Surprising Upstarts From Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle Highlight Fresh Faces of NCAA Tournament

NCAAEver hear the name Stephen Curry before he led Davidson on a shocking run to the Sweet 16 in 2008? How about Gordon Hayward, before his Butler squad came within one basket of beating Duke for the national title in 2010?

The NCAA tournament has a way of turning relative nobodies into household names over the course of a few short weeks. We’ve seen this already in the 2013 edition, as players who had been overshadowed by higher-profile teammates or trapped in mid-major obscurity have risen up in their first taste of tournament action.

If you still haven’t heard of these five newcomers, get familiar. You’ll be hearing their names a lot this weekend.

Check out the Fresh Faces of March Madness, presented by Dove for Men + Care.

Sherwood Brown, senior guard, Florida Gulf Coast

To be honest, we could have picked almost any resident of Dunk City in this spot. But Brown, with his distinctive dreadlocks and ever-present smile, has been the face of FGCU’s emergence. While he’s not quite the above-the-rim acrobat that teammates Chase Fieler, Eddie Murray and Eric McKnight are or a master facilitator like point guard Brett Comer (averaging 12 assists per game in tournament play), the senior has been the most consistent performer on a very young squad. Brown led the Eagles in both scoring (15.3 points per game) and rebounding (6.4) to earn Atlantic Sun Player of the Year honors this season and has continued his all-around play on the game’s biggest stage, averaging 20.5 points and 8.5 boards in upsets of No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State. It won’t get any easier for the nation’s darlings this week, as the Eagles take on big brother Florida in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Mitch McGary, freshman forward, Michigan

Many experts expected the Wolverines to have a difficult path to the Sweet 16 after losing six of their final 12 games and drawing dangerous mid-majors in South Dakota State and Virginia Commonwealth in the national tournament. Instead, the maize and blue have proceeded to blow out both opponents by double digits, with McGary reminding the Michigan faithful why he was such a highly coveted recruit coming out of high school. The freshman has been the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer in tournament play after starting just two games in the regular season, following up a 13-point, nine-board effort against the Jackrabbits with a double-double (21 points, 13 rebounds — both career highs) against VCU. McGary also lowered the boom on Briante Weber late in the first half on Saturday, leveling the Rams guard with a textbook screen. Top-seeded Kansas awaits the Wolverines on Friday.

Damyean Dotson, freshman guard, Oregon

It’s now an undeniable fact — the No. 12 Ducks were terribly underseeded in this tournament. That has had zero effect on the boys from Eugene, though, as Oregon has steamrolled fifth seed Oklahoma State and fourth seed Saint Louis by a combined 30 points en route to the program’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2007. Dotson has been the focal point of the Oregon offense throughout the postseason, scoring in double figures in all five tournament games (three Pac-12, two NCAA) and pouring in a career-high 23 points in Saturday’s upset of the Billikens. A test like none other awaits Dotson & Co. in the regional semifinals, though, as the road to the Elite Eight runs through Louisville, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed.

Ramon Galloway, senior guard, La Salle

Tyrone Garland may have been the one to hit the now-famous “Southwest Philly Floater” to beat Ole Miss on Sunday, but the Explorers wouldn’t be deeper in the tournament than the school has been since 1955 without the play of Galloway. The senior led La Salle in scoring during the regular season (17.3 points per game) and has continued to rack up buckets in the tournament, tallying 21 and 19 points in wins over Boise State and Kansas State, respectively, before leading all scorers — including Marshall Henderson — with 24 in Sunday’s win over the Rebels. The Explorers are the only team in the field with three tournament wins, and they’ll take on fellow upstart Wichita State on Thursday for a spot in the Elite Eight.

Cleanthony Early, junior forward, Wichita State

Just one year ago, Early was suiting up for the SUNY Sullivan Generals. Now, he’s getting ready to take the court at L.A.’s Staples Center with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. It’s no easy task to make a successful jump from a low-division junior college to the upper echelon of one of the most competitive conferences in Division I, but the 6-foot-8 swingman has done just that. The two-time NJCAA Division III Player of the Year put up double-digit point totals in 27 of Wichita’s 34 regular-season games this season — his first in D-I — to lead the Shockers in scoring. The bright lights of the tournament have not dulled his game, as Early is averaging 17 points and seven rebounds through wins over No. 8 seed Pittsburgh and top seed Gonzaga — coming off the bench in both contests.

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