NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Semifinal-Connecticut vs St. John's

March is set up for the stars in college basketball to shine, but winning the national championship is a collective effort. No team can cut down the nets at the end of the NCAA Tournament without major lifting from unheralded or lesser-known players on the roster. 

In 2022 Kansas' Remy Martin stepped up as an off-the-bench weapon to help the Jayhawks to the title. Last year Nahiem Alleyne added key minutes down the stretch in a reserve role for UConn. Who will it be in 2024?

Below I've highlighted one X-factor for the top 12 overall seeds in the NCAA Tournament. These players have the potential to emerge as unexpected stars when the lights are on and shining bright.

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No. 1 seed UConn: Jaylin Stewart

Stewart enters the NCAA Tournament averaging just 2.6 points and 8.8 minutes per game for the defending champion Huskies. However, he's coming off arguably his two most complete outings in the Big East Tournament. UConn isn't short on star power, but Stewart could emerge as one of the best depth pieces of the tourney.

No. 1 seed North Carolina: Harrison Ingram

If North Carolina makes a deep run it will likely be because RJ Davis kept his cape on from the regular season. But don't overlook what Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram can bring to this team. UNC's third-leading scorer serves as a spark plug and he's capable of dropping 20 on any given night. When he is making shots, the entire Tar Heels offense is open and free-flowing.

No. 1 seed Houston: J'Wan Roberts

A knee injury plagued Roberts all season. Now he's also dealing with injuries to his shin and hand. Roberts played in only 20 combined minutes in the last two games of the Big 12 Tournament and has been limited as his ailments have stacked up. I wouldn't bet against him fighting hard to play his full allotment of minutes now that the stakes are so high, but he's effectively been playing with one hand on a gimpy knee. That's a big hindrance for a player many see as the heart and soul of No. 1 seed Houston.

No. 1 seed Purdue: Trey Kaufman-Renn

Purdue's fortunes have frequently correlated with how Zach Edey has been officiated. If Edey gets into foul trouble, it could thrust Kaufman-Renn -- one of the only bigs on the roster who does Edey-like things in the post -- into a larger role. Officiating 7-foot-4 Edey is difficult because of how teams defend and bait him, but he's struggled to stay out of foul trouble at times this season. 

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No. 2 seed Marquette: Tyler Kolek

Kolek leads the sport in assists per game and had an All-American caliber season for the Golden Eagles, but he's been sidelined for three weeks with an oblique injury. If healthy he'll be a household name in no time, but by the time he steps onto the floor Friday, it will have been 23 days since his last game action.

No. 2 seed Iowa State: Hason Ward

Ward turned in a season-high 13 points in 13 minutes of action to help Iowa State roll past No. 1 seed Houston in the Big 12 championship game. He doesn't put up gaudy numbers but has been an impactful presence on defense. Lately he's shown improved shot-making that could warrant some consideration for an expanded role down the stretch.

No. 2 seed Tennessee: Josiah-Jordan James

Tennessee's tournament fate is likely dependent upon how well SEC Player of the Year Dalton Knecht fares in his first appearance on the March Madness stage. But the pieces around Knecht have been vitally important to his success, not the least of which is Josiah-Jordan James. He's served many roles this season for the Vols but has the talent and skill to step up in any game. Coming off a zero-point effort in an SEC Tournament loss to Mississippi State, I'd expect he's highly motivated to get back to his -- and Tennessee's -- winning ways.

No. 2 seed Arizona: Kylan Boswell

Some of Arizona's best and most cohesive moments have come when Boswell is directing traffic and playing with an edge. He's riding a major slump that has uncoincidentally coincided with Arizona's slippage, though. For the Wildcats to get back to form, they need Boswell to bounce back.

No. 3 seed Baylor: Yves Missi

Baylor has multiple players who could be drafted in the top 10 later this year and Missi is the most underrated of the group. The 7-footer has size and hops to help defend in the paint and he's a key piece of the Bears' offensive attack when it runs out a smaller and more versatile lineup. He has recorded 14 multi-block games as a true freshman this season including two five-block outings earlier this year against Duke and Gardner-Webb.

No. 3 seed Kentucky: Zvonimir Ivišić

Kentucky has struggled to find consistency in any of its big men but Ivišić at least fits his role. Some of the Wildcats' most productive lineups feature him as the center. Big Z can hit 3s and space the floor, but most importantly he is a pressure relief valve to take attention away from Antonio Reeves, Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham.

No. 3 seed Creighton: Steven Ashworth

You can bank on Ryan Kalkbrenner, Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander showing up big almost every game, but Ashworth has been underappreciated for his role in Creighton's success. If he can hold up defensively, mitigate mistakes and shine on offense as the do-it-all distributor, the Bluejays become infinitely more difficult to take down.

No. 3 seed Illinois: Luke Goode

For Illinois to build on its success from the Big Ten Tournament, it will need Terrence Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask to continue their run as one of the best guard duos in the sport. But don't sleep on Luke Goode. Yes, he's coming off a game in which he played 15 minutes and scored zero points, but he has been a key cog in Illini's defensive system. He also frequently gets open looks on offense because of the attention Shannon and Domask command. If Goode can step into some open 3s and do his thing defensively, Illinois has a chance to ride its red-hot momentum deep into March.