Ranking the Biggest Secret Weapons in the Sweet 16
We've become familiar with a number of names and faces on each of the final 16 squads still standing in the NCAA tournament. Regular-season stars continue to command attention during March Madness, taking up their usual airtime on SportsCenter, but they can't claim titles alone.
When standout players go toe-to-toe during late stages of the tourney, it's up to supplemental pieces to make the difference. All 16 teams have reliable rotations, although depth ranges across the board.
Outside of a team's top tier of scoring options, there are a group of players capable of stepping up and delivering when called upon. These aren't the guys who land on magazine covers or billboards, but they ultimately make the difference in games that hang in the balance until the final horn.
Here's a look at some of the premier "secret weapons" that Sweet 16 coaches have at their disposal.
10. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
Fred Van Vleet is among the Shockers' stable of outstanding outside shooters. The freshman guard is hardly an accomplished player at the collegiate level, but he stood tall in the latter stages of an upset victory over Gonzaga.
He drained a dagger against the top-seeded Bulldogs. Van Vleet collected himself after momentarily losing his dribble and drilled a three-pointer as the shot clock neared zero.
The timely bucket put Wichita State ahead by five points with under a minute-and-a-half remaining. It was one of Van Vleet's two three-pointers in the contest.
He has hit 43 percent of his three-point attempts this season and continues to gain trust in coach Gregg Marshall's game plan.
9. Naadir Tharpe, Kansas
The sophomore scored a dozen points in two of the Jayhawks' past three games. Naadir Tharpe poured in four three-pointers against Kansas State during a victory in the Big 12 tournament title game.
He caught fire from beyond the arc again against North Carolina in the Round of 32. Tharpe buried a trio of three-pointers in a 70-58 victory over the Tar Heels.
The diminutive guard averages just shy of six points per game, but provides the Jayhawks with a perimeter sniper when he heats up.
8. Baye Keita, Syracuse
When you glance over Syracuse's season statistics, don't expect Baye Keita to jump out at you. The 6'10" junior averages four points and four rebounds in a modest 16 minutes per game.
The raw post player has yet to develop consistency, but he came up big in recent pressure-packed matchups. Keita scored 11 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action against California in the Round of 32.
He posted an impressive performance throughout a 58-55 overtime win against Georgetown in the Big East tournament semifinals. Keita tallied 13 points and eight rebounds, while converting all seven of his free-throw attempts.
7. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
Aaron Craft pushed Ohio State into the Sweet 16 with his dramatic game-winner against Iowa State. LaQuinton Ross helped carry the team to that decisive final possession with one of the best performances of his college career.
The 6'7" sophomore scored 17 points, his highest total of 2013, in the Buckeyes' 78-75 win. Ross canned three three-pointers in the contest and converted a pair of free throws.
Though he hasn't been counted on to contribute to that degree this season (7.7 scoring average), the Buckeyes become tougher to defend when Ross is confident.
6. Rion Brown, Miami
The junior guard has made Hurricanes fans happy with his effort in recent matchups. Rion Brown, who averages less than seven points per game, was shut out three times in ACC action but has broken into the rotation with a productive late March.
Brown scored 12 points and pulled down four rebounds against North Carolina in the conference championship. He torched Illinois in the Field of 32, tallying five three-pointers on his way to 21 points.
With Miami center Reggie Johnson lost for the season, there are more touches to go around. Brown should see his role increase in the Sweet 16 against Marquette.
5. Sam Mills, La Salle
The junior guard is a bulldog defender who often draws La Salle's most difficult one-on-one assignments Aside from averaging 11 points per game through three tournament contents, Sam Mills is the man this team turns to in times of duress.
Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson was making life miserable for the Explorers early in the Round of 32 matchup. La Salle opted to turn coverage duties over to Mills, who never allowed Henderson to erupt during the late stages of a 76-74 win.
Explorers coach John Giannini told Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
All of our guys are good defenders. That's why we have success. But during the timeout, I said, "Let Sam guard him. This is why we recruited him. He's tough. He's a great defender. Let Sam win this game." When Ramon heard that, he was, like, "Of course. Sam can shut him down." And that's how we all feel about it."
4. Carlos Emory, Oregon
Carlos Emory is only a 32 percent three-point shooter, but you wouldn't tell from watching him this month. The senior forward is hitting 54 percent of shot attempts from beyond the arc since Pac-12 tournament action started.
Emory emerged from Oregon's bench to score 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting against St. Louis in the Round of 32. The valuable reserve put on another super-sub performance with 20 points against UCLA in the conference tournament title-game victory.
3. Jamil Wilson, Marquette
Jamil Wilson is hitting his stride at the right time. The 6'7" junior posted double-digit scoring in two of the Golden Eagles' first eight Big East matchups before earning a more productive role in Buzz Williams' scheme.
Wilson has scored 10 or more points in 12 straight games and has 27 total points in two Marquette tournament wins. He hasn't cracked into the starting lineup, but Wilson is an invaluable part of the Golden Eagles' success.
2. Derrick Nix, Michigan State
The senior is cemented as a staple of the Spartans' lineup but he has quietly taken on a larger role during the recent postseason stretch. Derrick Nix registered two of his best games in the opening rounds of 2013 tournament action.
He scored 23 points and snatched 15 rebounds in a round of 64 win over Valparaiso. Those were his greatest 2013 totals in each of both of those categories.
Nix, a 6'9" power forward who averages 10 points and seven rebounds, followed that effort with 13 points and eight rebounds against Memphis. He is 15-of-26 from the floor during the tournament.
1. Mitch McGary, Michigan
The Wolverines feature one of the nation's most feared backcourt duos (Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway), but Mitch McGary makes life easier for the standout guards when he is successful inside. The 6'10" freshman provides a foundation in the frontcourt and is a relentless worker.
McGary averages seven points and six rebounds per game, but his impact continues to increase in March. He connected on 10-of-11 shots for 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds in a Round of 32 win over Virginia Commonwealth.
McGarry managed just one double-double during the regular season, but now has two in a nine-day span.
"That's Mitch McGary — he brings intensity to this game and he's kind of like our X-factor," Big Ten player of the year Trey Burke told the Associated Press via Fox News. "He's the guy that gives us the spark and makes our engine run in the frontcourt."