NCAA Tournament 2012: Top Players Who Must Show Up for Final Four Teams
A collection of the nation's best teams are in New Orleans for this weekend's Final Four, and they're showcasing some of the best talent the NCAA has to offer.
While some of the teams may feature one player that can be the difference between winning and losing, for others—Kentucky, for example—it's not that simple. There is so much talent on the roster that it is nearly impossible to pick one guy who can make or break the team's chances of winning a championship.
Still, heading into the last three days of the 2011-12 season, each of the Final Four teams has a better shot if one player really steps up and plays to his fullest potential.
Kentucky: Anthony Davis
Dubbed the Associated Press Player of the Year on Friday, Davis has been college basketball's most dominant player for the entire season. Though he's only the second freshman to win the award, he hasn't played like one this season, leading a young Kentucky team to a 32-2 overall record and a 16-0 conference record.
Davis sits atop the team with 14.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game and often presents huge matchup problems for opponents because unless you can figure out a way to get him out of position, he is virtually unstoppable on both ends of the floor.
One coach whose team has played against Kentucky told CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish, "Anthony Davis is unbelievable off the ball. He's a freak of nature. He doesn't block shots on the ball that much. He hates contact. But when you drive, you better drive to dish."
And even if teams find a way to diminish his impact, how can they stop the other four Wildcat starters? Even when he is limited, Davis still requires so much attention from opposing offenses and defenses that it opens up opportunities for the rest of his lights-out teammates.
Louisville: Peyton Siva
He is the heart and soul of the Final Four's lowest-seeded team and its biggest underdog. He and teammate Gorgui Dieng are charged with leading a Cardinals defense so confounding that sometimes, they don't even understand it—but its good enough to have gotten them past teams like Marquette, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Florida en route to this Final Four.
Siva told the Herald-Leader's Jennifer Smith, "I still don’t understand our zone. It’s a 2-3 zone. We match up, sometimes. We bump and run, sometimes. I don’t know what we do sometimes."
Siva averages 5.5 assists per game on the season and has averaged 9.2 points per game during the tournament. For Louisville to be successful, he must be smart with his shot selection, and he must limit the turnovers. He handled the ball so well in the Elite Eight against Florida with just one turnover, helping Louisville hang on for a 72-68 victory. Taking care of the ball against Kentucky will be crucial, because Davis and the Wildcats are lethal in transition.
Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor
A rarity in this tournament because he's a senior who's still playing, Taylor has had a rocky road at Kansas. He's had fights with the football team, he's posted things on Facebook that have gotten him in trouble, he's been suspended for the ever-evasive "violation of team rules." Since he took over at point guard one year after Kansas' last title, the team has failed to win another one.
Taylor's attitude has constantly been questioned, but from the looks of his stat line, he's had a good one this year. After three seasons of averaging 9.7 points or less, he has turned up the heat in a big way this year, leading Kansas to the Final Four with 16.7 points and 4.7 assists per game. He saved his best performance of the tournament for an Elite Eight matchup against top-seeded North Carolina, registering 22 points, five assists and three boards.
Now, he's using questions about his attitude and leadership to fuel his performance, telling the Star-Ledger's Steve Politi, "When you hear so many people doubt you, I feel the chip isn't put there by you, they put it there. … I don't think I played to prove people wrong. But as I'm doing good, I actually get to look back and say, 'You're not right and I am. I can actually do this.'"
Plus, the last time Kansas faced Ohio State, Taylor played through a torn meniscus and a sprained MCL in his right knee, and still tallied a career-high 13 assists.
Ohio State: Jared Sullinger
The last time the Buckeyes played Kansas, Sullinger famously sat out due to back spasms and watched as his team dropped a 78-67 contest. With him in the game, it's bound to be a different story this time around for Ohio State.
Sullinger leads the team with 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game and excelled in the Buckeyes' 77-70 win over No. 1-seeded Syracuse in the Elite Eight. Despite foul trouble in the first half, he scored a game-high 19 points, leading Ohio State to its first Final Four appearance since 2007.
After the way last year's tournament run ended—with a 62-60 loss to Kentucky on the heels of Brandon Knight's game-winner with five seconds remaining—a motivated Sullinger has vowed to make sure it's a different story this time around. According to the Times-Picayune's Tammy Nunez, he hung a photo of that shot on a wall to remind him of how it feels to lose.
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