In 2003 it was Kansas’ Michael Lee. In the 2005 National Championship game it was Jack Ingram (who?) of Illinois. Last year it was whatever rim Butler was shooting at.
Every few years we get a guy that rode the pine or was inconsistent in the regular season. By tourney time, you weren’t expecting much out of him. But as madness would have it, the guy steps up big for whatever reason.
You can’t guarantee that there will be an unsung hero in the 2012 Final Four, but you can at least forecast who that player may be based on matchups and circumstances that may force a coach to look down towards the end of the bench for some help.
Who knows if any of the four players below will make any sort of impact in New Orleans. But if they do, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Amir Williams (Ohio State)
Had the Buckeyes defeated Syracuse without key shots from Lenzelle Smith, the sophomore guard would be obvious pick here. But because of his 18-point performance in the Elite Eight, the next player in Thad Matta’s rotation who may need to save his best game for the team’s biggest game is Williams. With the whistle being blown with such high frequency in this tournament, you may see Jared Sullinger and Evan Ravenel stuck on the bench for periods of time on Saturday. Against one of the best front lines in college basketball, Williams job against Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey will be much tougher than trying to slow down Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa-Keita. Because of the depth of the Buckeyes, Williams is a 2011 McDonalds All-American who only got seven minutes of run this season. He’s no slouch, it’s just a matter of if he can make a big play or two in what’s sure to be limited minutes.
Jared Swopshire (Louisville)
It’s got to be weird for Swopshire. He’s a former starter, but after sitting out last season with a groin injury he’s fallen behind freshman Chane Behanan on the depth chart. After Rick Pitino opted not to tag Swop with a medical-redshirt, all parties agreed it was best for the junior forward to transfer somewhere after this season. But before he goes, Swopshire could serve as an able body Pitino can throw into the game against Kentucky to maybe hit a few shots or grab a few rebounds to keep the Cardinals within striking distance of Kentucky. If he’s able to contribute – if Pitino or foul trouble gives Swopshire the chance to contribute – it could be a really cool story for him before he heads elsewhere.
Kevin Young (Kansas)
There have been big, nationally televised Kansas games this season were Young frankly just looked like he didn’t belong. He looked timid and took the court simply hoping to not make a mistake, rather than assert himself and make a big play. But Bill Self has entrusted Young in the latter half of this season, as the Loyola Marymount transfer has averaged more than five rebounds a game in this NCAA Tournament. Because Ohio State’s frontcourt is deeper and more versatile, it will take a guy like Young to come off the bench for the Jayhawks and limit the production of Deshaun Thomas, and maybe even Lenzelle Smith and William Buford. If Self lets this kid give it his all in short spurts on Saturday night, he could prove valuable on the defensive end.
Kyle Wiltjer (Kentucky)
Full disclosure, I simply went down the list of Kentucky players until I found the first guy not averaging double-figures in points. No offense to Wiltjer, but that’s the best way to go about this for the Wildcats. With six UK players averaging 10 or more points a game, and nearly all six of those players also doubling as pretty solid to elite defenders, Wiltjer can only be the unsung hero for this team if his teammates struggle to score and he’s stroking it from beyond the arc.