Brice Johnson

Teams take the stage at the Final Four, but it's often star players taking the spotlight. Every team that has reached this final chapter of the basketball season has already achieved plenty. To go further, they'll need to dig even deeper, and lean even more on their best players.

Some teams are built around stars more than others. But no matter how you slice it, each team has critical players who have to rise to the occasion if it hopes to advance. Judging by the value to their team, we rank the eight most important players in this weekend's Final Four.

8. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse

Malachi Richardson

If Richardson could be called a streaky shooter, he certainly got hot at the right time. In the Orange's case, that was enough. Richardson's 23 points led Syracuse to a stunning comeback win against Virginia and a spot in the Final Four. He also was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Midwest Region.

Even so, his shooting percentage for the season of 36.5 -- from the field, not just the three-point line -- is a point of concern. If he stays hot, it's a moot point. But given that Syracuse is here largely because of Richardson's timely scoring spurts, it probably needs him to keep the streak going if it wants to advance.

7. Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova

Ryan Arcidiacono

Your classic glue-man, whose stats betray his value to the team. On a Villanova squad that shares the ball -- and the scoring -- as well as anyone, Arcidiacono is content to do the dirty work of diving to the floor, taking charges and sacrificing his body for the good of the team.

In the Wildcats' past two games, Arcidiacono wound up the leading scorer, too. Don't expect that to hold -- Villanova's greatest strength is taking what the defense gives them on offense. But you can count on Arcidiacono making a few hustle plays that tip the scales in favor of the Wildcats.

6. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

Marcus Paige

Here's a guy peaking at the right time. When the ACC Tournament began, Paige was shooting 32.4 percent from the three-point line. Since then, he's hitting at a 41.3 percent clip. Confidence is a critical asset in the Final Four, and after a senior season that's seen Paige struggle at times, he's playing just like everyone anticipations.

North Carolina nabbed a No. 1 seed even with Paige playing below expectations. If this re-birth carries into the Final Four, it makes an already great Tar Heels team even more lethal.

5. Josh Hart, Villanova

Josh Hart

It's not that Hart isn't as good as other players -- it's just that Villanova isn't built to depend on any single player. Oklahoma and North Carolina have their clear stars, and Syracuse's Cinderella run has seen several different players take the lead in various games.

Not so for the Wildcats, who play team-oriented basketball that doesn't need a high-volume shooter. Hart is the team's leading scorer, but he ranks just 270th nationally with 15.4 points per game. His true value comes in his selfless play and ability to do several things well: He's one of the team's top defenders and also pulls down more than seven rebounds per game.

Nova is as strong of a team unit as any in college basketball, but if it needs a star to rise to the occasion in Houston, all eyes will be looking to Hart.

4. Michael Gbinije, Syracuse

Michael Gbinije

Here's how important Gbinije is to the Orange's hopes: In four NCAA tournament games so far, he's played all but six minutes. The senior may not be the star every night on the court, but he's the most experienced and consistent player on the team.

His diverse skill set -- his 17/4/4 average is unmatched by any other Final Four players. Richardson or other Syracuse shooters are liable to go cold, but the team's success will more likely hinge on Gbinije's ability to hold the unit together.

3. Isaiah Cousins, Oklahoma

Isaiah Cousins

Perhaps more than any other player on the Sooners roster, Cousins has made sacrifices to help the team win. This year, he transitioned to the point guard position and took on a greater role as a facilitator, rather than a scorer. His assists doubled from 2.2 last season to 4.6 this season.

Meanwhile, Cousins is critical to Oklahoma's perimeter defense. Oklahoma will need him to lock down against any team it faces, whether it's the imposing Villanova backcourt, North Carolina's Paige or Syracuse's Richardson.

2. Brice Johnson, North Carolina

Brice Johnson

The Tar Heels big man's value cannot be denied. He's averaging 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the floor, making a strong case for this summer's NBA draft. Offensively, North Carolina will go to its star big man early and often.

But if Johnson truly wants to make a difference in this Final Four, he'll continue to improve his defensive play, which has picked up a notch since tournament time began. His shot-blocking on the inside and strong pick-and-roll defense are keys to North Carolina controlling the interior and forcing teams to settle for long, contested jumpers.

1. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Buddy Hield

You knew Buddy Hield was going to make this list, and you probably assumed he'd be No. 1. What you might not realize: As great as Hield has been all season, he's gotten even better since the NCAA tournament began. After averaging 25.4 points in the regular season, he's at 29.3 in the tournament.

He drilled eight three-pointers against top-seeded Oregon to punch Oklahoma's ticket to the Final Four. Some have compared his NCAA tourney run to that famous performance by Stephen Curry, when he brought Davidson within a three-point basket of reaching the Final Four.

There's a big gap here between No. 1 and No. 2. Buddy Hield is the star of this Final Four, and if momentum carries over to the weekend, he'll prove it on the court.

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