NCAA Tournament Scores 2012: Studs Who Must Step Up for Underdogs in Sweet 16

Mike ChiariFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2012

GREENSBORO, NC - MARCH 18:  Tu Holloway #52 of the Xavier Musketeers celebrate the 70-58 victory against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 18, 2012 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

With just four Sweet 16 games remaining, the Elite Eight is nearly set. All four of Friday's games feature pretty heavy favorites, so not many are expecting any of the underdogs to come out on top.

Louisville and Florida pulled off upsets on Thursday night, however, so the potential is there for some shockers.

While all of the favorites have big-time players that are responsible for getting them this far, each underdog team has at least one star as well. The lower seeds may not have as much depth or as much overall talent as their opponents, but they have players capable of taking over games.

Here are three studs that will need to come up big for Sweet 16 underdogs if they are to continue their Cinderella runs to the Elite Eight.


Tu Holloway, Xavier

Xavier has had a couple of beneficial matchups thus far in the NCAA tournament, but no matter how the Musketeers got there, they are in the Sweet 16. The No. 10 seed will have a tough matchup with the third-seeded Baylor Bears, but an upset isn't out of the question.

If Xavier is going to have any chance though, senior guard Tu Holloway will have to be at his best. He certainly has been as of late with four outings of at least 21 points in his past five games, as well as a sizzling percentage from beyond the arc.

In terms of athleticism, the Musketeers will have a tough time keeping up with the Bears, but Holloway can be the great equalizer. He is unquestionably the best pure scorer in this game, and he can bust things open if he gets hot.

Holloway has been hitting shots from all over the floor, even with hands in his face over the past couple weeks, so he's in a zone right now. Provided Holloway nets over 20 points in this game, Xavier has a fighting chance.


D.J. Cooper, Ohio

Even with point guard Kendall Marshall unlikely to play for the No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels, few are giving the surprising No. 13 Ohio Bobcats a chance to move on.

There is no doubt that it will be an uphill battle for the Bobcats, as the Tar Heels still have major talents like Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson.

But Ohio point guard D.J. Cooper has the skill set necessary to keep the Bobcats within striking distance.

Ohio doesn't have the depth of talent that UNC does, but Cooper is a big-time performer. The diminutive point guard is fantastic at getting to the rim, getting free-throw opportunities and creating chances for his teammates.

He has been scorching from behind the three-point line since the MAC tournament. Cooper averaged 20 points per game in upsets over Michigan and South Florida in the first two rounds.

He'll need to up the ante against North Carolina, but anything is possible when it comes to March Madness.


C.J. Leslie, NC State

Thanks to spectacular team play, the NC State Wolfpack has advanced to the Sweet 16 to take on No. 2 seed Kansas. NC State has a number of important contributors, but there is one player in particular who will need to elevate his game in order for the Wolfpack to upset the Jayhawks. That player is NC State's leading scorer, forward C.J. Leslie.

Few big men in the nation are more versatile than Leslie, as he can score in the paint, step out to hit jumpers and play defense as well.

Leslie leads the Wolfpack in scoring this season with 14.6 points per game, but he also cleans up the glass with 7.4 boards per game and is a defensive force in the paint with 1.6 swats per contest.

The Jayhawks were lucky to survive Purdue in the round of 32, and they are certainly vulnerable.

Provided Leslie plays his all-around game as usual, there is a great opportunity for the Wolfpack to move on.