Player Profile - Part 1 - March Madness 2012 - Toledo News Now, Breaking News, Weather, Sports, Toledo

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Raycom News Network kicks off its coverage of March Madness with a look at some of the best players in the country. In honor of the Final Four, Part 1 features four standouts from the premier programs of the "Big 6" conferences.

(RNN) – The Big Dance. Cinderella's Ball. The Road to the Final Four. The Tourney. March Madness.

Whatever you call it, it is probably the most exciting three weekends in sports. This year, it may be better than ever before.

That's a bold statement, but that doesn't mean it's wrong - here's why.

Basketball's elite players stand on a razor's edge, balanced by natural ability, physical build, hard work and a gift for handling pressure. For many years, the most talented young players on the verge of greatness spent a year or less in college on their way to the NBA.

Some people complain about that, but you can't blame a kid for trying to add an extra year of earning potential to a high-paying job that might last a decade, if he's lucky.

Most college business majors would drop out of school in a heartbeat if they were offered a $50,000 salary from a major company. The kind of money pro basketball players pull down makes 50 grand look like tip money.

For better or worse, the college talent pool has been siphoned off into the pros in the last two decades. This has led to plenty of excitement in the NCAA Tournament, with "Cinderellas" knocking off the major teams on a regular basis.

But exciting basketball isn't always good basketball.

Last summer, college hoops fans got a gift; it came in the form of the NBA lockout. The uncertainty of whether there would even be an NBA season (or paychecks) gave some of the top players in the NCAA reason to pause.

Many, like Harrison Barnes of North Carolina, Thomas Robinson of Kansas and Jared Sullinger of Ohio State, chose to hang around campus and play college ball for another year.

Those holdovers and new additions like freshman Anthony Davis of Kentucky mean that this year, there are more great college players in the tournament than there have been in years. Their presence gives the marquee programs a greater chance of moving down the bracket on the way to the Final Four in New Orleans.

In basketball more than any other sport, one player can change the outcome of a season - after all, you can only play five at a time. And your team can spend a lot more time at the Big Dance with guys like Barnes, Davis, Robinson and Sullinger on the roster.

So with all the talent at the top-level programs, it's a foregone conclusion there will be no Butler, VCU or George Mason cutting down any nets, right?

Wrong.

The beauty of this year's tournament - perhaps more so than any before it - is that there is talent everywhere. Just about every kid plays basketball growing up, and because of the game's popularity young athletes have more access to quality coaching and competition at every stage of their development.

Imagine the Big 6 conferences – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac 12 and SEC – as a one-gallon bucket. And 20 to 30 years ago, there were only one, maybe two gallons of talent available. Little spilled out, and there was never enough to go around.

Now there is an ever-increasing "pool" of skilled players. And the Big 6 bucket is overflowing - filling the pails of smaller schools.

So when filling out your bracket, consider the big programs a calming breeze on the sea of March Madness. The chime of midnight that cuts Cinderella's dance short.

But don't be too surprised if some school you couldn't find without a road map busts your bracket wide open.

Look for Part 2 on Sunday, which will highlight some of the best players from the teams you may not (but should) know going into this year's tournament.

Copyright 2012 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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Anthony Davis