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The X-Factors of the 2010 NCAA Tournament

Thu, 03/18/2010 - 12:55pm

By Eric Yearian

Throughout the season, many top teams rely on their stars to put the team on their shoulders and carry them to where they are now: the NCAA tournament. However, at this stage of the season each game is a challenge and because star players aren’t immune from bad games, shooting slumps, or foul trouble, often times a game can be decided by role players that step up and become “X-Factors”. Now, the term X-Factor is a pretty subjective term so the first step in deciding which players best fit into this category is to define what an X-Factor really is. We’ll assume that an X-Factor is defined as a player that is normally not one of the top two or three players on his team but has shown the ability to step up and help will his team win (which is why Arinze Onuaku of Syracuse did not make this list despite his recent injury). Also, for a player to be considered he must play for a team whose chances of advancing a couple of rounds are favorable because, quite frankly, a role player on a 14 seed isn’t as important in the grand scheme of things as a guy that could help his team advance deep into the bracket.

Everybody knows how good Evan Turner is and just how fast John Wall can change the momentum of a game. Nobody will be shocked to see Da’Sean Butler hit another game winning shot, or witness Scottie Reynolds end a team’s season. Those guys aren’t X-Factors; they’re stars—stars that will, in all likelihood, be relying on their lesser celebrated teammates to help them get to Indianapolis in April. So, with all of that being said, who will those X-Factors be? Here are a couple of players from each region that fit the bill, why they could be an X-Factor, and why they may come up just short, because that’s the essence of an X-Factor, they can save a team’s season one night and be unable to step up again when needed the next.

East Region

Eric Bledsoe, G, Kentucky

Eric BledsoeEric BledsoeWhy he Qualifies: If Bledsoe played for most other teams he’d be a stand out point guard. However, playing on a lottery pick-laden team like Kentucky, he is playing out of position at shooting guard, and is not only relegated to second fiddle behind John Wall, but is actually the fourth option behind DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson as well.

Why he’ll step up: The young guard can score when the opportunity presents itself. Bledsoe has averaged almost 15 points per game against tournament teams this season (compared to 9 ppg against non-tourney teams). Kentucky’s Achilles heel is three point shooting but Bledsoe has shot an impressive 48% from downtown against opponents that made the NCAA tournament. His contributions go beyond simply scoring the basketball, however, as he has become a better defender as the season has progressed and cut down on his turnovers.

Why he might not: Wall, Cousins, and Patterson may be able to produce enough offense that Bledsoe’s role may be minimized, especially if guys like Darnell Dodson and Darius Miller can knock down open jumpers. Another concern for the Cats is the fact that Bledsoe may put up 20 points on a given night or he could just as easily wind up scoring four. If Bledsoe can give the Cats a fourth scoring option the Cats will be a difficult out for any opponent.

Darryl Bryant, G, West Virginia

Why he Qualifies: Bryant is the fourth leading scorer for his West Virginia squad, averaging just under 10 a game. With Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks receiving most of the attention from opposing defenses Bryant has the opportunity, not to mention ability, to hang 15-20 points on any given night.

Why he’ll step up:
From January 6th to January 26th, Bryant recorded double-digit scoring nights in seven straight games—scoring at least 14 in 6 of those contests. Bryant’s ability to force the defense to play him tight defensively opens up the game for his more heralded teammates, and although his scoring is nice, his ability to create driving lanes for guys like Ebanks and Butler may be the secret to the second seeded Mountaineers’ success.

Why he might not: Bryant is the classic feast or famine player. When he’s hot he’s very impressive, as illustrated by his month of January. However, right now he’s in the midst of a shooting slump that has seen him make 11 of his last 52 attempts, or 21%. Over that stretch, Bryant, a normally capable shooter, is shooting an anemic 16% from behind the arc. Ultimately, how effective he, and by extension West Virginia, will be will have a strong correlation to how often Bryant can put the ball in the hoop.

South Region

David Loubeau, F, Texas A&M

Why he Qualifies: The lanky forward is fifth in scoring on the Aggies roster and second in rebounding. Loubeau is an inconsistent rebounder but can hit the boards, play quality minutes, and occasionally put up point totals in the mid to high teens.

Why he’ll step up: Loubeau serves as a good barometer for how well Texas A&M plays. When the Aggies lose, Loubeau typically struggles. However, when he plays well the team becomes much more difficult to beat. At this time of year nothing is more important than winning and you can bet that coach Mark Turgeon is going to have the sophomore forward focused each game. Earlier this year when Kansas squeezed out a close win against them, Loubeau’s stat line read 17 points and 9 rebounds. If he can help Texas A&M play with the #1 team in the nation he can be a handful for any team.

Why he might not: Like Bledsoe above, Loubeau tends to be up and down. While he can help put the team over the top, he can also be virtually invisible on the court and that can really hurt his team’s chances. Loubeau can sometimes be a meek rebounder and his team will not be able to fulfill its potential unless he hits the boards hard. If he rebounds, Aggie opponents better watch out.


Reggie Redding, G, Villanova

Why he Qualifies: Redding, a senior guard for the Wildcats, does a little bit of everything. However, he doesn’t do a lot of anything. Redding is a capable defender who can also contribute just under 10 points a game on a consistent basis.

Why he’ll step up: This is Redding’s last opportunity to win a national title. He should be as focused as ever and, because he is a senior, he’s been through the tournament before. Unlike the underclassmen above him on this list, he knows what to expect come March. Redding’s ability to shoot over 40% from both 3 point range and inside the arc could be pivotal to Villanova making a run in the tournament.

Why he might not: Redding is a quality player that can contribute a solid stat line night in and night out. However, he doesn’t blow you away and hasn’t scored more than 15 points in a game all year. His inability to put the team on his shoulders for a prolonged amount of time might hold his team back if Scottie Reynolds gets into foul trouble. Redding’s shooting should prove to be an integral part of the Villanova offensive attack.

Midwest Region

Bobby Maze, G, Tennessee

Why he Qualifies: Even after Tyler Smith was jettisoned from the team Maze still took a back seat to Scotty Hopson, Wayne Chism, and even J.P. Prince. When Maze plays well the Vols become much more difficult to beat. When the senior point guard struggles so does his team; when Maze plays well Tennessee transforms from a very good team to an elite team.

Why he’ll step up: Maze has a knack for raising his game to another level when his team needs it. Earlier this year when Tennessee was missing four of its players Maze bested Sherron Collins by putting up a complete stat line (14 pts., 8 asts., 7 rebs.) while hounding Sherron Collins into 2-10 shooting from long range. Maze averaged 11 points against teams that made the tournament. Another thing Maze has in his favor: he is one of only two rotation players on the Vols roster shooting over 70 percent from the charity stripe, meaning they will likely lean on his 82% free throw stroke late in close contests to help them close out games.

Why he might not: Maze shoots an unimpressive 25.8% from downtown (worst among UT rotation players). While this isn’t a major impediment, it will make it more difficult for Tennessee to spread the defense out and create room for J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson. If he is able to distribute the ball to the other scorers on the team and score when called upon then his lack of shooting ability will be a non-issue and Tennessee will be a final four contender.


Jon Diebler, G, Ohio State

Why he Qualifies: There seems to be this idea pervading the minds of casual basketball fans that the Buckeyes have changed their name to the Ohio State Evan Turners. However, Ohio State wouldn’t be where they are now without the contributions of Jon Diebler. Even when it comes to the role players on the team Diebler still goes under the radar. When Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated chose his “All-Glue Team” he opted to highlight the contributions of David Lighty, but Diebler is every bit as important to the Buckeyes chances of advancement.

Why he’ll step up: My favorite part of Diebler’s game is how he values the basketball and makes the most of each possession. He has 35 turnovers over the course of 34 games. That is good, but the fact that he has 39 steals over that same span is even more impressive. His ability to give his team extra possessions is crucial to his team’s success, and once the tournament starts every play is even more important. Diebler’s ability to score (almost 13 ppg) and his reluctance to turn the rock over will play a big role in Ohio State’s fate.

Why he might not: To Diebler’s credit, his game lacks an obvious weakness. He knows how to play off of Evan Turner, he facilitates for others and scores the basketball when he needs to. The fact that he is the all-time leading scorer in the history of Ohio high school basketball shows he is capable of scoring but fills his role admirably for the Buckeyes. Deferring to Turner too much would be the only thing that he could do to hinder his team’s chances, making him the surest of all the X-Factors.

West Region

Steven Gray, G, Gonzaga

Why he Qualifies: Gray, averaging a career high 13.7 ppg this season, is third on the team in scoring and fourth in rebounding. His ability to do whatever is needed of him to help his team win is invaluable to the Bulldogs, even if Matt Bouldin gets most of the headlines for the team.

Why he’ll step up: Gray is willing to do the dirty work and all the little things it takes to win. He is a fantastic on-ball defender and is a good rebounder for a guard. In Gonzaga’s first game against conference rival St. Mary’s he put up an impressive 14 rebounds to go with his 14 points. He is a career 37% shooter from 3 point land and shoots 46.5 percent overall. His unselfish, team-first play is the most impressive part of his game, and he’ll need to play well to help his team get past what would be a matchup with #1 seed Syracuse in round two assuming they can get past Florida St. in round 1.

Why he might not: His team is an 8 seed. That is going to make it an uphill battle for him and his teammates. If they can get past the fact that their seeding makes for a difficult road to a deep tourney run, he’ll have to be able to look for his offense while setting up Bouldin and Elias Harris at the same time. Finding the happy medium between looking for his offense and setting up other will be his personal key for helping elevate the play of Gonzaga.  

John Jenkins, G, Vanderbilt

Why he Qualifies: He’s a freshman playing major minutes for a four seed and making a fantastic percentage of his shots. He doesn’t put up incredible statistics, but his smart play is impressive, especially considering that he’s a rookie in the college game. He’s the fourth leading scorer for the Commodores and compliments teammate A.J. Ogilvy nicely.

Why he’ll step up: The young man is wise beyond his years. He doesn’t take bad shots, as evidenced by his 47.9 FG%, and he has nailed 70 of 146 of his three point attempts (48%). His deadly shooting makes him a prime candidate to emerge as an X-Factor. For those that like to look at metric stats, Jenkins has a very impressive true shooting percentage of 65.5% (for reference, any number over 50% is very good; any number over 60 is exceptional).

Why he might not: While Jenkins is an exceptional talent that can stretch the floor and put some points up in a hurry, he is a somewhat one dimensional talent. He is a guard, yet averages less than an assist per game. While not an indictment of him—he’s a role player and fills that role nicely for Vanderbilt—that might hold him back in the tournament. He’s a freshman that can really punish a defense from the outside and if he does that he has an opportunity to spark the Commodores to a nice string of wins to close out the season strong.
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I'm a basketball enthusiasts

Thanks for posting about this, I would love to read more about this topic.

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Basketball is one of my

Basketball is one of my favorite games. I know that in order for us to play the game perfectly, one should have quality practice and training. We learn the skills through educating us to do so. Higher education is a greater necessity in the workforce, and not every person has the time to return to a normal 4 year institution. Thus, lots of people turn to online degree programs – often, their overhead will be lower than that of a normal university, and since they do not have a football team to fund, they can charge less, although some don't. If you're taking into consideration online college be VERY cautious, and make certain you check to see the bona fides and certifications, any lawsuits that might are filed against the online university you're considering. If you don't, you may wind up sprinting for payday loans to pay for a worthless degree.

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This particular draft in

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