NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: Stars Who Will Shine Brightest in Elite 8

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 30, 2013

Mar 29, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Trey Burke (3) reacts after hitting a three-point shot to tie the game with six seconds against the Kansas Jayhawks in the second half during the semifinals of the South regional of the 2013 NCAA Tournament at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Several teams remaining in the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament in particular will need their biggest stars to step up in the Elite Eight to advance to the national semifinals in Atlanta.

Having a go-to player is an invaluable asset, as tight games in the midst of March Madness often come down to isolation plays. The trustworthy player is counted on to courageously take the big shots down the stretch.

The following top studs are made to do just that, and will be the top headliners to watch for as the Final Four field is locked in at the weekend's conclusion.


Vander Blue, G, Marquette Golden Eagles

Arguably no one has been more valuable to his team throughout the tournament than Blue. He is the unquestioned catalyst for the Golden Eagles' offense.

In fact, Marquette wouldn't even be in this position had it not been for his heroics. From the thrilling, game-winning layup to beat pesky No. 14 Davidson, to the Herculean 29-point effort against the stout defense of Butler, Blue has been nothing short of spectacular.

FOX Sports' Ben Maller documented the overall prowess Blue has shown in the tournament to date:

Another extremely tough matchup awaits in the Elite Eight against Syracuse, and another scoring bonanza from Blue will be necessary to get past the Orange.

Jim Boeheim's bunch stifled the Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16, holding their high-octane offense to just 50 points. Blue will have to sink his shots from the perimeter and weave his way through the lane that will be occupied by the deep rotation of bigs that Syracuse sports.

Thankfully for Blue, the Golden Eagles have the size to compete with the Orange thanks primarily to Chris Otule and the massive, 290-pound Davante Gardner. Junior forward Jamil Wilson also has the length to spread the floor, which should open up room for Blue to operate.

Blue struggled with just 7 points the last time Marquette faced its Big East rival, and Gardner's career-high 26 points was the key to the 74-71 victory.

However, this is Blue's time, and for the Golden Eagles to notch another victory, it will again fall on him to be the clutch player he has been throughout this magnificent Marquette run.


Deshaun Thomas, F, Ohio State Buckeyes

Thomas' versatility and size are going to give the Wichita State Shockers headaches in the West regional final. A massive part of the Shockers' amazing run to this point has been their ability to shut down the top perimeter scorers in each of their three games.

Unfortunately for Gregg Marshall's squad, the Buckeyes' most dangerous offensive threat doesn't completely rely on the three-point shot. It has been an outstanding showing for Thomas thus far, as he's averaging 22 points over the past three contests, sinking 23 of his 40 shots from the field.

Even though Thomas isn't the greatest shooter from beyond the arc, it doesn't stop him from pulling the trigger. The difference has been that they've been falling lately, as he's hit eight of 13 from deep in the tournament.

That type of efficiency caused ESPN's Rick Reilly to provide this humorous commentary:

Wichita State's Carl Hall will likely check Thomas, which should prove to be a tough matchup that will help the Buckeyes spread the floor.

With a stellar mid-range game and the capability to take opponents off the dribble, it will be uncomfortable for Hall to be defending far away from the hoop.

Look for Thomas to score another 20 points in keying Ohio State to its second consecutive Final Four appearance.


Trey Burke, G, Michigan Wolverines

In case there were any doubt as to just how good Burke is, his amazingly deep three-pointer knotted the game in Round 4 against the No. 1 seed Kansas Jayhawks.

There should have been concerns, considering Burke went scoreless in the first 20 minutes. All 23 of his points came after the halftime break.

Burke has been shouldering the load all year long for this up-and-down squad. Perhaps more impressively, his playmaking ability has made freshman forward Mitch McGary seem worthy of toting the same jersey that superstar and former Wolverine Chris Webber used to wear.

ESPN Stats & Info highlighted an incredible coincidence as Michigan prepares to take on head coach Billy Donovan's difficult Florida team:

Gators defensive specialist Scottie Wilbekin will be assigned to take on the electric sophomore, who is a Naismith Award finalist, and certainly backed it up facing the No. 1 field goal percentage defense in the country on Friday.

It's going to be an exciting battle to watch, but Burke has faced some of the best perimeter defenders in the country throughout the conference schedule, particularly Ohio State's Aaron Craft.

That should prepare Burke for this showdown, as should the Wolverines' two previous games. Since Tim Hardaway, Jr. is capable of handling the ball along with Glenn Robinson III, Burke can work off the ball.

Flying around off screens, he can pull up and shoot that sweet jumper, or threaten to crash the paint and either finish craftily underneath or find the open man.

Wilbekin should give him all that he can handle, but Burke's unique athleticism should allow him to create enough separation and have another monster performance.


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