As exciting as the upsets are, the players are what makes March Madness so special. Whether it’s a freshman experiencing The Big Dance for the first time or a fifth-year senior leaving it all on the floor, there’s never a shortage of talent and emotion on display.
The NCAA Tournament also helps shine a light on some lesser-known players from often-unheralded conferences. The stage has turned unrecognized talents into household names, and it’s these performances that can vault players to star status.
So let’s get into the top 5 players who looked poised to break out in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
Please note that all college basketball odds and lines are current as of Friday, March 10 at 4 p.m. ET.
March Madness Breakout Players 2023
1. Baylor Scheierman, G/F, Creighton
Scheierman played in the tournament last year at South Dakota State, putting up a double-double in a valiant upset effort that fell short against Providence. But now, Scheierman does it all on a potential CBB National Championship contender.
Scheierman has a high basketball IQ that oozes through the TV screen, leads Creighton in rebounding (8.4), and is second on the team in assists (3.3). Creighton’s offense is a well-oiled machine and Scheierman often will receive the benefits with wide-open looks from beyond the arc, and he can knock it down shooting 36.5% of his 6.5 attempts per game.
In his Big East Tournament debut, Scheierman fell just short of a triple-double with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 9 assists. He has 12 double-doubles this season, is an elite defender and is the most important piece for Creighton’s hopes of making a run.
2. Nick Smith, G, Arkansas
It is probably not fair to put the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class and a nearly sure-fire lottery pick on this list, but Smith played in just 13 games this season battling a knee injury that has kept him out of the national spotlight.
- Read Kev Mahserjian’s 2023 NBA Mock Draft where Smith is selected ninth overall by the Raptors.
However, since Feb. 21, he’s looked like a completely different player and become the key for Arkansas averaging 20.2 points on 43% from beyond the arc.
He’s an active defender with 10 steals in his last six games, and his length and athleticism can cause a ton of problems for smaller guards.
The injury to Smith clearly affected Arkansas which underperformed expectations and finished ninth in the SEC. But, this is a dangerous team and with Smith seemingly back to 100%, they looked primed for a run.
3. Jalen Pickett, F, Penn State
Big Ten fans already know all about the do-it-all forward Pickett, who is on the short-list of players to register a triple-double this season.
Pickett averages 17.8 points and 7.3 boards per game, and is fourth in the nation in assists per game with seven, and second according to KenPom in assist rate. His 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame gives smaller guards nightmares in the paint, while his improved three-point shot has taken his game to another level.
Penn State narrowly snuck into the field, but Pickett is going to be one of the best players on the floor every time he suits up.
4. Jalen Hood-Schifino, G, Indiana
Trayce-Jackson Davis is third on my March Madness Top Players Rankings and will deservedly get plenty of attention for Indiana. But you need good guard play to win in March and Hood-Scifiano can provide a spark that makes this Indiana team extremely dangerous.
The freshman scored 13.4 points on 36.3% from three and dished out 3.8 assists per game. After starting point guard Xavier Johnson went down for the season in December, Hood-Schifino has stepped up and is ready to break out in the NCAA tournament.
He’s clearly not one to shy away from the spotlight, scoring 35 points on the road to complete the Hoosier’s season sweep of arch-rival Purdue.
Think Hood-Schifino and Trayce Jackson-Davis can lead Indiana to a run through the tournament? You can bet the Hoosiers to Make The Final 4 at (+700) on DraftKings.
5. Connor Vanover, C, Oral Roberts
Everyone remembers Oral Roberts’ run to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago, and everyone knows Max Abmas, but Vanover is an excellent second-scoring option for Oral Roberts and a huge contributor on the defensive end.
Vanover is listed at 7-foot-5, which makes his ability to step out and knock down the three an anomaly (at any level of basketball). He was third in the Summit League in rebounding with 7.2 per game and had seven double-doubles this season.
His biggest impact will be on the defensive end, as he is second in the nation in blocks at 3.3 per contest. According to EvanMiya, Vanover is actually the most valuable player on a fantastic Oral Roberts team due to his impact on both ends.