2011 NCAA Tournament: Kemba Walker and 10 Players Who Could Shape the Sweet 16
Tomorrow, the Sweet 16 begins. In the 2011 NCAA Tournament thus far, we have seen many upsets that practically nobody saw coming. A top seed has already been eliminated and an No. 10 seed will be facing an No. 11 in one of the upcoming games.
With all of the talented squads facing off against each other in this round, there are of course a number of players who could be the heroes for their team. Will it be the Morris twins of the Kansas Jayhawks or Connecticut's killer husky in Kemba Walker (pictured at left)?
Here are 10 players who, if their play brings their team to the Elite Eight, could be the MVPs of the Sweet 16.
No. 10: Kevin Anderson, Richmond
After the Richmond Spiders won the A-10 Tournament, many thought they had a real shot to do well in the big dance. Since then, the team has answered the bell and more. The No. 12 Spiders knocked off No. 5 Vanderbilt before taking care of Morehead State, who had upset Rick Pitino and Louisville.
The man behind Richmond's success is senior guard Kevin Anderson, who has averaged 19.5 points per game in the tournament. Anderson and his team have their biggest test coming up in the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks, and if he is on his game, don't be surprised if this game isn't a total blowout.
Anderson could use his excellent jump shot and skills driving to the basket to give Bill Self's squad a hard time, and if he is really on his game, chances are that another No. 1 seed will be gone.
No. 9: Bernard James, Florida State
When people think of the Florida State men's basketball team, they automatically think of Chris Singleton. Yet, the Seminoles are in the Sweet 16 and Singleton has been a near non-factor as he slowly makes his return from a broken foot.
Rather, it has been the 26-year-old Bernard James who has stepped up for Florida State. In the tournament, he has averaged three blocks a game. In the game in which his team shocked the nation and defeated No. 2 Notre Dame, James scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
With Virginia Commonwealth on the horizon and Singleton still hurting, look for James to get the ball more often as he helps pave the road that ends with a spot in the Elite Eight.
No. 8: Derrick Williams, Arizona
For the longest time, the University of Arizona has been labeled as a guards' system: one or two excellent shooters with an above-average big man in the middle. This year, Derrick Williams has redefined that system.
The 6'8", 241 pound forward averaged 19.1 points and eight rebounds on the season as the Wildcats played their way to a No. 5 seed. In the tournament, he has averaged 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Next on his team's battle list are the Duke Blue Devils, and if Coach K's squad can't contain this sophomore from La Mirada, California, chances are that many brackets around the nation will be busted.
No. 7: Aaron Craft, Ohio State
In Ohio State's first game against UTSA, Craft was essentially a non-factor. He scored no points off of the bench, but had seven assists as the Buckeyes routed the roadrunners.
However, against George Mason, Craft showed just why he was the Big 10 Sixth Man of the Year. He only scored six points, but dished out 15 dimes as Ohio State won 98-66.
Craft isn't the offensive point guard that can change a game like Duke's Kyrie Irving, but he shows so much determination for a freshman. He drives to the basket to draw fouls and most importantly, plays defense with all of his heart and soul.
Look for Craft to be a factor in the Buckeyes' upcoming game against John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats.
No. 6: Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State
When taking an initial look at Kawhi Leonard, one might assume by his size that he is either a shooter or a swingman. At 6'7" and 225 pounds, he doesn't necessarily scream athleticism. How wrong all of our first assumptions were.
Despite his size, Leonard has proven to be reliable as a big man for the Aztecs. During the regular season, he averaged 15.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. In the tournament, he has averaged 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
However, Leonard and his team's biggest test is on the horizon as they are set to take on Kemba Walker and the red hot Connecticut Huskies. If Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun wants to continue the march to the Final Four, he must find a way to contain Leonard.
No. 5: Kenny Boynton, Florida
Compared to the rest of his teammates, Kenny Boynton tends to fly under the radar. He doesn't have the multi-tooled skills of Chandler Parsons, and his offense isn't as electrifying as Erving Walker's. Yet, Boynton has proven to be Mr. Clutch.
After twisting his ankle in the Gators' last game against UCLA, Boynton fought through the pain and came back to help his team seal the victory and move on to the Sweet 16.
He has only averaged 12.5 points per game for the tournament, but look for Boynton to be a factor as Billy Donovan's squad faces its biggest obstacle yet in the BYU Cougars.
No. 4: Jimmer Fredette, Brigham Young
In the days leading up to this year's tournament, the name on everyone's lips were Jimmer Fredette. Easily the best shooter in the nation, just how far could he take his BYU squad? Despite his skill, people had doubts after the suspension of forward Brandon Davies.
Thus far, Fredette has put those concerns to rest. He has averaged 33 points a game in the tournament as the Cougars' games up to this point have been a walk in the park.
Next, however, Fredette must face a top defense in Billy Donovan's Florida Gators. If he can beat that defense, look for him and his team to earn a spot in the Elite Eight, and possibly further rounds.
No. 3: Kemba Walker, Connecticut
After the Connecticut Huskies won the Big East Tournament, many pegged them as a dark-horse team that could have a shot at a National Championship. Based on the team's play in the tournament so far, those predictions may soon ring true.
The team's success can be attributed to Kemba Walker, who more often than not has showed that he is willing to put the team on his back as he takes control of the game and makes shot after shot. He is averaging 25.5 points a game for the tournament!
No. 2: Kyrie Irving, Duke
For most of the regular season, Kyrie Irving was a non-factor. He missed over three months with a toe injury and did not make his first appearance back from said injury until Duke's first tournament game. If you thought Duke was good before, they just got better with the return of this freshman.
Irving proved to be a deadly shooter during the regular season with a field goal percentage of 51 percent and a three-point percentage of 46. Call me crazy, but that's incredible for a freshman.
He made an immediate impact in the tournament, scoring 14 points against Hampton. He didn't fare as well against Michigan, as he was only one-of-four from the field. Yet, he was nine-of-10 from the free-throw line as he scored 11 points in the Blue Devils' 73-71 win.
No. 1: Shelvin Mack, Butler
Shelvin Mack was part of the biggest upset of the tournament thus far. In his No. 8 Butler Bulldogs' game against the No. 1 Pittsburgh Panthers, Mack and teammate Matt Howard led their team to a 71-70 victory in what was a dogfight for the ages. In that game, Mack had what is so far the best performance of the tournament.
Against Pittsburgh, Mack was 10-of-16 from the field. Even more amazing, he was seven-of-12 from three-point range! This performance was a testament as to why Butler made the tournament final last year, and with a big game coming up against the Wisconsin Badgers, don't look for Butler to back down.
Howard may be the face of the team, but Mack will be the one who leads the Bulldogs to victory if they can control the game against Wisconsin.
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