There's no feeling quite like playing in the NCAA Tournament. Or so I'm told. The combination of a poor RPI and not playing competitive basketball past the age of 14 kept me from ever experiencing the magic. But I'm far from alone in the struggle of having to cope with being forever shut out of the big dance.
The group of ballers who have never felt the joy of seeing their team's name pop up on Selection Sunday is a large one, but it's likely to lose a number of members in 19 days. One of the best parts of March is seeing coaches, players and programs that have been in the game for a long time but have never taken the sport's biggest stage change all that in a single moment.
That being said, here are six seniors on the verge of breaking through and finally getting their chance to shine in the NCAA Tournament:
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
The son of Iowa's all-time leading scorer, Marble is now on the verge of writing his own bit of Hawkeye history by leading the program into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006. In addition to that, Iowa is still alive in the Big Ten title race thanks to a favorable final stretch which should see it favored in four of its last five regular season games.
A Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, Marble is averaging a career-best 16.6 points per game and is the only active player in the conference who has amassed more than 1,550 points, 350 assists, 150 steals and 425 rebounds for his career. Marble is also the only player in the Big Ten to hit double figures in every conference game this season.
Dwight Powell, Stanford
Powell's elite combination of size and skill has made him a mainstay on NBA mock drafts across the Internet, but he and Stanford have some unfinished business to take care of before any of that becomes a primary concern. Both Powell and fellow senior Josh Huestis (who recently became the school's all-time leading shot blocker) have tasted individual success, but have never heard their team's name called on Selection Sunday. They're three weeks of solid basketball away from changing that.
Chaz Williams, Massachusetts
Despite playing banged up for the bulk of his senior season, Williams has been the biggest reason UMass is 21-5 and on the verge of its first trip to the big dance since 1998. The diminutive point guard from Brooklyn leads the Minutemen in both points (15.5 ppg) and assists (7.2 apg).
Williams toyed with the option of playing professionally after a junior season which saw UMass fall to VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship game, but ultimately chose to return to school and make one last run at the big dance.
"I was just looking at it like, ever since I've been here, we haven't accomplished nothing," Williams said in December. "Since I've been here, we haven't accomplished nothing significant, you know, where we can look back and say we did something or we left a legacy or we left a mark here on our school so we can come back or our kids can come back years down the line and still see something from it."
Bryce Cotton, Providence
He's been one of college basketball's most underrated players for three years now, but Bryce Cotton is finally starting to get at least some of his long overdue national attention. The former no-star recruit from Tucson will get even more if Providence finishes the season in style and plays its way into the field of 68.
Cotton, who is averaging a career-best 21.5 ppg this season, won the Big East scoring title a season ago and would be the front-runner to do the same in 2013-14 had Doug McDermott and Creighton not made the move from the Missouri Valley. Cotton is also averaging an almost unbelievable 39.9 minutes per game. For the unaware (first of all, I'm proud of you for making it this far in the post), college basketball games are 40 minutes long.
The lone factor keeping Cotton from being one of the better-known named in college hoops has been that he's never played for a Friar team that made the NCAA Tournament or even one that lost fewer than 15 games. Providence is 18-10 with a pair of must-win games against Seton Hall and Marquette, as well as a potential signature win at Creighton left on its regular season schedule.
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
The Cyclones have made the tournament (and won a game) in each of the past two seasons, but Kane was toiling away in relative obscurity at Marshall during that time. Now one of this season's breakout stars, Kane finds himself as a member of a team ranked in the top 15 and on the verge of earning a top five seed in the big dance.
Self-control and consistency issues plagued Kane at Marshall, but he's flourished into a standout in Ames, where Fred Hoiberg is developing a reputation for getting the most out of players with unique personalities (see: White, Royce). Kane, who could wind up as the Big 12's Player of the Year, is one of just two players nationally averaging at least 16 points, six rebounds and five assists per game.
Javon McCrea, Buffalo
McCrea has been a mid-major star for what feels like a decade now, averaging double figures in all four of his seasons with the Bulls. Still, his name is not one especially well-known by non-hoops junkies thanks in large part to the fact that Buffalo has never made it farther than the MAC Tournament quarterfinals in the McCrea era.
That could all change in a few weeks, as McCrea is averaging a double-double (18.9 points and 10.3 rebounds) and has his team at the top of the MAC's East Division.