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14 players who can become NCAA tournament legends

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PREVIEWSDummy’s guide to filling out a bracket  |  7 must-watch games  |  Sleeper teams

March Madness is when heroes get made in college basketball. With the eyes of an entire nation descending upon our sport for a month, getting hot on the court as spring begins to thaw out a polar vortex-induced deep freeze is what can turn a good player into an unforgettable memory, into One Shining Moment. 

Guys like Harold Arceneaux and C.J. McCollum, Danny Manning and Kemba Walker, Bryce Drew and Ali Farokhmanesh. You might not remember who he beat, but you should remember Stephen Curry carrying Davidson to without a shot of the Final Four, or Carmelo Anthony leading Jim Boeheim to his only national title.

Here are 14 players that can turn this into their tournament:

TOP PLAYERS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

TITLE CONTENDERS

Doug McDermott, Creighton: Dougie McBuckets. The best player in the country. One of the best scorers that we’ve seen in college basketball history. How good is he? I always use this as an example: McDermott scored 22 points, hitting four threes, and grabbed 12 boards in Creighton’s loss at Georgetown earlier this month, and the overriding sentiment was that he had an off-night. Think about that. He can get 35 a night in the tournament and I wouldn’t be shocked.

Here’s the interesting part: McDermott’s career is incredible, but legends get made in March. A deep run in the tournament is the one thing that he’s missing on his resume. Will he get it this year?

Jabari Parker, Duke: The easy comparison to make for Jabari Parker at the next level is Carmelo Anthony, and, like Anthony in 2003, Parker will enter the tournament on a team with a No. 3 seed. Parker may be the most difficult matchup in the tournament and has already proven himself capable of carrying the weight for the Blue Devils.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins has been the most over-analyzed player in the country, but we all saw what he is capable of in the loss at West Virginia the overtime win over Oklahoma State in the last two weeks. With Embiid’s status uncertain, if Wiggins can lead Kansas to a Final Four, he’ll be the biggest story in college basketball.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Wouldn’t it be something if Michigan can make back-to-back Final Fours despite losing Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary? If they do, it will be because of Stauskas, who has turned into the focal point for that offensive attack.

Russ Smith, Louisville: It feels weird saying this about a guy that is coming off of a Final Four and a National Title in the past two seasons, but with the change in Smith’s role this season, he’s become a much bigger part of this team’s success. He’s capable of carrying the Cardinals to a back-to-back titles.

MORE8 teams that can win it all  |  8 that won’t  |  TV times  |  Bracket contest

SLEEPERS

Shabazz Napier, UConn: Can Bazz get his Kemba on? He’s had that kind of a season for the Huskies this year, hitting big shot after big shot while carrying the Huskies to a No. 7 seed in the Big Dance. He also has a flair for the dramatic. Don’t be surprised if when his game-winners make One Shining Moment.

Bryce Cotton, Providence: I’m glad Cotton has gotten a chance to play on a national stage. He’s thrived in anonymity for the last four years, and now he can showcase his ability nation-wide. An upset over North Carolina would be a good place to start, but …

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: … he’ll be going up against another guard with the ability to take over in Paige. North Carolina has the ability to make a run this year, and Paige is the guy that will carry them. There’s a reason is nickname is “second half Paige”.

T.J. Warren, N.C. State: 30 times this season, T.J. Warren has scored more than 20 points. He’s done it in 18 straight games, including popping off for more than 40 in back-to-back games at the end of the regular season. He was the ACC Player of the Year. N.C. State already won a game in March. If they make a run, he’ll be a star.

Marcus Foster, Kansas State: The freshman no one talked about. Foster is a tough scorer and a big-time athlete at the off-guard spot, but he’ll have a couple of tough matchups with Kentucky and then, in all likelihood, a date with Wichita State.

CINDERELLAS

Taylor Braun, North Dakota State: I really like Braun and I’ve loved this North Dakota State team all season, but they drew a tough matchup for them against Oklahoma. Still, Braun is their best player and a guy that can takeover in crunch time.

Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette: Payton is a beast. He played with Team USA in the U-19 championships this summer and started. He’s an athletic, penetrating guard that’s a terror defensively, and he’ll be tough for Creighton to matchup with. People notice if you knock out the National Player of the Year.

Langston Hall, Mercer: Hall is as tough of a point guard as you are going to find and, like C.J. McCollum and Eric Maynor before him, he’ll have a chance to etch his name into history by leading his team to an upset of Duke in the NCAA tournament.

David Brown, Western Michigan: I’ve got Western Michigan beating Syracuse in the Round of 64. Brown is their leading scorer at 19.7 points. You can do the math there.

No. 3 Gonzaga improves to 20-0 with win over Portland

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07:  Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives against the Washington Huskies in the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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PORTLAND, Ore. — Zach Collins had 13 points and No. 3 Gonzaga remained the nation’s only undefeated Division I team with an 83-64 victory over Portland in a game Monday night that was rescheduled because of a winter storm earlier this month.

The Bulldogs have won 20 straight games, their longest streak since winning that many in the 2005-06 and 2003-04 seasons. Gonzaga is now 8-0 in West Coast Conference play.

Silas Melson and Jordan Mathews each added 12 points for the Zags, who led by as many as 33 points and had four players in double-digits.

Rashad Jackson and D’Marques Tyson had 15 points apiece for Portland, which won its first two games in conference but has lost six straight since then. The Pilots (9-11, 2-6 WCC) are playing their first season under former NBA player and coach Terry Porter.

The game was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but a winter storm in Portland forced it to be postponed. Portland opened up extra seats and Gonzaga’s fans outnumbered the home team’s crowd.

The two teams had met just two days ago in Spokane, with Gonzaga leading from the start to win 73-52. But Portland, playing without top scorer Alec Wintering, out-rebounded the Zags 41-33 and held them to 45 percent shooting.

The Zags fared better on Monday, out-rebounding Portland 41-36 and shooting 42 percent.

Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who left the game against Portland because of a left hip injury with about five minutes left, was questionable against Portland but started.

But freshman forward Killian Tillie appeared to injure his right leg under Portland’s basket with 9:38 to go in the game, and teammates helped him from the floor. The 6-foot-10 Tillie, who is from France, is averaging 4.8 points this season.

Wintering, a senior, was hurt in last Thursday’s game against San Francisco and the Pilots announced this weekend that his college career was over because of a torn left ACL.

Wintering averaged 19.5 points and 5.6 assists a game this season. He was on Portland’s bench in street clothes, but during warmups before the game and at the break he was on the court, offering his teammates advice and encouragement.

Gonzaga jumped out to a 9-0 run but the Pilots closed within 9-8 following Philipp Hartwich’s dunk. Portland was competitive, answering Melson’s 3-pointer for Gonzaga with Jackson’s 3 that got the Pilots within 22-19.

But the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to go up 30-19 and went into halftime with on a 16-4 run for a 38-23 lead. Melson and Jonathan Williams led Gonzaga at the break with eight points apiece. Jackson’s 13 first-half points for Portland were a new career high for a game.

Gonzaga extended the lead to 50-26 on Przemek Karnowski’s layup with just under 16 minutes to go, the Bulldogs were on the way to their 20th straight win.

THE BIG PICTURE:

Gonzaga: The Zags have won eight straight against Portland. … The Bulldogs’ longest winning streak was 22 games, set in the

Portland: Portland Trail Blazers President Neil Olshey was at the game. … The game, originally scheduled to be played over winter break, was sold out. So despite school being back in session, the usual student section wasn’t as large for the televised game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS: Gonzaga rose a spot from No. 4 and only trails No. 1 Villanova (19-1) and No. 2 Kansas (18-1) in the AP rankings released earlier in the day. The Bulldogs were also ranked No. 3 in the Feb. 23, 2015 poll.

VIDEO: Andrew Jones nails deep three to give Texas win over Oklahoma

AUSTIN, TX - DECEMBER 27: James Banks #4 and Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns react during the game between the Texas Longhorns and the Kent State Golden Flashesat the Frank Erwin Center on December 27, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Texas freshman Andrew Jones nailed one of the most heroic game-winners of conference play with a dagger against Oklahoma on Monday night.

The Longhorns put together an 84-83 win over the Sooners as Jones took the final possession off of a missed free throw to dribble across the floor and fire an NBA-range bomb over a defender.

This win isn’t going to save a struggling Texas season, but it’s a nice win and a confidence-boosting shot for a McDonald’s All-American who has the potential to be a big-time player with some more seasoning. Jones finished with 16 points in the win as the Longhorns are now 8-12 and 2-6 in the Big 12.

(H/t: Mike Leslie)

VIDEO: Dennis Smith Jr. caps N.C. State win with thunder dunk

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives in for a dunk as time expires during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Dennis Smith Jr. showed why he is a potential top three pick in this year’s draft and why he was the reason many thought that the Wolfpack could be an Elite 8 team coming into the season on Monday, popping off for 32 points and six assists as N.C. State won at No. 17 Duke, 84-82.

He capped off the performance with the perfect exclamation point, a dunk contest-worthy throwdown:

Let’s get another angle of that dunk, shall we?:

Three Takeaways from N.C. State’s win over No. 17 Duke

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23:  Head coach Mark Gottfried talks to Dennis Smith Jr. #4 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack during their win against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-82.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. had a monster performance as he scored 32 points and had six assists to lead the Wolfpack past No. 17 Duke for an ACC road win.

Here are three takeaways for an important win for N.C. State.

1. This is the Dennis Smith Jr. (and N.C. State) that we envisioned 

Before this season N.C. State received a lot of hype with some pundits — including NBCSports.com — because people knew that freshman Dennis Smith Jr. was a lottery pick talent and there were other pieces around him that could be productive. Smith has mostly lived up to his top-five hype this season but Monday night’s game saw the North Carolina native go to another level.

Smith comes from a family of N.C. State fans. It is part of the reason he selected the Wolfpack even though they aren’t a one-and-done factory like some other schools. The Wolfpack hadn’t won in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995 and this year’s N.C. State had lost four of five ACC games entering Monday.

And Smith went completely bonkers. He finished with 32 points and six assists as he was 4-for-6 from three-point range.

At the end of the first half when it looked like Duke might take a double-digit lead into the break, Smith converted a three-point play and followed it up with a tough, contested three to make it a six-point game. The second half saw more of the same from Smith as he nailed pull-up threes, got to the rim and finished through traffic. It was the type of mesmerizing performance that gets casual basketball fans excited about a player before March Madness begins.

Smith wasn’t the only good player for N.C. State on Monday. Freshman big man Ted Kapita gave crucial minutes inside as he registered his first career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Abdul Malik-Abu was a great secondary option for Smith as he contributed 19 points and nine rebounds. Maverick Rowan (nine points) hit a key late three and some important free throws.

When this team has all of its pieces going you can see why so many people believed N.C. State was capable of the Sweet 16. It feels like this team could be in for a run and the road game at Louisville on Sunday is another major test.

2. Duke is still figuring out its ideal rotation (while getting some answers)

Interim coach Jeff Capel went to some interesting lineup choices on Monday night. Capel started the game by using the lineup that jumpstarted Duke’s second half against Miami. That meant increased minutes for freshman center Marques Bolden as he was paired with Jayson Tatum (16 points) and Frank Jackson.

Seniors Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson were the interchangeable parts who played the most minutes in the first half for the Blue Devils and the second unit included Grayson Allen (13 points), Luke Kennard (20 points) and Harry Giles.

The Blue Devils still have some disjointed sets and scorers are still struggling to play with Tatum at times but there were some promising signs. Giles (eight points, seven rebounds) continues to improve his natural timing and he knocked down a face-up jumper from 17 feet with ease that could help keep defenders honest on him.

There was some good but there was also some bad. Bolden regressed to being a non-factor once again and Allen struggled to find a consistent scoring touch with a 4-for-13 performance.

We still have yet to see the (mostly) full strength Blue Devils that make us believe they are a national title contender. It’ll be interesting to see which lineup ultimately plays the best for Duke but they’re struggling to figure out a consistent rotation.

3. Can N.C. State sustain this kind of effort on a nightly basis?

Monday night was N.C. State’s first road win of the season. So for as big as this win is, the Wolfpack still have a long way to go to becoming a consistent factor in a ridiculously deep ACC. Smith is going to get tested quite a bit by Louisville’s length and athleticism on Sunday and playing in front of that Cardinal crowd is one of the hardest things to do in college basketball.

It doesn’t get any easier for N.C. State and they can’t have a major letdown after the high of a road win like this. That losing stretch of four out of five games included some really bad losses. Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are the kind of losses that tournament teams can’t sustain on a regular basis so the Wolfpack have to take care of  business against teams like that for the rest of the season.

Success on the road will also help N.C. State’s tournament cause. This Duke win is nice but now the Wolfpack get two more cracks at top-15 teams away from home with Louisville and Florida State in the next two weeks. If N.C. State can somehow split those road games and stay strong at home they’ll be in good shape the rest of the way.

PHOTO: Nevada wearing pink jerseys to honor Coaches vs. Cancer this week

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Nevada announced that they’ll be wearing special pink uniforms for the next two games to promote cancer awareness.

The Wolf Pack will wear the jerseys on Wednesday (Jan. 25) on the road against Boise State and at home on Saturday (Jan. 28) against New Mexico.

“We are extremely excited and honored to release our new Pink “Cancer-Awareness” Jerseys. It was apparent very early in our time here, that many members of our Nevada Wolf Pack Basketball Program and in our Pack community have been affected or are currently being affected by cancer,” Nevada head coach Eric Musselman said in the release. “We could not be more proud to help support the cause and unite to fight this horrible and devastating disease.”