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Looking at the top off-guards in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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Point guards may be the engine that drive teams in the NCAA Tournament, but having a good off-guard can go a long way in making sure your team is prepared to play in March. Modern two-guards need to be a secondary ball handler and also have to be well-rounded offensive threats, usually with an ability to score from the perimeter.

Here’s a look at 12 of the most important off-guards in the 2014 NCAA Tournament:

MORE: Lead Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

Jordan Adams, UCLA – The sophomore from Georgia is a tremendous two-way player as Adams averaged 17.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.7 steals on the season for the No. 4 seed Bruins. Adams also shoots 47 percent from the field, 36 percent from the three-point line and 83 percent from the free-throw line. As the beneficiary of a number of Kyle Anderson passes, Adams is usually ready to hit shots from anywhere on the floor or attack the rim.

Ron Baker, Wichita State – The No. 1 seed Shockers aren’t the flashiest team, but thanks to well-rounded players like sophomore Ron Baker, they’re well equipped for another NCAA Tournament run. After breaking out nationally in this event last season, Baker averaged 13.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals a game this season. Baker is also reliable from the free-throw line at 85 percent and he usually takes good shots as a 44 percent field goal shooter and respectable 36 percent shooter from three-point range.

Markel Brown, Oklahoma State – Along with sophomore Marcus Smart, Brown forms one of the most potent backcourts in the country. The senior averaged 17.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 blocks, and 1 steal a game while also throwing down numerous highlight-reel dunks. Brown also shoots admirably from the field (46% FG/76% FT/38% 3PT) and did a nice job as a primary ball handler when Marcus Smart was out of the lineup due to suspension. With or without the ball in his hands, Brown is a dangerous offensive weapon for the No. 9 seed Cowboys.

Traveon Graham, VCU – Graham is one of the key members of No. 5 seed VCU’s “Havoc” system as the 6-foot-6 guard averaged 15.7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists a game in his junior season. Graham is a decent shooter (43% FG/69% FT/34% 3PT) but he’s tough as nails and one of the better rebounding guards in the country at seven a game. The Rams’ leading scorer this season, Graham finished in double-figures in 31 of 34 games for VCU this season and was very consistent scoring the ball.

Gary Harris, Michigan State – No. 4 seed Michigan State’s leading scorer, Harris is one of the most talented two-guards in the nation as he posted numbers of 17.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game in his sophomore season. Harris had to carry a lot of the scoring burden when Michigan State was dealing with injuries, but when the Spartans are fully healthy like they seem to be entering the tournament, then good luck stopping Harris one-on-one. Harris shoots respectable percentages (42% FG/80% FT/35% 3PT) but he can be an absolute terror in the open floor thanks to his skill level and athleticism.

Joe Harris, Virginia – The numbers aren’t gaudy for the senior, as Harris averaged 11.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1 steal a game, but he plays with a very high basketball IQ and shows a lot of patience on the offensive end. Harris averaged double-figures in points all four seasons for No. 1 seed Virginia and shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line this season. If there’s one weakness to Harris this season, it might be his 64 percent free-throw shooting.

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

Tyler Haws, BYU – A deadly shooter and perimeter scorer, No. 10 seed BYU will need Haws to score a lot of points with the loss of second-leading scorer Kyle Collinsworth. The junior averaged 23.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 assists on the season and shot ridiculous percentages from all over the floor (46% FG/88% FT/41% 3PT). The match-up between Haws and Oregon’s Joseph Young should be a fun battle in the Round of 64.

Nick Johnson, Arizona – Johnson had an All-American season in his junior year as he averaged 16.2 points, 4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals a game. One of the premier on-the-ball defenders in the country, Johnson and freshman forward Aaron Gordon are a dynamic defensive duo and they’re a big reason why Arizona is a No. 1 seed. Johnson also had solid shooting numbers on the season (44% FG/76% FT/35% 3PT) and comes up with big plays on a consistent basis.

Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati – Another All-American, the senior had an outstanding season as the Bearcats’ clear No. 1 option on offense. Kilpatrick averaged 20.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game this season for No. 5 seed Cincinnati while also facing a tremendous amount of pressure to carry the Bearcats’ offense on a nightly basis. Kilpatrick’s shooting percentages are decent at 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from the three-point line, but he shoots a stellar 84 percent from the free-throw line.

Jordan McRae, Tennessee – If you need a reason to watch Wednesday’s First Four match-up between No. 11 seeds Tennessee and Iowa, then the battle between McRae and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble will be a main reason why. Both are tremendous senior guards, and McRae averaged 18.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists a game this season for the Volunteers. With his tremendous size and athleticism on the wing, McRae can get things done in a number of different ways on the offensive end and he’s a solid shooter as well 43% FG/79% FT/37% 3PT)

Chasson Randle, Stanford – Although Randle has handled both guard spots since the departure of point guard Aaron Bright to transfer, the junior is a natural scorer as he put up 18.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game this season for the No. 10 seed Cardinal. Randle is also a tremendous shooter as he shot 48 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 76 percent from the free-throw line during the year.

Joseph Young, Oregon – After spending his first two seasons at Houston, the junior transfer led the Ducks in scoring this season at 18.6 points a game to go along with 2.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists. The 6-foot-2 Young is deadly shooting the ball at 47 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range and he’s also an 88 percent free-throw shooter. With the way Young and senior Mike Moser have played, No. 7 seed Oregon is a potential sleeper to make a run in the West Region.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Michael Frazier II, Florida
  • Jeremy Ingram, North Carolina Central
  • Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
  • Caris LeVert, Michigan
  • Kendall Williams, New Mexico

Before he won an Academy Award, Mahershala Ali played at Saint Mary’s

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Actor Mahershala Ali accepts Best Supporting Actor for 'Moonlight' onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the film ‘Moonlight’ on Sunday night.

How does that tie into college basketball?

It’s simple: Ali played college basketball for four years at Saint Mary’s, from 1992-1996.

Now, this was before Saint Mary’s turned into the Saint Mary’s that Randy Bennett has built. At the time, Ernie Kent was the program’s head coach, and the teams that Ali — whose used his given last name of Gilmore at the time, although he was already using the shortened version of his first name, Mahershalalhashbaz — played on weren’t really all that good. They finished under .500 in the WCC three of the four season, finding a way to finish in a tie for second place in his junior year.

As a senior, Ali averaged 7.0 points for the Gaels.

This would probably make Ali the most famous player that Kent has ever coached. He’s more famous than Aaron Brooks, who had about two good NBA seasons, and he’s definitely more famous than Luke Ridnour, who is best known either for getting traded four times in a week or being name-dropped in a song by the rapper Wale, who bragged about being able to turn ‘Ducks into Bucks [like] Luke Ridnour.’

 

VIDEO: Tom Izzo’s touching senior day tribute to Eron Harris

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Eron Harris #14 of the Michigan State Spartans kisses the midcourt logo on senior day during the second half of the college basketball game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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Eron Harris suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game at Purdue earlier this month, meaning that he would not be able to take the floor for his Senior Day.

Tom Izzo made sure to rectify that, as he called a timeout with just 12 seconds left in Michigan State’s win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday, giving Harris a chance to go out to the center of the court, get a standing ovation and give the Spartan logo a smooch.

He was also greeted by the Wisconsin team. All around great moment:

Nick Ward-led Michigan State beats No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the second half at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Nick Ward had 22 points and nine rebounds, Miles Bridges had 17 points and Matt McQuaid added a season-high 15 to help Michigan State beat No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74 on Sunday.

The Spartans (18-11, 10-6 Big Ten) have won six of their last eight games, moving them into a third-place tie in the conference and perhaps sealing their spot in a 20th straight NCAA Tournament.

The Badgers (22-7, 11-5) have lost four of five and lost a chance to pull into a first-place tie with No. 14 Purdue.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes scored 22 points, Bronson Koenig had 17 and Zak Showalter added 15. Ethan Happ fouled out with eight points, more than six points below his average for the Badgers.

Michigan State went on an 11-1 run midway through the second half, building a 12-point lead that it was able to maintain unlike a big lead in the first half.

In the first half, the Spartans led 36-23 only to allow the Badgers to come back with a 15-4 run to pull within a point at halftime.

Michigan State’s Cassius Winston had 10 points and eight assists and Joshua Langford had nine points.

In the last game of the season at Breslin Center, senior guard Eron Harris checked in late in the game a little more than a week after he had a season-ending knee injury. Harris, with a brace on his right knee, went to center court and kissed the Spartan logo to follow a senior tradition Shawn Respert started in 1995.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have been shooting poorly and it is catching up with them. They were held to 43.1 percent shooting against Michigan State, a ninth straight game of connecting on 44 percent or fewer of their shots. They made 13 of 25 free throws at Michigan State after shooting 67 and 57 percent from the line the previous two games.

Michigan State: The Spartans are surging at the right time and are gaining confidence perhaps allowing them to position themselves for better seeding at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

POLL IMPLICATONS

With Wisconsin’s losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers will likely plummet from No. 16 in The Associated Press poll on Monday.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: The Badgers end the regular season at home, hosting Iowa on Thursday night and Minnesota on Sunday.

Michigan State: The Spartans close on the road, playing Illinois on Wednesday night and No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Seventh-ranked Louisville dominates Syracuse

Rick Pitino
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The hint arrived early that Louisville might be no kind of matchup for Syracuse when the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. The Orange, though, appeared to steady and seemed intent on delivering an interesting Sunday afternoon and a maybe another resume-changing win after beating Duke earlier in the week as the roared back to take a lead.

Everyone should have taken the early hint.

Louisville used a 21-4 first-half run to gain separation and never looked back as the Cardinals dominated Syracuse, 88-68, on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

The win was the fourth in five games for Louisville, which shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

Donovan Mitchell was sensational, going for 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was his third-straight game with at least 20 points.  He also had an absolutely dynamic one-handed alley-oop late that was just fantastic.

The Cardinals showed no ill effects of a hangover stemming from the loss earlier this week at North Carolina, but instead it was as dominant a performance as they’ve had in weeks.

On the losing side of the ledger are the Orange, who looked to be building some momentum after a three-game losing streak by beating Duke on Wednesday. Then, the Blue Devils went and lost to Miami and Syracuse just got smashed by another ACC contender. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

For Syracuse, it looks destined to spend another Selection Sunday sweating, though there’s certainly enough time for it to go either way. The Orange can really only hurt themselves until the ACC tournament with Georgia Tech heading to the Carrier Dome this week. That’s a game Syracuse will need to win, lest they really want the pressure ratcheted up in Brooklyn.

A big part of the issue for Syracuse pinning its hopes on the ACC tournament is its total lack of depth. Tyler Lydon and Andrew White both went at least 40 minutes for the 11- and 10-straight games, respectively. Syracuse played seven and got 28 minutes total from its bench.

With a few days typically between days, that’s pretty sustainable for the regular season, but those minutes are sure to weigh on players going on back-to-back (and maybe longer) days.