Stars get most of the credit when basketball teams win, and generally they deserve it. But every team has an x-factor who can key his team to victory.
In the Louisville Cardinals-Wichita State Shockers national semifinal, each team has a lesser-known player who is in position to play a vital role in his team’s success.
Filling in For Kevin Ware
The Cardinals grabbed an emotional win over the Duke Blue Devils after Kevin Ware’s unfortunate leg injury.
While the health and well being of Ware is most important, it is easy to forget that he played an important role off the bench.
Ware’s defense, ball-handling and energy will be missed.
The player who could be asked to fill Ware’s role is junior Tim Henderson. He played seven minutes and nailed a three-pointer late against Duke, but he only averaged 3.5 minutes per game this season.
Henderson isn’t as athletic as Ware, but the Louisville native hustles and can be a valuable asset as a three-point shooter.
The Cardinals' primary players are rock solid.
Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan will carry most of the load. But if Henderson can grab a few 50/50 balls, or nail a big shot from distance, it could be the biggest play(s) of the game.
Shockers’ Presence in the Middle
The Wichita State Shockers' entire roster may seem like x-factors to some, but its clear Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall are the team’s biggest contributors.
Early has averaged 16.7 points per game in the tournament and Hall has scored 10.7.
One Shockers player who hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard, but could still play a major role in the semifinal game is Ehimen Orukpe.
The 7-footer from Nigeria will be banging on the inside with Dieng, and his ability to hold his own on the offensive and defensive glass could be a major plus for the Shockers.
It would be unrealistic to expect much from Orukpe in the way of scoring, he only averaged 2.7 points per game in the regular season, but he could have an impact as a rebounder and shot blocker.
Dieng is a key to Louisville’s half-court defense.
His defensive rebounding and shot blocking protects the paint and puts the Cardinals in transition. The Shockers would love for Orukpe to extend a few possessions with offensive rebounds or even start the fast break.
He only played five minutes against Ohio State because the Buckeyes don’t have a presence in the middle like Dieng. But in Saturday night’s semifinal, Orukpe could come up big.
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