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Ten likely stars of the NCAA tournament's second weekend

© Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is in the books, and the first four days of the event turned guys such as Oakland’s Jack Gohlke and Clemson’s Chase Hunter into nationally recognizable names.

But what will weekend No. 2 of this year’s event hold?

Today, Rivals national analyst Rob Cassidy ranks 10 players in order of how likely each is to become the biggest star of the 2024 NCAA tournament's second weekend.

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1. ZACH EDEY, Purdue

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Edey is already a college basketball superstar, obviously. He’s a two-time first-team All-American and the 2024 National Player of the Year. He’s also a bit of a polarizing figure, as rival fans and even some media members love to discuss the way he’s officiated and reduce his value down to “being big.”

The 7-foot-4 Edey has been one of the faces of the season already, but if the Boilermakers find their way into the Final Four, the conversation about Purdue’s star player will become louder than it is already.

It would be fitting for Edey to be the leader of the team that breaks Purdue’s 24-year Final Four drought, and it feels as though he could go from household name in college basketball circles to transcendent figure in a hurry if he does so.

Edey averaged 24.4 points, 11.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and his dominance and his rare frame make him the exact type of person that could capture the attention of people who barely follow the sport during the regular season.

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2. DALTON KNECHT, Tennessee

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One of the Sweet 16’s best stories, Knecht started his college career at Northeastern Junior College before landing at Northern Colorado and ultimately Tennessee, where he skyrocketed to superstardom out of nowhere. All the junior college product has done in his first season of high-major college hoops is capture first-team All-American honors and become the SEC’s Player of the Year.

These days, the kid from Thornton, Colo. has become a projected top-10 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and the leader of a team with very real national title aspirations. In an era where every successful athlete loves nothing more than to paint themselves as an underdog story that beat the odds, Knecht is the true manifestation of that narrative.

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3. ARMONDO BACOT, North Carolina

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In an era where it’s more common to play for three different teams than it is to spend a career at one program, Bacot is one of the exceptions to the rule. There’s no moral superiority to choosing such a path, but it’s becoming rare enough to make it catnip for people wanting to extol the virtues of program loyalty.

If the fifth-year senior helps lead North Carolina to the Final Four for the second time in his college career, the Virginia native will go from star player to full-fledged folk hero in Chapel Hill. The fact that he chose North Carolina over Duke (and others) won’t hurt his cause on that front, after all. Bacot is the third player in school history to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, and the possibility of his years of work being rewarded with a national title would be a poetic ending to the type of career that seems to be becoming an endangered species.

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4. JAEDON LEDEE, San Diego State

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Everyone loves a mid-major, and San Diego State is the last one not named Gonzaga standing. Sure, the Aztecs are a No. 5 seed, but that won’t stop 2023 FAU-style buzz from building around Brian Dutcher’s program if it wins a game or two over the weekend. Standing at the center of those possible wins will be the high-scoring Jaedon LeDee, who is averaging an eye-popping 21.5 points per game and boasts the type of game that produces highlight dunks when he’s going well and taking over a contest.

LeDee has played his way up draft boards in the last few months as well, which should lead NBA fans to tune in and discuss him in the way draft obsessed people tend to do with a lesser-known prospect in an effort to look smart each March.

An upset win over top-seeded UConn on Friday certainly would make LeDee, whose lack of long-range shooting ability could give NBA heads pause, the most debated-about player in the Elite Eight.

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5. DJ BURNS, NC State

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College basketball diehards have already fallen in love with Burns, thanks in part to NC State’s improbable run from bid-stealer to the Sweet 16. The Wolfpack needed every single one of their seven straight victories to be alive today, and the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Burns, who is built more like an NFL defensive lineman than an elite-level college hooper, has been standing at the center of a lot of them.

Is his body type the reason most people love him? Of course it is, but the fact that he went off for 24 points and 11 rebounds in his team’s second-round win over Oakland has raised his profile among fans of the sport, particularly ones that like throwback-style bruisers under the glass

If the 11th-seeded Wolfpack is somehow still standing after the coming weekend, expect to hear A LOT about their lovable big man.

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6. KYLE FILIPOWSKI, Duke

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Depending on who you ask, Filipowski is either misunderstood or a latest Duke villain. His polarizing nature makes him a good bet to be one the most talked about players of the second weekend if the Blue Devils win another game or two. Filipowski has already found himself standing at the center of controversies around both court storming and tripping incidents this season and seems to inspire strong opinions in fans.

Add in the fact that most non-Duke supporters love to loudly root against the Blue Devils while painting Filipowski as some kind of cartoon supervillain, and you have the possibility for a fascinating run for the talented sophomore.

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7. DONOVAN CLINGAN, UConn

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Tristen Newton is UConn’s most effective player, but Clingan was its most unstoppable force during his team’s dominant first-weekend run. Clingan is coming off a 14-point, 14-rebound and eight-block performance in his team’s second-round trouncing of Northwestern and it seems unlikely that San Diego State has anyone on its roster capable of stopping the 7-foot 2 center, seeing as the Aztecs’ largest rotation player is 6-foot-10 and averages fewer than 10 minutes per contest.

Clingan could spend the weekend putting up box-score stuffing numbers once again and leading his team to a second-straight Final Four in the process.

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8. RYAN KALKBRENNER, Creighton

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As long as we’re talking about impact 7-footers, why not Creighton big man Kalkbrenner? His reliable hand and solid mobility have made him a certified weapon for the Bluejays.

Sure, star senior Baylor Scheierman gets more ink than the 7-foot-1 Kalkbrenner, but an Elite Eight matchup between Kalkbrenner and Purdue superstar Zach Edey could materialize on Sunday. If the Bluejays find a way to win there it will likely mean their big man outplayed the national player of the year, and even that could kick-start KalkbrennerMaina. Sure, outplaying Edey is easier said than done, but if it happens...

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9. TYLER KOLEK, Marquette

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Kolek missed the entire Big East tournament but has returned to Marquette with a vengeance last week averaging 20 points and 11 assists through two NCAA tournament games. Kolek, who started his career at George Mason before landing at Marquette prior to last seaso,n is one of the most dynamic and exciting guards in the sport and is playing the best basketball of his career at the right time.

A possible Elite Eight matchup with Duke or Houston would put Kolek under a bright spotlight and anyone that has watched him this season knows he’s capable of absolutely taking over a game of that level.

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10. PJ HALL, Clemson

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Clemson has never reached the Final Four and has advanced to the Elite Eight just once, back in 1980. If the Tigers somehow make their way to their first Final Four in school history they will do so on the back of PJ Hall, a former top-50 recruit that leads the team in scoring and shoots nearly 50 percent from the field.

Despite Hall’s big season and Clemson’s uncharacteristic success, the South Carolina-born senior feels like he’s flown below the national radar a bit. That will all change in a hurry should the Tigers upset Arizona on Friday and advance to their second ever Elite Eight. Everyone loves the story of an in-state recruit leading a school to new heights, after all.

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