NCAA Tournament 2013: Most Impressive Performances from March Madness so Far
The NCAA tournament is all about moments we remember.
From big games, big dunks and buzzer-beaters to disappointing showings, the performances from college athletes in these moments have helped turn March Madness into the most exciting three-week stretch in sports.
The 2013 NCAA tournament is no exception to that madness, as the Elite Eight is now set, and we have a firm grasp on what it's going to take to get to the Final Four in Atlanta.
With a brief pause in the action before Saturday night's Elite Eight games get underway, now is as good a chance as any to take a look at some of the top performances this year in the Big Dance. From individual stars to teams that far exceeded their expectations, here's a look at the top performers from the tournament so far.
Marquette Guard Vander Blue
From big moments to big games, Vander Blue has done it all so far in the tournament.
You could argue he's been the best player so far in the entire 68-team field, in large part because Marquette was on the ropes against Davidson in the second round before the game was ever played and then again in the final minute.
His layup over Jake Cohen pushed the Golden Eagles out of the second round, and he exploded yet again in round of 32 with 29 points in a tight win over No. 6 Butler.
Blue was at it again on Thursday night, shooting over 50 percent from the field en route to a ho-hum 14-point performance as Marquette downed Miami. So far, the young guard has been the spark, the savior and the go-to guy for the Golden Eagles, and I can't wait to see what role he takes on next as Marquette prepares to battle Syracuse in the Elite Eight.
No disrespect to Florida Gulf Coast, but the low seed that has the best chance to win the NCAA tournament hails from Kansas.
How far will the run go for Wichita State?
The Wichita State Shockers finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference behind Creighton but haven't played like second-place finishers in any of their three tournament games so far this year.
From big man Carl Hall (if you haven't heard his remarkable story, do so here, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports' Jay Hart) to Cleanthony Early, the Shockers made short work of Pittsburgh (Big East), Gonzaga (WCC) and La Salle (Atlantic 10) en route a showdown with Ohio State (Big Ten) in the Elite Eight.
Malcolm Armstead and Ron Baker also make this team tick, and the inside presence (currently third in rebounds per game among remaining teams) combined with the unselfish play of the entire roster has Wichita State in position to shock the world yet again in the Elite Eight.
Temple Guard Khalif Wyatt
The 2012-13 season was full of big moments from Temple guard Khalif Wyatt, culminating with a heartbreaking loss to Indiana in the round of 32.
Wyatt, who finished 17th in the country in scoring at 19.8 points per game, exploded down the stretch of the regular season. He had a career-high 34 points against St. Joseph's in Atlantic 10 play, and his 33 points against Syracuse helped the Owls get the kind of signature win that helped secure a tournament spot.
His stellar play continued in the Big Dance.
Wyatt will likely go down as the leading per-game scorer in the 2013 tournament, averaging 31 points per game after two huge contests against North Carolina State and Indiana. He did it all for the Owls, making threes, getting to the foul line and almost securing what would have been one of the biggest upsets in program history.
It wasn't the end that Wyatt or Temple wanted, but the young guard will go down as one of the best players on the sport's biggest stage in 2013.
La Salle Forward Jerrell Wright
La Salle may be going home after the Sweet 16 loss to the Shockers, but forward Jerrell Wright was an unheralded reason why the Explorers won three tournament games this year.
With center Steve Zack out with a foot injury, Wright was the man in the middle for La Salle. He missed just five shots from the field in four games and was the main source of offense for the Explorers on Thursday night with the rest of the guard-heavy lineup struggling.
The highlight of his tournament excellence will go down as a 21-point, eight-rebound game to help knock off Kansas State in the second round.
Wright averaged just under 15 points per game in the Big Dance, and his efficiency from the field allowed guards Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland to shine in the first three rounds. It was a disappointing finish for La Salle, but Wright shouldn't hang his head for a second after his performance in March.
The Pac-12 got no respect from the selection committee.
Arizona, which spent a good part of the season in the AP Top 25, and Oregon, which won the Pac-12 tournament, both felt their seeds (No. 6 and No. 12, respectively) weren't indicative of the seasons they had and the talent that would be on display in March.
Both were right.
Arizona took down Belmont and Harvard before falling to Ohio State by just three points, while Oregon crashed the party with wins over top seeds Oklahoma State and Saint Louis in its first two games.
Despite a little bit of a setback (UCLA), the Pac-12 has proven itself to be worthy of the "underrated" card in this tournament. Arizona and Oregon both came out with a chip on their shoulder in the first three rounds, and it showed with big wins over good opponents.
Ohio State Forward DeShaun Thomas
Thomas has quietly put together an impressive tournament resume.
Who is Ohio State's X-factor going forward?
Building off his 19.7-point-per-game average during the regular season, Thomas has scored more than 20 points in each of Ohio State's first three tournament wins. He's also done so efficiently, shooting over 50 percent from each of the major categories in each game (field goal, three-point, free throw).
The Buckeyes will need Thomas to perform well again against an upstart Wichita State squad, but he's up for the challenge after a season in which he has totaled at least 11 points in every game. That's no typo—Thomas has been in double figures in all 36 of Ohio State's games this year.
Expect more of the same in the Elite Eight, and appreciate the efforts of the others on this list as we start to wind down what's been an incredible NCAA tournament.
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