We've all heard ad-nauseam about Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams and Russ Smith—the three players with NBA futures who many think will dictate the result of Saturday's Final Four matchups.
But what about their teammates? The four schools that made the trip to the great state of Georgia did not just send one player. If they did, well, that will be embarrassing for all involved.
While those aforementioned stars deserve attention, we know what they can do. They've ascended all March long, and it's almost become expected that they will come through at this point. At a certain point, though, the superstar power balances itself out. That leads to closer games, better moments and, most importantly, great performances from players we didn't expect.
As just hours remain before Saturday's Final Four festivities kick off, the time to look at the matchups and identify those players before it happens is drawing to a close. Luckily, we're here to help.
With that in mind, here is a breakdown of a few players who should come through with huge games on Saturday—perhaps even bigger than their abundantly covered teammates.
Nik Stauskas (G, Michigan)
Throughout the lead up to the Wolverines' clash against Syracuse on Saturday, much has been made about the Orange's suffocating defense. Jim Boeheim's club allowed just 39 points to Marquette in the Elite Eight, which is the second time in four games the Orange have allowed fewer than 40 points. They are also the only team to allow such a minuscule output for opponents.
In the Round of 64, Syracuse simply out-talented 13th-seeded Montana. The Grizzlies were one of the most overrated teams in the field—even as a double-digit seed—and the notion they would be able to upset Syracuse was absurd. Against Marquette, Syracuse simply took advantage of the Golden Eagles' noted inability to shoot from distance, cramped the paint like a New York City apartment and called it a day.
It's been a virtuoso outing that has even seen Syracuse drop elite offenses like Indiana. Every time out, the Orange adjust their defense brilliantly—almost to the point that calling it a 2-3 zone is an injustice. Syracuse has athletes at every position, allowing on-the-fly adjustments that make the unit nearly amorphic.
Nevertheless, the Orange remain rooted in a zone set. As has been the case since man invented the zone defense, the key to defeating it has been shooting.
Though Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. remain Michigan's highest-volume and most recognizable outside scorers, Stauskas remains the Wolverines' most efficient. The freshman guard has knocked down a shade under 45 percent of his three-pointers this season, by far the best among the Wolverines' regular rotation players. Despite shooting less frequently, Stauskas has actually knocked down more shots from beyond the arc than his more lauded teammates.
Stauskas' March coming out party happened in the Elite Eight. He knocked down seven of his eight shot attempts, including all six three-pointers, en route to scoring a game-high 22 points. With Syracuse's zone undoubtedly looking to focus on Burke first, second and third, Stauskas will need to ascend.
If his performance a week ago is any indication, Stauskas should have no problem shining in Atlanta.
Gorgui Dieng (C, Louisville)
Speaking of players who had a coming out party in the Elite Eight, it's almost a shame Russ Smith's brilliance overshadowed Dieng's fantastic game.
The 6'11" junior controlled the paint against Duke, embarrassing the Blue Devils' drivers with a never-ending stream of blocks and shot alterations. Dieng finished the contest with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks—his second straight game with that many swats. Add that to the fact that Dieng did all of his damage in a mere 25 minutes due to foul trouble, and Wichita State could be in a whole heap of trouble on Saturday.
The Shockers have a ton of things: ingenuity, strong guard play, an undying will to win—size is just not one of those things. Seven-footer Ehimen Orukpe is on the roster, and technically part of the rotation, but he's combined for just 13 minutes over the past two games. That is over two minutes under his per-game average of 15.1 for the season.
Gregg Marshall doesn't use Orukpe in big moments because he doesn't trust him. He's the token tall guy. Marshall's trust and Orukpe's role are not going to change simply because Dieng is on the floor.
As such, Wichita State will likely be guarding the dominant big man with Carl Hall. The Shockers forward has the bulk, at 238 pounds, to handle Dieng down in the paint, but he's at least three inches shorter and will be at a massive disadvantage against the Cardinals star's length.
Rick Pitino doesn't need Dieng to have 20 points and 15 rebounds. Smith will take care of the volume scoring just fine.
However, Dieng's length on the inside will undoubtedly alter just about everything the Shockers do offensively. Malcolm Armstead has become a tournament darling by slashing to the hoop for buckets in the paint. That won't be so easy with Dieng lingering around, nor will anything Hall tries to do on the offensive end.
The box score may not initially indicate it when the clock strikes zero, but Dieng will be the most dominant force for any team in the Final Four.
James Southerland (F, Syracuse)
Excuse me if this is a spoiler, but Syracuse will not be able to hold Michigan to 39 points. The Wolverines have too many offensive weapons at every position on the court, and they are the nation's most efficient offense for a reason (per Ken Pomeroy). The combination of Burke, Stauskas and Hardaway is a handful for even the Orange to handle, and Mitch McGary's ascent in March makes things even more difficult.
To have even the slightest chance of winning on Saturday, Syracuse will have to do the one thing it has struggled to do all season: score from the outside. The Orange score only a quarter of their points from beyond the arc, ranking a cool 241st in the nation, per Ken Pomeroy.
That hasn't come back to bite them yet in the Big Dance, but it will on Saturday if they don't improve. The only player who has shown a consistent ability to knock down big shots for Boeheim's club has been Southerland.
Left for dead at the end of the regular season, Southerland's nifty three-point efficiency helped spur Syracuse's renaissance. The senior forward broke the Big East record for three-pointers made during the conference tournament with 19, helping inspire the confidence that has led Syracuse to the Final Four.
Southerland hasn't been as great during the Big Dance, but the potential for a huge performance is there.
More than once the Wolverines have shown a propensity for lackadaisical defensive performances. A team doesn't give up 84 points to a Penn State team that ranks 320th in effective field goal percentage without its fair share of problems. Michigan has been able to nip its laissez-faire attitude toward defense in the bud during the NCAA tournament, but the team that finished 6-6 is still lurking.
Southerland has to find it. If he doesn't, Syracuse will be taking an earlier-than-desired trip away from Atlanta.
All advanced stats are via KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
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