Dozen players to watch closely in NCAA tourney
You won't find the huge names on this list. No Trey, Otto or Victor. This is reserved for X-factor players, guys who can ultimately determine how far their team goes, and whether they reach the Final Four.
You won't find Trey Burke or Doug McDermott on this list. You won't see Mason Plumlee or Victor Oladipo, either. This is a collection of a dozen guys who could determine their team's success and ultimately could decide the Final Four and the national championship.
Watch these players -- and watch them closely.
NCAA Tourney Key Players
1) Quinn Cook, Duke -- There's no shortage of weapons surrounding Cook, including Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon. Cook is the key here, though, and not necessarily because he's the point guard. This Duke team was tremendous early in the season, and one of the key reasons was the play of Cook. He has to take care of the ball, make quality decisions and also pick his spots to score.
2) Elijah Johnson, Kansas -- Kansas' senior point guard was supposed to take the reigns from Tyshawn Taylor and become the go-to guy for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. However, Johnson has struggled for much of this season and shot just 39 percent from the field. If the Las Vegas native steps it up, the Jayhawks could return to the Final Four. But he needs to be consistent in running the team and also making shots.
3) Adreian Payne, Michigan State -- It was a difficult call between Payne and Michigan State teammate Keith Appling, but I didn't want to load up too much with point guards on the list. Payne has been an enigma for his first two seasons in East Lansing, but the light has come on this year -- especially in league play. When Payne is engaged, he can be a dominant player and a matchup nightmare. With Appling's inconsistency, Tom Izzo needs Payne to be engaged as much as possible.
4) Peyton Siva, Louisville -- At times he plays like a star -- and other times, Louisville's senior point guard looks like a freshman. Siva needs to play poised, stay out of foul trouble and make shots since the Cardinals aren't a stellar team shooting it from the perimeter. If Siva can do that, there's no reason that Rick Pitino's team can't cut down the nets in Atlanta.
5) James Southerland, Syracuse -- Syracuse doesn't have many shooters, and that's why Southerland is critical. When he was on the floor against Louisville, the Orange had control of the game. Then he got into foul trouble, and the game slipped away quickly. He has the size and ability to rise up and shoot over just about anyone.
6) Anthony Marshall, UNLV -- UNLV has so much talent. Dave Rice's front line consists of a trio of likely draft picks: Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch and Mike Moser. However, what the Runnin' Rebels don't have is a true point guard. Marshall needs to be as close to a point guard as he can be over the next few weeks for UNLV to realize its potential.
7) Kenny Kadji, Miami -- Shane Larkin is one of the best point guards in the country, and Durand Scott does a little bit of everything for the Miami Hurricanes. Jim Larranaga also needs something down low with Reggie Johnson, but Kadji is that stretch-four player who is a matchup nightmare due to his length and ability to step out and make shots from beyond the arc.
8) Glenn Robinson III, Michigan -- Trey Burke needs Glenn Robinson III to get it going again as was the case in the first half of the season. The Big Dog's kid appears to have hit the freshman wall, but Burke is going to need the frosh to step up because he can't carry this team all by himself -- and Tim Hardaway Jr. is inconsistent.
9) Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga -- Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris are a formidable 1-2 duo up front for the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but the key to this team is Pangos -- who needs to make shots from the perimeter and also run the team. He's in charge of making certain everyone is happy, but he also needs to make certain he's aggressive enough on the offensive end.
10) Mark Lyons, Arizona -- Lyons, transferred from Xavier for his final season and has put up numbers. However, Lyons is erratic. He's not a true point guard but does have the ability and confidence to make shots with the game on the line. Lyons can take this team deep into the tourney or also cost them in the opening game.
11) Kenny Boynton, Florida -- Similar to Lyons, the Gators senior guard is unpredictable. When he's on, he's awfully difficult to stop. However, he can also shoot Florida right out of the ballgame. One thing that Boynton does well these days is defend, but he needs to take high-percentage shots and move the ball.
12) D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown -- The Hoyas have a stud in Otto Porter and a vastly underrated floor leader in Markel Starks. However, this is a team that doesn't have much offensive firepower. Smith-Rivera replaced Greg Whittington in the lineup and gives the Hoyas a guy who can put points on the board. He only had three points in the loss to Syracuse in the Big East tourney but has shown the capability to put up 15 points on a consistent basis.
Austin Hatch has been part of the Wolverines program since 2014
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