The NCAA tournament is down to the Final Four for 2013, with the two games slated for later this week bound to provide plenty of talking points.
Louisville, Wichita State, Syracuse and Michigan will battle it out for a place in the championship game, and to do so, they'll likely look to their big-name stars.
Guys like Russ Smith and Trey Burke—the players who have seemingly carried them in the tournament this far—will be looked to here in order to see their respective team through to the next round. However, as strong as they might be, it won't just be their presence that will be behind any victory.
Plenty of underrated stars could also have a profound impact for their respective teams. Read on to see which players will do it in the Final Four this year.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan Wolverines
Nik Stauskas isn't exactly flying under the radar anymore after chalking up 22 points and going an incredible 6-for-6 from beyond the arc in the Wolverines' big win over the Florida Gators.
But compared to the notoriety and attention that the likes of Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. receive, Stauskas is still a pretty big dark horse for Michigan.
As I noted in the Wolverines' win over the Gators:
The Gators' natural gravitas towards Burke will always mean that other players are open—something we saw again to be true throughout this one.
Stauskas needed only one dribble for his six three-pointers, with the majority coming from catch-and-shoot situations and good ball movement.
Moreover, once players like Stauskas start to get hot, defenses are forced to send extra assistance away from Burke. They cannot afford to leave the corner three as open as they might have been earlier in the game, and they cannot afford to drop everyone into the key once Burke or Hardaway starts slashing their way to the basket.
If Burke in particular starts to gain a good inside presence against the Syracuse Orange, then look for guys like Stauskas to come into the fray once more.
Syracuse is a very strong team defensively and rarely allows big plays against them—something that Stauskas definitely has the potential to provide.
Another big game from Stauskas could see Michigan through to the title game.
Nick Wiggins, Wichita State Shockers
For Wichita State to do what seems impossible and beat the Louisville Cardinals, two things have to happen. The first is they have to find a way to stop Russ Smith on defense, but the second is regarding their offense, which must be on fire against the No. 1 seed Louisville.
The Cardinals are the best defensive team in the country, and their perimeter defense is superb—meaning that the Shockers are going to need to shoot exceptionally well if they're going to win.
Enter Nick Wiggins, who has played all of 13 minutes this tournament.
Wiggins is one of the best three-point shooters that the Shockers have, and if they're going to knock off the Cardinals, then they're going to need to score points.
Averaging 0.425 percent from deep (31-of-73 for the year), Wiggins could light it up from deep and stun a few people. Or he could play his usual handful of minutes, chalk up a point or two and then make his way back onto the bench—either of which seem very valid here.
Peyton Siva, Louisville Cardinals
With Kevin Ware obviously out for the remainder of the tournament, Louisville will look to Peyton Siva as the man to provide assistance for Russ Smith.
Smith has been on an absolute tear so far in March Madness and is primed to be named the player of the tournament, but he too needs help offensively in order to be as effective in the Final Four.
Siva showed how important he can be for Louisville against Duke, with a big night. Unsurprisingly, his success came because he played more minutes than in any other game in the tournament this year, and with Ware out, he should see similar numbers in the Final Four.
The Cardinals guard leads the team in assists per game this year, and actually leads Smith and the rest of the team on steals per game as well. Look for him to have another big impact in the Final Four this year as he brings out the best in Smith and those around him.
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