Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ten Players That Will Make A Difference In The Next Three Weeks

The stars are the guys that carry your team. They are the ones that take the big shots, make the big plays, and get the chicks all the recognition and news clippings. The stars are the guys that you base your bracket around.

But it is not always the star that shines the brightest in the biggest moments. A couple notable performances come to mind - Ricky Moore scoring 13 points in the first half of the 1999 final against Duke; Mike Dunleavy burying three threes in 45 seconds as Duke overcame a 22 point deficit in the 2001 Final Four; Keith Smart scoring 12 of Indiana's last 15 points in the 1987 final, including the game winning jumper; and how about that UNC freshman named Mike hitting the game winner in 1982.

Here are ten guys that could make or break their teams tournament chances:

Stanley Robinson, UConn: Known as Sticks, the slender, 6'9" combo forward has been a bit of an enigma this season. He missed the first seven games of the year after taking a semester off, and took a while to get back into a rhythm. When he is effective, he is the most active player on the court - flying around defensively, blocking shots, crashing to offensive glass. Take the 28 points and 14 boards he had against Syracuse in the 6 OT Big East game (he fouled out early too) as a perfect example. But Sticks has a tendency to disappear for stretches, sometimes games at a time. When he is on, he brings an element to the table that not many teams have and makes UConn a much more dangerous team.

Raymar Morgan, Michigan State: This kid was supposed to be a surefire all-american this season, but he struggled through the early part of the year battling a case of walking pneumonia-turned-mono for about six weeks. Morgan is now finally healthy, and could be the difference maker for the Spartans, who really lack a big-time scorer outside of Kalin Lucas.

Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker, Oklahoma: You know about Blake Griffin. You know about Willie Warren. They can both go for 25 (and 20, Griffin's case) on any given night. But what makes Oklahoma a great team is when Johnson and Crocker are scoring and hitting three's. When they are, opponent's cannot collapse as hard on Griffin in the paint.

Demar Derozan: USC has about as much raw talent as any team in the country. Their problem this year? Injuries and the fact that they didn't have a go-to guy. Sure, Dwight Lewis was able to score, but he could not create his own shot. That changed in the conference tournament as Derozan started to live up to his billing as Mickey D's all-american and potential lottery pick. He averaged 21.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg in the Pac-10 tournament, and makes a healthy USC team very dangerous.

JaJuan Johnson, Purdue: Purdue is not a very big team up front. After Johnson (who would look like a pipe cleaner next to Dwight Howard), you have the inconsistent Nemanja Calasan, and that is about it. But if you look at who the Boilermakers have drawn (let's assume chalk, and that PU makes the Sweet 16), they get matched up with Northern Iowa's Adam Koch and Jordan Eglseder; Washington's Jon Brockman; and UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. For Purdue to make a run, Johnson is going be able to be a presence inside.

Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, Syracuse: The Orange are at their best when they don't rely on Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf to do everything for them. Onuaku is a bully on the block, and Jackson has developed into a consistent threat to score and rebound. When those two are scoring and rebounding, Syracuse becomes a much more balanced team and a serious threat to make a Final Four. Case in point - they lost by 14 to UConn with Onuaku nursing a bum knee, but beat UConn in 6 OT with a healthy Onuaku.

Jon Scheyer, Duke: The Blue Devils turned into a legitimate Final Four team when Coach K overhauled his line-up, instituting Elliot Williams into the starting line-up and sliding Scheyer over to the point. Some thought this was a desperate attempt by a coach trying to avoid another February swoon, but it worked out great. Scheyer has proven to be an effective lead guard, as he does not turn the ball over and can score against the smaller defenders. Henderson and Singler have been great all year, but now that Scheyer is a threat to go for 20 every night, Duke is looking pretty good to get past the Sweet 16.

Louisville's backcourt
: You know the saying. It is an adage older than time, or the tournament, itself - you need a great guard to win a title. Louisville doesn't. Jerry Smith/Edgar Sosa/Andre Mcgee/Preston Knowles all bring something to the table, especially defensively. But none of them are creators, and in fact their main roles are to knock down threes and to get the ball over half court and into the hands of Terrence Williams and Earl Clark. If Louisville wants to make a run, these four guys will have to make their open shots, not turn the ball over, and force turn overs in the Cardinal press.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Memphis wins because their defense is ridiculous. While their offense leaves much to be desired, the move by Calipari of switching Evans to the point has changed their offense. The Tigers are much more effective with Evans running the show than they ever were with Wesley Witherspoon or Antonio Anderson. Memphis is going to need to score some points to win, and Evans is their most important piece offensively.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest: Jeff Teague is an all-american. James Johnson is one of the toughest match-ups in the country. But for Wake to be great, they need Aminu to be great. He is long, athletic, and loves to get out and run the floor. This team is at its best when they get out and run the floor, and Aminu gives them such an advantage because he will beat most four's down the court.

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