Beware the guards of March: twenty deadly backcourt heroes

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Basketball may be a big man’s game, but college basketball is dominated by the teams who land the best ball-handlers, slashers and long-range shooters. Want to get to the Final Four? You have to have one or two elite guards. There are so many who will take the stage before the weekend comes, and I want you to know them all.

Numbers 1-8. Tom Petty Rob Dauster and the Heartbreakers: Eight of the most dangerous guards in the game were profiled by my colleague yesterday. Trey Burke, Seth Curry, Matthew Dellavedova, Kerron Johnson, Shane Larkin, Marcus Smart, Chase Tapley and Khalif Wyatt are known quantities, and I can’t give them any stronger daps than Mr. Dauster already has. If you watched Tuesday night’s games in Dayton, you got a preview of Dellavedova’s shooting stroke, as the Aussie with the distinctive mouthpiece went off for 22 points to earn his team a date with Memphis in the real first round.

9. Ben McLemore, Kansas: The redshirt freshman from St. Louis has been a crucial piece for the Jayhawks, nailing a buzzer-beater to keep his team alive against Iowa State in the regular season, and showing an ability to throw down monster dunks during game action. It’s his shooting stroke that promises to stand out in March – he sends television announcers into raptures every time he goes up for a jumper. Some are still holding out hope for injured Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel to be the NBA’s top pick this summer, but others lean toward smooth-as-silk McLemore.

10. Russ Smith, Louisville: It’s tough not to get giddy when a Louisville game is on the slate, because you know you’re about to watch a veritable force of nature. Smith is speedy, so he’s had a race horse named after him by his coach. Smith is an excellent scorer who also occasionally takes mental vacations (sometimes both on the same play), which has earned him the sobriquet Russdiculous. He’s one of the main reasons the Cards are the No. 1 overall seed, and favorites to cut down the nets in Atlanta.

11. Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Craft is so crucial to the Buckeyes, but he doesn’t always do it with scoring. Yes, he put 20 points on Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals, and it’s nice to know he has that gear when it’s needed, but that’s not really his game. Craft is a facilitator who averages 4.6 assists per game, but more than that, he’s the best on-ball defender in the game right now. Woe to any opponent who hopes to dazzle pro scouts on a night when he lines up across from Aaron Craft. Which brings me to…

12. Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones, Iona: The nation’s third-leading scorer behind Erick Green and Creighton big man Doug McDermott, Momo may be best remembered for his two years at Arizona, which ended in an Elite Eight run two years ago. Momo transferred to be closer to his family in Harlem, which was Iona’s gain. Momo’s deft passing is overshadowed by his gunnery, but he’s good at dropping dimes as well. Momo vs. Craft is one of my must-see opening round matchups.

13. Victor Oladipo, Indiana: I could almost feel Hoosier fans getting edgier and edgier as they read the names of other guards at the top of this page. No, I haven’t forgotten Mr. Oladipo. How could I? The 6’5″ junior was a revelation for the top-seeded Hoosiers this season, and if he hadn’t played in the same league as Michigan’s Burke, he would have garnered even more plaudits. The numbers say it all: Oladipo averaged 13.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game this season. His deep shooting improved dramatically, going from 20 percent last season to 44 percent this year. When opponents double-team Cody Zeller in the post, Victor Oladipo is the man who makes them pay.

14. Rotnei Clarke, Butler: Clarke is an Arkansas transfer who will only play this one season at Butler, but what a season it has been. Clarke hit a crazy one-handed shot in Hawaii in November, and he’s been Butler’s leading scorer all season long, averaging 16.7 points per game. Clarke has been somewhat mis-cast as a distributor for the Bulldogs – imagine what he could do if he had an elite point guard getting him the ball?

15. Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA: You may have wondered what the Free Shabazz Muhammad movement was all about when the freshman’s debut was delayed by the NCAA. It’s about this. UCLA is relevant in March again, and Muhammad is the biggest reason. Kudos also go to his backcourt mate Larry Drew II, but Muhammad is the face of the program right now, and likely to go high in the NBA draft in a few months.

16: Phil Pressey, Missouri: “Flip” led the SEC in passing this season, averaging 7.1 points per game. His nickname gets a little too on-the-nose when it comes time for him to shoot the ball, but he’s perfectly capable of hitting some daggers as well. He’ll have his hands full with Colorado State’s rugged defense in the Tigers’ first game, but his ability to involve his teammates will be the key to winning.

17: Ian Clark, Belmont: We talked about Kerron Johnson above, and it’s a measure of how dangerous Belmont can be that we felt the need to mention Clark as well. Clark averages 18.1 points and 3.3 assists per game, and the senior from Memphis is a constant threat to poke away a steal or two from an unwary opponent. With their dual engines in the backcourt, Belmont could easily be a Sweet Sixteen team.

18: Derrick Marks, Boise State: If you’re getting anxious, you can watch Marks tonight, as his Broncos take on Ramon Galloway and the La Salle Explorers in Dayton at 9 pm on tru TV. Marks plays his biggest in big games. He dropped 35 points on Creighton, earning a win that probably tipped the scales when the selection committee put BSU in the Dance. He also hung 27 on New Mexico, 38 on Colorado State and 27 on San Diego State in Mountain West play.

source: AP
Nate Wolters can even play without pants. (AP)

19: Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse: At 6’6″, MCW is so big it’s easy to forget he’s a guard. But his 7.7 assists per game in the rugged Big East render the distinction moot. He can also throw down an eye-opening dunk when the opportunity presents itself, and is a defensive force for the Orange as well, averaging 2.7 steals per contest.

20: Nate Wolters, South Dakota State: No, I haven’t forgotten Wolters. Neither have Michigan’s coaches, who are no doubt wide-eyed and suffering from the caffeine shakes as they try to figure out how to keep the Jackrabbit stud from dousing their title quest on the first day. Wolters can do it all: He’s averaging 22.7 points per game and is capable of scoring 30 on any given night. He rebounds, dishes, defends and hits the three-pointer at a roughly 40 percent clip. And if you put him on the line, he’ll sink you there, too. He’s an 81 percenter on the freebies. If you want to sound smart around the water cooler this week, get to know Wolters.

The killer part of this is that I just gave you twenty guards to keep an eye on, and I still feel reasonably certain that someone not on this list will distinguish himself on the national stage before it’s all said and done. That’s how good this year’s crop of guards is. Think I left someone out? Let me have it in the comments.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Washington lands four-star forward Hameir Wright

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Washington and new head coach Mike Hopkins snagged another talented piece on Saturday as four-star forward Hameir Wright committed to the Huskies.

The reigning New York State Gatorade Player of the Year, Wright had was originally supposed to be a member of the Class of 2018, but he will skip his scheduled season at Brewster Academy to join Washington for the 2017-18 season.

The 6-foot-7 Wright was being pursued by a solid list of high-major programs this summer as Washington was able to land another talented player from upstate New York for next season. Wright joins wing Naz Carter, the nephew of Jay Z, as recent commits who can come in and play next season for the Huskies.

Hopkins has used his former connections as a Syracuse assistant to get his roster two immediate pieces that could be four-year players. It’s a really positive start for the first-year head coach as he has a lot of holes to fill on the Washington roster.

VIDEO: Luke Maye continues hitting big shots this summer for North Carolina

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Luke Maye became a local hero during North Carolina’s 2017 NCAA tournament run after making the game-winning jumper to get past Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

Maye has received standing ovations in class, he’s been recognized at baseball games and he’s become a celebrity since returning to Chapel Hill.

The legend of Maye will continue to grow after the junior forward knocked down another game-winning jumper against former North Carolina players during the summer Roy Williams Basketball Camp.

With a sizable camp crowd watching, Maye knocked down a top-of-the-key three last week to get the win. Theo Pinson knows the shot is good right after it leaves Maye’s hands and watching his reaction might be my favorite part of this.

North Carolina is hoping that Maye’s confidence and shooting carries into next season since they’ll need him to play a much larger part with the departures of Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley.

(H/t: Jeremy Harson)

Clemson lands three-star Class of 2018 guard John Newman

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Clemson was able to land a commitment from three-star Class of 2018 shooting guard John Newman on Friday night.

The 6-foot-4 Newman selected the Tigers over his other finalists that included Providence, Virginia and Wake Forest. Newman is coming off of a solid spring with Team CP3 in the Nike EYBL and he also had a good showing at the NBPA Top 100 Camp last week at the University of Virginia.

An aggressive perimeter threat who can score or distribute, Newman can not only put up points in bunches but he’s also pretty efficient in terms of his shooting splits.

Newman put up 11.5 points per game at Top 100 Camp on 55 percent shooting and 53 percent three-point shooting as he looked like one of the more confident scorers in the camp.

The first commitment for Clemson in the Class of 2018, Newman is an important start for what could be a very big recruiting class for the Tigers.

Notre Dame gets commitment from four-star guard

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Mike Brey’s 2018 recruiting class just got stronger Thursday.

Notre Dame added its second four-star prospect, Robby Carmody, a 6-foot-4 guard from Pennsylvania.

“The recruiting process has been a humbling and exciting experience!” Carmody wrote on social media. “My sincerest appreciation goes out to all the coaches and schools that invested time getting to know me throughout the process.

“Today I am blessed and excited to announce that I am committing to the University of Notre Dame!”

Carmody, who just recently visited the Fighting Irish and Purdue,  joins Prentiss Hubb as the first two pieces of Brey’s 2018 class. Hubb is a 6-foot-2 guard from Washington, DC and a top-75 ranked player nationally.

The Irish will need some major pieces in 2018 after losing the likes of Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell to graduation after this upcoming season. Notre Dame has won at least one NCAA tournament game in each of the last three seasons, making two Elite Eights during that time.

2018 NBA Mock Draft: It’s never too early …

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With the 2017 NBA Draft coming to a close, it’s time to take a look at the 2018 NBA Draft and some of the best, most influential potential pros in the sport next season. 

Here is a first round mock draft for 2018. In a year, we can look back on this and realize just how naive we all were.

Scott Phillips contributed to this story.

1. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri, Fr.: The 6-foot-9 former Washington signee is a lethal scorer that plays on the perimeter and has a chance to be a National Player of the Year and No. 1 overall pick. He’s got the size and athleticism to overwhelm smaller defenders and the quicks to light up college fours, Porter is also a strong rebounder who is tougher than some give him credit for.

The big question for Porter next season isn’t about him, it will be how good that Tigers team is around him. New head coach Cuonzo Martin inherited a mediocre-at-best roster, but he’s added some talented — but very young — pieces. If Porter Jr.’s younger brother, Jontay, also reclassifies to this year, Missouri might even be a sleeper NCAA tournament team.

     RELATED: It’s All In The Family for the Porters

But even if Porter and Missouri misses the Big Dance, as expected, it shouldn’t have any kind of major bearing on his draft stock as long as he is productive. Both Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz went No. 1 in the draft after missing the NCAA tournament.

Michael Porter, Jr. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
2. Deandre Ayton, Arizona, Fr.: Not many 7-footers move as well as Ayton, and it was part of the reason he was once considered the No. 1 prospect in this class. As a sophomore in high school, Ayton once gave future Final Four team North Carolina a double-double in an exhibition game in his native Bahamas.

With an ability to run the floor like a guard while being quick enough to switch onto some perimeter players, Ayton is a rare athlete at center who also has some intriguing offensive capabilities: He has a good touch from the free-throw line and mid-range and some fluidity on the perimeter.

But the big question is his motor. There are times when Ayton disappears for stretches of games, and then there are the stretches where he absolutely dominates everyone. It’ll be fascinating to see which Ayton we see every game at Arizona. If he’s engaged all year he has a chance to be a No. 1 pick.

3. Miles Bridges, Michigan State, So.: Bridges will test whether or not returning to school when you are a projected lottery pick is the dumbest thing that an athlete can do. Anyone that watched Michigan State play last season knows how good this guy is. He’s a 6-foot-7 combo-forward that jumps through the roof and can be a multi-positional defender. In a league that prioritizes positionless basketball and values the ability to defend the rim and space the floor, Bridges shot 39 percent from three and averaged 1.5 blocks.

The big question for him next season is going to be his transition to being a full-time perimeter player. Bridges spent much of his freshman campaign playing a small-ball four role for the Spartans. But with Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward on the floor at the same time, he’s going to be a small forward through and through. Is he skilled enough for that role, or will he be “exposed”?

4. Luka Doncic, Real Madrid: The random Euro dude you’ve never heard of. He’s 6-foot-8. He’s a shooting guard that knocked down 37 percent of his threes. He’s from Slovenia. His dad’s named Sasa. When my son was born I used my one name veto on ‘Luka’. Draft Express thinks he’s going No. 1 overall. I’ll slot him in at No. 4 because his neckbeard hasn’t fully grown in yet.

5. Robert Williams, Texas A&M, So.: Here’s to hoping that Williams made the right decision. A 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and freakish athleticism that averaged 11.9 points, 8.2 boards and 2.6 blocks as a freshman, Williams made the decision to return to College Station for his sophomore season when he had the chance to be a first round pick — potentially a lottery pick — in the 2017 NBA Draft. That’s a serious risk, one that Cal center Ivan Rabb learned was not the best decision when he went from being a projected lottery pick to the No. 35 pick by returning for his sophomore campaign. The Aggies should be really good next season, and that will help, as will the fact that there is actually a point guard on the roster. But striking while the iron is hot is the key for potential lottery picks when it comes to cashing in on those guaranteed contracts.

6. Mohamed Bamba, Texas, Fr.: Gifted with an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan, the 7-foot-1 Bamba has the chance to be one of the best defensive players in the nation this season. Not only can Bamba wall up at the rim and defend with his ridiculous standing reach, but he’s also quick enough to switch and defend wings on the perimeter and stick with them. Rebounding also comes naturally to Bamba because his length enables him to snare rebounds well above rim level.

Offense is going to be the major question mark with Bamba. While Bamba has been able to finish over smaller defenders near the basket, he’s a very skinny 210 pounds and he doesn’t possess a lot of polish. Even if Bamba’s offensive game doesn’t show a lot this season, he has the kind of rare athleticism and tools that could make him a top three pick.

7. Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State, Fr.: Late-blooming big man Jaren Jackson Jr. has a chance to be a rare Big Ten one-and-done player. The 6-foot-10 Jackson just helped La Lumiere to a national championship at the high school level last season as he’ll be a major piece for the Spartans this season.

Not only can Jackson produce at a potential double-double level but he’s also a gifted three-point shooter who is effective in the pick-and-pop game. Young for his class, Jackson’s body and skill level are still developing, but he showed signs of being a dominant sidekick for Miles Bridges.

Wendell Carter, Jon Lopez/Nike
8. Wendell Carter, Duke, Fr.: The 6-foot-10 Carter should be much more of an impact than Harry Giles III or Marques Bolden this season as he’s a developed scorer who can play with his back to the basket or facing up. With a surprising amount of touch and perimeter skill for a 260-pound big man, Carter is the type of force who could attract double teams while opening things up for guys like Grayson Allen.

And Carter is no slouch athletically, either. Although he’s not a freak like Ayton or Bamba, Carter is a very good athlete who can rebound in traffic and protect the rim as well. It would come as no surprise if Carter was actually the most effective big man of this list at the college level this season as he should have a very balanced roster around him.

9. Bruce Brown, Miami, So.: I’m all-in on Miami as a national title contender this season, and one of the biggest reasons why is Bruce Brown. He’s a 6-foot-5 combo-guard with long arms and a physical frame, he shoots it well from three and can operate in pick-and-rolls and has a competitive fire about him that cannot be taught. I think there’s a chance that he ends up being the ACC Player of the Year this year, and if Jim Larrañaga can work his point guard magic with him, he’ll be a top ten pick in June.

10. Troy Brown, Oregon, Fr.: Brown is something of a swiss army knife in the sense that he can do a little bit of everything. He scores, he passes, he hits the glass and he does all this as a 6-foot-6 wing with a 6-foot-11 wingspan. He’ll also be playing for a team that will showcase his versatility in Oregon. On paper, he looks like a guy that should fit the positionless mold of the modern NBA quite well. Having said that, he’s not a great athlete and he’s not a great shooter, which takes some of the luster off of the idea that he can guard multipositions and spread the floor.

11. Chimezie Metu, USC, Jr.: Metu is an interesting, still-developing prospect. He’s got the physical tools to project as an NBA front court player as well as an improving offensive repertoire. The key for him is going to be seeing where he takes a step forward this offseason. He has a decent base of perimeter skills — he makes midrange jumpers and shoots 75 percent from the foul line — but ultimately he needs to extend that range and showcase more toughness in the paint, on the glass and protecting the rim.

Collin Sexton, Jon Lopez/Nike
12. Collin Sexton, Alabama, Fr.: One of the best scorers at 6-foot-1 in recent memory, Sexton led the EYBL, Nike’s AAU circuit, in scoring last spring by a full eight points, nearly 30 points per game. Sexton is undersized and incredibly intense bordering on insane, which means that he’ll a fun player to watch and one that could become very popular with fans this season. The MVP of USA Basketball’s gold-medal winning U17 World Championship team last summer, Sexton has a big-game mentality as he’s one of the most competitive players in the class.

     RELATED: How Collin Sexton made himself a five-star

Perimeter shooting was is the shaky part of Sexton’s scoring game. He has improved it steadily over time, but that’s something he’s going to need to develop if he’s going to be a lottery pick as many project him to be.

13. Lonnie Walker, Miami, Fr.: Another one of the reasons I think that Miami is going to be awesome this season. Walker is a big, long and strong shooting guard than can play with the ball in his hands. He made 40 percent of his threes on the Nike EYBL circuit and he has the tools to be a big time defensive menace. He’s one of my favorite guards in the Class of 2017.

14. Trevon Duval, Duke, Fr.: A freakish athlete at point guard who can play well above the rim, the 6-foot-2 Duval will help stabilize the point guard position for Duke this season. Working in a reliable jump shot is going to be the big thing to watch for Duval this season. The way the point guard spot is trending, he’ll need to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers — something that hasn’t always been reliable. There are also times that Duval can play too fast as he can be reckless with turnovers and taking tough shots. But if Duval corrects those workable mistakes, then he has a chance to get Duke to another Final Four because they have plenty of offensive weapons.

  • 15. De’Anthony Melton, USC, So.
  • 16. Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, Fr.
  • 17. Mitchell Robinson, Western Kentucky, Fr.
  • 18. Justin Jackson, Maryland, So.
  • 19. Grayson Allen, Duke, Sr.
  • 20. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas, Sr.
  • 21. Kevin Knox, Kentucky, Fr.
  • 22. Shake Milton, SMU, Jr.
  • 23. V.J. King, Louisville, So.
  • 24. Killian Tillie, Gonzaga, So.
  • 25. Quenton Rose, Temple, So.
  • 26. Vince Edwards, Purdue, Sr.
  • 27. Allonzo Trier, Arizona, Jr.
  • 28. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin, Jr.
  • 29. Marques Bolden, Duke, So.
  • 30. Aaron Holiday, UCLA, Jr.