Jayhawks forward Young rejects a shot by A&M Aggies guard Harris during the second half of Jayhawks' win in the quarterfinals of the NCAA men's Big 12 basketball tournament in Kansas City

Which guys might be the unsung Final Four hereos?


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.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the NBCSports.com Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.