Narratives are built around individual superstars, but championships are won by teams.
Don't get me wrong. Studs like Russ Smith, Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Kane and Nik Stauskas are certainly capable of taking games over and carrying their teams down the stretch, but if a national championship—or even just advancing to the Elite Eight—is the goal, those guys will eventually need help from players who don't get the same type of attention.
So, in addition to my picks for the upcoming slate of games, let's take a look at some vital players who are flying criminally far under the radar right now.
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Sweet 16 Schedule and Picks
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Picks|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|Thurs., March 27||No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||9:55 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Date||Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info||Prediction|
|Fri., March 28||No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|Fri., March 28||No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Iowa State|
|Fri., March 28||No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||9:40 p.m.||CBS||Louisville|
|Fri., March 28||No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||9:55 p.m.||TBS||Virginia|
Jordan Morgan, Michigan
With Mitch McGary sidelined, Michigan head coach John Beilein has been forced to deploy a less-traditional lineup that features four perimeter-oriented athletes around a single post player.
The man who has played the majority of those minutes as the lone big underneath is the same who was mostly watching from the bench last year as McGary became one of the NCAA tourney's darlings: Jordan Morgan.
And much like McGary did, Morgan is thriving in the tournament spotlight. Through two games, the senior from Detroit is averaging 12.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.
Who will be Michigan's most important player against Tennessee?
For a Wolverines team that is among the most efficient offensive units in America, Morgan is often mentioned after Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton and even Zak Irvin. But as an aggressive, productive rebounder and defender, Morgan is easily one of the most important players on the team.
“We would not be in the position over the last four years, but in particular this year, without that man, Jordan Morgan, our captain,” Beilein said, via the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder.
And against Tennessee, Captain Morgan will be especially crucial.
The Volunteers, per kenpom.com (subscription needed), rank fourth in the country in offensive rebound percentage and 18th in defensive rebounding percentage. Tennessee is one of the biggest, most physical teams in America, and with basically two Hulks on the interior in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, the Wolverines may have serious matchup problems.
Of course, Texas was the same way: two bigs in Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, and tremendous at cleaning up the glass.
Morgan was fantastic against the Longhorns, tallying 15 points, 10 rebounds and two steals while bullying Ridley. Texas still vacuumed up offensive rebounds, though, and Tennessee is basically a better, more-experienced version of the Longhorns on the inside.
If Michigan doesn't want to give up too much on the interior, Morgan will have to be at his best. Judging by his play as of late, especially against Ridley and Texas, that's no problem.
Jordan Adams, UCLA
Let's flash back to the Pac-12 championship game between Arizona and UCLA for a second.
As seemingly every other player on the court was becoming increasingly sloppy down the stretch, Jordan Adams picked the pocket of Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson, got his hand on another pass (which Arizona ultimately recovered, meaning it was a play that didn't show up in the box score) and buried a tightly contested game-winning three all in the matter of a couple minutes.
It was a highly impressive stretch on both ends of the court at the most important time of the season—a microcosm of what Adams brings to the Bruins.
Rush the Court's Andrew Murawa helped highlight his importance during UCLA's third-round win over Stephen F. Austin:
It was 57-43 when Jordan Adams went out. He's back in now and it is 57-50. Coincidence?— Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) March 22, 2014
The sophomore guard is averaging 17.4 points on 48.6 percent shooting, and 36.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc to go with 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and an absurd 2.7 steals per contest. According to kenpom.com, he is 90th in America in offensive rating, 134th in true-shooting percentage and eighth in steal percentage.
Just spellbinding numbers.
The amazingly unique and versatile Kyle Anderson deservedly gets much of the attention, but you aren't going to find many better—or undervalued—two-way players than Adams, who is getting his shot at redemption after missing last year's tourney with a broken foot.
London Perrantes, Virginia
True freshman London Perrantes has now played two NCAA tournament games in his career, totaling 69 minutes. During that time, where he runs point and typically does most of the ball-handling for Virginia, he has committed zero turnovers.
Zilch. Zippo. Nada. Goose egg. Big fat zero.
Not a bad NCAA debut for Virginia freshman PG London Perrantes. 36 minutes, 12 points, 6 assists, 0 turnovers. Simply unflappable.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 22, 2014
Ask someone who they think the best or most-important true freshman in the country has been this season, and there's a good chance you won't hear the name of Perrantes, who was ranked as the 30th-best point guard in the class of 2013.
But while he may not score like Jabari Parker, have the athleticism of Andrew Wiggins or Aaron Gordon or be the go-to guy down the stretch like Tyler Ennis, the true point guard is the engine that makes the Wahoos tick.
"I think it's London," teammate Anthony Gill said when asked who was Virginia's coach on the floor, via CBS Sports' Chip Patterson. "He keeps us all on track, and he's only a freshman. That's big for him to do. He's stepped up in a big way this year as far as leadership. He's Coach Bennett's eyes on the court."
In addition to his elite protection of the ball, in addition to his uncanny leadership for a true freshman and in addition to his sticky perimeter defense, Perrantes can shoot the ball a little bit, too.
Over his last 10 games, he is knocking down—wait for it—63.9 percent of his 3.6 three-point attempts per game (23-of-36).
With Michigan State senior Keith Appling in a funk, we are set for a suddenly compelling—and far more commensurate than most would have thought three months ago—point guard battle at the mecca of basketball on Friday night.