Elite Eight 2013: Biggest X-Factors in Saturday's Regional Final Matchups
Two tickets to the Final Four will be punched on Saturday as East and West Regional action comes to a close with two colossal Elite Eight matchups on opposite sides of the country.
In the first showdown, Big East rivals Marquette and Syracuse will go head-to-head for the second time this season in Washington. The second Elite Eight clash will feature Ohio State and Wichita State, who are set to square off in Los Angeles.
Although each team's stars are set to lead the way on Saturday, look for these X-factors to decide who moves on and who goes home.
LaQuinton Ross, No. 2 Ohio State
It seems Ohio State sophomore forward LaQuinton Ross saved his best basketball for the most important time of the year. Despite averaging just eight points per game this season, Ross has exploded in March, posting 17 points in each of the Buckeyes' last two wins over Iowa State and Arizona.
Perhaps Ross' biggest contribution, though, was his game-winning three-pointer against the Wildcats on Thursday night.
If Thad Matta and Ohio State can squeeze another clutch performance out of Ross —who's shooting 55 percent from downtown for the tournament —on Saturday night, the Buckeyes will likely be moving on to the Final Four for the second straight year.
Jamil Wilson, No. 3 Marquette
Marquette's Jamil Wilson has boosted his scoring output for the Golden Eagles this March, averaging slightly over 14 points per game over the course of the team's three wins over Davidson, Butler and Miami.
But Thursday's performance against the Hurricanes in the Sweet 16 demonstrated the incredible potential the junior forward has, whether it be as a rebounder, shot-blocker or sharpshooter.
Wilson scored 16 points, reeled in eight rebounds, blocked three shots and went 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in Marquette's surprising 10-point win over Miami, making a number of hustle plays as well that won't show up on the stat sheet.
Jerami Grant, No. 4 Syracuse
Although he's only a freshman averaging 14.5 minutes per game this season, Syracuse forward Jerami Grant proved on Thursday against Indiana that he can be a difference-maker when it matters.
Grant played just nine minutes in the Orange's 61-50 win over the Hoosiers in the Sweet 16, but scored four points, brought down three rebounds and recorded two big blocks. Jim Boeheim has got to love that sort of effort (via CNY Central's Jeremy Ryan):
Boeheim: I thought Baye was tremendous. Jerami Grant had an unbelievable block. He only played about 9 minutes and he was a +8.— Jeremy Ryan (@JeremyRyan44) March 29, 2013
At 6'8", Grant has the size to be a factor on the boards against a physical Marquette team, not to mention the ability to disrupt on defense. The 19-year-old didn't make a huge impact in Syracuse's three-point loss to the Golden Eagles on the road in February, but based on the way he's been playing this March, look for Grant to make some noise on Saturday.
Malcolm Armstead, No. 9 Wichita State
Shockers senior Malcolm Armstead is Wichita State's third-leading scorer this season. When he's hitting a high percentage of shots from the field, Gregg Marshall's squad is nearly unbeatable, as evidenced by the Shockers' success in the NCAA tournament this March.
The 6'0" guard is averaging 16 points per game for Wichita State in tournament play. But in the games in which Armstead shot better than 40 percent and scored at least 18 points, the Shockers have won by an average of 16 points.
Marshall and the Shockers will need Armstead to be at his best on Saturday evening, as his leadership in the back court and ability to score from almost anywhere on the floor makes him a huge key for Cinderella Wichita State.
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