No remaining tournament squad is without a talented scorer, but each team has made it this far by playing incredible team basketball. Winning in the Big Dance is bigger than just one player.
Winning also hinges on strong leadership, though, and the best leaders do so by example. We’ll see some pretty good ones in the Final Four, as each one sets out to prove he can carry his team to a championship on April 8.
All four teams have played strong defense through the first five rounds. Offensive leaders have to emerge for each team to hope to advance, and the following list ranks those potential scorers.
We’ll highlight the six players with the best chance to lead all scorers in the Final Four and break down how they have impacted the tournament thus far.
*All stats acquired from CBSSports.com. Game lines acquired from VegasInsider.com.
6. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan)
No. 4 Syracuse’s stifling 2-3 zone has been impregnable in the Big Dance. Holding opponents to just 45.8 points per game, the Orange have relied on their defense to advance out of the East Region for a showdown with No. 4 Michigan.
If the Wolverines hope to best Syracuse on Saturday, they need big performances from junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr., freshman guard Nik Stauskas and sophomore guard Trey Burke.
To beat the zone, Michigan has to take advantage of open looks created by rapid ball movement. Hardaway will be the beneficiary of that ball movement, and his 38.7 three-point percentage puts him in good position to knock down a lot of shots from beyond the arc against Syracuse’s zone.
5. Peyton Siva (Louisville)
Russ Smith has been No. 1 Louisville’s star scorer in the tournament, but senior guard Peyton Siva has been influential in keeping defenses honest against the 18.9 points-per-game scorer.
Siva contributed in a big way against Duke in the Elite Eight, accounting for 16 of the Cardinals’ 85 points. Center Gorgui Dieng should also get his share of points against No. 9 Wichita State, but look for Siva to post another 15-plus-point effort.
Louisville is a massive favorite in this contest, and it’s hard to envision a scenario in which the Cardinals don’t advance to the national title game. The Shockers will struggle to contain both Smith and Siva, and one of them is sure to lead all scorers in this matchup.
4. Malcolm Armstead (Wichita State)
West Region Most Outstanding Player Malcolm Armstead has been one of the biggest reasons for Wichita State’s Cinderella run. His 15.5 points-per-game average in the tournament leads the Shockers at the offensive end, and he’ll have to continue playing with the same potency if Wichita State is to upend Louisville.
The sheer volume of shots Armstead attempts makes him a legitimate possibility to be the leading scorer in the Final Four. He has lacked efficiency at times (21-of-59 from the field), but there’s no denying his scoring ability both as a slasher and mid-range shooter.
3. Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse)
C.J. Fair has been Syracuse’s leading scorer in the tournament, but sophomore guard Michael Carter-Williams boasts a 24-point scoring effort against Indiana and he has the potential to do the same against Michigan on Saturday.
Carter-Williams isn’t an efficient scorer, but he does take a lot of shots. In the Sweet 16 against the Hoosiers, the 6’6” guard attempted 19 shots, including six from three-point range. He’ll have to defer more to Fair, Brandon Triche and James Southerland if Syracuse hopes to upset the two-point favorite Wolverines, but expect Carter-Williams to get his share of looks.
2. Trey Burke (Michigan)
Hardaway will be Michigan’s X-factor on Saturday, but Burke has to be the team’s leading scorer. Against a defensive team as stifling as Syracuse, the Wolverines’ point guard must play the game of his life in order to keep dancing into Monday.
Burke has already shown how deadly he can be from behind the arc. His last-second shot in the second half against Kansas was the play of the tournament, and his 38.1 percent three-point average was third on the team in the regular season.
Strong guard play is the only thing that can sink Syracuse’s zone. Burke is among the best in the nation, and he’ll come up big in the Final Four.
1. Russ Smith (Louisville)
If Louisville continues its monumental run to a championship, there’s no way junior guard Ross Smith isn’t awarded tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
The leading scorer in the tournament, Smith has averaged 26 points per game, including a massive 31-point effort against the Oregon Ducks in the Sweet 16. He followed that up with a 23-point performance against Duke last round, and he’s proven himself as the unquestioned leader of Louisville’s potent offense.
With Siva’s emergence and the strong play of Dieng in the paint, the Cardinals have a three-headed scoring attack that Wichita State will struggle to contain. The Shockers counter with a talented guard duo of their own, but it won’t be able to slow down Smith and his surging Cardinals.
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