Busting Brackets

NCAA Tournament 2019: Biggest x-factors on each remaining Sweet 16 team

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 21: Zach Norvell
SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 21: Zach Norvell /
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BLACKSBURG, VA – DECEMBER 19: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies looks to pass against Kameron Langley #13 of the North Carolina A&T Aggies in the second half at Cassell Coliseum on December 19, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images)
BLACKSBURG, VA – DECEMBER 19: Kerry Blackshear Jr. #24 of the Virginia Tech Hokies looks to pass against Kameron Langley #13 of the North Carolina A&T Aggies in the second half at Cassell Coliseum on December 19, 2018 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images) /

Heading into the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament, here are X-factors for each and every team remaining, and what they can do to help their school survive and advance.

East Region

Duke: Cam Reddish

Generally speaking, at this point in the college basketball season (you know, the end of it!), fans, coaches, and media have a pretty firm read on any given player: their strengths/weaknesses, what they contribute on a nightly basis, what to expect from them in the biggest moments, etc. With Reddish, I’m in the dark. The talent is obvious and tantalizing, but the production fails to correlate.

In grand basketball theory, a 6’8 smooth-shooting forward with a guard’s athleticism is a total wonder at the college level. Cam Reddish oozes potential from head to toe but can’t complete the equation while on the court. He has the tools to build a mansion but settles for a townhome. Reddish isn’t a bad player by any stretch, but there are bigger and better things within his game yet to be built. He currently acts primarily as a stationary three-point shooter who flashes other offensive skills but only utilizes them on occasion. And he’s not an assassin from behind the arc, either, shooting just 33% on the season.

To me, Cam Reddish is an utter mystery. Could he have thrust himself into All-American conversation as a 20+ points-per-game go-to scorer on a UCLA or UCONN? Sure. Instead, though, he’s a distant third fiddle to Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett–two bonafide superstars. I’d compare Reddish to another Cameron, a villain of his: Cam Johnson. Reddish plays very much like Johnson, except like he’s three years younger, which he is. Johnson is confident and notably lethal from behind the arc, setting nets on fire at a 46% three-point clip this season. Caught up in his own head I’m sure, Reddish should look to his rival as a guide for his own offensive success.

A locked-in, scorching Reddish is curtains for the 15 teams remaining. With the historic dominance of Zion and the one-on-one wizardry of Barrett, a reliable Cam Reddish would all but guarantee Duke its seventh national title (trying to jinx them).

Virginia Tech: Kerry Blackshear Jr.

The Hokies under Buzz Williams have a very hip identity basketball-wise. I’m sure NBA executives Daryl Morey (Rockets) and Bob Myers (Warriors) drool over the Hokies three-happy pace-pushing offense where they feature one player over 6’6. That one player over 6’6 is 6’10 ballerina Kerry Blackshear Jr., and he may be the most important player on the roster–even more than Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Blackshear only uses his toes to move around (which is freaky), but is a skilled and powerful presence in the post. For Virginia Tech to have any chance at defeating Duke, Blackshear will need to take advantage of Duke’s 21 feet of terrible–Jack White, Javin DeLaurier, and Marques Bolden. If he finds himself in foul trouble with 12 minutes left in the first half, forget it. Zion will eat poor P.J. Horne’s (or whoever Buzz Williams throws at him) lunch.

LSU: Skylar Mays

Mays is one of the few veterans on

Will Wade’s

Tony Benford’s squad. Throughout the season, he struggled with inconsistency and often settled for contested jump shots rather than passing off or driving to the basket. Mays can get hot, though. His fearlessness and unwavering confidence in his jumper spell cold streaks at times, but also lend Mays to sweltering heat check’s from behind the arc. Perhaps Mays is already the X-factor, considering he swished a go-ahead three with less than a minute to go against Maryland last Saturday. Nonetheless, Mays’ strong build, flashy athleticism, and sporadic hot shooting make for one heck of a player in theory. Now, if he can put everything together for a string of games here in late March, the coach-less Tigers will be flying first class to Minneapolis.

Michigan State: Kenny Goins

It was extremely difficult to find an “X-factor” on this Michigan State team. I feel like everyone knows exactly what each player on this Spartans club is going to give you every time they step on the court. Cassius Winston is steady and elite at point guard and simply doesn’t make mistakes. Tillman and Ward are tough on the glass and each has their own array of post maneuvers. And McQuaid is a do-it-all wing with ample shooting ability from anywhere on the court.

Goins, though, is an interesting mix of skills. He’s big-bodied like a Tillman or Ward, but fancies the three-point shot–shooting four per game this season and connecting at a 36.4% clip. As a stretch big man, Goins offers extra space for Cassius Winston to work in the midrange and transforms the offense into a free-flowing spaced-out approach rather than the lane-clogged disaster it is with two fixed bigs on the block (ahem, Ward and Tillman).

A Kenny Goins sniping threes would open up an offensive bible for Winston–the Jesus of this season for Sparty–and turn Michigan State into one of the toughest teams to defend in the tournament. If he’s bricking three-balls, Winston’s fluid offense will be crowded, and the formula to shut down the Spartans on offense will be unlocked.