- Jordan Brenner, ESPN The Magazine contributing writer
Every April back at GK Central, as we vacuum crushed Doritos, recycle our empties and roll the abacus back into its cabinet, we engage in a raucous debate over the tourney's All-Giant Killer Team. What began as a fun way to honor the pivotal players in the tournament's upsets actually yields some interesting upsets in the composition of Giant Killer rosters.
Thus, on the eve of Selection Sunday, we're looking ahead. We've already written at length about teams with Giant Killer aspirations, and we'll have plenty more coming, including upset ratings for every game with GK implications. But the theories behind Giant Killing -- maximizing possessions, high-risk/high-reward styles -- can be expressed through players, too.
So while you've probably heard of guys like Creighton's Doug McDermott, Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, Memphis' Will Barton and Matthew Dellavedova of Saint Mary's, there are many, many more names you'll need to know over the next three weeks.
We'll offer a few of our favorites heading into the tournament, focusing on teams that have already qualified or seem like at-large locks, while ignoring those who are likely to be seeded too high to qualify as a Giant Killer (such as Wichita State). But we want to hear your suggestions as well. So post in the comments section or tweet at us, and we'll investigate for a future blog.
Just remember that being a terrific player isn't good enough -- we're looking for those along the lines of floor-stretching power forwards, guards who swipe the ball and dish it, undersized offensive rebounders and pure marksmen. Like some of these guys:
There's some correlation between assists and Giant Killing, and if that's the case, Brickman has an edge, with 7.3 dimes per game. That's a 35.6 assist rate, 24th in the country. As an added bonus, he hits just over 40 percent of his 3s. And a really cool stat? He leads the country in fewest fouls per 40 minutes (0.8).
Shaka Smart explained in depth how Burgess' ability to cause mismatches at the 4 spot gave the Rams an edge on the way to the Final Four last year. When the Rams shift to a small lineup, he can do the same thing this season, although his 3-point shooting has dipped from 43.4 percent last season to 36.6 percent this season.
Nate Wolters gets all the pub with his 21.3 ppg and 6.0 apg, but Dykstra could be the difference-maker if the Jackrabbits justify the hype that's building around the program. Why? Because at 6-foot-8, he can pull opposing bigs away from the paint thanks to his 48.6 percent 3-point shooting.
On a deep Belmont squad, one man stands above the rest with net-scorching potential. The 5-11 Hanlen has lofted 189 of his 245 field goal attempts from 3-point range, so it's a good thing he hits 48.1 percent of them. He has knocked down at least four treys in a game 11 times this season, and if Belmont is going to back up its lofty GK score, Hanlen will have to be hot from deep.
The 6-3 guard does a little bit of everything for Lehigh, but he's a particularly skilled thief, swiping the ball on 4.7 percent of possessions (13th in the country) -- good for 2.6 times per game. Oh, he's made 58 3-pointers this season, too, on his way to 21.9 ppg.
Assuming Joe Lunardi is correct and the Golden Eagles are safely in the tourney, they'll need some unexpected contributions to make a run. So how about a senior who has started just one game since Jan. 14? Pelham isn't a scorer, but if you're looking for someone to pull a Kenneth Faried this March, he's a strong pick. He's fifth in the country in offensive rebound percentage (16.8) despite measuring just 6-6, 225. He's a difference-maker in generating extra chances on D, too, with a steal percentage of 3.6 (96th in the country) and a 4.7 block percentage (218th).
You know about Canaan, but what about his backcourt buddy, Poole? He fuels the Racers' pressure D with 2.0 spg. The bigger question will be whether Poole and Murray State even get to flex their Giant Killers muscles, or whether they will be seeded too highly to qualify for a slingshot.
If you're looking for something of a wild card for the Gaels, the 6-9, 250-pound freshman is your man. He grabs 2.1 offensive boards in just 18.7 minutes per game. His offensive rebounding percentage of 14.1, then, is 31st in the country. And he's peaking, averaging 11.7 points and 8.7 boards (including 3.0 offensive) in 33.3 minutes per game over his last three contests.
Briante Weber, VCU
Why do the Rams get two guys on here? Because Weber sports our favorite stat of the bunch. The freshman is an absolute menace on defense, as he leads the country with an absurd 7.1 steal percentage. In more conventional terms, he averages 2.2 thefts in 19.2 minutes per game off the bench. Watch out.
We've written about Harvard's shaky Giant Killer credentials, but Mr. Wright might have something to say about that. His defensive rebounding percentage (26.4, per KenPom.com) is 15th in the country, so we know he can go get it on the glass. For Harvard to pull off an upset, though, he'll have to bring that energy to the offensive side, where he is already solid (10.8 offensive rebound percentage), but needs to be spectacular.
While Barton is the Tigers' unquestioned star, Witherspoon, who seems like he's been at Memphis forever, is a major GK stud. He's a 6-9 perimeter player who specializes in steals (4.2 percent of possessions, 32nd in the nation). And his 37.5 percent 3-point shooting could cause a major dilemma for a plodding opponent.
Witherspoon has had a rough run at Memphis, with problems ranging from injury to suspension. But the guy who came to Memphis with Tyreke Evans in John Calipari's final recruiting class could have a little magic left before he's gone for good.
It's a good year to be an Eli. And this one gives Detroit something really unusual for a mid-major: a 6-10 game-changer off the bench. Holman's 14.5 offensive rebounding percentage is 29th in the country and he blocks 7 percent of shots when he's on the floor. Along with 6-11 LaMarcus Lowe, Detroit can generate plenty of extra chances on the offensive glass and swat away shots at the other end.
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