March Madness 2014 Preview: The Bigger They Are, The Harder They Fall (Part 2)

By – Josh Wasserman.

Continuing off of yesterday’s part 1, we come to the group of highly-lauded players who will stumble over the hurdle of pressure. For all the stars who emerge during the tournament, there are always a few stars who follow an inverse path, starting at the top and plummeting dramatically after a 2-15 shooting performance or a 6 turnover night.

We have to remember that at the crux of it all, these athletes are no more than kids playing a game they love. And when pressure mounts, they are hardly better suited for failure than any other young adult, and the failure of many is inevitable. Without any more proverbs, let us begin our part 2 of our guide.

LaQuinton Ross, F, Ohio State

Few teams have been as streaky as Ohio State and, though they reached the finals of the Big 10 Tournament, their stats and history don’t herald a resounding run this March. Across the NCAA, Ohio State ranked 208th in PPG, 216th in RPG, and 227th in APG this season. And with a threatening opponent like Dayton (who has seen time among the top 25 frequently this year), Ohio State could see a tournament run ended very early.

The major catalyst of the team, junior forward LaQuinton Ross, is prone to rough shooting nights. He almost always ends up in double figure points, but that is due to the high volume of shots he takes. As a forward, he attempts between 12 and 20 shots a game, often finishing with a percentage in the 30’s or 40’s.

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Furthermore, his shot selection is questionable at best: in the Big 10 Final against Michigan a few days ago, he heaved up 5 three point shots, none of which he made. This foible could spell doom for the Buckeyes if he’s not making close to half the shots he’s bound to take.

C.J. Fair, F, Syracuse

Syracuse’s spring slip can’t be attributed to anything specific; it can best be defined as a collapse of all aspects of their game. After being undefeated for three and a half months, their once stalwart defense has conceded 60+ points to Boston College, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina State in astonishing losses over the past four weeks.

Furthermore, their multi-faceted offense has largely vanished, the most significant disappearance being the preseason ACC Player of the Year favorite C.J. Fair. In December, Fair was regarded as one of the best forwards at the college level and averaging 18 points and five boards a night. However, his decline didn’t start when Syracuse lost its first game; his inconsistency has been apparent throughout the year, throwing in 2-13 and 5-17 shooting nights against St. Francis and Cal respectively.

The southpaw takes way too many shots per game and converts way too few of them to be relied upon, as demonstrated by his 3-16 night on Friday in North Carolina State’s upset of Syracuse. Fair and the Orange need to step up their game fast, or their undefeated months will be overshadowed by disappointment.

Sam Dekker, F, Wisconsin

As Wisconsin has climbed out of their midseason rut and ascended to a number two seed, sophomore forward Sam Dekker has been sliding the other way. Since the start of the month, Dekker has reached double digit points twice, struggling to take quality shots that result in a paltry shooting percentage.

At some points in the season, Dekker was easily confirmed as a first round draft pick. Now, however, his stock has dropped as his performances have deteriorated. His scoring ability is really what keeps him afloat as a player as the rest of his skills are merely average. But with his scoring touch gone, his one-dimensionality has been spotlighted too brightly.

Wisconsin has been streaky all year, fluctuating between hot and cold patches a little too often for my liking as a two seed. Dekker could flop this March, and his absence could be costly for the Badgers.

Keith Appling, G, Michigan State

Before his injury, Appling was part of the terrific triumvirate (Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne) of Michigan State cruising through conference and nonconference play. As the flashy, agile point guard, he led the fast-paced, multi-dimensional offense as they put up 80-100 points a game.

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Then, at the beginning of February, Appling injured his wrist, rendering him completely inactive for the next two weeks. Coach Tom Izzo eased him back into play, making sure he never overused him. But regardless of how much he played, Appling was hardly the same. The quickness in his step and the velocity of his passes were gone. Since his first game back against Nebraska on February 16th, Appling has hit double figures in points just twice, while racking up more than 6 assists on just one occasion.

It’s clear that Michigan State played at another echelon when Appling was 100% healthy. But he’s never recuperated from his injury, and so his struggles will continue into the tournament even as his team pushes through.

Andrew Harrison, G, Kentucky

I think we can all agree that Kentucky has had a forgettable year, ending the season outside the AP poll and with a mediocre eight seed in the tournament. Twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison were supposed to comprise the dangerous backcourt for the Wildcats, but they have somewhat underwhelmed in their first year in college.

Andrew has struggled more than Aaron, and as of late, he’s been feeling the pressure even more. In the month of March, this Harrison has averaged 8.5 points and .8 steals a game. His distribution has kept up with 8 and 9 assists in recent games against LSU and Georgia respectively, but his shooting has been porous, hitting better than 33% just twice since February 15.

If he isn’t going to score, he’ll have to maintain his assist rate. Kentucky has a lot of criticism to break down, and Harrison’s play will be a crucial part of whether they’ll succeed.

All stats courtesy of espn.com

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