Stephen Curry, Kevin Pittsnogle and Ali Farokhmanesh were all relatively unknown names at one time. That was before they stepped into the NCAA Tournament spotlight.

They went from little-known players into NCAA Tournament darlings in just a matter of weeks. It’s a regular occurrence and one that surely will continue this year when the tournament begins in earnest with first-round action Thursday.

Some players from non-blue blood schools are more suited than others to seize the moment and captivate college basketball fans as they lead their teams on unforgettable runs.

So, what players this year will be the talk of March Madness? Here are seven star players ready to take the NCAA Tournament by storm:

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Jaelen House, New Mexico
The Lobos senior guard plays a brash, in-your-face style of basketball. And he isn’t afraid to back his play up with some trash talk, which makes him a polarizing player that some will root for and others will cheer against.

House is the leading scorer (16.1 points per game) for a 11th-seeded New Mexico squad that many can see making a run in the West Region after winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. He also is a defensive menace, ranking 12th in the country with 2.3 steals per game.

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There’s a Boston Celtics connection for House, too. His father is 2008 NBA champion Eddie House.

DJ Burns Jr., NC State
The love affair with Burns started in the ACC Tournament and should continue to grow. Burns is built more like a defensive lineman than an average power forward, standing in at 6-foot-9 and an eye-popping 275 pounds.

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Despite his hefty frame, Burns doesn’t play a traditional big man game. He sure has some of those elements in his arsenal but he also dazzles with some finesse moves that a player his size shouldn’t be capable of pulling off.

Tyon Grant-Foster, Grand Canyon
The 12th-seeded Antelopes are garnering a good deal of buzz as a possible Cinderella team and Grant-Foster is their undeniable go-to star. The 6-foot-7 senior forward, who started his collegiate career at Kansas, has exceptional athleticism and tallied 19.8 points and six rebounds per game.

If Grand Canyon goes on an extended run, expect Grant-Foster to be leading the charge.

Dalton Knecht, Tennessee
The senior guard is a high-volume scorer and being able to put up points in a hurry certainly will garner attention.

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Knecht, who played last season at Northern Colorado, averages 21.1 points per game for the Volunteers. But that only tells part of the story. He poured in 40 points against Kentucky in the regular-season finale and has two 39-point games. A scoring outburst like that in the tournament will have everyone remembering Knecht.

Jack Gohlke, Oakland
Oakland’s senior guard personifies new-age basketball. Gohlke doesn’t just emphasize 3-point shots, it’s basically the only shot he takes. Gohlke took 327 3-pointers this season compared to just eight shots from inside the arc. That’s absolutely absurd.

If Gohlke, who shoots 37% from deep on 9.6 attempts per game, is draining deep shots with regularity, he could work his way into the hearts of fans as a long-range assassin on a Cinderalla team.

Shahada Wells, McNeese State
Markquis Nowell, a 5-foot-7 guard, took over Kansas State’s NCAA Tournament run a year ago. Wells fits the same billing.

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Wells is an undersized, but all-around impactful guard for the No. 12 Cowboys, who drew fifth-seeded Gonzaga in the first round. The 6-foot senior, who played the last two seasons at TCU, flies all over the court, leading McNeese State with 17.8 points and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 40.2% from 3-point range. He also averages three steals per contest, good for second-best in the nation.

Max Abmas, Texas
Abmas already had his NCAA Tournament moment when he spearheaded Oral Roberts’ run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed in 2021. He was the nation’s leading scorer that year. But the fifth-year senior guard is back for more with the Longhorns.

Abmas still can score at a high rate, averaging 17.1 points per game. An Abmas showing he can already handle the pressure of the NCAA Tournament shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Featured image via Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports Images