Louisville G Russ Smith
The Sweet 16 is about to get "Russ-diculous."
Russ Smith has been one of the best players in the country up to this point. He's had a strong regular season and is continuing that play into the Big Dance. Smith was never one to shy away from the spotlight, and he's only continuing to embrace the stage.
The Louisville Cardinals have looked next to unbeatable this tournament, in large part to the stellar play of Smith. There's every reason to think he'll have another huge game against the Oregon Ducks. If that happens, it could very well turn into another Cardinals win.
Smith is just one of the star players in action Friday night. Here are three players who most need to step up in order to help their teams advance to the Elite Eight.
Ben McLemore, Kansas
Ben McLemore sure isn't playing like the Jayhawks' leading scorer. He's only scored 13 points in Kansas' two tournament wins, which is still 2.8 points short of his per-game averages.
McLemore's struggles were especially pronounced in the 70-58 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. Bill Self was asked if he would run plays to get McLemore in the game. Almost on cue, Kansas ran a play that gave the star the opportunity to finish an alley-oop. He promptly missed.
There's no way the Jayhawks can win if McLemore doesn't improve. Getting by the Heels and 16th-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers is one thing. It's another thing to have your leading scorer absent against the Michigan Wolverines.
Trey Burke, Michigan
Speaking of the Wolverines, Trey Burke rebounded in Michigan's romp of the VCU Rams. He really had a hard time against South Dakota State in the round of 64. The Jackrabbits held him to just 2-of-12 from the floor and six points.
It followed a less-than-stellar performance from Burke in the Big Ten tournament. In the Wolverines' 68-59 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, Burke only shot 8-of-22 for 19 points.
Having Burke score 20 points is good for the Wolverines, but only if those points come in an efficient manner. Michigan can't have him taking 20-plus shots and only making six or eight. He needs to find his shooting stroke against Kansas.
Damyean Dotson, Oregon
Only averaging 11.3 points a game, Damyean Dotson has stepped his game up in a major way during the tournament. He's scored 40 points over the Ducks' two wins. Even more importantly, Dotson has shot 8-of-15 from three-point range.
Dotson will need to continue that strong play if Oregon is to have any shot of upsetting top-seeded Louisville. The Cardinals have looked like the best team in the tournament. Smith in particular has played great for Louisville, easily living up to the hype.
A large part of the reason for Oregon's strong showings against the Saint Louis Billikens and Oklahoma State Cowboys is the play of Dotson. Should he struggle against the Cardinals, the Ducks will be dead in the water.
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