Sweet 16 Bracket: Biggest X-Factors for Round's Key Games

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 27, 2013

Mar 23, 2013; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) celebrates after the game against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the third round of the NCAA basketball tournament at The Palace. Michigan won 78-53. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If you take a look at the bracket as it is now, you'll be able to see that the Sweet 16 features some games that are not to be missed. Should certain players step up, the Elite Eight will be looking even better.

This is because the talent featured in the Sweet 16 is so deep that each and every game is going to be great to watch. That is, they will be if certain players can either maintain or improve their performances.

Some of the young men featured in this round have a lot of work to do if their teams are to take the next step forward, and their shining bright could be the key to that.

Unless this small handful of players continues to keep at their current pace, or improve upon it, then they will almost certainly be going home early.


Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas

To say that McLemore has struggled this tournament would be an understatement. Long story short, the redshirt freshman has been terrible.

After establishing himself as a great scorer and shooter in averaging 15.8 points per game, the wheels have fallen off in the tourney. McLemore is averaging just 6.5 points over the Jayhawks' two tournament games and is shooting just 14 percent from the field. He has not made one three-pointer.

Kansas is facing a tough Michigan squad in the Sweet 16, and a strong game from McLemore is essential to the Jayhawks advancing to the Elite Eight. Someone needs to keep up with the backcourt tandem of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, and nobody else on the team can do that as effectively as McLemore.

He had better right the ship, lest he want to become another freshman who didn't do well in the tourney.


Tim Hardaway Jr., SG, Michigan

We all love watching Hardaway Jr. play, but his streaky nature can be incredibly frustrating for Michigan fans. Fortunately, he has been effective in the tournament thus far.

Over the Wolverines' first two games, he has posted 17.5 points per game and shot 54 percent from the field, plus an eye-popping 66 percent from long range.

I can't even begin to say how important it is that Hardaway Jr. be in top form against Kansas. Combined with teammate Trey Burke, he needs to do all he can to be an absolute force on offense.

The junior guard must drive the lane just as well as he spots up for a three. If he's cold in one particular area, he must adjust and not try to shoot his way out of a slump.

Otherwise, the Wolverines can tack another bad loss onto their collective resumés.


Arsalan Kazemi, F, Oregon

Oregon has already taken out two solid squads in Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, and Kazemi has been a huge reason why. The Iranian senior is a pure hustle player, going after every rebound and not backing down from any battle on the interior.

He isn't the biggest at 6'7" and 226 pounds, but his intensity in the rebounding department this tournament has been reminiscent of Kenneth Faried. Kazemi only averaged 9.9 boards on the regular season but has posted an eye-popping 16.5 per contest in the tournament.

He and his Ducks will face a tough task in the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals, who play great on-ball defense and could easily do a great job containing Kazemi. This means that he needs to be in full hustle mode, not letting himself be defeated under any circumstances. He must chase each and every rebound, even if it requires an extra effort.

That alone could bring about a stunning upset in the Sweet 16, so Louisville had better have a concrete plan that involves stopping Kazemi completely.


*All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com