Elite 8 Predictions: X-Factors Who Will Take Over 2014 NCAA Tournament

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 27: Kendall Pollard #22 of the Dayton Flyers celebrates after defeating the Stanford Cardinal 82-72 in a regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum on March 27, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

For a team to win an NCAA championship, every player has to contribute. Some are obviously more prominent than others, but there will always be one game and one crucial moment when a new face has to step up. 

The Chicago Bulls won many NBA titles with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, but Steve Kerr and John Paxson hit two of the biggest shots in franchise history. 

As the 2014 NCAA tournament moves closer to the Elite Eight, here are some underrated players who will make a difference on the path to the Final Four. 


Kendall Pollard, F, Dayton

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 27: Kendall Pollard #22 of the Dayton Flyers reacts after a shot against the Stanford Cardinal during a regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the FedExForum on March 27, 2014 in Memphis, Tennessee.  (Photo
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

How critical was Kendall Pollard in Dayton's Sweet 16 victory over Stanford on Thursday night? Consider this stat from Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated:

In his previous 17 games Dayton freshman Kendall Pollard scored a total of 24 points. He has 12 so far tonight.

— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 28, 2014

To do it as a freshman on this stage against a veteran Stanford team that has 12 upperclassmen on the roster is impressive. 

Now, Pollard and Dayton will have a tougher test in the Elite Eight against a Florida team that held UCLA, one of the best offensive teams in the nation, to 42 percent shooting from the floor and 16.7 percent shooting from three-point range. 

The Flyers played their first perfect game of the tournament against Stanford because they were able to dictate the tempo. That won't be the case against Florida, so Dayton will have to slow things down and find points wherever it can. 

Pollard is a 6'6" forward, the same height as Gators star Casey Prather, so if Dayton's young star wants to make his presence felt, he's going to be challenged. 

Dayton head coach Archie Miller knows his best chance to beat Florida is to match the size and intensity the Gators bring. Pollard has shown he can score when needed, and he's got the length to grab a handful of rebounds. 

Predicted stat line: 10 points (4-for-9, 2-3 free throws), four rebounds


Josh Gasser, G, Wisconsin Badgers

Dec 4, 2013; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Josh Gasser (21) holds the ball as Virginia Cavaliers guard Joe Harris (12) defends in the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. The Badgers won 48-38. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY S
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are times when the final score of a game indicates that one team played as close to perfect as possible. That's the conclusion anyone could draw from Wisconsin's 69-52 victory over Baylor in the Sweet 16. 

But players on the court, such as Wisconsin junior guard Josh Gasser, see the holes in the game and understand what has to be improved upon: 

Josh Gasser: "We played well, but we’ll need to play better against Arizona … if we want to keep playing.” #Badgers

— Benjamin Worgull (@TheBadgerNation) March 28, 2014

It would be hard for Wisconsin to play better than it did in the Sweet 16. It shot 52 percent from the floor and held Baylor to 31 percent shooting. 

Arizona is a different kind of animal, though. The Wildcats remain impressive on defense and limited San Diego State to just 39 percent shooting. 

Teams that have been able to defeat Arizona this season have shot well from three-point range. Take a look at these numbers from the Wildcats' four losses:

Arizona 3-Point FG Defense In Losses
Arizona State6-1833.3

Josh Gasser didn't have his best day against Baylor, shooting 0-for-5 from the floor, but he has been Wisconsin's best three-point shooter this season (44.8 percent). 

Bo Ryan teams used to get criticized for playing slowly and not scoring enough, but this is his best offensive club. Gasser has the touch to take over a game, and shooters never stay down too long. 

Prediction: 12 points (3-for-6 3-point field goals), four rebounds


Gabe York, G, Arizona Wildcats

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 27:  Gabe York #1 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates in the second half while taking on the San Diego State Aztecs during the regional semifinal of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Honda Center on March 27, 2014 in Anah
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Wisconsin doesn't have many weaknesses to exploit, but it has been vulnerable at times in the NCAA tournament when it comes to defending the three-point line. 

In the round of 32, Oregon torched the Badgers in the first half with five three-pointers made and a 49-37 lead at the break. Wisconsin buckled down in the second half, allowing the Ducks to make just three three-pointers and limiting them to 28 points. 

Arizona is known for its defensive acumen, but it has enough shooters to put up a lot of points in a short amount of time. The Wildcats ranked 28th in shooting percentage and 42nd in offensive efficiency.

Gabe York isn't Arizona's best overall shooter, hitting just 37.4 percent of his shots in 2014, but he is outstanding from the outside, shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range. He's there for the purpose of shooting three-pointers, with 148 of his 219 field-goal attempts coming from  behind the arc. 

Despite his shooting prowess, York had a game to forget against San Diego State, with just four points on 1-for-6 shooting. 

An old adage says that shooters shoot their way out of a slump. York has shown himself to be a reliable force from three-point range and can take advantage of a Wisconsin defense that has some mental lapses. 

Prediction: 11 points (3-for-7 3-point field goals), three rebounds


Note: Stats courtesy of SportsReference,.com unless otherwise noted. 

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