Michigan's Isaiah Livers, Michigan State's Xavier Tillman among SI's 'Darkhorse Dozen'
Who will be the Donte DiVincenzo of this season's NCAA Tournament?
Who will be the player who seemingly could come out of the shadows to help fuel his team's run through March, and shine on the biggest stage — as DiVincenzo did in coming off the bench in last year's national title game (sorry, Michigan fans) to score 31 in Villanova's 79-62 victory to earn tournament most valuable player honors?
Sports Illustrated is pitching 12 candidates — its second annual Darkhorse Dozen — as the NCAA Tournament draws near. That list includes Michigan sophomore forward Isaiah Livers and Michigan State sophomore forward Xavier Tillman.
" ... It can be easy to highlight a crop of obvious star players as the ones who will steer the postseason’s course,' Dan Greene of Sports Illustrated writes. "But ... March legends often end up in position to be enshrined in tourney lore because supporting players contributed beyond their usual role to help put their team over the top."
Livers, the Wolverines' top option off the bench, because of his ability to knock down timely 3-pointers. He's Michigan's top 3-point shooter at 43.9 percent heading into Thursday's game against Nebraska.
"Livers ... doesn’t pull up especially often — he averages just 3.2 three-point tries per game," Greene writes, "but as defenses focus on stopping the Wolverines’ more likely shooters, he would make a sneaky candidate to provide a dagger or two."
Tillman once was one the Spartans' top options off the bench, but Nick Ward's broken hand suffered Feb. 17 against Ohio State vaulted him into a starting role. Tillman has shined in two starts since, averaging 16.5 points on 65 percent shooting from the floor and 7.5 rebounds.
"... Tillman leads the team in blocks per game (1.5) and is second in rebounds (7.0) while being tops among rotation regulars in defensive rating (87.1)," Greene writes. "He’s also Michigan State’s best scorer on put-backs, averaging 1.45 points per possession, which puts him in the 93rd percentile nationally. Those second-chance points can be backbreakers in elimination games."