It always helps to have NCAA tournament experience. Or a special talent. Here's 10 guys who can make a different in the tournament:
Peyton Siva, Louisville, 6-0, senior, guard: Siva added his name to the list of Big East Conference legends, leading the Cardinals to consecutive tournament championships with the win over Syracuse. He also joined Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing as the only repeat tournament MVPs. Siva really turned his career around at the Big East tournament last year and then led the Cardinals to the Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champion Kentucky. Together with Russ Smith, Siva gives Louisville the best backcourt in the nation.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana, 6-5, junior, guard: At the start of the season, no one expected Oladipo to be considered for national player of the year, let alone become one of the top contenders. Oladipo extended his reputation as a tremendous defender, but upgraded his offensive play this season with the Hoosiers. He is tremendously athletic and has established himself as a key ingredient in Indiana’s transition game. Oladipo will terrorize teams in the tournament because he presents such a matchup problem. And his trapeze act dunks are momentum builders for Indiana.
Trey Burke, Michigan, 6-0, sophomore, guard: Burke finished the season on top of the national Player of the Year straw poll conducted by Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. The thing that seems to impress voters in the various player of the year elections is Burke’s consistency. He scored in double figures in every game and less than 15 points just twice. He became the unquestioned floor leader on coach John Beilein’s team with his steady playmaking, his defensive play, and his leadership on a young Michigan team.
Doug McDermott, Creighton, 6-8, junior, forward: Creighton plays in the Missouri Valley and the Bluejays slumped a bit in February, so McDermott may not be a national household name with fans. But there may not be a better shooter in the nation and McDermott was in the discussion for player of the year all season. McDermott averages 23.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, shoots 56.1 percent overall and 49.7 percent from three-point range. Don’t be surprised if he has a 40-point game in the NCAAs.
Jeff Withey, Kansas, 7-0, senior, center: Very few teams in college basketball have a true center who can impact the game on both ends of the floor. That’s what Withey does, averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. His experience from the 2012 NCAA tournament will be invaluable. He set the NCAA record with 31 blocked shots, including four against Kentucky in the national title game to go with five points, seven rebounds and two steals. This season he has 129 blocks and has been called for only 68 fouls. In addition, he alters shots and forces many guards not to bring the ball into the lane.
Otto Porter Jr., Georgetown, 6-8, sophomore, forward: Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim created quite the controversy during the Big East tournament when he referred to Porter as the best small forward in conference history. Reaction came back at Boeheim from some of his own former players who reminded the Hall of Fame coach of Carmelo Anthony and Billy Owens. It might have been a ploy by Boeheim heading into Syracuse’s game against Georgetown. But it is true that Porter will be one of the most talented, versatile and efficient players in the NCAAs. He plays tremendous defense and when the game is on the line, Porter can take over.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State, 6-4, freshman, guard: There were some talented freshmen in college basketball this season but Smart impressed so much that he is going to need a new trophy case. He was Big 12 freshman and player of the year, a pretty significant accomplishment in a conference with Ben McLemore, Jeff Withey, Rodney McGruder and Pierre Jackson. Perhaps what sets Smart apart is his willingness to play defense, something that is rare for freshmen. He became a leader for the Cowboys, he can score and get the ball to his teammates with the hot hand. Smart is very physical, with a high-basketball IQ, and that has a tendency to get under the skin of opposing players. That could be a big advantage for the Cowboys in tournament play.
Tony Snell, New Mexico, 6-7, junior, guard: Snell scored 13 of his 21 points in the final eight minutes as the Lobos defeated UNLV 63-56 to win the Mountain West tournament title. Snell scored 13 straight points during one stretch and his ability to shoot three-pointers has been a big part of New Mexico’s success. The Lobos are the No. 9 overall seed in the tournament, which may comes as a surprise to many. But this is a very talented team with balance and leadership. Snell is averaging 12.6 points but he is shooting 40 percent from three-point range.
Shane Larkin, Miami, 5-11, sophomore, guard: Larkin isn’t the oldest or most experienced player for the Hurricanes but he has become the face of this Miami team in so many ways. Larkin, son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, leads Miami in scoring (14.2) and assists (4.3). And he keeps getting better. Sunday, in Miami’s win over North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game, Larkin scored eight of his career-high 28 points in the final 2 ½ minutes. He is clutch, he is athletic and Larkin has emerged as a leader on this terrific Miami squad.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State, 6-4, senior, guard: Wolters has drawn comparisons to Jimmer Fredette, the former BYU sharpshooter. Wolters is a scoring machine, a player from a small conference who deserves the national stage as much as anyone. The Jackrabbits moved into the NCAA for the second consecutive season by beating North Dakota State 73-67 in the Summit League title game. Wolters had 27 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals. He averages 22.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He shoots 49.3 perent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 81 percent from the free throw line. Michigan’s reward as the No. 4 seed in the South? Defending Nate Wolters. Good luck Wolverines.