8 unsung players who could make their teams Elite as Sweet 16 starts
Often in March, it’s not the stars who carry their teams into the Final Four, but the secondary players.
Let’s take a look at eight who could make their teams elite as the Sweet 16 gets underway today.
Franz Wagner, Michigan
The Jack-of-all-trades for the Wolverines, Wagner has seen his role expand even more of late, as Michigan tries to make up for the loss of veteran Isaiah Livers to injury. And Wagner, a 6-9 forward with perimeter skills has come through. He had 9 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists in Michigan’s first-round win over Texas Southern, then 15 points and 7 boards in the victory over LSU. Senior guard Chaundee Brown got a lot of the headlines after the second-round win — deservedly so, after he poured in 21 off the bench — but Wagner is Michigan’s glue with Livers sidelined.
Chris Arcidiacono, Villanova
Arcidiacono, the younger brother of former Villanova star Ryan, is finding his own niche with the Wildcats, and right at the right time. Chris Arcidiacono is in the starting lineup now, with Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie out with a knee injury. Only a role player, if that, during the regular-season, Arcidiacono is in the spotlight now, averaging nearly 20 minutes per game since the start of postseason play, and in the second-round game vs. North Texas he hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes. Nova doesn’t need major production — it can get that elsewhere — but steadiness, particularly if it is to have any chance vs. Baylor.
Alan Griffith, Syracuse
The transfer from Illinois has found a nice home at Syracuse, where he’s been an integral piece for the Orange. He might need a big game if Syracuse is to keep its dream March alive with a win over second-seeded Houston in the Sweet 16. Griffith plays bigger than his 6-5 frame indicates, so he could help against the Cougars’ length on the perimeter, but the Orange has also struggled to rebound out of its zone this season. If Houston wins on the glass, then Syracuse has no chance. Griffin will need a bounce-back after a no-show vs. West Virginia, when he had only 3 points without a rebound in 11 minutes.
Jalen Tate, Arkansas
A transfer from Northern Kentucky, Tate would rather try to set up his teammates with an assist. But his points are needed as well, especially at crucial times, and he’s been able to come through during the NCAA Tournament so far. It was a welcome change from how he ended the regular season, scoring only 7 points on 2-of-9 from the floor. But his scoring adds another element to the Razorbacks’ offense, and against Oral Roberts in the Sweet 16, a game that might break records for pace-of-play, Tate will be a crucial piece of a potential Arkansas victory.
Lucas Williamson, Loyola Chicago
Williamson is the Ramblers’ second-leading scorer, but that doesn’t tell much of a story. Loyola Chicago is an incredibly balanced team, with seven players averaging 6.7 more or more. Williamson comes in at 8.8 per game. But the senior guard is the heart and soul of this Loyola Chicago crew — outside of Sister Jean, of course — because of his leadership and his defense. Williamson was the Missouri Valley Defensive Player of the Year during a season in which he had 42 steals, about 1.5 per game. He helped harass Ayo Dosunmu into scoring only 9 points in Loyola’s second-round win.
Josh Primo, Alabama
Primo, a freshman guard, is back in the rotation for the Crimson Tide after missing the last couple of weeks with an MCL strain. And boy does the play-maker change what Alabama can be offensively because of his ability to score on his own. Back for the first time since March 12, Primo hit two 3-pointers for Alabama within minutes of entering the second-round game vs. Maryland, and he completely changed the momentum. Alabama cruised to a win after trailing early. Primo is only the Tide’s fifth-leading scorer, at 8.1 points per game, but he can get hot at any moment.
Isaiah Mobley, USC
The older and lesser-known of the Mobley brothers, Isaiah averages just under 10 points and just more than 7 rebounds per game. But those were the regular-season numbers. In two NCAA Tournament games, he has combined for 32 points and 13 rebounds, giving a good complement to his younger brother Evan, a likely NBA lottery pick, whether it be this year or next. If Isaiah Mobley continues to pour in big numbers like the first two games, then Oregon in the Sweet 16 might need to worry, and others beyond could, too.
Christian Bishop, Creighton
Bishop’s free throws at the end of Creighton’s opening-round game against UCSB gave the Bluejays the victory. Now, the forward, who at 6-7 is the tallest player in Creighton’s starting lineup, is going to have to find a way to play even bigger against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. For the Bluejays to get the upset win, they’ll have to play defense (obviously), but also can’t get toasted on the glass. That’s where Bishop comes in; he averaged a team-high 6.4 boards per game this season for a Creighton team that was, on average, beaten on the glass this season.