is a legitimate NBA prospect and has drawn comparisons to a slightly less explosive Ja Morant. Nah’Shon has a chance to be one of the top prospects in the 2022 draft if he stays in school after this year. Hyland’s matchup with Oregon guard Chris Duarte is going to be must-watch television.

Jason Preston - Ohio

Ohio has been a popular upset pick because of their starting point guard Jason Preston. Preston has an amazing story where he went from barely playing in high school to leading the Bobcats to the NCAA Tournament. Preston scored 19, 22, and 27 in Ohio's three-game run in the MAC tournament. Preston scored 31 during Ohio’s two-point loss against Illinois earlier in the year. Preston is a triple-double threat anytime he takes the court averaging 16.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists. Preston is a legitimate first-round pick and he could play himself into the lottery if he can lead Ohio to a magical tournament run.

JaQuori McLaughlin - UC Santa Barbara

We will keep it in the West region to profile one of college basketball’s most underrated point guard. We profiled McLaughlin in our UCSB feature here.

McLaughlin is one of college basketball’s most complete stars. He has recently named an honorable mention to the AP All-American team. He ranks 15th in Heatcheck.com’s Gold Star player rankings, a guide that uses advanced metrics to determine the most impactful stars in college basketball. McLaughlin is averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 48% from the field. McLaughlin also ranks 43rd nationally in assist rate. UCSB has been a popular upset pick and the Gauchos will likely need their star to hit a clutch shot late in the game. McLaughlin could be the guy who hits an iconic buzzer-beater this weekend.

Max Abmas - Oral Roberts

Would you believe me if I told you the nation’s leading scorer goes to Oral Roberts? Well, it’s true, and Max Abmas is one of the most fun players to watch in all of college basketball. The 6’1 sophomore is averaging 24.2 points per game while shooting an incredibly efficient 48% from the field and 43% from three. Abmas is metrically one of the most efficient players in college basketball ranking 19th in Heatcheckcbb.com Gold Star ratings. Abmas is more than capable of putting on a CJ McCollum-style clinic to at least give Ohio State a scare. As a 15 seed, Oral Roberts has a David and Goliath style matchup against Ohio State, but Abmas is the dynamic stone that can help Oral Roberts knock Ohio State out.

Neemias Queta - Utah State

We have profiled a lot of guards, but now it's time to highlight one of the best big men in this tournament. Neemias Queta is the 2nd ranked player in Heat Check’s Gold Star rating. Once you see Queta play in person, you would not be surprised by those results. You can make a legitimate argument Queta is the most talented big man in this tournament not named Evan Mobley. I did not forget about the existence of Hunter Dickinson or Luka Garza. I just believe Queta is better and there are a lot of NBA scouts who agree with me with Queta’s name lately being put in the first-round conversation. Utah State’s big man is dominant on both ends of the floor averaging 15.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Queta had seven blocks in a must-win conference tournament semifinal match against Colorado State. Queta is a legitimate candidate to win National Defensive Player of the year. He influences every single shot in the paint. On offense, Queta’s game has grown immensely. He is an incredibly strong finisher near the rim and can back down anyone deep. He also added a reliable mid-range jumper to his game that has really opened up the floor for him and his teammates.

Cameron Krutwig - Loyola Chicago

Some say Krutwig has an ugly face but his game is undeniably beautiful to watch. Krutwig averaged 10 points per game during the historic Loyola Chicago Final Four run in 2018. He has been a constant star for Porter Moser for the last four years. Krutwig is looking to end his Rambler career on a magical March run. Krutwig isn’t your normal center. He sort of resembles a poor man’s Nikola Jokic at the mid-major level. Krutwig’s basketball intelligence is next level as he excels at finding open shooters and cutters at the perfect time. Krutwig is one of the more efficient scores in college basketball averaging 15.0 points per game on 57% shooting. While Krutwig is not very athletic, he uses his intelligence and skills to create angles and forces a lot of fouls. Getting opposing bigs into foul trouble is a notorious skill for him. The Ramblers have a team capable of winning multiple games in the NCAA Tournament. A potential second-round matchup between Krutwig and Illinois’s Kofi Cockburn will be one of the most fascinating player matchups.

Matt Mitchell - San Diego State

There is a lot to do on offense for San Diego State, and Mitchell is going to be the guy that makes sure the Aztecs take care of it. The Mountain West Player of the Year and conference tournament MVP leads a talented Aztec’s squad scoring 15.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Mitchell is a three-level scorer who does all the little things right. Athletically, Mitchell does not jump off the page, but he is incredibly skilled and doesn’t really have a weakness in his game. Mitchell is a menace in the post, featuring a nice turn-around mid-range jumper. Generally, Mitchell is one of the best tough shot makers in the game. Mitchell has been a catalyst for the success Brian Dutcher has had as San Diego State head coach. This will be Mitchell’s third tournament appearance with San Diego State.

Asbjorn Midtgaard - Grand Canyon

Midtgaard made the list because of his physical presence. Midtgaard looks like a giant from any other planet. The 7’0, 270 pound Wichita State transfer was the main factor for the Lope’s success this season. Midtgaard leads the Lopes averaging 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, and leads the country in field goal percentage at 70%. Midtgaard's body is a major blockade on the defensive end, and he has helped the Lopes rank 2nd nationally in defensive field goal percentage. Midtgaard will be tasked with stopping potential Player of the Year Luka Garza. It’s going to be a quality matchup between two superhuman big men.

Chandler Vaudrin - Winthrop

Winthrop has been a trendy upset pick over Villanova. A lot of that has to do with the injury to Collin Gillespie, but some of it has to do with how good Winthrop is and the play of Vaudrin. Vaudrin led the Eagles to a 23-1 record and back-to-back Big South titles. Vaudrin has a cool story, beginning his career at Division II school Walsh University in Uniontown, Ohio. After his sophomore season, Vaudrin bet on himself and transferred to Winthrop without a guarantee that he would start. Fast forward two years later, Vaudrin has led the Eagles to an NCAA Tournament appearance after averaging 12.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists. Vaudrin is one of the most versatile players in the country and has posted three triple-doubles this season. The Wildcats are vulnerable and Vaudrin has the ability to lead Winthrop to an NCAA Tournament win.