The Elite 8 is underway, and a small handful of players need to perform well in order for their respective teams to make the Final Four. The regional finals are no joke, and a bad performance in these games could follow a player for the rest of their career.
This is the absolute worst time to be streaky, and these young men have either been that in the tourney or at some point in the regular season. They need to step up their efforts, lest they want to go home early and earn the label of a goat.
Duke fans are still waiting for Ryan Kelly to show up, and other schools have to do more than just rely on one player to carry them in the clutch. Basketball is a team game, and this is the time for certain squads to showcase that in the best way possible: playing a great game and running a balanced attack.
If these young men can buy into that and get their legs under them, then their teams could be primed for a Final Four appearance.
Mitch McGary, F, Michigan
A 6'10", 250 pound freshman, McGary averaged 7.3 points and 6.1 rebounds on the regular season while shooting 60 percent from the field. For a freshman big man, that's pretty par for the course.
In the tournament, however, McGary has been a different man. He is averaging 19.6 points and 12.3 boards per contest, not to mention shooting an eye-popping 76 percent from the field. Against Kansas in the Sweet 16, he had 25 points and 14 rebounds as he was a force both in the paint and on the perimeter.
McGary's hot streak needs to continue against the feisty Florida Gators, who have a lot of momentum carrying them after they ended Florida Gulf Coast's Cinderella story. He needs to continue being a force in the middle, using his size to be dominant in every way possible. If he thinks teammates Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke will continue to carry the team forward, he's wrong.
And speaking of Tim Hardaway Jr...
Tim Hardaway Jr., G, Michigan
Hardaway Jr. was a great offensive catalyst for Michigan all season long, posting 14.8 points per game and shooting 39 percent from long range while also showing a great ability to work above the rim. The only problem was that he was streaky, and that showed against Kansas.
Hardaway Jr. scored just 10 points and shot only 4 of 11 from the field after being reliable as teammate Trey Burke's go-to guy on the wing in the Wolverines' two previous tournament games.
That cannot happen against Florida under any circumstances. The Gators are full of guards who can shoot the ball well, not to mention excellent post players, and Michigan is going to need a strong effort from everyone on the team from Hardaway Jr. to Nik Stauskas in order to advance to the Final Four.
If Hardaway is off his game again, then chances are the Wolverines will be going home earlier than they would like.
Ryan Kelly, F, Duke
During the regular season, Kelly posted 13.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils. Percentage-wise, he shot 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from long range. In the paint, he also managed 1.6 blocks.
His tournament has been the exact opposite of that type of production. In fact, the 6'11" senior has been a non-factor.
Over Duke's three tourney games, Kelly has averaged just 6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting a mere 29 percent from the field. He has not made a single three-point shot and the only redeeming numbers are his 2.7 blocks per contest.
While it's good that his interior defense has been par for the course, Duke really needs Kelly to get hot offensively. He is a phenomenal stretch 4 when called upon, and the team is only going to get as far as he takes them.
Otherwise, the Blue Devils will not be able to get past the fast-paced game of Louisville and thus be kept out of the Final Four.
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