A pair of underrated national championship contenders will square off in the nation's capital on Thursday when the second-seeded Miami Hurricanes and third-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles meet in the first of eight Sweet 16 matchups in the 2013 NCAA tournament this March.
Miami is favored by 5.5 points, according to Covers.com, but will be without senior center Reggie Johnson after he suffered a knee injury in the Hurricanes' win over Illinois this past weekend. Meanwhile, Marquette is lucky to have made it this far, after surviving a scare from 14th-seeded Davidson in the round of 64.
With tipoff upcoming, here we'll highlight a trio of under-the-radar game-changers fans should be watching for in this much-anticipated East regional semifinal.
Rion Brown, Miami Hurricanes
Junior guard Rion Brown is averaging just 6.5 points per game on 38 percent shooting from the field for Miami this season, but his performance in the NCAA tournament thus far suggests that the 6'6" stud is a superstar in the making.
Brown came off the bench in both of the Hurricanes' wins over Pacific and Illinois in the second and third round. He combined to score 30 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor (8-of-13 from beyond the arc).
Brown's 15-point per-game average in the tournament this March leads Miami, and so do his eight made three-pointers.
Just days after scoring one-third of the Hurricanes' points in a 63-59 win over Illinois in the round of 32, Brown will be under pressure to produce a similar effort against Marquette if the Hurricanes are to keep on marching into the Elite Eight.
Jamil Wilson, Marquette Golden Eagles
Jamil Wilson is averaging 13.5 points per game for Marquette through the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. The team's third-leading scorer this season, Wilson was huge at the free-throw line and on the glass for the Golden Eagles in two narrow wins over Davidson and Butler.
He combined to pick up 10 rebounds and shoot 8-of-10 at the foul line in the two victories.
Like Brown, Wilson has been coming off the bench this March, providing a scoring lift and plenty of help on the boards for Buzz Williams' squad.
A 6'7" junior from Wisconsin, Wilson has become more than just a role player for the Eagles. He's a game-changer for Marquette, evidenced by the starter minutes he received in Saturday night's thrilling win over Butler in the round of 32.
Trey McKinney Jones, Miami Hurricanes
Although Miami senior guard Trey McKinney Jones has gone unnoticed to start the NCAA tournament (11 total points), the 6'5" sharpshooter is without question a game changer for Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes.
A 39 percent three-point shooter this season, McKinney Jones has gone 3-of-7 from beyond the arc in Miami's two wins. While the Milwaukee native is attempting just four three-pointers per game this season, it's his breakout performances every now and then—like his 20-point effort against North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game—that make him a game-changing talent.
Miami doesn't need McKinney Jones to shoot 6-of-9 from downtown on Thursday night in order to win. However, if he can knock down a high percentage of outside shots or at least hit the meaningful ones in big moments, his performance could very well be the one that sends the Hurricanes to the Elite Eight for the first time in the program's history.
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