The term "X-factor" has become quite the word to describe players who can completely change the flavor of a game.
While the origin of the word might be a bit shaky, the NCAA tournament resumes of the 2013 Final Four teams are not as debatable. Syracuse, Michigan, Louisville and Wichita State are the last four teams standing from the original 68-team field, and after Saturday's games, only two will remain.
In an effort to look at both of these matchups from every angle, determining each team's X-factor is a logical conclusion. While the efforts of every one of these collegiate athletes will help accomplish (or fall short of) the ultimate goal, sometimes one player is more important than the other nine on the court.
That being said, here's a look at both Final Four matchups scheduled for Saturday in Atlanta, and the four X-factors you should pay attention to as things get heated with a bid to next Monday night's championship game on the line.
No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 9 Wichita State
When: Saturday, 6:09 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta
Betting Line: Louisville -10.5 (via SportsBook)
Game 1 X-factors
Louisville: G Peyton Siva
Siva has only made a modest impact on the tournament compared to teammate and Louisville's leading scorer Russ Smith, but his impact against Wichita State could help determine the oucome.
For starters, Siva will be tasked with going up against tournament standout guard Malcolm Armstead and asked to stay on the court and out of foul trouble more with Kevin Ware's injury. He will also have to help run an offense against a Wichita State team that has been solid on defense so far.
It's a tall task, but Siva is up to the challenge.
The two-time Big East tournament's Most Outstanding Player is no stranger to the spotlight. His most-recent heroics included an 11-point, eight-assist, four-steal game against Syracuse in the Big East tournament championship game, and Siva will be eager to erase a dud of a performance in last year's Final Four loss to Kentucky.
Make no mistake—Smith might be the scorer, and Gorgui Dieng might be the rim-defender, but Siva is the leader of this Louisville team. As such, he gets the biggest nod as the X-factor for Rick Pitino's Cards.
Wichita State: G Malcolm Armstead
The West Region's Most Outstanding Player has a tall task at hand.
For starters, he must go toe to toe with two of the nation's top guards, while also setting up Wichita State's offense, avoid turnovers when Louisville decides to press and keep up his scoring prowess from the first four games.
A tall task indeed.
However, Armstead has the one-on-one ability to get to the rim against Louisville's guards and should draw a crowd in the paint. His turnover number will be critical—if it's higher than five, I think the Shockers lose by 15.
Those are strong words, but strong guard-play is irreplaceable at this stage of the tournament, especially when you are going up against one of the strongest two-guard tandems in college hoops today.
No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 4 Syracuse
When: Saturday, 8:49 p.m. ET
Where: Georgia Dome; Atlanta
Betting Line: Michigan -2 (via SportsBook)
Game 2 X-factors
Michigan: F Mitch McGary
McGary has been the X-factor for the Wolverines all tournament, and that won't change in the Final Four against Syracuse.
While one of the obvious choices for this spot is any of Michigan's talented outside shooters, developing an inside game to help close down the pursuit of Syracuse's 2-3 zone is invaluable when watching how spread out Syracuse has been able to extend its defense so far.
Averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds, McGary is dangerously close to doubling both of his regular-season averages in those categories, and has gone head to head against some of the best big men in the game (Jeff Withey, Erik Murphy, Patric Young) without blinking an eye.
Similarly, he'll have to go up against a talented group of big men on Saturday. However, his challenge will be different.
John Beilein needs McGary to attack the weak points of Syracuse's 2-3 zone (free-throw line, high corner screen) in an attempt to break down Syracuse's defensive game plan. If there are no rebounding or inside-scoring threats, Syracuse will continue to extend as it looks to make Louisville another three-point shooting percentage casualty with the Orangemen's opponents only shooting 17.2 percent from three-point range in four games).
As he's proven in a starting role, McGary is quite dangerous in this four-guard attack.
Syracuse: F James Southerland
Michael Carter-Williams has grabbed most of the Syracuse headlines heading into the Final Four and he should. MCW has been lights out so far and is likely a top-10 pick in the 2013 NBA draft because of it.
However, Southerland is arguably Syracuse's most dangerous offensive player, in large part because he's so dangerous from the three-point line. When he's clicking on offense, the rest of the Syracuse offense usually follows. When he's not, the team can struggle—hence most of Syracuse's offensive inadequacies this season.
The Orange need Southerland to catch fire from the outside.
If the senior forward can be the catch-and-shoot option off of the penetration of MCW and Brandon Triche, Michigan will have a matchup nightmare on its hands. Defending the penetration is hard enough, but adding a stone-cold shooter could turn this game into a major shootout.
So far, the biggest hero of the tournament has not emerged. Expect these four players to have a big say in not only what their teams tally on the scoreboard Saturday night, but also as to whether they move on.
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