Posted: Tuesday March 13, 2012 12:45PM ; Updated: Tuesday March 13, 2012 6:06PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Isaiah Canaan, Casper Ware among potential tourney breakout stars

Story Highlights

Matthew Dellavedova, Isaiah Canaan could have breakout tournaments this year

Long Beach State's Casper Ware has to be one of the nation's top point guards

C.J. McCollum is in for a test when Lehigh faces Tyler Thornton, Duke on Friday

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Say the name out loud three times.

Dellavedova. Dellavedova. Dellavedova.

It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

Nomenclature mouth feel might seem an odd way to predict which player will emerge from this weekend as a semi-household name, but NCAA tournament history is littered with breakout stars whose names just felt good to say. As predictive methods go, it's as good as any.

Fennis Dembo.

Ansu Sesay.

Harold "The Show" Arcenaux.

Ali Farokhmanesh

Omar Samhan.

That last one is important because Samhan's comet-ride to stardom in 2010 might have set the table for Samhan's former Saint Mary's teammate, guard Matthew Dellavedova, to take the same trip this year. Dellavedova (Delly to his teammates) is a scrappy, usually unshaven guard from Maryborough, Australia, from whom his fellow Gaels take direction and draw inspiration. Thanks to Samhan's dominance in the opening weekend two years ago -- when 10th-seeded Saint Mary's beat seventh-seeded Richmond and second-seeded Villanova -- Dellavedova should have no tournament jitters when the Gaels face Purdue on Friday in Omaha, Neb. The West Coast Conference Player of the Year has seen all this before.

A mid-major team that wears championship belt T-shirts on Selection Sunday has the moxie to survive the first weekend. So it's fairly easy to predict that the Gaels' unquestioned leader will emerge as this tournament's breakout star.

But what if I'm wrong? Perhaps I should hedge my bet.

This field has no shortage of potential breakout stars. Some are excellent players well known in the college basketball world but obscured from the general population by a lack of television exposure. Others are role players on power conference teams who may take advantage of circumstances and shoddy, quick-turnaround scouting reports to torch an opponent and sear their names into our collective Big Dance consciousness.

Isaiah Canaan, G, Murray State: Canaan is the best player on a team that went 30-1, but the casual fan -- who just remembered two weeks ago that colleges play basketball -- probably has no idea who he is. Canaan leads the Racers with 19.2 points a game, and opponents' schemes designed specifically to slow him have had little effect. Besides, Canaan has a bad memory to erase from his only other trip to the NCAA tournament. As a freshman, Canaan got the ball with the Racers down two to eventual NCAA runner-up Butler. The Bulldogs' Gordon Hayward deflected Canaan's pass attempt, and the clock ran out before another shot could be taken. Canaan has blamed himself for the loss, so he'll have extra motivation to write a happier chapter.

Casper Ware, G, Long Beach State: The headline writers will have a field day with Ware's first name if he lights up New Mexico on Thursday. That may depend on whether backcourt mate Larry Anderson (strained knee) can play, but Ware has proved himself plenty capable against tough competition. Earlier this season, he scored 28 in an overtime loss at San Diego State, 29 at North Carolina and 21 at Creighton.

C.J. McCollum, G, Lehigh: McCollum, fifth in the nation at 21.9 points a game, has blitzed a power team before. As a freshman, McCollum scored a game-high 26 points as the 16th-seeded Mountain Hawks fell to top-seeded Kansas. This year, McCollum will have most of the nation behind him as Lehigh faces Duke -- the New York Yankees of college basketball -- on Friday in Greensboro, N.C. McCollum, a favorite of NBA scouts, will likely get a quality test from Duke guard Tyler Thornton, an elite perimeter defender.

Deividas Dulkys, G, Florida State: Dulkys averaged 6.9 points this season, but he proved Jan. 14 that he can explode for big numbers if not properly guarded. On that day, Dulkys scored 32 to lead the Seminoles to a 33-point beatdown of North Carolina. If opponents worry too much about defending Michael Snaer outside and Bernard James inside, Dulkys could pop open enough to shoot his way into stardom.

Rob Wilson, G, Wisconsin: Remember Crishawn Hopkins? Hopkins was the little-used Butler guard whom coach Brad Stevens inserted at crunch time of the Bulldogs' Elite Eight win against Florida in 2011. Could Wilson be this year's Hopkins? Wilson has played more for the Badgers than Hopkins played for the Bulldogs down the stretch, but Wilson was averaging only 10.7 minutes a game when he went off for 30 in a Big Ten tournament win against Indiana.

Andrew Nicholson, F, St. Bonaventure: If Dulkys and his Seminoles teammates aren't careful, they could fall to Nicholson and the Bonnies, who beat Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament final to cap one of college basketball's great program comeback stories. The win, and the berth in the tournament that seemed impossible in 2003 after a scandal essentially dismantled the program, came on the broad shoulders of Nicholson. The Canadian scored 26 points (going 10-of-10 from the free-throw line), grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked eight shots. Anything close to that kind of performance could produce an upset that would make Nicholson a March icon.

 
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