March Madness has already had its fair share of upsets and outstanding performances, but once the Sweet 16 arrives, the truly elite begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Amongst the upsets were Norfolk State over Missouri and Lehigh over Duke, and both No. 15 seeds were led by superstars (Kyle O'Quinn and C.J. McCollum, respectively). While neither team advanced to the Sweet 16, plenty of other elite players did.
Some players, including Anthony Davis, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, will certainly play great for their teams. Plenty of others have flown somewhat under the radar during the month of March.
These four players will emerge in the Sweet 16 and be incredibly important to their teams in the next set of NCAA tournament games.
Mark Lyons had very good season for Xavier, averaging 15.3 points per game to go along with great leadership in the backcourt with fellow standout Tu Holloway.
In his first two tournament games, however, Lyons has not had great success. He scored a pedestrian eight points against Notre Dame in his first game, and managed to put up just seven against Lehigh last night.
If the Musketeers want to have any chance of beating the extremely talented Baylor Bears, Lyons needs to have a great game. I believe he will understand the importance of the moment. I foresee him going off for at least 20 points en route to a win for Xavier and a trip to the Elite Eight.
Ryan Evans has quietly been one of the most important players in the nation this season. The junior forward is averaging 11.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, and his impact on the defensive end goes beyond what the box score shows.
Evans had two very solid outings against Montana and Vanderbilt in the tournament for the Badgers, and his success will have to continue in order for Bo Ryan's squad to compete with Syracuse.
Evans will have the challenge of guarding Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters. If Evans can do a good job in containing the Orange's potent offensive weapons, Wisconsin will have a good chance of advancing.
His offensive efforts will also be crucial, and I fully expect the experienced Evans to play well on both sides of the ball in the Sweet 16.
D.J. Cooper brought down a giant as just a freshman in 2010, when his Ohio Bobcats defeated the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas in the NCAA tournament. This season, his Bobcats beat the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten and the South Florida Bulls of the Big East. The MAC champions are showing no signs of slowing down.
Cooper's squad will play against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Sweet 16, but star point guard Kendall Marshall suffered a wrist injury against Creighton last night.
In order for the Bobcats to have any chance at pulling off the huge upset, Cooper will have to take advantage of Marshall's absence and continue playing great basketball.
North Carolina may have been a bit under-seeded at No. 11 coming out of the ACC, but after beating San Diego State and Georgetown, the Wolfpack are no longer under the radar. In NC State's Sweet 16 matchup against Kansas, the play of junior wingman Scott Wood will be crucial.
Wood is a three-point specialist, with 218 of his 294 shots this season coming from beyond the arc. He has connected on four three-pointers in each of his first two games in March Madness. If he can hit four or more against the Jayhawks, the Wolfpack could very well be advancing to the Elite Eight.
If NC State does indeed advance to the Elite Eight, it will face in-state rival UNC in a game that will be very exciting for the state of North Carolina.