Star power may be the name of the game come March, but it's hard-fought games like Sunday's upcoming Battle on the Midway that helps create those stars that captivate our attention in the NCAA tournament.
Pushed back to Sunday because of inclement weather, this season's game between the ninth-ranked Syracuse Orange and 20th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs will have plenty of players who could step up.
Led by coach Jim Boeheim, the Orange will be relying youngsters to replace departed stars. Gone are Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph and in their place are talented, but mostly unproven commodities.
Meanwhile, the Aztecs return most of their players from last season's squad, but continue to be underrated by the casual fan. All it will take is one huge performance from any of their top guys against Syracuse to announce their national presence.
With that in mind, here are a few players that could rise to national prominence in Sunday's game between Syracuse and San Diego State.
PG Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
The highly-touted guard will get an opportunity to live up to his billing this season as he takes over for Jardine as Syracuse's starting point guard this season. Though a scintillating talent, Carter-Williams barely made it on the floor for much of 2011-12, averaging just 2.7 points and 2.1 assists in a mere 10.7 minutes per game.
That all will change in 2012-13, as Boeheim will undoubtedly look for the sophomore to be one of the Orange's team-leaders.
We'll get a glimpse at how Carter-Williams will do in that role against San Diego State. Listed at 6'6", MCW will unquestionably play more of a combo guard role than actual point guard. He's an attacker who loves flying to the rim and making the spectacular play, not unlike the departed Waiters.
It just remains to be seen whether he will be able to harness his immense talent and become the scoring threat Syracuse needs.
G Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State
Essentially unmentioned last season despite a brilliant campaign, Franklin will get an early opportunity to announce his presence to the world against Syracuse.
The junior guard was nothing short of fantastic, leading the surprising Aztecs to a surprising No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Showing an other-worldly tenacity, Franklin led San Diego State in both points (17.4) and rebounds (7.9) per game—not exactly a small feat, considering he's a 6'5" shooting guard.
We already know the Orange backcourt has their set of problems. With an inexperienced group of players standing in his way, look for Franklin to burst onto the national consciousness and have a solid game.
However, if the star guard somehow struggles, it seems impossible that San Diego State would be able to pull off the slight upset.
SG Brandon Triche, Syracuse
After patiently waiting for three years to get his shot at a leadership role at Syracuse, it looks like the time has finally come for Triche.
Along with forward James Southerland, Triche is of two seniors who will play an integral role for the Orange this season. Not to discount Southerland or anything, but the 21-year-old shooting guard may prove to be the team's most important player in 2012-13.
Those who saw Triche's fantastic performance in Syracuse's exhibition against Bloomsburg can attest to what he means to the offense. Facing an obviously overmatched opponent, Triche took advantage and led the Orange with 23 points.
Going forth into the regular season, it will be absolutely necessary that he continues to lead the team's scoring efforts. There will be no Waiters to come in off the bench and pack an instant pop, nor will there be a Jardine to pick up the slack when things are falling apart.
This is Triche's team now, and what he does with it against San Diego State and throughout the season will be key for Boeheim's squad.
F Winston Shepard, San Diego State
On a team that's overflowing with guard talent, Shepard will be expected to come in and live up to his high school phenom hype.
As perhaps the most highly-sought-after recruit in San Diego State history, the 6'8" forward runs like a gazelle and can make jaw-dropping plays on the break. Shepard is also a deft mid-range shooter who could eventually stretch his game beyond the three-point line.
Nonetheless, head coach Steve Fisher will need Shepard to show a willingness and ability to guard other teams' big men. Though his game is far more suited to a small forward role, the presence of three top-tier guards in the Aztec lineup will force Shepard to the four spot most of the time.
That will certainly mean a healthy dose of fellow freshman DaJuan Coleman and Rakeem Christmas staring him in the face at the Battle on the Midway. A shining performance could be the start of something fantastic—both in the long-term and short-term—for Shepard at San Diego State.
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