In the Final Four and throughout the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky sealed its case as the most dominant team in college basketball this season.
Led by Final Four Most Outstanding Player Anthony Davis, Kentucky earned its title with a combination of youth, talent, defense and unselfishness rarely seen in college basketball.
While no other team could come particularly close to matching Kentucky in those areas collectively, the 2012 NCAA Tournament produced many individual cases of young talent and defense shining on the nation's biggest stage.
In addition to the breakout games and fantastic defensive displays, there were the usual displays of players taking over games when expected to. Those are the efforts that allow a team to "survive and advance."
Here is a combination of these individual efforts, of players who in one way or another made a major impact on their team's NCAA Tournament performance.
Doron Lamb, Kentucky: 16.5 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1 APG (6 games)
Chane Behanan, Louisville: 13.2 PPG, 8 RPG, 1 SPG (5 games)
Quincy Acy, Baylor: 13.3 PPG, 9 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.3 BPG (4 games)
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse: 13.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1 SPG (4 games)
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin: 16 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 5 APG, 1 SPG (3 games)
Tournament averages: 12.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.2 SPG (6 games)
Overall, Taylor was not spectacular in the NCAA Tournament. However, he did enough, especially late in games, to ensure Kansas would continue to fight another day.
Taylor struggled in Kansas' first three tourney games, averaging just 8.7 points and 3.3 assists. The Jayhawks managed to survive doubtful contests with Purdue and NC State to get to an Elite Eight matchup against top-seeded North Carolina. That's when Taylor came up huge.
The senior point guard had his best game of the tournament with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals in leading Kansas to a win and a spot in the Final Four. You could argue that if Taylor had played the way he did the first three games against UNC, Kansas would have never made it all the way to the final game against Kentucky.
Speaking of the final game, Taylor overcame some early struggles to produce a very solid game. He finished with 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting, and scored some big baskets late in the game to keep the Jayhawks' hopes alive.
Ultimately, it was not quite enough, but was a respectable showing for Taylor in his final games at Kansas.
Tournament averages: 22 PPG, 7 RPG, 3.5 APG (2 games)
One shining moment. It was all McCollum needed to prove he's not exactly your run-of-the-mill mid-major basketball player. Duke now understands this as well as anyone.
After going to the NCAAs two years ago and losing to top-seeded Kansas, McCollum came up huge for Lehigh in its return trip to the Big Dance. He scored 30 to lead the Patriot League champions to an incredible 75-70 victory over Duke, a No. 2 seed. McCollum's three-pointer with just over two minutes to play put Lehigh up by five, and made the dreams of an upset a reality.
McCollum could not quite duplicate his magic in the Round of 32 against Xavier. While he had a respectable 14 points and eight rebounds for the Mountain Hawks, it was not quite enough to withstand a fierce second-half charge by the Musketeers, who won 70-58.
With a 30-point effort in the biggest college game of his career, McCollum had as impressive an individual game as anyone in this NCAA Tournament.
Tournament averages: 13 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6 APG, 2 SPG, 1 BPG
Brown may have been a bit of a mystery heading into the NCAA Tournament. However, the NC State point guard certainly made a name for himself with his play in leading his team to the Sweet 16.
In the first round against San Diego State, Brown nearly turned in a triple-double, with 17 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in a 79-65 win.
Though not quite as stellar against third-seeded Georgetown in the Round of 32, Brown once again did what was necessary to pull out a win. He had 12 points, six boards and seven assists to lead the Wolfpack to a three-point win and an unlikely spot in the Sweet 16 for the No. 11 seed in the Midwest region.
In its matchup with Kansas, Brown struggled some on the offensive end, but played a big part in NC State's strong second-half defensive effort which nearly led to an improbable late rally. He had seven rebounds, along with three steals and two blocks against the Jayhawks. Ultimately, he and the Wolfpack came up three points short against Kansas.
Just a sophomore, Brown had a very impressive breakout performance in this NCAA Tournament. He should help lead NC State back to the Big Dance against next season.
Tournament averages: 19.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2 APG, 2.3 SPG (3 games)
Though not intended, Offutt may be the reason that former coach John Grose is now with the University of Illinois.
Offutt was progressively better as Ohio continued its surprising run through the tournament. After scoring 11 in the Round of 64 against Michigan, he was the difference for the Bobcats against USF in the Round of 32. Offutt led Ohio with 21 points, including hitting all four of his three-point shots, in a 62-56 win which to put the No. 13 seed from the Midwest into the Sweet 16.
Once there, Offutt was even better, leading Ohio to within seconds of an unprecedented Elite Eight appearance. Offutt was phenomenal against top-seeded North Carolina, putting up 26 points while on fire from outside. He hit 6-of-10 threes, and continuously knocked down huge shots from deep to keep Ohio right with the overwhelmingly-favored Tar Heels.
His only negative play in the game? A missed free throw, which would have completed a three-point play to put Ohio up by one with less than 30 seconds to play. As a result, the game remained tied and went to overtime, where UNC took over and pulled out a win.
Tournament averages: 22.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG (3 games)
Few players experienced more ups-and-downs this season than Holloway.
Before the infamous brawl with crosstown rival Cincinnati on Dec. 10, Holloway was a likely First-Team All-American, leading Xavier to a spot in the nation's top 10. After, he went through a brief suspension and a prolonged drop-off in production after returning to the floor. Then, late in the season, Holloway began to resemble the great player he was in 2010-11 and early 2011-12.
Once it was all said and done, Holloway led Xavier to the very point in the NCAA Tournament they were originally expected to reach back in November—the Sweet 16. In doing so, Holloway reminded the nation of just how good a player he is, and helped to erase some of the negative images of him from December.
Holloway was fantastic in Xavier's come-from-behind win over Notre Dame in the Round of 64. He scored 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, keying the Musketeers' rally from a 10-point second-half deficit. In the Round of 32, Holloway was once again the difference for Xavier, with 21 points (including four three-pointers) in another comeback win over Lehigh.
In the Sweet 16 against Baylor, Holloway once again scored over 20, with 22 points. However, his effort wasn't quite enough to lift Xavier out of another large early deficit.
Tournament Averages: 12.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.8 APG (6 games)
Trying to separate the impact of contributions from any Kentucky player other than Davis can be a bit difficult. In terms of scoring, no one player ever dominated the stat lines. All five starters, along with sixth man Darius Miller, averaged between 10 and 15 points a game.
Who should get some of the credit for such a disciplined and harmonious offense? Freshman point guard Marquis Teague.
Statistically or on the court, Teague was never eye-popping or jaw-dropping with his play. Instead, he was under control and unselfish, with an ability to hit the gas pedal when the situation called for it. Teague proved that time and again throughout Kentucky's run through the NCAA Tournament.
In the Round of 32 against Iowa State, Teague stepped up and triggered a late first-half and early second-half run by Kentucky. He scored 24 for the game, and added seven assists as the Wildcats pulled away in a game that was tight for most of the first half.
In the Sweet 16 against Indiana, Teague had no trouble pushing the ball in transition early and often for Kentucky. He scored 14 himself, but facilitated many more good looks for his teammates throughout the game.
In the title game against Kansas, Teague wasn't great, but he did what was needed to preserve the lead and the win for Kentucky. He knocked down a couple key three-pointers, and had just two turnovers in the biggest collegiate game he will likely play.
Overall, Teague's discipline and unselfishness was a major key in Kentucky taking home the title.
Tournament Averages: 19.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.0 BPG (5 games)
In Ohio State's first NCAA Tournament game, Thomas was absolutely dominant scoring the basketball. With that performance, he let it be known that a potential Final Four would likely hinge on his success throughout the tourney.
Both inside and out, Thomas was a prime offensive weapon in Ohio State's run through the East region, averaging just under 22 PPG in those four games. He scored 31 on 13-of-22 shooting against Loyola in the Round of 64. He was almost as good in the Sweet 16 against Cincinnati, scoring 24 on 9-of-16 shooting, including 3-of-5 from long range.
Despite an outstanding performance throughout OSU's regional games, the point at which Thomas' impact was most deeply felt was in the Final Four. However, the impact was felt not because of a great scoring effort, but because he was on the bench much of the second half.
Against Kansas, Thomas was limited to just 23 minutes of action due to foul trouble. In the time he was in the game, Thomas was held to just nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. Thomas' absence meant Kansas could focus fully on Jared Sullinger inside, and OSU did not respond well to the adjustment.
Both in the game and out, Thomas was perhaps the X-factor in Ohio State's run into and out of the Final Four.
Tournament Averages: 17.5 PPG, 6.8 APG, 2.8 SPG (4 games)
In his first season at Baylor, Jackson showed flashes of brilliance early on while making plenty of mistakes. However, he gradually improved throughout the season, cutting down on mistakes while contributing more and more to Baylor's success.
Jackson continued this trend in the NCAA Tournament, playing as well as he did all season long. He was the biggest reason Baylor advanced to within one win of the Final Four.
In each of Baylor's four tournament games, Jackson scored at least 15 points, including a 21-point effort in the Bears' Elite Eight loss to Kentucky. However, Jackson was at his best in the two wins leading up to that matchup with the eventual NCAA champions.
Against Colorado in the Round of 32, Jackson was at his best when he wasn't shooting the ball. He had 10 assists and five steals in keying a late second-half run that propelled Baylor into the Sweet 16. Once there, he again racked up a double-figure assist total (10) while scoring 16 points in the Bears' win over Xavier.
If he does return to Baylor for his senior season, Jackson will be instrumental in Baylor's hopes to once again make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Tournament Averages: 15.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 3 APG, 1.5 SPG (4 games)
After an impressive 20-point, eight-rebound, five-assist effort against Kentucky in the SEC Semifinals, Beal was certainly a player to keep an eye on for Florida heading into the NCAA Tournament. Four games later, and within minutes of a spot in the Final Four, Beal had certainly made quite a name for himself.
Beal was Florida's best player throughout its run to the West regional final, supplanting the veteran backcourt tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton as the biggest key to the Gators' success. At times he did everything to help Florida win, and played a good bit bigger than his 6'3" frame.
After a double-double effort (14 PTS, 11 REB) in the Round of 64 against Virginia, Beal nearly duplicated the feat in the Round of 32. He finished with 14 and nine in a blowout win over the Norfolk State team that stunned Missouri in its first game.
The Sweet 16 was where Beal really made the difference, however. He scored 21 while making 8-of-10 shots (including 3-of-5 from three-point range) in leading Florida to a modest upset over Marquette, a No. 3 seed. Beal also added six boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks. His ability to handle the pressure defense applied by Marquette was particularly impressive for a freshman.
Another 14-point, nine-rebound game against Louisville in the Elite Eight was not quite enough to withstand the Cardinals' late rally. Overall, however, it was an outstanding showing by Beal in what may be his only season in Gainesville.
Tournament Averages: 16.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2 SPG (3 games)
In his first season at Indiana, Zeller was the key figure in leading an amazing one-year turnaround that culminated in a return to the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade.
After averaging just over 15 points and six rebounds a game during the regular season, Zeller stepped it up a bit in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged just under 17 points and nine boards a game, including an impressive 16-and-13 effort in a tightly contested Round of 32 win over the always-dangerous VCU Rams.
Zeller also more than held his own against the mass of length, athleticism and defensive prowess that Kentucky threw at him. He scored 20 against the Wildcats, doing his very best to help Indiana keep pace with the transition-minded attack from UK. Ultimately, he and the Hoosiers came up short, losing 102-90.
Regardless, it was a very impressive showing on the nation's biggest stage for the freshman Zeller. The question now is whether or not he will come back to try and take Indiana even farther.
Tournament Averages: 15 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 3.3 BPG (4 games)
The elder Zeller, Tyler, did his best to lead an injury-plagued North Carolina team to the Final Four. Unfortunately, he and the Tar Heels came up about eight minutes short.
In the midst of wrist injuries to both John Henson (out for the ACC Tournament and the Round of 64 game) and Kendall Marshall (out for both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games), Zeller was the glue that held Roy Williams' team together.
In UNC's first tournament win, over Vermont, Zeller had 17 points and 15 boards in shouldering the full burden inside with Henson out. However, it was his extraordinary efforts in one game in particular that allowed UNC to avoid a crushing upset defeat.
Zeller came through with a monster 20-point, 22-rebound effort in UNC's Sweet 16 overtime win over Ohio. It would have been the first time ever a No. 1 seed lost to a No. 13 seed, but Zeller did everything possible to prevent that from happening. That includes four blocked shots he added in that game.
It may have been the single biggest game of anyone in this NCAA Tournament, with all respect to the extraordinary games from Kentucky's Anthony Davis.
Against Kansas in the Midwest regional final, Zeller again had four blocks, along with 12 points and six rebounds. It was a modest performance (by Zeller standards) for the ACC Player of the Year, and he did not get quite enough help in the second half for the Tar Heels to earn a trip to the Final Four.
Tournament Averages: 19 PPG, 12 RPG, 2.3 APG, 3.3 SPG (3 games)
Crowder did just about everything, offensively and defensively, for Marquette throughout the regular season. Because of that, he was very deserving of Big East Player of the Year honors.
That extraordinary versatility was on full display in Marquette's first two NCAA Tournament games. Arguably no other player in the NCAA Tournament had a bigger impact for his team in the first two rounds.
Against BYU in the Round of 64, Crowder's energy simply could not be matched. He led Marquette with 25 points and 16 rebounds, along with four assists and four steals. He also knocked down a trio of three-pointers in the 88-68 win.
In a tight contest with an extremely tough Murray State team in the Round of 32, Crowder once again emerged as the best player on the court. His 17-point, 13-rebound effort helped Marquette prevail in a game won thanks to a late 17-7 push by the Golden Eagles. In the first two rounds, Crowder combined for 42 points, 29 rebounds, and seven steals.
While his outstanding play got Marquette to the Sweet 16, Crowder could not maintain his insane production against a surging Florida team. He struggled shooting the ball throughout the game, hitting just 5-of-15 shots. While he finished with a solid 15 points and seven rebounds, it was not enough for Marquette to advance, as they lost 68-58 to the Gators.
Tournament Averages: 17.7 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 6 APG, 1.3 SPG (3 games)
If there is one player who did more for their team than Jae Crowder in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, it would be Draymond Green. That shouldn't be a surprise, given that he did just about everything for Michigan State all season, and throughout his career.
Green started off his final tournament run in dynamic fashion, with a triple-double (24 PTS, 12 REB and 10 AST) against Long Island. It was the only triple-double of the entire tournament.
In a slowdown, drag-it-out grinder against Saint Louis in the Round of 32, Green again led the way for Michigan State. His 16-point, 13-rebound, six-assist performance was the difference in ensuring he and the Spartans would get back to the Sweet 16, and have a shot at a third Final Four in his four-year career.
Things did not pan out as Green and his team had hoped, but that was not due to a lack of effort on his part. With 13 points and 16 boards in the regional semifinal against Louisville, it was Green's third double-double in as many tournament games.
Though Green ultimately struggled to generate consistent offense (5-of-17 shooting) against Louisville's brutal zone defense, his overall play throughout the tournament, and his career, was truly impressive.
Tournament Averages: 7 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 3.4 BPG (5 games)
Though his stats for the tournament aren't exactly overwhelming compared to many of the other players on this list, Dieng and his superb defense were the biggest key to Louisville's Final Four run.
Dieng was the reason that Draymond Green and Michigan State were knocked out in the Sweet 16. The sophomore from Senegal led Louisville's incredible defensive effort with seven blocked shots against the top-seeded Spartans. He also added nine rebounds and three steals, while his constant presence inside turned MSU into a one-dimensional, jump-shooting offense.
Dieng had a similar impact, though not as impressive statistically, in helping Louisville get to the Sweet 16. In the Round of 32 against New Mexico, Dieng had 10 rebounds and three blocks as the Cardinals held the Lobos to under 40 percent shooting and just 56 points total.
In the Final Four against the eventual-champion Kentucky, Dieng did not back down at all from Davis and company. He had 12 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end to help Louisville get second chance points and stay in the game. Dieng also added four blocks on the defensive end.
Louisville made it to the Final Four behind an outstanding defensive run over four games. Dieng was the literal centerpiece of that defense throughout the NCAA Tournament.
Tournament Averages: 10.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 5.2 APG, 3.2 SPG (5 games)
Like Dieng, Craft's biggest contributions to his team's success throughout the NCAA Tournament came on the defensive end.
Ohio State's sophomore point guard continually disrupted opposing guards when they had the ball. Against Syracuse in the East regional final, Craft had a big impact on the game despite scoring just five points. He held the Orange's dynamic guard Dion Waiters to just nine points on 2-of-8 shooting.
Craft also helped on other players with the ball, and forced many turnovers before they even realized Craft was near them. Just ask Cincinnati, who was victimized by Craft's six takeaways in Ohio State's 81-66 win in the Sweet 16.
However, Craft also stepped up on the offensive end when needed. Against Gonzaga in the Round of 32, Craft knocked down 7-of-9 shots for 17 points, his highest total of the tournament. When he wasn't hitting shots, he was dishing it to the likes of Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas. His 10 assists helped ensure the Buckeyes advanced to that Sweet 16 matchup with Cincinnati.
Craft was a bit less effective against Kansas (11 PTS, 3 AST, 4-11 FG) in the Final Four while committing a couple un-Craft-like mistakes late in the game. Regardless, Craft made quite a stamp on the tournament with his superior backcourt defense through Ohio State's run to New Orleans.
Tournament Averages: 12.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.2 APG (6 games)
When you play in the same frontcourt with Anthony Davis, sometimes you can fly under the radar a bit. Put Kidd-Gilchrist on at least 30 other teams, however, and he makes that team an instant Final Four contender.
From a statistical standpoint, MKG was nothing extraordinary, even within his own team. He was only the fourth leading scorer among Wildcat players over the six games in the NCAA Tournament. However, MKG played with a high intensity, especially on defense, that often didn't quite make its way to the stat sheet.
MKG proved he was more than capable of defending just about any position on the court. He wasn't blocking shots like Davis, but he forced many rushed shots, deeper shots, and turnovers from opposing ball-handlers. In a way, he was the first line of defense, with Davis taking care of things near the basket if need be.
On offense, MKG simply took what the defense and his teammates gave him. For the tournament, he hit exactly 60 percent of his shots (27-of-45). Many of those were dunks in transition or second chance opportunities from his hard work on the offensive glass.
Just like Davis, he is a freshman who played nothing remotely like a freshman throughout Kentucky's dominant NCAA Tournament run.
Tournament Averages: 7.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 5.2 BPG (6 games)
Why was Jared Sullinger relatively ineffective for Ohio State in their Final Four matchup with Kansas? The answer's pretty simple—Jeff Withey.
Withey gave Sullinger all kinds of problems whenever the Buckeye big man touched the ball. Sullinger never really solved those problems posed by the seven-footer. Withey held him to just 5-of-19 shooting from the floor, often forcing Sullinger to take shots from farther out than he wanted.
In addition to forcing tough shots all night from Sullinger and others, Withey also blocked several of those tough shots. He finished with seven blocks on the night, nearly double his point total (four). This type of stat line was nothing new for Withey, who had a ridiculous 10 blocks while scoring just eight points against NC State in the Sweet 16. That double-digit block game by Withey was the first of four consecutive dominant games for him on the defensive end.
In the regional final against North Carolina, Withey prevented the Tar Heel front line of Tyler Zeller and John Henson from getting too many good looks, or second chances, offensively. He held Zeller and Henson to 12 and 10 points respectively, and limited them to just three offensive boards combined. Withey also added three blocks for good measure, and forced UNC into an offensive funk down the stretch as Kansas pulled away.
In the title game against Kentucky, Withey still made a significant impact despite an average game statistically. He did have four blocks, but most notably held the Wildcat front line of Davis, Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to a combined 26 points (they averaged 38.6 for the year).
Withey's constant, dominating presence inside was one of the most noteworthy performances of this NCAA Tournament, and gave Kansas a realistic chance at a championship.
Tournament Averages: 17 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1 SPG, 1.8 BPG
Sullinger returned to Ohio State for his sophomore season, at least in part, to avenge last season's disappointing loss as a No. 1 seed to Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
With his play throughout the NCAA Tournament, Sullinger ensured there would not be a repeat of last year. He led OSU to a Final Four for the first time since the days of Greg Oden and Mike Conley, Jr., in 2007.
Though not overly dominant, Sullinger was consistently effective in each of Ohio State's wins to get to the Final Four. He did have double-doubles: a 12-point, 11-rebound effort against Loyola in the Round of 64, and a 23-point, 11-rebound performance against Cincinnati in the Sweet 16.
Sullinger's biggest game, however, came in the regional final against Syracuse. He had 19 points and seven rebounds, but he did a lot more than score against the Orange defense. He basically wore them out inside, consistently exploiting the Syracuse front line minus center Fab Melo. By the end of the game, he had helped to foul out two Orange players, while three others had four fouls.
His ability to tear apart Syracuse's zone defense from within was the biggest key in Ohio State getting to the Final Four.
Tournament Averages: 16.7 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG (6 games)
As great as Jeff Withey was on the defensive end for Kansas all season, it's hard to imagine where Kansas would have finished without Thomas Robinson.
An 18-point, 17-rebound showing in the title game against Kentucky was a fitting end to a season that saw Robinson rocket to the top of the National POY discussion after being just a role player a season ago.
Robinson, who averaged 17.7 PPG and 11.9 RPG for the season, lived up to his double-double average in the tournament, with four such performances in Kansas' six games. He was also extremely consistent from the Sweet 16 on, scoring 18 or 19 points in each of the four games.
A 18-point, nine-rebound game against UNC in the regional final from Robinson helped Kansas get to the Final Four. A similar 19-and-8 effort against Ohio State in the semifinal was just enough to complete the Jayhawks' unlikely run to the final game.
In some years, Robinson's tremendous game-in, game-out performances might have been enough to earn a championship. This was not one of those years, because of...
Tournament Averages: 13.7 PPG, 12.3 RPG, 4.2 BPG, 3 APG, 1.2 SPG (6 games)
Davis deservedly won Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors despite making just one field goal in the national title game. That pretty much says it all when it comes to just how good he was defensively throughout Kentucky's unstoppable roll through the NCAA Tournament.
Davis scored just six against Kansas in that game. Even if he had averaged just six points a game through the entire tournament, he would have made the top of this list. His presence on the defensive end of the floor was unlike any we've seen in the Final Four in quite a long time.
Just for good measure, Davis threw in impressive back-to-back 18-point efforts in the Elite Eight and Final Four to help ensure Kentucky reached the national championship game. Once there, he let his teammates do the scoring.