Yesterday I broke down all of the Sweet 16 match-ups, so today I'm going to break down the key players on each team. Each player has been a very important component of their teams throughout the year, and will have to fit their role close to perfection.
University of Northern Iowa: Ali Farokhmanesh - Farokhmanesh is the hero of this tournament so far not just for Northern Iowa, but for fans across America.
After hitting the game winning shot against UNLV in the first round and sticking a dagger in Kansas with a gutsy three Farokhmanesh is becoming a household name. One of four Panthers averaging between 9 and 12 points in the regular season, Farokhmanesh has led his team in scoring both post season games with 17 and 16 points.
If UNI wants to continue their dream run Farokhmanesh is going to have to continue to score, and hit clutch shots at the end of the game.
Michigan State: Korie Lucious - After 2009 Big 10 player of the year went down with what appears to be a torn Achilles which will keep him sidelined for some time, Michigan St. needs backup Korie Lucious to step up.
Lucious filled in well after Lucas went down, scoring 13 points and dishing out 5 assists in 27 minutes of play against Maryland. Lucious hit his biggest shot of the game as time expired, a 3 pointer that gave Michigan State the lead, and sent them into the Sweet 16.
If the Spartans want to move on to the Elite 8, Lucious is going to have to limit his turnovers, and probably score in double digits while shooting a high percentage.
University of Tennessee: J.P. Prince - Earlier this year when Tennessee pulled off an upset over Kentucky they relied much on 20 points from Prince on 6-10 shooting from the field. If they want to compete against a tough nosed Buckeyes team that features superstar Evan Turner they are going to need an inspired performance by Prince.
Prince is long and lanky, giving him all of the tools that make him very difficult to guard and he the Vols are going to have to exploit every match up problem they can, and that's just what Prince could be.
Ohio St.: Evan Turner - Ohio State has possibly the best college basketball player in the country in Evan Turner and he is more than capable of carrying them all the way to the Final 4. Turner is averaging 20 points 9 rebounds and 6 assists per game, which is absolutely essential to the Buckeyes.
With Turner injured earlier this season the Buckeyes won 3 games against BAD teams (Presbyterian, Delaware St., Cleveland State) and lost their other 3 games to quality opponents (Butler, Wisconsin, Michigan).
With Turner on the court, Ohio States entire offense will run through him, so as Turner goes so does Ohio State. One key for Turner is to take care of the ball, he coughed it up 9 times in his previous game.
Syracuse: Wes Johnson - Johnson is hands down the best player on this Syracuse team. Much like Turner, without Johnson Syracuse wouldn't be near the team they are. Johnson is posting averages of 16.5 points, 8.5 points, and 2.3 assists per game and is a very well rounded player.
If Syracuse doesn't want to fall to an upset bid like fellow number one Kansas they definitely need Johnson to step up and be willing to take over the game.
Butler: Matt Howard - If Howard can get going down low against the Orange, odds are that Butler has a great chance to pull off the upset. Howard has struggled against teams with talented bigs and guys that can bang with him down low.
In Butler's seven point loss to Georgetown earlier this year Howard scored only nine points and fouled out after going only 1 for 9 from the field. For the Bulldogs to win they need Howard to stay out of foul trouble, not force the issue, and shoot a high percentage from the field. If Howard does all of those things don't be surprised if Butler is in the Elite 8.
Xavier: Jordan Crawford —Crawford is hands down the Musketeers best player, averaging 20.2 points per game. If Kansas State can lock down Crawford the way they held Jimmer Fredette in check this game won't even be close.
Crawford who is famed for dunking on Lebron James at a summer camp has come into his own this year. In addition to his 20 points per game, he is posting 2.9 assists, 4.8 boards, and 1.4 steals per game. Crawford shoots 46 percent from the field and if Kansas State can't slow him down, Xavier will move on.
Kansas State: Jacob Pullen —Pullen is one of the most electric guards in the country, and can score at will. Pullen put Kansas State on his back and carried them through the BYU game scoring 34 points while shooting 7 for 12 from three.
Pullen and back court mate Denis Clemente are an explosive back-court tandem who will be tough for any team to stop, whether they use a zone or man defense. If Pullen comes out of the gates hot, you could see one of the best performances of this tournament and a Wildcat team headed to the Elite 8.
Kentucky: John Wall— John Wall is the most talented player in NCAA Basketball this year. He is following the likes of Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans as point guards that John Calipari has coached that have jumped to the NBA after one season, and he might be the most talented yet.
Wall is averaging more assists per game with nine this NCAA Tournament than anyone else, and his distribution is a large part of the reason Kentucky wins. Wall is so quick that it is hard to guard him straight up so if he continues to draw double teams Kentucky needs him to continue to find open shooters.
Wall has the ability to take over any game at will, which is something we haven't seen him do much this year, but could come at any time. Look for Wall to get out and run on the less athletic Cornell, and don't be surprised if he puts up his biggest numbers this tournament.
Cornell: Jeff Foote— The Big Red's 7 foot Senior is the rock that they revolve around. He will have a tough match-up down low in DeMarcus Cousins who is one of the elite big men in all the NCAA. If Foote can play solid and hold his own against Cousins down low, the Big Red might actually stand a chance.
Washington: Quincy Pondexter —Qunicy Pondexter is one of the most loved players in Washington basketball history. On Senior night the fans absolutely went crazy for Pondexter who will no doubt find himself in the NBA next year.
Pondexter is averaging 19.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game and is the driving force behind the Huskies offense. Quincy hit a game winner against Marquette in the opening round of the tournament, and if Washington can keep it close again their is little doubt in who they will go to.
West Virginia: Da'Sean Butler —Butler is the engine that makes this West Virginia team run, and they run like a well oiled machine. Butler is leading the team with 17.5 points and 3.3 assists per game while chipping in a not to shabby 6.3 boards.
Coming out of a Big East tournament in which he hit not one but TWO game winning shots Butler's confidence is sky high, and look for that to shine through in this match-up with the Huskies.
Duke: Kyle Singler —Kyle Singler is one of the most versatile players in all of America and its no surprise that his team is still in this tournament. Singler can score in a variety of ways; he can post you up, hit the 3, or beat you off the dribble.
Singler is having a great year statistically averaging 17.7 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game and so far this tournament he has upped those averages. If Singler is shooting the ball well, he is a near unstoppable player, and if you can't stop him you can't stop Duke.
Purdue: E'Twaun Moore —E'Twaun Moore is clearly the go to guy in this Purdue offense since their loss of Robbie Hummel. Moore is averaging 16.4 points per game, but his points have become even more valuable since their second leading scorer went down with a torn ACL.
In an embarrassing loss to Minnesota in the Big 10 tournament Moore was 1 for 14 from the field, never got to the free throw line, and only scored two points. Moore's terrible performance absolutely crushed Purdue's offense as they only scored 42 points in the loss. If E'Twaun isn't getting to the basket and the foul line, and making those shot, you can consider Purdue's season over.
Baylor: Ekpe Udoh —The transfer from Michigan has completely changed the face of this Baylor Bears team. They went from a team that just tried to outscore you to a team that can slow the game down and come up with some big stops on the defensive end.
Ekpe is going to be charged with shutting down Omar Samhan in the Sweet 16 match up against St. Mary's and after setting the Big 12 record for shots blocked in a season he is completely capable of doing just that.
Udoh is also averaging 13.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and the Bears will need to get him going on the offensive end to help open up shots for guards LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter.
St. Mary's: Mickey McConnel l—In an 80-61 loss to Gonzaga earlier this season McConnel flat out didn't show up. He played 33 minutes, missed all 5 of his shots, turned the ball over 4 times and didn't score.
If the Gaels want to beat a tough Baylor Bears team they can't have their second leading scorer (14 ppg) not show up. McConnell needs to come out ready to shoot the ball and shoot it often against a Baylor zone that has shown that it can be beat if the other team knocks down the open 3, and McConnell hits 51% of his threes. If McConnell gets hot, the Bears will be headed home to Waco well before they want to be.
If all of these players play up to their potential we will be in for another incredible round of games that will include an array of wild finishes.
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