Top Players to Watch on Day 10 of NCAA Tournament
Two squads will punch the last couple of Final Four tickets on Sunday in a pair of heavyweight matchups that feature plenty of star power, both on the floor and on the sidelines.
Florida faces Michigan in a matchup that pits one of the best offenses in the country against one of the best defenses. The Wolverines rank No. 1 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com, while the Gators rank No. 2 in defensive efficiency.
Then, Louisville has a rematch with Duke in the final of the Midwest region. The Blue Devils beat the Cardinals, 76-71, back on Nov. 24. This game might feature the two best teams still alive heading into the Elite Eight.
Considering all the talent that will be on display, here are the top players to watch on Day 10 of the NCAA tournament.
8. Mitch McGary, Michigan
Playing his best basketball of the season, Mitch McGary has emerged as Michigan’s best low-post player. McGary provides great energy and toughness down low, while also posing a scoring threat.
In the regular season, McGary scored more than 12 points just once in 33 games. So far in the NCAA tournament, he has scored at least 13 points in each of Michigan’s three games. All told, McGary has averaged 19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds while shooting an amazing 75.7 percent from the floor.
He will go up against Florida big man Patric Young, who can match McGary’s mobility and strength. If McGary can get the better of Young down low, that will go a long way in determining whether Michigan gets back to the Final Four for the first time since 1993.
7. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
Florida’s defense starts with the ball pressure Scottie Wilbekin puts on the opposing point guard. Receiving increased minutes as a junior, Wilbekin has proven himself to be one of the elite perimeter defenders in the entire country.
He frustrated many of the nation's elite point guards throughout the regular season, and he has continued that trend in the NCAA tournament. Against Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16, Wilbekin helped force Eagles point guard Brett Comer into nine turnovers.
In the Elite Eight, Wilbekin will face the ultimate test in Michigan’s Trey Burke, a front-runner for national player of the year honors. Florida’s defensive effort against Burke will start with Wilbekin’s on-ball defense, and if he can’t make life difficult for Burke, it could be a long day for the Gators.
6. Gorgui Dieng, Louisville
Duke beat Louisville, 76-71, back on Nov. 24 in the Bahamas, but the Cardinals were without starting center Gorgui Dieng. He had an injured left wrist and missed seven games earlier in the season, starting with the matchup against the Blue Devils.
This time around, Louisville will be at full strength with Dieng in the lineup. He has played well in the NCAA tournament, shooting 14-of-16 from the field and playing his normal role of rim-protector.
Against Oregon in the Sweet 16, Dieng was a factor on both ends of the floor. He had 10 points, nine rebounds, four blocks, two steals and two assists.
Dieng will match up with Mason Plumlee, who scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the teams' first meeting.
5. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke
Rasheed Sulaimon has stepped up for Duke in the NCAA tournament, especially in the last two games. He scored 21 points in a win over Creighton and then netted 16 against Michigan State, knocking down 12-of-14 attempts from the free-throw line, which helped seal the victory.
More importantly, Sulaimon has been incredibly smart with the ball, not committing a single turnover in Duke’s three tournament games.
That will be big against Louisville’s pressure defense, which has 38 steals so far in three NCAA tournament games. Sulaimon will need to help out point guard Quinn Cook and take care of the ball like he has so far in the Big Dance.
4. Patric Young, Florida
Patric Young is one of the best post defenders in the country, despite the fact that he is not one of the premier shot-blockers in college basketball. He is strong and mobile, influencing the game with his positioning and rotations.
So far in the tournament, Young has averaged 8.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while only shooting 42.1 percent from the floor.
However, his numbers do not tell the whole story. Young can impact and control a game on the defensive end without dominating the stat sheet.
He will need to be the dominant post player on Sunday against Mitch McGary, Michigan’s 6’10”, 250-pound freshman. McGary is strong with an excellent motor, but Young has the tools and demeanor to neutralize the young Wolverine.
3. Trey Burke, Michigan
Late in the game against Kansas, Trey Burke showed why he is the front-runner for national player of the year.
He scored 23 points, including the game-tying three to force overtime, in the second half and overtime as Michigan overcame a 14-point second-half deficit to stun the Jayhawks.
It simply gave Burke his signature moment in a year where he has been far and away the best point guard in the country. For the season, Burke averages 18.9 points and 6.8 assists per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor.
Against Florida, Burke will have to navigate one of the best defenses in the country. The Gators do an excellent job of pressuring the ball and forcing turnovers on the perimeter.
If Burke can beat his man off the dribble, that will help the Wolverines get open looks offensively, whether Burke or his talented supporting cast takes the shots.
2. Seth Curry, Duke
Seth Curry has had a remarkable year, especially considering what he's had to endure this season. Curry has been bothered by a stress fracture in his right shin, and the injury keeps him from regularly participating in practices.
Despite the unusual circumstances, Curry has averaged 17.6 points per game, shooting 43.7 percent from beyond the arc.
In the NCAA tournament, he has elevated his game, especially in the Sweet 16 against Michigan State. Curry had 29 points and shot 6-of-9 from three, almost single-handedly carrying the Blue Devils to the Elite Eight for just the second time since 2004.
A couple of obstacles work against Curry in the matchup with Louisville. The first is the short turnaround, which can be problematic with his shin injury.
The second is Louisville's perimeter defense. The Cardinals have forced 56 turnovers in their first three tournament games, and they will do everything they can to harass Curry.
1. Russ Smith, Louisville
Russ Smith has been the best player in the tournament thus far. He has averaged 27.0 points per game with 3.7 steals, impacting the game on both ends of the floor.
Against Oregon in the Sweet 16, Smith went for 31 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while also making 12-of-14 from the free-throw line. When he plays like that, the Cardinals are almost impossible to beat.
However, Smith has a tendency to be a little out of control at times, forcing the issue offensively with bad shots and poor decisions.
In the first matchup against Duke, Smith had 17 points, but it took him 19 shots to get there. He also did not have a steal.
If Smith plays well, Louisville will advance to its second straight Final Four. If he doesn't, there will not be a No. 1 seed in the Final Four for just the fourth time in NCAA tournament history.