NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Hottest Players Heading into Friday's Action

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NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Hottest Players Heading into Friday's Action
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Louisville's Russ Smith is one of the hottest players set to take the court on Friday, when the second day of Sweet 16 action commences for the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament.

Winning the tourney hinges upon teams and players getting hot at the right time.

Gonzaga was the top team in the nation heading into the tournament, but the Bulldogs were run out of the gym by Wichita State. 

These players will give their teams a terrific chance to win on Friday, should they continue to shoot the lights out like they've been doing thus far.

 

Russ Smith, Guard, Louisville

Smith has been a leader on the court for the Cardinals all year long, averaging 18.4 points per game while adding more than three assists and three rebounds per game.

He's stepped up his game to a whole other level in the team's first two contests, scoring 50 points and racking up an incredible 10 steals in those games. He has made 17-of-31 field-goal attempts, including 5-of-11 three-point shots.

Louisville's success is predicated on a relentless defensive strategy that puts unending pressure on opposing guards to play a flawless game. This team forces more steals than any other team in the nation besides VCU, averaging 11 steals per contest.

This defensive pressure, combined with Smith's red-hot shooting, makes Louisville a heavy favorite heading into its Friday night matchup against Oregon. 

 

Bernard Thompson, Guard, FGCU

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Florida Gulf Coast has entered uncharted waters, becoming the first No. 15 seed to ever make it to the Sweet 16, and Thompson's stellar play has everything to do with the team's success.

In both of the Eagles' first two games of the tournament, Thompson has scored 23 points, shooting at a 50-percent clip (including 5-of-12 three-point shots), but his ability to score is only part of the equation.

Thompson is also a terrific rebounding guard and a relentless defender. He has hauled in 11 rebounds and swiped six steals in the team's two tournament games, while only turning the ball over four times.

FCGU isn't expected to win on Friday against Florida, but if Thompson can continue to make big plays on offense, on the boards and in passing lanes, the Eagles have a shot to continue their Cinderella run in 2013. 

 

Tim Hardaway Jr., Guard, Michigan

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Michigan has a fantastic chance to knock off Kansas in the Sweet 16, thanks in part to Hardaway and the rest of the team's guards.

Hardaway hasn't lit up the board like Thompson or Smith, scoring just 35 points in the Wolverines' first two games. But where he's made his mark in the tourney, and what makes him extremely dangerous at this point for Kansas, is from behind the arc.

The guard has connected on 8-of-12 three-point attempts thus far, and his ability to drain deep shots will be a deciding factor for Michigan in its contest against the Jayhawks on Friday. 

Another facet of Hardaway's game that hasn't been lauded as much as his shooting is that he's only turned the ball over two times thus far. Excellent shooting plus ball security equals a victory for the Wolverines. 

 

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Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 

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