After two days of emotional basketball, the Elite Eight has concluded and the field for the Final Four has been set. The Louisville Cardinals, Wichita State Shockers, Michigan Wolverines and Syracuse Orange have advanced.
In order to achieve victory, each team will need a powerful impact to be made from an unsung hero—so who is the X-factor on every Atlanta-bound team?
We know what to expect from the stars, as they've developed reputations as prime-time performers throughout the season. What we're unaware of, however, is what type of performance we'll witness from the lesser-known players.
A positive impact is often the difference between success and failure for their respective teams.
To acknowledge the X-factors, it's imperative that we acknowledge the stars. For instance, Louisville is led by scoring guard Russ Smith and Michigan is fronted by Naismith award front-runner Trey Burke.
Syracuse and Wichita State, meanwhile, are balanced squads with quality point guards in Michael Carter-Williams and Malcolm Armstead.
While these four men are expected to perform at a high level, their supporting cast is the key to advancing to the national championship game. Fortunately for the contending teams, there are players to rely upon.
So which players must step up in order to take their respective teams to the national championship?
Louisville Cardinals—Luke Hancock, Guard/Forward
During one of the most tragic moments in NCAA history, Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered a severely broken leg. This left the Cardinals with a massive void in their rotation due to Ware's recent influx in playing time and responsibility.
To fill that absence, Luke Hancock will likely see a rise in minutes. His production must follow.
Hancock is Louisville's best remaining pure shooter at 37.0 percent from beyond the arc. He's also second on the team with 54 three-point field goals.
The only Cardinal with a higher three-point field-goal percentage was Ware at 40.7 percent.
Smith has played extraordinarily well on the offensive end of the floor, averaging 26.0 points per game. While he may continue such success against Wichita State, it's on Hancock to provide the perimeter punch.
Seeing as the Shockers hold opponents to 32.1 percent shooting from distance, Hancock's value has suddenly reached an all-time high.
Wichita State Shockers—Fred Van Vleet, Point Guard
For those concerned with a potential letdown against Louisville, know that the Wichita State Shockers are a legitimate contender. They possess supreme size down low and have high-quality guard play.
In order to defeat Louisville, however, they'll need freshman backup point guard Fred Van Vleet to put on the performance of a lifetime.
Van Vleet isn't the most well-known name on the roster, but he's the key to Wichita State's future success. Maclolm Armstead will pace the perimeter, while Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early will work it inside.
Matched up against the likes of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, however, points will be tough to come by.
For that reason, Wichita State must receive a quality offensive output from Van Vleet. The 5'11" freshman has proven capable, scoring 12 during the Shockers' Elite Eight upset.
He'll need that—and more—for Wichita State to pull off their greatest upset yet.
Michigan Wolverines—Nik Stauskas, Guard/Forward
Nik Stauskas was absolutely sensational during Michigan's 79-59 Elite Eight victory over Florida. He finished with 22 points and converted all six of his three-point field goals.
This comes after Stauskas made just two of his first 12 three-point attempts.
If Michigan is to take down Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone, Stauskas will need to come out firing. If he's unable to convert from distance, Michigan will find it difficult to score against Syracuse's zone.
For those who don't believe that to be true, note that Syracuse is allowing 45.8 points per game during the NCAA tournament.
Michigan will take part in an elite positional battle when NBA draft prospects Trey Burke and Michael Carter-Williams do battle. They'll also be tasked with slowing down impact shooters C.J. Fair and James Southerland.
If Michigan plans on winning, Stauskas better bring his A-game.
Syracuse Orange—Rakeem Christmas, Forward
Thus far during the NCAA tournament, big man Mitch McGary is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. McGary has worked his way into the paint, attacked the glass and worked his mid-range game to perfection.
In order to slow him down, the Orange must receive counter-production from Rakeem Christmas
Due to the fact that Syracuse runs a zone on defense, Christmas is unlikely to face him defensively. When Christmas has the ball, however, McGary is quite likely to be tasked with slowing him down.
Considering Christmas has yet to show up from a production standpoint during the 2013 NCAA tournament, don't count on his numbers being too flashy.
What Christmas can do, however, is prevent McGary from winning the effort plays down low. That's been the key to Michigan's offense, as they out-hustle opponents on the offensive glass.
With Christmas' season average of 1.8 blocks per game, protecting the rim should come naturally.