Michigan's Trey Burke is playing lights out basketball in the NCAA Tournament.
Now that we have finally reached the Final Four, is has become much easier to answer the all-important question: who is the best player left in the tournament?
At this point in the Big Dance, it is a given that each squad is exceptional as a team. But when you begin looking at individual players, certain players rise above the competition as unique talents.
Take Michigan’s Trey Burke, who reminded everyone why he is the best point guard in the country when he sunk a three against Kansas to send the Sweet 16 game to overtime on Friday night.
Wichita State has been lifted by the outstanding play of Cleanthony Early and Malcolm Armstead. Syracuse and Louisville both have a plethora of Big East talent on their rosters.
Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with the talent level of each Final Four team. Just because you have the best individual players does not guarantee you any victories. Just ask teams like Indiana or Kansas.
That said, all of these players are stars who have shined brightly in March. Some of these guys just happen to have dazzled a little more than others.
Michigan is going to dominate this list because their starting five is playing the best of any team in the country right now. Every one of them deserves some recognition for their postseason success.
Stauskas is the Wolverine with the least amount of hype. He has been overshadowed even more by the emergence of Mitch McGary, but that does not make him any less valuable to his team.
The 6’6” freshman is the team’s third leading scorer with 11.5 points per game. He is also Michigan’s sharpshooter, with a .449 three-point shooting percentage.
If Michigan wants to break down Syracuse’s zone, they better hope that Stauskas is hitting his long shots. If he is, defending the Wolverines will not be possible.
Dieng wins the award for most unpronounceable name of anyone left in the tournament field. Luckily for him he makes up for his tongue twister of a name with his game.
The man holds the record for most blocks in a single season at Louisville with 128. His career total of 184 blocks is the fourth most in Louisville history.
He is the anchor to Louisville’s defense, though he is no offensive slouch. Dieng is almost averaging a double-double with 10.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are bigger names than Dieng, but that is probably mostly because their names roll off the tongue a bit more easily.
The Cardinals need Dieng to make his presence known against Wichita State if they want to advance.
Hall was the Shockers’ second leading scorer this season with 12.5 points per game. He has been playing decent during Wichita State’s run, though he has yet to do anything particularly noteworthy.
He is only averaging 11.5 points per game so far in the tournament, with his best game being a 16-point and eight rebound effort against La Salle. Teammates Early and Armstead have overshadowed him so far.
Of course, Hall is still an integral cog in the Wichita State machine. They could really use a boost from a guy they have been counting on all year to lift them in tough situations.
Where did this guy come from? Wasn’t he supposed to be developing as a player, not dominating games in the Elite Eight? It looks like McGary did not get that memo.
The 6’10” freshman averaged a modest 7.4 points per game and 6.16 rebounds per game during the regular season.
McGary exploded against Kansas for 25 points and 14 rebounds. Can he do that consistently? Probably not.
But efforts like that are why the Wolverines are still alive. Syracuse better hope McGary does not even come close to replicating those numbers.
The 6’6” freshman has a lot to live up to being the son of Glenn Robinson, the NBA’s 1994 No. 1 overall draft pick.
That is an unfair amount of pressure to put on a freshman, but Robinson has been handling it well so far.
His main contribution so far in his young career has been helping to round out a dangerous Michigan starting lineup. Robinson’s 11 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game may not jump off the stat sheet, but they are an important part of the Wolverines’ plan to win a national championship.
If nothing else, Robinson is good for a statement dunk or two a game. A 360 fast-break slam is as good a way as any to fire up a team.
Southerland is half of Syracuse’s senior leadership. When the Orange get wound up, he is the calming influence that keeps his team’s collective head in the game.
The guy is the Orange’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, not to mention a lethal sharpshooter with a three-point shooting percentage of .456.
This is Southerland’s last ride in the NCAA Tournament. He is going to be doing everything it takes to win so he can go out with a bang. Michigan better be able to match the intensity he is sure to bring to that matchup.
Speaking of seniors spurring their teams to victory, you cannot have that conversation without mentioning Siva. He may be 6’0”, but he is the one at the controls for Louisville’s offense.
Forget about scoring; Siva has dished out 220 assists this season. If you were wondering why Louisville has the most balanced scoring of any team in the Final Four, that would be why.
Siva is the catalyst for the Cardinals’ offense and needs to continue taking control of games the way he has so far in the tournament. Wichita State better stay diligent or he will pick them apart.
If Dieng gets the award for most unpronounceable name, you have to give Early credit for having the most creative name of the bunch. Now that Wichita State is officially this year’s Cinderella, everyone can marvel at both his name and his skill set.
The 6’8” junior was his team’s leading scorer heading into the Big Dance. He started the tournament strong with a 21-point effort against the University of Pittsburgh and a 16-point game against Gonzaga.
He has cooled off since but is still contributing to the Shockers’ upsets.
The one question with Early right now is his health. He left the game against Ohio State midway through the second half with an ankle injury before returning a few minutes later.
Wichita State better hope his ankle does not nag him. If they want to go from Cinderellas to frontrunners, they need their star on top of his game.
Triche is the Orange’s other source of senior leadership along with Southerland. He has the tournament experience and basketball smarts to make sure Syracuse is always under control.
He is one of those guys who does not excel at one thing, but does everything pretty well. He is the Orange’s second leading scorer with 13.7 points per game. You can always expect him to chip in three or four assists and rebounds.
That kind of stability is what keeps teams competitive no matter the situation. Of course, Syracuse would not mind another 20-point effort like he had against Montana in the first round.
Wichita State needed a shot in the arm to get passed teams like Pitt, Gonzaga and Ohio State. That energy came in the form of Armstead, a 6’0” senior who has made sure his team never backs down.
He may only be his team’s third leading scorer, but his 22 points against Pitt prove he has it in him to carry the Shockers’ offense. His three steals against Ohio State are a reminder of his defensive prowess.
Hall and Early are arguably more talented than Armstead, but it will be his play that determines whether the Shockers can take down the behemoth that his Louisville.
Plus, anyone who Dick Vitale talks about this fondly has proven that he is worth some attention.
Michigan stockpiled children of former NBA greats this year. Between Robinson and Hardaway, the Wolverines appear to be trying to travel back in time to the 90’s.
Like Robinson, Hardaway is trying to make everyone forget about his father with his play. He is Michigan’s second leading scorer with 14.6 points per game and is the most reliable option Michigan has outside of Burke.
Considering Syracuse’s leading scorer, C.J. Fair, only averages 14.3 points per game, Hardaway needs to continue being the reliable second option he has been for Michigan all season.
If he can take the offensive load slightly off of Burke–something he has been doing all season–Michigan’s chances of winning skyrocket.
There is one statistic you need to know about Carter-Williams: He has 290 assists to his name so far. That is more than Burke, who only has 253.
The man clearly knows how to run an offense. He chipped in 24 points against Indiana and ended up with 12 points, six assists and eight rebounds against Marquette.
Carter-Williams accounts for a solid amount of his team’s points, so he needs to be on his A-game for the Orange to get past Michigan. Watching him match up with Burke should be epic.
Remember, dunks like this are the reason that (according to the announcer in the video) “a lot of coaches don’t play zone.”
Syracuse’s leading scorer is a dangerous weapon. He can shoot, slash and generally have his way with most defenses.
Fair averages 14.3 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. Not only is he a relatively efficient scorer with a shooting percentage of .471, but he is also even more lethal from outside, with a three-point percentage of .475.
He has been pretty consistent in his scoring this tournament, scoring 13, 18, 11 and 13 points in his last four games. Not the flashiest numbers in the world, but they get the job done.
As the best player on a Final Four team, Fair needs to maintain that productivity to ensure his Orange has a shot at the title.
Deciding between Smith and Burke for best overall player left in the tournament was ridiculously difficult. Burke barely edged Smith out, but that does not diminish how well Smith has played for the Cardinals
He went from a “sparkplug off the bench in many outings” last season (according to Louisville’s website) to the team’s leading scorer with 18.9 points per game.
He has been carrying the offensive load for Louisville all season. His total of 718 points this season is 342 points more Siva’s 376 overall points, which is the second leading mark on the team.
A force like Smith can help lift any team. The Cardinals are lucky to have him and his 26.0 points per game in the first four rounds on their side.
Was there really ever any question about this? Burke has been playing like the best college basketball player in the country all tournament long and has unequivocally earned this top spot.
Just look at all the accolades thrust upon him so far. He was Sports Illustrated’s National Player of the Year, Big Ten Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year.
His 23 points and 10 assists against Kansas (not to mention that 30-footer to force overtime) show exactly how Burke dominates games. Not only is he a prolific scorer, but he is also a distributor who makes everyone around him better.
He needs to have balanced games like that in order for Michigan to succeed. His 15 points, seven assists and eight rebounds against Florida is another prime example of how Burke can play within himself and still spark the Wolverines to victory.
With a leader like that, it is no wonder Michigan has stayed alive for as long as it has. Now the Wolverines will look to Burke to turn them from a nice story to national title winners for the first time since 1989.
Burke will probably be leaving for the NBA after this season, so he better make this postseason run count.