March Madness 2013: Crucial Role Players to Watch in Sweet 16

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March Madness 2013: Crucial Role Players to Watch in Sweet 16
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Trey Burke? Ben McLemore? Michael Carter-Williams? Aaron Craft?

Yawn. 

It's certainly entertaining watching talented superstars take over the NCAA tournament, but as we enter the Sweet 16 and beyond, it's often the role players who play the most crucial parts in wins. 

Speaking of role players...

 

Arsalan Kazemi, Oregon

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

I went to the University of Washington, so I'm supposed to hate Oregon and everything the Ducks stand for, but Arsalan Kazemi makes that impossible. 

The Rice transfer is the ultimate role player. He never stops working and is an absolute joy to watch. 

While he only averages 9.3 points per game, the rest of his stats define a winner, with 9.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.1 steals and 0.6 blocks. He is—by far—the only player in America to rank in the top 50 in field-goal percentage, steal percentage and rebounding percentage. 

If I were starting a college basketball team and could only pick from current players, there are only a handful of guys I would take before the underrated Iranian star. 

Most of the time, Kazemi is the best, most versatile defender and most ferocious rebounder (at 6'7") on the court, and he's going to have to bring that toughness if the Ducks are going to keep up with Louisville.

 

LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

LaQuinton Ross is Ohio State's most talented player.

Yes, Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are obviously more effective college basketball players right now. However, if we're talking about long-term, NBA-quality players with gaudy skill sets, the sophomore wing is at the top of the food chain. 

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Ross' inconsistent, lackadaisical defense has often kept him off the court, and with unstable playing time, he hasn't been able to impact the offensive end like he is capable of.

During OSU's nail-biting win over Iowa State, that finally all changed (via CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein):

Ross poured in 17 points and three long balls, reminding everyone why he was such an elite recruit in the first place.

The Buckeyes have been searching for a consistent scorer behind Deshaun Thomas all year long, and Ross has always been the best candidate to fill that vital role. If Sunday's deadly performance was the turning point everyone has been waiting for, Ohio State is going to be a truly difficult out next week. 

 

Mitch McGary, Michigan

Perhaps the best personnel move of this tournament so far has been John Beilein moving freshman Mitch McGary into the starting lineup. 

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The big, strong, physical, fundamentally-sound, hard-working big man has tallied 34 points, 23 rebounds and three steals in Michigan's two big wins thus far. 

But 6'8" Jordan Dykstra and 6'9" Juvonte Reddic are not Jeff Withey.

McGary has quickly erased one of Michigan's biggest inconsistencies—interior presence—in the past week. His effectiveness against Kansas' 7'0" force down low will be unquestionably critical—perhaps even more so for the Wolverines' Elite Eight chances than Burke and their slew of talented scorers.

 

Link to Printable PDF

Link to Live Bracket

Follow all the exciting NCAA tournament action with March Madness Live.

 

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