NCAA Tournament Breakout Players: Drew Pember, Tucker DeVries, Wade Taylor IV Lead List
David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: UNC Asheville’s Drew Pember.
Of the many magical things about March Madness, its ability to create new heroes, legends and household names may be the most special.
Year after year, we find a new Stephen Curry, Kris Jenkins or Ali Farokhmanesh who will live on forever, no matter the next step in their basketball journey.
These five players have a real chance to become the next star of March.
Tucker DeVries, Drake
I’m not sure one player better fits on his team’s roster than Tucker DeVries fits into the puzzle of this Drake team. As a 6-foot-7 stretch four, with future NBA-potential levels of athleticism, DeVries would fit a lot of places. Yet, choosing Drake for his college career could prove prudent.
It may have been an easy choice. After all, Tucker’s father, Darian, is the head coach of the Bulldogs. Like Buddy Boeheim, RJ Hunter, Bryce Alford and Pistol Pete before him, Tucker kept his recruiting in the family, even though he fielded offers from high-majors like Florida and Iowa State.
His decision may have extended beyond the familial connection. The year before DeVries came to Drake, the Bulldogs started the season 18-0, reached the NCAA Tournament and won a game in the First Four. Two years later, five major contributors from that team build the nucleus around DeVries, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring.
The experience around DeVries is astonishing. Roman Penn is a 25-year-old in his fifth season of college basketball. Darnell Brodie, Garrett Sturtz and DJ Wilkins are also fifth-year seniors. Each slots into a role, offensively and defensively, that perfectly supports DeVries as the central focus of the team.
Facing a banged-up Miami team gives the Bulldogs a chance to win in the first round and spark some momentum moving forward. Age and experience can be a major factor in March, yet it’s the presence of a star like DeVries that unlocks Drake’s potential as a true Cinderella.
Drew Pember, UNC Asheville
No one in college basketball this season, across 363 teams nationwide, has scored more points in one game than Drew Pember’s 48 against Presbyterian.
No one in college basketball has drawn more fouls, attempted more free throws or made more free throws than Pember this season.
The Tennessee transfer is overqualified to be the main attraction on a 15-seed. He, like DeVries, gets to face a team adjusting to frontcourt injuries as the tournament begins, playing a banged-up UCLA squad late Thursday night.
If there’s a cause for pause, it’s Pember’s level of opponent this season.
UNC Asheville played one tournament team this season, losing by 34 at Arkansas. Pember posted just five points in that game. Last year, the Bulldogs played just one power conference team. Pember shot 1-of-9 and scored two points in a blowout loss to North Carolina.
Opposing coaches have Pember on the top of the scouting report in big bold letters. Against elite defenders, he’s struggled.
However, March is the time to change trends like that. If he gets hot, keep an eye out for a potentially monstrous performance.
Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M
If you don’t know about Taylor, that may not last long. His best performances can go toe-to-toe with any guard in college hoops this season.
Against the vaunted Tennessee defense, Taylor dropped 25 points in a win, including 16-of-17 performance from the free-throw line. Facing the Alabama team seeded atop the bracket, Taylor had a season-high 28 points in a critical earl- March win.
He is the heart and soul of a gritty Aggies team that’s 19-4 since Christmas Day. Those four losses came in road games at Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi State, plus the SEC title game to Alabama.
A potential second-round matchup against in-state rival Texas could give Taylor the stage to become a household name.
Jalen Hood-Schifino, Indiana
You may not consider Hood-Schifino a “breakout” candidate given the way he has played in recent weeks. But I don’t think that success precludes him from really exploding with a monster March.
Indiana is led by Trayce Jackson-Davis, one of the best players in this tournament. He rightfully gets the attention of the national media and opposing defensive game plans.
Hood-Schifino, meanwhile, has the ability to raise the Hoosiers’ ceiling. Jackson-Davis surrounded by role players makes for a nice Big Ten team, yet may not be enough in March. Hood-Schifino growing into a second star for the Hoosiers in the back half of his freshman year is what can really take Indiana to another level.
In his first 10 games as a Hoosier, Hood-Schifino averaged 10.7 points per game. Over his last 10, he has increased that mark to 15.6 points per game, including an inspired 35-point outburst in a road victory over rival Purdue.
If that version of Hood-Schifino sticks around for March, there’s no limit on this Indiana team’s potential.
Jahvon Quinerly, Alabama
This is probably the most unconventional pick of the five names listed here, in large part because there’s a decent chance you already know Quinerly’s name.
He started his career at Villanova, but his freshman year fizzled, with Jay Wright burying him behind veteran players who better fit Villanova’s system (sound familiar, Cam Whitmore?).
Quinerly found his way to Tuscaloosa, where he has quietly built a nice career with the Tide. He’s now played 95 games for Alabama, including 27 starts last season.
This year, however, Quinerly was moved to the bench and used as a high-minutes supersub. His total production waned, yet in big moments, he remained the Tide’s most valuable offensive initiator.
His role shifted in the SEC Tournament, when head coach Nate Oats, at the request of freshman Jaden Bradley, moved Quinerly into the starting lineup for the first time all season.
Nate Oats says on his pregame CTSN radio interview that Jaden Bradley told him Jahvon Quinerly would be better to start.
— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) March 10, 2023
Quinerly responded by scoring 22 points in the title game and offset a brutal 0-of-9 night in the semifinal with a seven-assist performance.
As the Crimson Tide wade into the Big Dance, Quinerly’s role as a floor general takes on greater importance. If Alabama needs a shot made in a big moment, it’s likely Oats would turn to Brandon Miller to make that shot. Yet in the heat of the moment, defenses know that too.
Quinerly’s ability to create opportunities for himself, Miller, or the most-open teammate, will undoubtedly come into play if Alabama makes a run deep in this tournament.
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