No need to spin a tale or to try to impress you with my knowledge. Let’s get right to it. There are two games on Saturday featuring four very good teams. And here are the key players for each team.
Kenctucky vs Louisville
Kentucky has the most talent at the Final Four. And they probably have the most talent in college basketball. When national writers routinely debate if Kentucky is better than an NBA team (they aren’t) they you know there’s a deep supply of next-level potential. But the most talent doesn’t make a player the most important for any particular game. On Saturday, it’s Doron Lamb. The Cardinals put a tremendous amount of pressure on the ball. Marquis Teague will have the ball a lot, but we all know he can go through stretches where he turns the ball over. But Doron Lamb doesn’t. A sophomore on Kentucky is like a senior elsewhere, and Lamb provides that veteran presence. More importantly, his turnover rate is the lowest on the team. If Kentucky is constantly in transition then it won’t matter who the most important player is because the game won’t be close. If they have to score out of half-court sets, then look for Lamb to help out on the perimeter. He can score. He can protect the ball. He can calm things down.
For Louisville, they aren’t going to be able to beat Kentucky with elite defense alone. Sure, they have the best defense in the nation, but Kentucky will be getting it done on both ends. Which means Louisville needs to find some points. Enter Russ Smith. When he’s in the game there are only six players in the nation who take more of their team’s shots (36%). He’s failed to make half his shots in any NCAA tournament game yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t come out chucking. And for an offensively challenged team, that’s what they need. Cardinals fans just need to pray that they go in.
Kansas vs Ohio State
Thomas Robinson. The end.
Alright, I suppose I should write something. In 36 games Robinson has had 25 double-doubles (the end, part II). And he’s missed another six because he only got 9 rebounds. So far in the tournament he’s averaged 15.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. And he’s turned the ball over once. Kansas needs him to produce on both ends of the floor. On offense, he can exploit the defense due to his size and athleticism. The Buckeyes are big on the wings but don’t have elite size in the middle. Robinson needs to be disruptive, he needs to draw fouls. And on the other end of the floor, Ohio State lives on offensive rebounds. Robinson is the best defensive rebounder in the nation. He needs to show that on Saturday.
For Ohio State the logical choice would be Jared Sullinger. After all, he missed the game the last time these two played, and if the Buckeyes win it will be easy to point to him as the difference maker. Still, I’m going with Lenzelle Smith Jr. In the first 49 games of his career, Smith scored in double figures three times. In the past nine game he’s done it five times. In the past two games he’s set a new career high for minutes. Twice. Ohio State has Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas who can reliably score. They have William Buford and Aaron Craft who cannot. If Lenzelle Smith can step up and be a solid option then the nets could be coming down for Ohio State.