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Watch out for these players from one-bid leagues who could shake up March Madness

James Madison’s Terrence Edwards says his team has been dealing with pressure ever since it stunned the college basketball world with a season-opening upset of then-No. 4 Michigan State.

Edwards and the Dukes are hoping it enables them to make a similar impact on March Madness.

“After that game, we knew we had a target on our back,” Edwards told reporters after James Madison clinched its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2013 with a 91-71 victory over Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference championship game. “Coach B (Mark Byington) did a good job of always reminding us we already have pressure. It made us get immune to it. All we know is pressure.”

Edwards scored 24 points in that 79-76 overtime triumph over Michigan State to set the stage for a season in which he was named the Sun Belt’s player of the year.

The 6-foot-6 swingman gets a chance to beat another Big Ten team Friday night when James Madison (31-3) – the No. 12 seed in the South Region – faces No. 5 seed Wisconsin (22-14) in a first-round game at Brooklyn, New York. Edwards is one of several players from one-bid leagues whose track records suggest they could emerge as bracket busters this week.

James Madison heads into the NCAA Tournament with a 13-game winning streak thanks in part to Edwards, who has a Sun Belt-leading 17.4 points per game.

“He’s the most competitive guy I’ve ever met in my life,” teammate Noah Freidel said. “He pushes you every day in practice. No matter what kind of drill you’re doing, he’s trying to win, he’s trying to do his best. He really just forces people around him to step up their game and be great with him.”

Here’s a look at some other players from one-bid leagues who merit attention this week.

ACHOR ACHOR, Samford

Samford has a chance to make some noise this week if Achor performs as well as he did in the Southern Conference Tournament. The 6-9 forward had 28 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks in an 84-77 semifinal victory over Furman. He followed that up by collecting 25 points, nine rebounds and four blocks as Samford beat East Tennessee State 76-69 in the championship game. Achor is averaging 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks this season.

First-round game: Thursday vs. Kansas in Salt Lake City.

JALEN BLACKMON, Stetson

Blackmon scored 43 points in a 94-91 Atlantic Sun championship game victory over Austin Peay that gave Stetson its first NCAA bid ever. The 6-3 guard is averaging 21.5 points this season to rank 10th among all Division I players. His big season includes a 26-point performance in a victory at UCF and a 32-point effort in a loss at Cincinnati.

First-round game: Friday vs. UConn in New York.

TUCKER DeVRIES, Drake

DeVries is a two-time Missouri Valley Conference player of the year who has 21.8 points per game this season to rank sixth in Division I. The 6-7 guard also has 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He had 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Drake edged Indiana State 84-80 in the MVC championship game. DeVries will be seeking to make amends after shooting 1 of 13 overall (1 of 11 from 3-point range) and scoring just three points in a 63-56 NCAA first-round loss to Miami last season.

First-round game: Thursday vs. Washington State in Omaha, Nebraska.

TYON GRANT-FOSTER, Grand Canyon

Grant-Foster’s career appeared in jeopardy after he collapsed twice, once in the locker room while playing for DePaul and another time while playing a pickup game at a community center gym. He had to be resuscitated after the incident in DePaul. Now he’s thriving with Grand Canyon as the Western Athletic Conference player of the year. He averages 19.8 points and 6 rebounds per game. This represents a triumphant comeback for a guy who didn’t play at all last season after making previous stops at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, Kansas and DePaul.

First-round game: Friday vs. Saint Mary’s in Spokane, Washington.

RILEY MINIX, Morehead State

This 6-7 graduate student was the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year at Morehead State after transferring from NAIA program Southeastern (Florida). He has averaged 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds to rank among the top 30 Division I players in both categories. Minix is shooting 54.6% and has scored at least 20 points in 12 of his last 13 games. He scored 19 against Alabama and 18 against Purdue earlier this season.

First-round game: Thursday vs. Illinois in Omaha, Nebraska.

TREY TOWNSEND, Oakland

Townsend’s mom and dad both played basketball at Oakland, and he grew up dreaming of playing here. The 6-6 forward now has the Grizzlies in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. Townsend has collected 16.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as the Horizon League player of the year. He had 38 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as Oakland beat Milwaukee 83-76 in the Horizon League championship game. Townsend has shown he can produce against high-profile foes. He averaged 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in losses to Ohio State, Illinois and Michigan State. He had 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a victory at Xavier.

First-round game: Thursday vs. Kentucky in Pittsburgh.

SHAHADA WELLS, McNeese

After getting to the NCAA Tournament with TCU last season, Wells transferred to McNeese and became the Southland Conference’s player of the year and newcomer of the year. The 6-foot guard has averaged 17.8 points, 4.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds this season while helping McNeese win 11 straight games and earn its first NCAA bid since 2002. Wells also has 2.97 steals per game to rank second among all Division I players. He had consecutive 27-point performances in the Southland Tournament semifinals and final. He scored 36 points in a victory at UAB and 30 in a win at Michigan.

First-round game: Thursday vs. Gonzaga at Salt Lake City.

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