It's easy to look at this season’s Final Four teams and pick out the stars: SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin (Florida), All-American guard Shabazz Napier (Connecticut), freshman twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Kentucky) and 7-foot stretch forward Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin).
But it will take a total team effort to advance to the national title game. Often it’s a complementary or blend player who is the difference between winning and losing. Other times it’s a particular matchup that a team can take advantage of.
Yes, each of the 2014 Final Four teams need their marquee players to play well. However they also need their X factors to step up under the bright lights. Here are four players who could make the difference Saturday.
DeAndre Daniels | F | Junior
If Napier is the heart of the Huskies, then Daniels is the soul. He’s a stretch 4 who can shoot the 3-pointer as well as drive from the perimeter. He and Napier have become one of the toughest ball-screen combinations in college basketball. The Huskies are 6-0 when Daniels scores at least 20 points and 6-0 when he makes at least three perimeter baskets.
Daniels has improved his commitment to rebounding. In Connecticut's win against the Gators, he made the biggest play of the game by tapping the ball back and enabling Napier to hit the game winner. Daniels is averaging just under eight rebounds a contest over his past six games.
As he did in their first matchup, Daniels must do a strong job guarding Dorian Finney-Smith. But the Florida forward is a different player now. It’ll be important for Daniels to keep him off the glass and contain him on drives, slips to the basket and when he pops in the Gators' ball-screen motion.
Dorian Finney-Smith | F | Sophomore
Billy Donovan's Gators are as connected as any team in the country. Their roles are well defined, embraced and championed. They rarely get out of their personality and work each possession as a separate entity. They play the same way when behind as they do when ahead. The one player who could impact the outcome of the game is Finney-Smith. He's an instinctive offensive and defensive rebounder. He averages a team-best 6.7 boards in just 25.8 minutes a game.
Defensively Finney-Smith does an excellent job in the Gators' press. He anticipates well and is quick enough to recover when the ball is thrown ahead. In the half court, Finney-Smith will be responsible for containing Connecticut X factor Daniels.
Offensively it’s important for Finney-Smith to shoot the ball confidently. If he makes jumpers, the Huskies won’t be able to shrink the court and take away post feeding angles as they did against Michigan State.
Sam Dekker | F | Sophomore
Everyone talks about Kaminsky being a tough matchup for Kentucky, however I feel Dekker is just as difficult to contain. He’s a hybrid forward who needs to play well for Wisconsin to win. Dekker not only does a very good job of moving up the floor, but due to the Badgers running competitive lanes, he could be running to the rim or to the trail. How he fares against Kentucky’s Julius Randle (and vice versa) could be the difference Saturday.