The Cinderella runs of Florida Gulf Coast, La Salle and other notable underdogs have overtaken the 2013 NCAA tournament, and it's possible that individual stars have become shunned from the spotlight in the process.
Considering the breadth of history going on in this season's Big Dance, individual performances falling by the wayside is understandable. Florida Gulf Coast's run will possibly go down as one of the greatest in NCAA tournament history, and while there have been plenty of great performances from stars, the 2012-13 season is relatively down for truly ascendant talent.
Nevertheless, every March there are a few players who seemingly rise to the occasion when it matters most. They aren't sure-fire NBA first-round picks, nor were they always their team's best player during the regular season. But come March, something has happened with these guys and turned them into superstars.
How will they make out in Thursday and Friday's contests? Here is a look at how a few breakout stars will fare during the Sweet 16.
Mark Lyons (G, Arizona)
Though he's gone underrated for much of his career, this is the third time in four years Lyons has helped lead a team to the Sweet 16. The first two came at Xavier, where Lyons was a critical reserve in 2010 and a titular figure in 2012 under head coach Chris Mack.
Now reunited with the coach that initially brought him to Xavier in the first place, Sean Miller, at Arizona, Lyons is once again bringing the ball up the floor for a contending team in March. Only this time, instead of being a part of a larger whole, Lyons is arguably the singular driving force behind the Wildcats' run.
Though two games in the 2013 tournament, Lyons is averaging 25 points a game, which is tied with Louisville's Russ Smith as the best among remaining players. Lyons has knocked down 20-of-32 shots (62.5 percent), including a very solid 6-of-13 from three-point land. Those numbers are drastically above his season averages and have been critical to Arizona blowing out its first two opponents.
To be fair, Lyons has done his dirty work against inferior teams. Neither Harvard nor Belmont were especially good defensive teams to begin with, and Lyons' speed off the dribble proved to be far too much for either team's guards to handle.
Ohio State won't have such a problem. Lyons will likely get a heavy dose of Aaron Craft on Thursday, who is arguably the nation's best perimeter defender. Craft is a smart, pesky defender whose quick hands and feet make him a menace to deal with on the outside. He helped force Iowa State's Will Clyburn into a 6-of-17 performance from the field in the round of 32, and should be riding high after knocking down the game-winning three-pointer.
It's hard to bet against Lyons after his first two games, but Craft has three season's worth of making opposing guards' lives a living, umm, warm place deep in the south.
Jeff Withey (C, Kansas)
For all of the talk about Ben McLemore, Withey has been equally as dominant, if not more so, all season. The senior seven-footer is averaging 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.9 blocks for the season, but has emerged as arguably the most paramount big man remaining in the Big Dance.
Heading into the Jayhawks' clash versus Michigan on Friday, Withey has put up 16.5 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks per game thus far. He understandably pummeled No. 16 seed Western Kentucky in the round of 64 and then, two days later, followed it with another great performance against North Carolina.
Withey's brilliance in the second half versus North Carolina was breathtaking at times. Kansas walked into halftime of that contest down nine points, looking every bit like the team that had lost three straight contests in February.
The story has already been told—the Jayhawks stormed back to go plus-21 in the second half en route to an easy win—but Withey's role has gone undersold. He took advantage of an undersized Tar Heels team, gobbling up rebounds with ease and protecting the rim against their cabal of athletic guards. Withey ended the contest with 16 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks.
McLemore's line when the clock struck zeros? Two points on 0-of-9 shooting (0-of-6 from beyond the arc) and five rebounds. Without Withey, it's possible that we're talking about North Carolina as a "Cinderella" and McLemore as the latest potential NBA prospect to submarine his draft stock with a terrible March performance.
As it stands, Withey and McLemore both will get at least one more opportunity to prove their worth. And while McLemore may find some difficulty against the Wolverines' stable of perimeter defenders, Withey will once again find himself alone on seven-footer island.
The best big man Michigan can throw at Withey is forward Mitch McGary. The 6'10" freshman made a habit out of bullying VCU in the Wolverines' round of 32 triumph, but he does not have much experience defending someone of Withey's size, strength and skill. Pushing 20-20 may be a little outlandish for Withey, but expect him to once again be Kansas' preeminent ruler on Friday.
Sherwood Brown (G, Florida Gulf Coast)
Sporting a Kenneth Faried hair style and a playing style nearly as flamboyant, Sherwood Brown has been one of three driving forces of Florida Gulf Coast's historic run to the Sweet 16. Alongside Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, this trio of players has captured the nation's attention with high-flying alley-oops, clutch shots and a fearless attitude that starts with head coach Andy Enfield.
It's not just that the Eagles are a historical anomaly. People love this team because of its utter disregard for the slow, downtrodden game college basketball has become and its embracing of the moment.
Brown, a senior guard, has been the team's leader all season. Averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds, Brown was considered a very good low-level Division I player prior to March. He can create off the dribble, knocks down three-pointers at a 38 percent rate for the season and has always had a sense of the moment.
It's what has made Brown one of the faces of this burgeoning young program since his arrival. In the tournament, it's only become more apparent what he means to Florida Gulf Coast. Brown had to sit for a long stretch during the first half of the Eagles' round of 32 matchup against San Diego State, and they walked into the break down by a point.
His return in conjunction with Thompson's breakout evening helped turn the game into a rout down the stretch.
It's hard to tell whether Brown and his cohorts will be able to keep it up against Florida. The Gators are a team that can look like the best in the nation at certain moments. They are equipped with the second-most efficient defense and third-most efficient offense in the country, per Ken Pomeroy, and have looked strong thus far in the Dance.
Brown will go up against a group of top-notch guards that includes seniors Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario. The odds, quite frankly, are against Brown and his teammates. But if we've learned anything so far in the 2013 NCAA tournament, it's that you can never count out Florida Gulf Coast until the clock strikes zero.
All advanced stats are via KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
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