Just eight teams remain in the NCAA tournament, and this year’s Elite Eight should be fascinating to watch, since the fates of so many teams hinge on one key player or another.
Basketball is certainly a team sport, but there are just a few x-factors in this tournament who could really tip the scales in one direction or another.
Between Michigan State’s Branden Dawson and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, it’s evident that one player can entirely change the complexion of a team.
Read on for a full schedule of the Elite Eight’s matchups, as well as some analysis of what Dawson and Stauskas mean to their respective teams.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
|Elite 8 Schedule|
|Matchup||Time (ET)||TV Info|
|(11) Dayton vs. (1) Florida||Saturday, 6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|(2) Wisconsin vs. (1) Arizona||Saturday, 8:49 p.m.||TBS|
|(7) Connecticut vs. (4) Michigan State||Sunday, 2:20 p.m.||CBS|
|(8) Kentucky vs. (2) Michigan||Sunday, 5:05 p.m.||CBS|
The Wolverines are a team that thrives on three-point shooting, and sophomore guard Nik Stauskas drives their long-distance shooting.
While Stauskas’ 6’6” frame means he’s a formidable player down low as well, it’s hard to deny that his 44.8 shooting percentage from beyond the arc is of paramount importance to the team.
“We’re all leaders on the court but Nik, just his demeanor, people really get confidence from that,” Michigan’s Spike Albrecht told Jo-Ann Barnas of the Detroit Free-Press.
He’s continued his shooting dominance during the tournament, hitting 50 percent, 44.4 percent and 37.5 percent of his three-balls in the team’s three games.
The Wolverines’ offense revolves entirely around their success from three-point range, as they score 34.9 percent of their points from beyond the arc, and Stauskas’ success can singlehandedly sway that stat in their favor.
However, he’s got plenty of athleticism to go along with his shooting, as this crazy sequence against Tennessee shows.
Any doubts about Stauskas’ importance should be allayed when looking at how the team did against the Volunteers when his shot was off.
In the first half, Stauskas hit a pair of threes and the Wolverines went into the locker room with a 45-34 lead.
It took him until the 3:41 mark of the second half to hit another, and he failed to do so for the remainder of the game, allowing the Volunteers to very nearly steal the game.
The Wolverines have a very tough matchup with the hot Kentucky Wildcats looming, and if they want a shot at winning, Stauskas will have to be accurate from downtown.
To put it simply, Branden Dawson is the difference between the Spartans playing decent basketball and the Spartans playing championship-caliber basketball.
Michigan State was 18-1 when he went out after breaking a bone his hand in an embarrassing incident with a training table but went 4-5 in his absence.
Although it took him a little while to find his groove again after returning, he’s averaging 20 points and nine rebounds per game in the tournament to power the Spartans.
"Dawson makes all the difference; he did today. He was a matchup problem for us,” Bennett told the Associated Press via ESPN.
He was especially good in the second half, stepping up when the team needed it most, as CBS Sports’ Jeff Borzello observed.
Dawson kept the Spartans in the game at a time when the Cavs seemed to have captured the momentum -- he scored all of MSU's second-half points until a dunk by Adreian Payne at the 10:29 mark. On the assist? Branden Dawson.
With Keith Appling still struggling on the offensive end, and Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine going cold from the perimeter against Virginia's defense, Dawson had to step up and be a difference-maker.
Despite standing just 6-foot-6, Dawson was absolutely relentless on the glass, crashing the boards for tip-ins and put-backs, while also corralling shots at the other end. He was aggressive when facing up in the paint against Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, using his strength and athleticism to finish against the bigger UVA post players. Dawson also consistently drew contact and got to the free-throw line.
His dominance was evident as the game wore on, and it’s perfectly demonstrated by this big dunk.
With Dawson’s return, Michigan State has the talent to win the whole thing this year.
They have plenty of veteran leadership with guys like Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, a coach who is intimately familiar with the tournament in Tom Izzo and the dominant Dawson to power the offense.
While Stauskas’ success could be the difference between Michigan merely making a Final Four appearance or bowing out to Kentucky, Dawson could be the difference for the Spartans as they try to win it all.