It’s getting down to crunch time for the sixteen remaining teams in the 2014 NCAA Tournament with each team vying for the national championship. First they must get past the Sweet Sixteen to the Elite Eight, which is no small fete. Every single one of these teams is good enough to advance, but sometimes it takes more than simply being good enough. It takes solid bench play, your star player taking over a game, someone to hit a jumper in the waning seconds of a tight game, a defensive stop.
Each team certainly has a player or players capable of making said play. The pressure at this stage of the game is impalpable, one costly turnover could dash hopes at a national title.
The tournament has already seen its fair share of star players go home (Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins) and there’s plenty of others who are looking to make a name for themselves as we continue the march towards Arlington, and it may or may not be who you expect it to be.
- Scottie Wilbekin, Florida Gators: He’s the heart and soul of the top overall seed. The SEC Player of the Year has posted solid numbers thus far in the tourney (15.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 3 apg) and will likely continue his strong play against UCLA.
- Kyle Anderson, UCLA Bruins: He’s 6-foot-9, shoots 49.1 percent from three, averages 8.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. Yeah, he’s a point guard. The Bruins will need him to fill up the stat sheet, something he’s been known to do, if they expect to advance to the Elite Eight.
- Dyshawn Pierre, Dayton Flyers: Sure Dee Sanford’s bucket gave them the upset over Ohio State to advance to the round of 32 but Pierre has been the steadiest of all the Flyers, posting 12 and 14 points in the first two games, respectively.
- Chasson Randle, Stanford Cardinal: He’s the iron man for head coach Johnny Dawkins, playing all 80 minutes thus far while averaging 18 points per game. He’ll need to cut down on the seven turnovers he had against Kansas last round but they’ll surely take another six steals.
- Dustin Hogue, Iowa State Cyclones: Hogue is averaging 14.5 points and 6 rebounds per game and with Georges Niang out for the tournament, the Cyclones will need his production more than ever against a UConn team primed for an upset in what should be a pretty pro-Huskies crowd at MSG.
- DeAndre Daniels, UConn Huskies: The names you know for the Huskies are Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, but Daniels has been steady over the past six games, averaging 15 points per game. At 6-foot-9 with the ability to knock down threes (44.7 percent), he’s a matchup nightmare. He’ll need to provide ample support if the Huskies are going to take down the Cyclones.
- Joe Harris, Virginia Cavaliers: Harris’ scoring has decreased because the Cavaliers’ depth has increased, which is a good thing. He’s no longer asked to carry the offense but he’s the guy with the ball in his hands if the game is on the line.
- Adreian Payne, Michigan State Spartans: The senior can take over a game, as was evident when he put up 41 points and 8 rebounds in the Spartans’ second round win over Delaware. Tom Izzo will gladly take a 20-point, 8-rebound game against top-seeded Virginia.
- Gabe York, Arizona Wildcats: Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson get all the press but it’s a guy who’s just started 10 games on the season who is the Wildcats’ X-factor. York is averaging 10 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists so far this tournament and the Cats will need his offense against a stingy San Diego State defense.
- Xavier Thames, San Diego State Aztecs: When you’re scoring almost 40 percent of your team’s points, you better believe you’re the man to stop. He’s their most capable scorer and is going to need a tremendous game to keep the Aztecs in the game against the high-flying Arizona offense.
- Isaiah Austin, Baylor Bears: The big man will need to try to contain Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer that can make shots from anywhere on the court. The Bears also need him to continue his scoring (15 ppg) if they expect to stay in this track meet.
- Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin Badgers: Besides making six of eight free throws in the final 32 seconds against Oregon, Jackson fills up the stat sheet every night (17 ppg, 6 rpg, 4 apg in NCAA Tournament) for an offense that forces defenses to defend everyone on the floor. He’s just another option for Bo Ryan‘s team but he’s one you need to keep a man on.
- Andrew Harrison, Kentucky Wildcats: He’s the point guard, so the onus of running the offense falls on him. The hyperextension to his elbow didn’t seem to affect his shooting (6-for-9, 20 points) but he’ll need to cut down on the turnovers (12 in two games) against a ferocious Louisville defense if the Wildcats expect to advance.
- Montrezl Harrell, Louisville Cardinals: In December’s loss to Kentucky, he had just six points and four rebounds in 21 minutes. He’ll play a bigger role in Friday’s game and has been playing like a man possessed in the tournament (11 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.5 bpg) despite shooting well below his season average of 60.1 percent. He comes in with three straight double-doubles and is a handful on both ends of the court.
- Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee Volunteers: Everyone knows Jordan McRae is going to shoot (and score) but it’s actually been Stokes who’s taken center stage for the Vols. In three games, he averaging 20.3 points, 15.3 rebounds, and is shooting 56.3 percent from the field.
- Nik Stauskas, Michigan Wolverines: This sharp-shooter is just a sophomore and will need to knock down shots however he can get them if the Wolverines are going to take down the Vols, a team having as much fun as anyone. He can also create for his teammates as he had a season-high eight assists against Texas.