If Trey Burke has a bad game against Louisville in the 2013 NCAA championship game, Michigan is doomed.
Burke is a key player for the Wolverines, but he's not the only player who will impact the outcome of the contest. It takes a team effort to win a championship, but there are two players for both teams who carry more responsibility than the rest of their teammates.
These men lead by example on the floor when the action's hot and heavy. How they respond to the pressure of the moment will determine whether or not their team wins or loses the upcoming championship game.
Trey Burke, Point Guard, Michigan
Burke is the heart and soul of Michigan's team. His contributions to Michigan's success have been highly lauded. He won the Naismith Award on Sunday—another award to add to his trophy case. His season is legendary, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit News:
Burke, a sophomore, was named Associated Press player of the year, along with the Oscar Robertson Trophy and John R. Wooden Award earlier this week. He is a consensus All-America and will be the most-decorated Michigan player in school history.
Burke struggled with his shot against South Dakota State in the second round and then again against Syracuse in the Final Four, hitting just three of 20 shots in those two contests. Even when Burke can't find his shot, though, he finds other ways to contribute.
For the tournament, Burke is averaging 13.8 points, seven assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
He's a do-it-all kind of player, and his leadership on the court can't be replaced.
Russ Smith, Shooting Guard, Louisville
Smith, a diminutive shooting guard with a huge heart, has been playing out of his mind for most of the tournament. Some may argue that Louisville almost lost to Wichita State because of his poor shot selection, but the Cardinals wouldn't be where they are without his hot shooting throughout the tournament.
Smith has scored 21 points or more in every tournament game, averaging 25 points per game.
His ability to penetrate into the lane and make tough baskets can drive opposing defenses insane, and when his three-point shot is falling, he's impossible to stop.
That said, scoring is only part of what Smith does for Louisville. He and point guard Peyton Siva headline one of the most disruptive defenses in college basketball. Louisville averages 10.8 steals per contest, and Smith is a big part of the team's pressure defense.
He's logged 15 steals in the team's five tournament games, and if he and Siva can disrupt Burke and the rest of Michigan's ball-handlers, Louisville has an excellent chance to win.
Mitch McGary, Power Forward, Michigan
This freshman phenom has taken the 2013 NCAA tournament by storm, and he beats teams a number of different ways.
His ability to run the team's offense from the high post against Syracuse's 2-3 zone was the key to Michigan's victory in the Final Four—not to mention his 12 rebounds, five of which were on the offensive side.
McGary also keyed Michigan's victory over Florida. His five blocks and two steals set the tone for the rest of the team, and Michigan was able to engineer a 20-point blowout, thanks to a stellar defensive effort.
Throughout this tournament, McGary has averaged 16 points, 11.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks and 2.2 steals per game. He has found a way to make a positive impact on his team in every game thus far, and he'll need to do so again against Louisville for Michigan to win the championship.
Gorgui Dieng, Center, Louisville
Dieng's presence in the middle of the floor as a shot-blocker and a rebounder has been a huge key to Louisville's success this season.
The big man will be tasked with the tall order of keeping McGary under wraps—one no other player has managed to do to this point in the proceedings.
Dieng is a strong player inside, though, and if anyone can frustrate McGary down low, it's him. With 6'11" height and a lanky frame, Dieng is adept at blocking shots and going up top for rebounds. He's a scrappy player who has a lot to do with Louisville's disruptive defense.
Thus far in this tournament, Dieng has averaged 8.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
If he manages to negate McGary on the boards and keep him uncomfortable the Cardinals have a fantastic chance of winning this upcoming game.
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