Although college basketball is not as star-driven as its professional cohort, the onus is on some of the nation's premier young talent to lead their team to the promised land.
The NCAA tournament has boiled down to four teams, all of which are composed of several superb youngsters. Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins received quick exits, while Joel Embiid never got a chance to play, but they're not the only players in college basketball worth watching.
It takes a team effort to survive March Madness, but some exceptional individual play has guided these teams deep down the bracket. Two more sterling performances could spawn a championship finish.
These marquee names are most essential to their team's success during the Final Four, which will take place on Saturday and Monday in Arlington, Texas.
|Sat., April 5||No. 1 Florida vs. No. 7 Connecticut||6:09 p.m.||TBS|
|Sat., April 5||No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 8 Kentucky||8:49 p.m.||TBS|
|Mon., April 7||National Championship (Teams TBD)||9:10 p.m.||CBS|
Shabazz Napier, G, UConn
Obvious, yes, but the Huskies have no chance of repeating December's upset without another brilliant effort from Shabazz Napier.
The senior has averaged 23.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game through four tournament matchups. Per SportsCenter's Twitter page, he has accounted for a huge chunk of the team's offense, which conjured up memories of a former Connecticut standout now making his living in the NBA.
This is nothing new for Napier, who leads the team in points (17.4), rebounds (5.9) and assists (4.9) this season. He also fueled UConn past Florida during the Gators' last loss, scoring 26 points—including five three-pointers and a buzzer-beater—to propel his squad to victory.
His long-range prowess could make or break UConn's Final Four run. During the tournament he has made 14 of 31 three-point attempts, giving him a 45.2 percentage. While he has become more efficient from downtown after every season, he has never shot above 40 percent over a full year.
Going up against the nation's toughest defense by KenPom's measure, he'll need to maintain his hot stroke behind the arc while passing, rebounding and playing strong defense. But that's all.
Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin
The Badgers have finally realized the weapon they have in center Frank Kaminsky, who has guided them to the Final Four with an enhanced role.
Before Feb. 15, Kaminsky had taken 10 or more shots in six of their 25 bouts. Since then, he has mustered double-digit attempts during 10 of 12 games. Over the past three games, he has averaged 22 points on 58.7 percent shooting, most recently recording 28 points to knock off No. 1 Arizona.
Frank Kaminsky carried Wisconsin all day. Goes for 28 Pts and 11 Reb to lead the Badgers to the Final Four. pic.twitter.com/AVZS4RGWMF— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 30, 2014
Once a role player only utilized in the right matchup, Kaminsky is now the key clog in Wisconsin's offense.
The 7-footer has a habit of lingering behind the three-point line, where he shot 37.8 percent on 2.6 attempts per game this season. But according to Sports Illustrated's Lindsay Schnell, the big man has learned to perfect his unorthodox scoring arsenal to become a better scorer down low.
In the summer, Kaminsky got committed to refining all parts of his game. Now, he speaks frankly about often being outmatched athletically, and how he counters that.
"I'm not the most athletic guy, and I can't really out-jump people, so I've got to do what I can to score," Kaminsky explained before the Arizona game. "That comes with pump fakes and pivots. In high school, I was just taller than people; I can't do that here."
Kentucky can match his size with fellow 7-footer Dakari Johnson, so Kaminsky must continue to outmaneuver his opponent without relying exclusively on his height.
Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky
Julius Randle is Kentucky's main attraction, and another double-double from the future pro would go a long way to sending the Wildcats into the Final Four. But it may not matter unless the Harrison brothers continue to play well.
Both Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison were considered prize freshmen recruits, but neither initially lived up to the lofty hype. Aaron served mostly as a one-dimensional scorer who scored 14.1 points per game on an unspectacular 42.4 field-goal percentage. Andrew has offered 3.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds per contest, but while shooting a putrid 37.1 percent.
March Madness, however, has provided a different story for the siblings. Aaron has averaged 16.0 points per game throughout the tournament, including a game-winner to eliminate Michigan in the Elite Eight.
Not to be outdone, Andrew is posting 12.3 points, 5.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds through tournament play.
Although they're identical twins, the Harrison brothers set the tone in different ways. Guard Dominique Hawkins described their contrasting styles to ESPN's Myron Medcalf.
"They've been very important," Hawkins said. "Andrew, he's been a vocal leader and he's been working on how to lead a team. Aaron, he's being a leader, too. But it's not by vocal. It's by what he's doing."
Their tournament progression is a major reason for Kentucky's surge, so the Wildcats need two more gems from Aaron and Andrew to keep winning.