The 2023 NCAA Tournament is here. As the quest for Cinderella begins, which mid-major stars might be ready for the slipper to fit?

Basketball is a team game, especially in March. When it comes to mid-majors making Cinderella runs, though, few remember the whole starting five.

They remember the player who led the run (Steph Curry), who hit the big shots (TJ Sorrentine), who made their dad fall off his stool (RJ Hunter), and whose name everyone pronounced wrong (Max Abmas). Such is the nature of arguably the best four days in sports — the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

So while the Cinderella slipper might fit a team, it typically goes on only one foot of one player. Who might be those slipper-fitting mid-major players this year? In honor of the most typical upset pick of every bracket – the 12-over-5 – I have curated a list of 12 mid-major players (and one bonus) worth noting as you prepare to make your picks for the Big Dance. 

Let’s dive in.

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Reyne Smith, Charleston

Charleston was one of the most discussed teams in the country as it leaped out to a 21-1 start, with its lone loss coming to the preseason No. 1 team in the country. The excitement fizzled after back-to-back losses to Hofstra and Drexel, but the Cougars still enter the NCAA Tournament as a dangerous No. 12 seed carrying a 31-3 record. They have won 10 straight.

Charleston’s offensive balance makes it hard to single out the star, but Reyne Smith is the flamethrower to watch. Pat Kelsey’s offense ranks ninth in 3-point attempt rate, and Smith is a significant reason why. The sophomore hit 86 3-pointers this season, just four shy of his mark from last season. A careful ball-handler and elite foul shooter, he ranked top 100 in offensive rating. 

Smith’s per-game scoring average of 10.9 points does not jump off the screen. He has some games, though, that make you go “wow.” Smith hit at least five 3-pointers in six games this season. Burying a ton of 3s is an excellent recipe for an upset, and Charleston launches them. If Smith gets it going, they will be a dangerous squad.

Ace Baldwin, VCU

VCU has not played an NCAA Tournament game since 2019. The Rams were selected in 2021 but could not play due to a COVID outbreak. They were left out of the field last season, partially due to suffering a 3-4 start to the year while Ace Baldwin was out with an injury. Fast-forward to this year, Baldwin won Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and VCU is in the Big Dance.

Baldwin is a two-way menace. Arguably one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, he is the head of the snake for an elite defense; VCU ranks 17th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Baldwin’s steal rate is top 60 nationally for the third straight year. Offensively, Baldwin is a talented scorer and creator; he averaged 12.7 points and 5.9 assists per game this season. 

Baldwin had a down season from three (33.9 percent compared to 41.3 percent last year), but he is still capable of letting it fly. When he has it going as a scorer and distributor, VCU is hard to beat. The Rams are on a nine-game winning streak.

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