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Looking at the top big men in the 2014 NCAA Tournament


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PREVIEWSEast Region South Region | Midwest Region West Region

A presence in the paint can go a long way this time of year. Look no further than last year’s national title game. Gorgui Dieng manned the frontline for national champion Louisville. In the title game the Cardinals topped Michigan, which had freshman center Mitch McGary emerge as the tournament’s breakout star. 

Here’s a look at 12 of the most important wing forwards in the 2014 NCAA Tournament:

MORELead Guards | Off-Guards | Wing Forwards

Adreian Payne, Michigan State — One of three key players for Michigan State who dealt with injuries this season, but we’ve seen how dangerous Sparty can be when healthy. Payne averaged 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and stretching out the opposing frontcourts, hitting 42 percent of his threes. He and Keith Appling will try and keep Tom Izzo’s streak of seniors reaching the Final Four alive.

Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico — The Lobos won the Mountain West Conference Tournament and a big reason to their success this season has been Bairstow’s improvement. He went from 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a junior to 20.3 and 7.4 a night as a senior, and can be tough to defend on the block. With Bairstow, fellow big man Alex Kirk and 2013 Mountain West Player of the Year, Kendall Williams, it isn’t crazier to think New Mexico could reach the Elite 8.

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville — There were big expectations from Harrell to go from role player to star and the sophomore forward has not disappointed. He’s recorded five double-doubles in Louisville’s last 11 games and is posting averages of 14.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. In the Midwest Region, you won’t find many bigs as physical as Harrell. Teams like Wichita State and Duke could have trouble stopping him inside.

Frank Kaminksy, Wisconsin — This is a different offensive team than Wisconsin has had in the past. A main reason for that is the emergence of Kaminsky. The junior center only logged a little over 10 minutes a game for the Badgers last season, but this year he’s given them a versatile frontcourt option. He can score down low, and he can stretch the defense with deep shooting. Will he help the Wisconsin offensive attack get Bo Ryan to his first Final Four?

Patric Young, Florida — While he won’t necessarily intimidate anyone with his offensive skill set, he’s is a force down low on defense in a big frontline for the Gators. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year is one of the best post defenders in the country with the size and foot speed to gain position on the block and in the paint. Florida has a roster where players know their roles. Young is no exception.

MORE: Eight teams that will win it all Eight teams that won’t win it all

James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina — The Tar Heels have been hot and cold this season, and enter the tournament with two straight losses with a matchup against a Providence riding the momentum of a Big East Tournament championship. When Marcus Paige and McAdoo, who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, are on, North Carolina is a sleeper in the East Region.

Sam Dower, Gonzaga — Marcus Smart has played well since returning from suspension, but Oklahoma State is in for a challenge in the Round of 64. Without Michael Cobbins, the Pokes will have a disadvantage inside against Gonzaga’s Sam Dower. After averaging 15.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 59 percent from the field, the Zags forward could be in for a huge first game of the NCAA tournament.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor — Take away the Big 12 Tournament loss to Iowa State and Jefferson had a string of really good games, posting three straight double-doubles. He and Isaiah Austin are playing well together for a team that dug itself in the conference basement earlier this season. Jefferson and the Bears can bust some brackets with their size on the frontline.

Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee — The Volunteers haven’t even reached the Round of 64 as they take on Iowa in the First Four on Wednesday. The junior forward could be a big reason why Tennessee could advance to play UMass. Stokes is averaging a double-double per game and can control the defensive glass against the Hawkeyes.

Joel Embiid, Kansas* — He entered Lawrence with a high ceiling, which quickly turned into the projected top overall draft pick in 2014. However, Embiid has been sidelined with a back injury, putting Kansas’ title hopes in question. Embiid went for 18 points, six rebound and blocked four shots against New Mexico in the regular season back in December. That’s a potential Round of 32 game and without him in the lineup, the Lobo frontline (mentioned above) could send the Jayhawks home early.

VIDEO: Michigan State celebrates Tom Izzo’s 500th victory

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Thursday afternoon No. 3 Michigan State rolled past Boston College at the DirecTV Wooden Legacy, winning 99-68 in Fullerton, California. The win was special for multiple reasons, as not only did senior Denzel Valentine post his second triple-double of the season (29 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists) but it was also Tom Izzo’s 500th victory as Michigan State head coach.

Above is video of the celebration, which includes former Michigan State great and current Golden State Warrior Draymond Green giving Izzo a Rolex watch with the words “nice start” engraved on it. As you can tell Izzo got emotional over the entire ordeal, giving thanks to his players past and present for their efforts.

Video credit: Michigan State Athletics

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Fourteen ranked teams in action

Trevor Cooney
Associated Press
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GAME OF THE DAY: Syracuse vs. No. 25 Texas A&M (ESPN)

The championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis matches two teams who arrived in the Bahamas looking to make a statement nationally, and both did so Thursday. The Aggies, who along with Vanderbilt are Kentucky’s greatest competition in the SEC, have experience on the perimeter and some good front court options as well. How Danuel House, Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins navigate the Syracuse zone will be a key factor in this one. As for Syracuse, while seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney have led the way the contributions of Tyler Roberson and freshmen Tyler Lydon and Malachi Richardson should not be overlooked either.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: No. 10 Gonzaga vs. No. 17 UConn, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Both teams lost thrillers in the Battle 4 Atlantis semifinals Thursday, with the Bulldogs falling by one to No. 25 Texas A&M and the Huskies losing by three to Syracuse. Now they look to avoid a second straight defeat in what should be an interesting matchup. Gonzaga’s front court size will be something UConn has to find an answer for, but it isn’t as if they don’t have options themselves. Shonn Miller’s matchup with Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer will be something to keep an eye on, as will Gonzaga’s guards taking on UConn’s talented and experienced group.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: No. 11 Arizona (vs. Providence), 11:30 p.m. (ESPN)

By now we all know Providence point guard Kris Dunn, as he’s one of the nation’s best players. But what makes the Friars a dangerous team now, and moving forward, is the emergence of other options. Ben Bentil’s averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and Rodney Bullock’s been even better at 16.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg. While Dunn’s name may be on the marquee this isn’t some one-man band playing for head coach Ed Cooley. Add in the uncertain status of Arizona senior center Kaleb Tarczewski (left ankle) and the Wildcats’ shot selection in a “closer than it needed to be” win over Santa Clara, and this is a good opportunity for Providence to add a quality win to its early-season résumé.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Monmouth vs. Dayton, 9:30 p.m.

The Flyers aren’t a mid-major, but their opposition is the reason why this game is chosen here. King Rice’ Hawks have won three of their first four games to start the season, which includes wins over UCLA and No. 17 Notre Dame, and the strength of their schedule means that they won’t have any fear of Dayton. Both teams have talented perimeter rotations, with Justin Robinson leading the Hawks and Scoochie Smith doing so for the Flyers. The key will be how Dayton’s front court tandem of Kendall Pollard and Steve McElvene play; if they win their respective matchups Dayton will have the upper hand.


  • No. 1 Kentucky is back in action, this time taking on a USF team (5:00 p.m., ESPN) led by former John Calipari assistant Orlando Antigua. That fact may keep this contest between the high-powered Wildcats and rebuilding Bulls at a respectable margin.
  • No. 24 Cincinnati plays its second game away from home, as they take on Nebraska in Brooklyn. Farad Cobb’s played very well to start the season for the Bearcats, who are a bit underrated nationally. Not only will the Huskers have their hands full on the perimeter, but Cincinnati has both depth and experience in the post as well.
  • Illinois, having already lost three games this season, takes on a tough UAB squad at the Emerald Coast Classic in Florida (9:30 p.m., CBSSN). The Fighting Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Lands three-pointer to beat Chicago State earlier this week, and the Blazers are an experienced group that reached the NCAA tournament last season.
  • West Virginia and San Diego State meet in the title game of the Continental Las Vegas Invitational (10:30 p.m., FS1) in a fun matchup of defensive-minded teams. “Press Virginia” will look to turn over the Aztecs in the open floor, and SDSU (which can extend its defense when needed) has one of the stingiest half-court defenses in the country.
  • No. 23 Xavier and USC meet in the other AdvoCare Invitational semifinal (2:30 p.m., ESPNU), with the Trojans looking to build on an early-season start that has surprised some people. But while Bennie Boatwright can be a matchup issue offensively as the four, how he competes with the likes of Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds will have a major impact on this game.
  • Boise State will look to do what no one’s been able to do thus far: keep Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in check (5:30 p.m., ESPN2). The senior guard posted his second triple-double of the season, and he’s got the undefeated and third-ranked Spartans rolling right now. But keep an eye on Boise State’s James Webb III. While he was quiet in their win over UC Irvine, he went for 27 and nine in a loss at No. 11 Arizona last week.


  • Virginia Tech vs. No. 4 Iowa State, 7:00 p.m. (CBSSN)
  • Georgia Tech vs. No. 8 Villanova, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Richmond vs. No. 14 California, 8:00 p.m. (FS1)
  • Northeastern at No. 15 Miami, 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • No. 17 Notre Dame vs. Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Alabama vs. No. 20 Wichita State, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN3)


  • Arkansas vs. Stanford, 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
  • UC Irvine vs. Boston College, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Southern Illinois vs. UTEP, 3:30 p.m.
  • FGCU at Florida, 6:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
  • Winthrop at NC State, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Texas vs. Michigan, 7:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • Ohio State vs. Memphis, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Long Beach State at Oklahoma State, 8:30 p.m.
  • George Washington vs. Tennessee, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN3)