March Madness has worked its way from 68 to 16, and that means the stakes are raised and the cream is rising to the top.
March has many stories. Some end with one overpowering hero like Danny Manning with Kansas or Carmelo Anthony with Syracuse. Some are based on a group of many bonding as one, like Texas Western or Villanova.
But others still rest on four shoulders—two young men who raise their teams to a new level. They may not be the only two contributors, but as a pair they form the most important part of the team.
Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley did it with Duke, and Mike Bibby and Miles Simon did it with Arizona.
Here are the top tandems remaining in 2012.
Siva going behind the back to Dieng.
Louisville, more than probably any other Rick Pitino team, succeeds solely on defense. In two tournament games the Cardinals are shooting just 43 percent from the field, but opponents have only managed 59 points per game.
That defense is led by Peyton Siva and anchored by Gorgui Dieng. Siva pesters ball handlers and Dieng aggressively defends the rim.
Siva is averaging 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals in the tournament and Dieng is averaging 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
With Siva and Dieng, Louisville will be a high hurdle to leap, even for Michigan State.
Brown and Leslie are swarming opponents.
NC State wasn't viewed as a tournament lock, but they played good basketball late in the season. The Wolfpack get contributions from other players, but Lorenzo Brown is a great point guard and C.J. Leslie have formed a great combination.
In upsetting a No. 6 and No. 3 seed, Brown and Leslie have made NC State look like a new team.
Brown has put up 14.5 points, 7.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds per game in the tournament, while Leslie has done his work inside. Leslie led the Wolfpack in scoring this season and he is locked with Brown at 14.5 points per game in the tournament.
His rebounding average has dipped, but in a huge win against Georgetown, Leslie grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.
These two have a great chance to prove themselves against the Kansas Jayhawks in the Sweet 16.
Heslip and Jackson have carried the Bears to the Sweet 16.
The big guys have gotten most of the attention for Baylor this season, but teammates are going to need to focus on the guards.
Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip have been nothing short of incredible to this point in the tournament.
Heslip has averaged 22.0 points per game in the tournament on an amazing 14-of-22 on threes, including 9-of-12 in Saturday's win over Colorado.
Jackson has simply been the engine for Baylor's attack. He hasn't been a sharpshooter, but he has been unstoppable. Jackson is averaging 16.5 points and 6.0 assists per game through two rounds. He has also be disruptive on defense, with seven steals in two games.
Xavier's strength is its backcourt, but Baylor's duo can get the edge in that battle.
Appling is helping Green to fulfill his dream.
Draymond Green has had a phenomenal senior season. He has been working toward a national championship since his freshman season, and he won't go down without a fight.
Luckily for Green, he has Appling emerging by his side. Appling came to life in the second half against Saint Louis in what was a truly tough and competitive game.
Appling scored 15 points in the second half on his way to 19 for the game. He scored seven of Michigan State's final 10 points, including a huge three with 90 seconds left.
Green has simply continued what he's been doing all season. In two games he has averaged 20.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per game.
Oh, and that huge three by Appling? It was set up by Green.
Southerland has been a pleasant surprise alongside Waiters.
Dion Waiters has been great all season. He has been one of the Big East's best players and the best sixth-man in the nation.
When Fab Melo was ruled ineligible, everyone figured Syracuse had no chance at a national championship. But in his place, a new option has emerged.
James Southerland, who averaged 6.6 points and 3.0 rebounds per game this season, has stepped up and dropped 15 in each of Syracuse's first two games. He is also averaging 7.0 rebounds.
Southerland is not Melo. He isn't intimidating and isn't 7'0", but he has brought a versatility to the Orange offense. He is hitting 78.6 percent from the field, including 5-of-7 on threes in the tournament.
He may not be Fab Melo, but Waiters and Southerland look dangerous.
Henson and Zeller can carry the Tar Heels.
This position could have easily been John Henson's and Harrison Barnes' or Tyler Zeller's and Barnes', but something about the two big men stands out.
With Kendall Marshall either limited or out altogether, Barnes will probably be asked to concentrate more on scoring. With the Carolina offense likely less potent, it will be more important than ever for the Tar Heels to defend and rebound.
North Carolina is pretty unique in having both a seven-footer and a 6'11" player who are both active and athletic on both ends of the floor.
The pair fit nicely together with Henson the superior defender and Zeller the better scorer. They combined to average 30.3 points, 19.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game.
If Henson and Zeller can both play their A-game, it will be hard to topple the Heels.
Johnson-Odom and Crowder are a unique perimeter pair.
Marquette has a unique duo in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. They bring a mix of scoring, defending, toughness, rebounding and perimeter shooting that most teams can't match.
Johnson-Odom was viewed as a Conference Player of the Year candidate coming into the season, but Crowder ended up winning that award.
Johnson-Odom is a better shooter and pure scorer and he can take over a game offensively in a way few players can. Crowder is an incredibly versatile forward who plays with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
In the first two games of the tournament Crowder has had two impressive double-doubles, while Johnson-Odom is averaging 18.5 points per game.
There is probably no other team that relies so much on two players, but Marquette's duo is good enough to topple any team in the nation.
Withey protects Robinson inside.
Thomas Robinson had a rough game offensively against Purdue, but he still grabbed 13 rebounds, dished three assists, had two steals and a block.
Jeff Withey has played just 44 minutes in the tournament so far, but he's posted 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks in that time.
Robinson has been one of the best players in the nation from day one this season, and he is generally the best and toughest player on the floor in any game he plays. He can score and defend and is the best rebounder in college basketball.
Withey doesn't always play extended minutes, but he is a legitimate 7'0" center who can rebound and block shots as well as just about anyone else in the nation.
If Kansas is going to topple North Carolina, Ohio State or Kentucky, these two big men will have to be huge. Luckily they are.
Sullinger and Craft can bring Ohio State to the promised land.
Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft are part of a very talented roster, but there is no combination more classic in the game of basketball than the point guard and center.
Sullinger returned for his sophomore season to lead the Buckeyes to a title, and he is playing with the fire to do just that. He took the game over in the final two minutes against Gonzaga to seal a 73-66 win.
Prior to Sullinger's heroics, Craft was the man for Ohio State. Generally not much of a scorer, Craft went for 17 and added 10 assists for his first career double-double. He also recorded three steals in each game.
The Buckeyes entered the season as one of the favorites, and with Sullinger's inspired play and Craft's newfound scoring, Ohio State has as good a chance as anyone.
Davis and Lamb are a devastating inside-outside combination.
Anthony Davis is amazing. He can do pretty much everything there is to do on a basketball court, including some things most players are entirely incapable of.
He could have been paired with any number of teammates, but Doron Lamb seemed like a good choice based on what he's done in the tournament and what he brings to the table.
Kentucky has the most talent in college basketball, and Davis is the most difficult big man to deal with. He is averaging 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 4.0 assists. Defensively, he makes it almost impossible to score around the basket.
Lamb has gone for 16 points in both tournament games, and he is shooting the lights out. He is shooting 7-of-11 on threes for 63.6 percent. It would be next to impossible to keep up that pace, but Lamb's three-point shooting will be devastating when matched up with similar talent.
Kentucky is the favorite to win it all, and Davis and Lamb will be the most difficult tandem to deal with for the rest of the tournament.