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Looking at the top lead guards in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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Solid play from the point guard position is a crucial component of an NCAA Tournament run and if you’re a fan of the lead guard position, then you’ll be really happy watching this year’s tournament. There are a number of talented point guards all across the field, including rock-solid seniors like Scottie Wilbekin from Florida and Bryce Cotton from Providence, or newcomers on the scene like Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis.

Here’s a look at 12 lead guards to watch in the 2014 NCAA Tournament:

MORE: Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

Keith Appling, Michigan State – Other players for No. 4 seed Michigan State may be more talented or have better pro futures, but Appling is the engine that makes the Spartans go. Now that he appears to be fully healthy, Appling’s athleticism makes him a completely different player and he averaged 12.3 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game this season. He also nabbed 1.3 steals a game and shot 45 percent from the field and 37 percent from the three-point line. If Appling has a weakness, it’s consistency and his shaky 65 percent free-throw shooting.

Bryce Cotton, Providence – A favorite among college basketball fans and analysts, Cotton played an unbelievable amount of minutes for Providence this season while also putting up tremendous numbers. Cotton played at least 40 minutes in an astounding 21 games this year as he averaged 39.9 minutes a game. The senior played played 50 minutes four times,  45 minutes twice and had an additional 15 games of 40 minutes. Those prolonged minutes helped Cotton average 21.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds for No. 11 seed Providence.

Aaron Craft, Ohio State – Hate him or love him, Craft is one of the best floor leaders and two-way guards in this tournament. Although he struggles to shoot from the perimeter at 30 percent on the season, Craft is still a dynamic on-the-ball defender who can harass an opposing point guard the length of the floor. Craft averaged 9.6 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.5 steals on the year. The senior is also effective in bonus situations because of his ability to draw fouls and knock in free throws at a 73 percent clip. But if No. 6 seed Ohio State is going to make a run, they need Craft to be more consistent on the offensive end and limit turnovers.

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse – One of the best freshman in the country, Ennis was a key member of No. 3 seed Syracuse’s team for the entire season as the Canadian import averaged 12.7 points, 5.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals a game. Although his defense is a bit of an unknown thanks to Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, Ennis has been one of the biggest weapons in the country on the offensive end thanks to his ability to get in the paint and find open teammates or score for himself.

DeAndre Kane, Iowa State – In his first year in Ames after transferring from Marshall, Kane had an All-American season for the Cyclones as the senior averaged 17 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists a game this season. Kane also shot 49 percent from the field and 39 percent from three-point range and he’s the kind of player that wants the ball in his hands during big moments in a game. Kane will be a big reason why No. 3 seed Iowa State has big dreams this March.

MORE: 8 teams that can win it all | TV times | Bracket contest

Shabazz Napier, UConn – Another senior All-American, Napier is perhaps the best clutch performer in the country thanks to his heroic shooting prowess and his knack for stepping up in big games. Who can forget the buzzer-beater to lead UConn past Florida — which is also the last time the Gators lost this season? Napier also led No. 7 seed UConn in points, rebounds and assists as he averaged 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. The senior is also a rock-solid shooter at 39 percent from the three-point line and 85 percent from the free-throw line on the season.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina – No. 6 seed North Carolina would not be where it is today without the improved play of sophomore Marcus Paige. Paige averaged 17.4 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game this season while also saving the Tar Heels from the free throw line with his 88 percent shooting from there. Paige’s first-round matchup with Providence point guard Bryce Cotton might be the best individual match-up that we see in the Round of 64.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State – Although he’s been mired in controversy this season for fan shoving incident at Texas Tech and his penchant for flopping, Smart is still one of the most talented players in the country and Oklahoma State has played well since he returned from suspension. Smart averaged 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.8 steals per game, but his 30 percent three-point shooting and penchant for bad shots can sometimes hurt him. Oklahoma State is one of the more dangerous No. 9 seeds in recent memory if Smart plays like he’s capable of playing on both ends of the floor.

Russ Smith, Louisville – “Russdiculous” has fine-tuned his game in his senior season and he’s a big reason why No. 4 seed Louisville is a favorite to make a third consecutive trip to the Final Four. Smith’s scoring went slightly down this season from 18.7 points to 18.3 points per game, but his assists jumped from 2.9 to 4.7 a game and his shooting percentages skyrocketed. Smith is now much better with shot selection as a senior and it showed when he shot 47 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range this season. Last year as a junior he shot 41 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range.

Xavier Thames, San Diego State – The Mountain West Player of the Year, Thames averaged 16.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3 rebounds per game this season for No. 4 seed San Diego State. But, like Russ Smith, Thames did a nice job of improving his field goal percentages in his senior season as those numbers jumped to 41 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point line after a junior season of 35 percent from the floor and 35 percent from distance.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State – Wichita State sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet isn’t the biggest or flashiest name on this list, but he’s the type of point guard that values winning above all else. The No. 1 seed Shockers are so consistent in-part thanks to VanVleet’s consistency as he averaged 12.1 points, 5.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’s also an outstanding shooter that takes smart shots as VanVleet shot 49 percent from the field, 44 percent from three and 82 percent from the free-throw line.

Scottie Wilbekin, Florida – Last but not least comes senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin of the No. 1 overall seed Florida Gators. Wilbekin was a big-time performer in clutch situations for the Gators this season while averaging 13 points, 3.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game while running Florida’s offense. Wilbekin also shot 40 percent from three-point range and is a decent free-throw shooter at 72 percent. Although his field goal percentage is only 39 percent from the field, Wilbekin doesn’t take too many bad shots and he’s usually steady with the ball in his hands.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Jahii Carson, Arizona State
  • Semaj Christon, Xavier*
  • Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s
  • Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Chaz Williams, UMass

* Eliminated in First Four

Man arrested for selling fake Duke-UNC tickets

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 09:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels throws the ball in against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 9, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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A man was arrested in Durham on Feb. 9th, the day of the Duke-North Carolina game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, for selling counterfeit tickets to the game, according to the Durham Herald-Sun.

The man, a 24-year old from Ft. Myers, Florida, named Andrew Frank Arvai, was busted in a sting that was set up by someone that had bought fake tickets from Arvai before.

From the Sun:

DPD spokesman Wil Glenn alleged that Arvai placed an ad on Craigslist for the tickets and set up a meeting with a ticket broker from stubhub.com at Northgate to sell the tickets to the Feb. 9 game.

Glenn said the broker had purchased tickets from Arvai in the past and the Feb. 9 transaction was a sting. The broker called mall security and alerted a police officer that he was going to meet the scalper, who he accused of selling phony tickets.

According to Durham jail records, he was charged with four counts of scalping tickets, four counts of counterfeiting a trademark and four counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Louisville-North Carolina, Duke-Syracuse preview features two matchups of Hall-of-Famers

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 29:  (R-L) Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels smiles as he talks with head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Final at Bobcats Arena on March 29, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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No. 7 Louisville at No. 8 North Carolina, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN)

There are six active Hall of Fame head coaches in the collegiate ranks today. Four of them are coaching tonight. Two of them will be squaring off with each other in the Dean Dome in what promises to be a terrific games with a ton on the line.

The Tar Heels are currently sitting all alone in first place in the ACC, a game ahead of Duke and Louisville. A win on Wednesday would put UNC in a position where it seems very unlikely that they’ll finish behind Louisville and, barring upset losses at either Virginia or Pitt, given them a chance to lock up the outright ACC regular season title when they host Duke in the season finale. An ACC regular season title might be enough for the Tar Heels to lock up the No. 1 seed in the South. That would be a nice present, even if the games aren’t going to be played in state.

The game itself should be fascinating. Rick Pitino is one of the greatest defensive coaches to ever live, as his team’s have been in the top five of KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings each of the last seven seasons and nine of the last ten years. The question with his group is going to be whether or not they are able to score enough points to keep pace with the Tar Heels, who feature ACC Player of the Year favorite Justin Jackson alongside a big, veteran front line and a point guard in Joel Berry II who is the engine of that fast break.

  • PREDICTION: UNC’s ability to get to the offensive glass combined with the presence of Jackson, who has been unstoppable in ACC play, is enough to get the Tar Heels to cover (-5.5)
SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange shakes the hand of Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils after the game on February 14, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Duke defeats Syracuse 80-72. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
SYRACUSE, NY – FEBRUARY 14: Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange shakes the hand of Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils after the game on February 14, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Duke defeats Syracuse 80-72. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Four more games to watch

  • No. 10 Duke at Syracuse, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN): The other two Hall of Fame coaches in action tonight square off in the Carrier Dome in front of what could end up being as many as 30,000 Syracuse fans. It’s a must-win for the Orange, who are still in the NCAA tournament picture despite a 16-12 record and a trio of horrid losses. PREDICTION: I think Syracuse wins outright, so I’m on the Orange (+4)
  • Minnesota at No. 24 Maryland, 8:30 p.m. (BTN): Maryland’s bid for the Big Ten regular season title isn’t completely shot, but the Terps are a game behind both Wisconsin and Purdue. They need this win, but the Gophers have proven to be tough, better than we’ve expected. PREDICTION: Maryland (-4.5)
  • No. 22 Butler at No. 2 Villanova, 9:00 p.m. (FS1): It seems like Butler hasn’t been right for weeks, and tonight they make the trek to Philadelphia to face off with the Wildcats. They play in The Pavilion, and no one on this Villanova team has ever lost a game in that building. PREDICTION: Villanova (-10)
  • No. 6 Oregon at California, 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): This is a game that Cal desperately needs, not because the Bears are in real danger of missing the NCAA tournament but because they need an elite on their profile to avoid getting stuck somewhere in that 8-9 game. PREDICTION: Oregon (-4)

VIDEO: Frank Martin hides in shirt to duck politics question, then delivers eloquent answer

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South Carolina head coach Frank Martin was asked at a Monday media session how he would feel if, after his team won a national title, one or more of his players decided against visiting the White House with the team.

Martin is the son of Cuban exiles and grew up in Miami. When the question was prefaced with, “Since it’s President’s Day I think I can ask this,” Martin hid in his shirt, and while his reaction was funny, his answer was actually pretty enlightening and typical Frank Martin.

(If you cannot watch the video, the text is below):

“I haven’t thought about it,” Martin said when his head finally emerged from within his shirt and after a good 15 seconds of contemplation. “Probably not. Probably not I haven’t agreed with every President that’s been in the White House in my lifetime. But I love this country and what our government stands for as a whole. I’ not going to judge our country based on who I like and don’t like. I think we do an injustice to young people when we make them think this country is run by one person.”

“I think it’s an injustice. Any time we take a stand against one person — we can do whatever we want to here, I’m not trying to tell people how to do things, you’re asking my my opinion and I’m sharing it with you — I think we do an injustice. The beautiful thing in this country is that we all have different voices and we can all express our voices and our views. I think I would be disappointed if any of our players chose not to attend. If they were adamant about it, I wouldn’t force them to go. I’m not going to put their scholarship on the line and make them do something that they feel that strongly about. But I would let them know as their coach, a guy that tries mentor them and try to educate and try to prevent that from happening. But at the end of the day, they’re human beings and they don’t live in a country where you’re forced to do what you don’t want to do.

“I’d be OK coaching somebody that would be against. I would just be disappointed in their unwillingness to understand that their country has moved forward. Contrary to what the media wants us to get us believe, we haven’t moved backwards, we’ve moved forward in the last 50 years. Since my family arrived in this country, this country has moved forward. Does it move forward at a great rate, great pace, is it perfect? No. But it’s moved forward.”

“For us to act like one person runs or controls the decision of this country is false. It’d be a disservice to what this country stands for, what we’re about and my love for the opportunity this country has given me for me to get selfish because of my personal views on one person and not be supportive of the thing as a whole.”

No. 11 Kentucky struggles before putting away Missouri

LEXINGTON, KY - JANUARY 21:  Bam Adebayo #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Rupp Arena on January 21, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Kentucky won. That’s probably all the Wildcats need to take away from their time in Columbia, Mo.

Eleventh-ranked Kentucky defeated Missouri, 72-62, in a game that was an absolute slog for the Wildcats until the final minutes offered them some separation and reprieve from the feisty but undermanned Tigers.

Missouri led throughout much of the first half, but never held an advantage after halftime. Still, the Tigers were there lurking closely for much of the final frame, something their 7-20 record would suggest they were incapable of, even at home against Kentucky on a night where the Wildcats were about as sharp as the shape of basketball itself. Which is to say, not sharp at all.

Bam Adebayo was an absolute force on the interior for Kentucky. The freshman big had 22 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor and a 10 of 13 mark from the free-throw line. He also had 15 rebounds and three blocks. Missouri, like plenty of other teams before them, had no answer.

The question, though, for Kentucky this night was what kept De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk from being productive? The pair struggled from start to finish, combining to go 8 of 22 overall and 2 of 7 from deep along with five turnovers. Making matters even worse was Isaiah Briscoe’s night. He shot it fine (4 of 6) but had six turnovers in 23 minutes.

It just wasn’t pretty for the Wildcats.

Overall, Kentucky went 5 of 18 from deep and had 17 turnovers, allowing one of the SEC’s cellar dwellers to make things interesting until the Wildcats were able to put the Tigers at arm’s length in the final few minutes.

It’s certainly not an inspiring performance from Kentucky, but against Missouri on the road, it’s not exactly surprising to seem them come with something less than their best. It can probably be excused to circumstance rather than anything more serious.

For Missouri, it was a missed opportunity to add some sort of silver lining to yet another dismal season under Kim Anderson. The third-year coach probably wouldn’t have improved his job prospects much with a win over Kentucky – things have been too bad for too long for one game to move the needle – but it still would have been nice for Missouri after so much misery, you know? But, alas, the game ended like most of them have for the Tigers in recent years, with a loss.

Now, Kentucky heads into Saturday’s matchup against No. 13 Florida with the regular-season SEC title – and some pride – on the line. The Gators whipped the Wildcats by 22 in Gainesville earlier this month, and both teams will enter Rupp Arena with matching 13-2 SEC records.

Both teams will have two games remaining after Saturday, but it would appear to mere formalities for both. Whoever wins Saturday almost certainly will win the conference outright.

Cline’s 3-pointers lift No. 14 Purdue over Penn State

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 21: Isaac Haas #44, Carsen Edwards #3, Caleb Swanigan #50 and Vince Edwards #12 of the Purdue Boilermakers react in the second half of the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Mackey Arena on January 21, 2017 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue defeated Penn State 77-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Accustomed to dominating in stretches lately, the 14th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers found themselves on the other end of a big score and needed a savior against a gritty Penn State team on Tuesday night.

Enter Ryan Cline.

The guard scored six of his 11 points in overtime to lift Purdue to a 74-70 victory over the Nittany Lions in a game the Boilermakers led for just 9:16.

“It rarely happens where a team outplays another one, plays harder and they lose the game especially on their home court,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Thank the Lord Cline knocked those two shots down.”

Cline’s consecutive 3-pointers secured his team’s sixth straight win and snapped the Nittany Lions’ four-game winning streak against Top 25 teams visiting the Bryce Jordan Center.

Vincent Edwards added 14 points, Isaac Haas chipped in 13 and Dakota Mathias scored 12 for the Boilermakers (23-5, 12-3 Big Ten) who trailed 33-29 at halftime.

Tony Carr scored 21 points, Lamar Stevens added 18 and Mike Watkins finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for Penn State (14-14, 6-9). The Nittany Lions owned the paint, even against Purdue’s towering bigs — 6-foot-8 Caleb Swanigan and the 7-2 Haas — where Penn State owned a 46-12 edge.

But the Nittany Lions couldn’t get deep shots to fall. They finished just 2 for 18 from 3-point range.

“That was as hard as we’ve played all year,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Proud of my team. However, there’s no more moral victories here. We’ve got to get some things done. We’ve got to close out games.”

Penn State led for all but 7:35 of regulation and by as many as 10 points midway through the first half. But they surrendered the lead on a dunk by Haas with 10:13 left. The Nittany Lions used a 10-2 run and four straight baskets from Carr to send the game into overtime where Cline found his shot.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: The Boilermakers cooled off after a recent hot streak saw them dominate for large stretches of games. Purdue’s five-game winning streak entering the night included wins over Michigan State, Rutgers and Northwestern, all by at least 17 points.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are still looking to eclipse their combined win total in January and February under Chambers. Penn State won six games for their best stretch in the two-month span a year ago and will have two more tries to surpass last year’s mark.

LOOSE GUARDS

Painter wasn’t happy with his guard play for much of the game. He sensed confusion from his backcourt and it cost them in the form of turnovers. Ten of Purdue’s 17 giveaways were committed by guards.

“Our guard play and overall ball control, there’s no question, there were times they were hesitant,” Painter said.

BIG MAN BATTLE

As Chambers spoke with reporters, he guessed Watkins was sitting in the locker room with nothing left in the tank.

“He’s exhausted in that locker room,” Chambers said. “He battled. He went toe-to-toe with a potential lottery pick and a potential first-rounder some day in Haas because I think Haas is a pro.”

Watkins was outmuscled in his first game against Purdue’s sizable forwards when he scored just six points and grabbed only three rebounds earlier this season. He had 12 rebounds in the first half — including three straight offensive midway through the first half — that brought the crowd to a roar when he finally drew a foul and made two free throws.

SHOT CLOCK ISSUE

A shot clock mishap cost the Nittany Lions a possession in overtime. With 13 seconds left and Purdue up 72-70, Haas took a jumper and missed close to the rim with the shot clock waning. It would have run out had Shep Garner not fouled P.J. Thompson immediately afterward, however.

Chambers said he thought Garner might have believed Haas’ shot hit the rim. Instead, Thompson made both free throws to put the game out of reach.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Purdue survived a scare and its place in the poll should remain safe.

UP NEXT

Purdue plays at Michigan on Friday.

Penn State travels to Minnesota on Friday.