Casual college basketball fans heading to UD Arena or turning on their televisions and tablets to watch the First Four may not be able to name a single player on any of the eight teams taking part in this year’s event.
But there will plenty of talent on the floor Tuesday and Wednesday, including a couple of All-American selections.
Here’s a list of seven players to watch in this year’s First Four:
Ron Baker, Wichita State
An overlooked recruit out of high school in Scott City, Kan., the senior guard has emerged as one of the top players in the country. Baker has been voted first team All-Missouri Valley Conference three years in a row. This year he leads the Shockers in scoring (14.2), rebounding (4.8) and steals (1.5) and is second in assists (3.2) and blocks (0.7). An honorable mention All-American selection last year, Baker averages 31.4 minutes per game and always seems to be in the middle of everything when he’s on the floor.
Zak Irvin, Michigan
Of the three healthy Wolverines starters who average between 11.2 and 11.7 points per game, Irvin is playing the best entering tournament. The junior guard – who hails from Fishers, Ind., and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2013 – has scored in double figures in five consecutive games. Not only is Irvin an accurate long-range shooter who can get hot and put on a show, he’s third on the team in rebounding (4.6) and has led Michigan in that category in three of the last five games.
Damian Jones, Vanderbilt
The 7-foot junior center from Baton Rouge, La., was voted a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection for the second year in a row. Jones averages 14.2 points and 6.9 rebounds a game for the Commodores, and he could be a handful against a smaller Wichita State team. Jones ranked second in the SEC in field goal percentage (.595) and 10th in rebounding. He has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games, including a career-high 27 in a game at Florida in which he went 12 of 13 from the floor (92.3 percent).
Marc-Eddy Norelia, Florida Gulf Coast
He has the highest scoring average of any player in the First Four at 17.9 points per game. He also leads the Eagles in rebounding (9.2) and was voted first team All-Atlantic Sun. Norelia had 16 points and nine rebounds in the Atlantic Sun championship game, leaving him one rebound shy of a fourth consecutive double-double and 15th of the season. In a game against Youngstown State in November, the junior forward had 34 points, which tied the school’s Division I record, and 18 rebounds, which was one shy of the Division I mark. Norelia ranked second in the A-Sun in rebounding, fourth in field goal percentage (.538) and sixth in scoring.
Adrian Rogers, Southern
The senior guard from Atlanta leads the Jaguars with 16.9 points per game, and it was his jump shot with 17 seconds left that lifted Southern to a 54-53 win against Jackson State in the Southwest Atlantic Conference championship game. The first team All-SWAC selection has led Southern in scoring in 11 of the last 17 games, and he ranks second on the team in rebounds (5.4). Rogers will be facing a Holy Cross squad that ranks 119th in the country in scoring defense and is the only team in the NCAA tournament with a losing record.
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
An honorable mention All-American the last two seasons and the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in two of the last three (2014, 2016), VanVleet is the winningest active player in college basketball, appearing in 118 victories during his career. The Shockers were 23-5 with VanVleet on the court this year, but 1-3 in the four games he missed early in the season with a strained hamstring. The senior guard from Rockford, Ill., leads Wichita State with 5.7 assists per game and is second in scoring (12.0). He shoots 41.2 percent from 3-point range.
James Woodard, Tulsa
A first team All-American Athletic Conference pick, Woodard leads the Golden Hurricane in scoring (15.6) and is second in rebounding (5.2). The senior guard from Arcadia, Okla., ranks fourth on Tulsa’s career scoring list with 1,872 points, and he’s second with 260 career 3-pointers. Woodard has scored in double figures in 15 of the last 16 games and 107 of 129 during his career.
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