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

4-star center commits to Purdue

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With Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas entering their senior seasons, adding front court options in the 2018 class was something that Purdue needed to do. Purdue added its second front court commitment in the 2018 class Tuesday evening, as four-star center Emmanuel Dowuona reportedly made his pledge. News of Dowuona’s commitment was first reported by the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

Dowuona, a 6-foot-11 big man who attends Westwood Christian School in Miami, joins fellow four-star prospect Trevion Williams in Purdue’s 2018 class to date.

Dowuona’s commitment comes just days before he was reportedly to visit Tennessee. Among the other programs to have offered Duwuona were Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami and UConn.

Dowuona played for the Team Breakdown program on the Under Armour Association circuit during the summer, averaging 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. While still a bit raw offensively, the native of Ghana provides value as a defender and rebounder. Dowuona is joining a program that during Painter’s tenure as head coach has done a good job of developing big men.

Dowuona and the aforementioned Williams will look to compete for playing time in 2018-19 alongside current redshirt junior Jacquil Taylor and 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman center Matt Haarms.

Dayton freshman Toppin ineligible for 2017-18 season

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Dayton announced Tuesday afternoon that one of the program’s incoming freshmen will not be eligible to compete this season. 6-foot-8 forward Obadiah Toppin has been ruled by the NCAA to have not met initial eligibility requirements, and he will have to sit out the 2017-18 season as a result.

Toppin will be allowed to remain a member of the team and participate in practices, and he will have four seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2018-19 season. While the NCAA’s decision leaves the Flyers short a front court option in head coach Anthony Grant’s first season at the helm, it did not come as a surprise.

“We knew this was a possible scenario for Obi early on in the recruiting process,” Grant said in the release. “And if it came to pass, we saw this as a chance for him to utilize this year acclimate as a student and enhance his strength and skill as an academic redshirt. This is a great opportunity for Obi to develop as a player and student over the next 12 months, and prepare himself for a very successful college career.”

Toppin, who averaged 17 points and eight rebounds per game at Mt. Zion Academy last season, is one of five freshmen who have joined the program. Matej Svoboda and Jordan Pierce will look to earn minutes alongside returnees Josh Cunningham and Xeyrius Williams, and the same can be said for redshirt freshman Kostas Antetokounmpo.

Toppin being declared ineligible is the third hit Dayton has taken to its front court this offseason. Ryan Mikesell, who played in 32 games last season, will redshirt after undergoing two hip surgeries. And Sam Miller, who was also part of the team’s front court rotation last season, was suspended from school for the fall semester after he was arrested during the summer.

Four-star forward commits to Ohio State

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Ohio State is on the board with regards to the 2018 recruiting class, as Chris Holtmann’s program received a much-needed verbal commitment from four-star forward Jaedon LeDee. The 6-foot-9 Houston native announced his decision via his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon.

In receiving a verbal commitment from LeDee, Ohio State beat out California, Houston, Iowa State, LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and UCLA. The Buckeyes hosted LeDee for his official visit the weekend of September 9, which coincided with the football team’s matchup with Oklahoma. Originally scheduled to visit Cal this past weekend, LeDee instead visited Texas A&M.

With LeDee’s commitment to Ohio State, visits to LSU (September 30) and UCLA (October 6) are likely off the board.

Currently attending the Kincaid School, LeDee played for the Texas PRO grassroots program on the adidas Uprising circuit this summer. The four-star prospect will likely be a combo forward for Ohio State, playing either the three or the four depending on the matchup.

With Jae’Sean Tate beginning his senior season and Keita Bates-Diop being a redshirt junior, Ohio State had a need to address in the front court. In landing a verbal pledge from Jaedon LeDee, the Buckeyes have done just that.

Among the front court players who will have eligibility remaining beyond the 2017-18 season are Bates-Diop, current sophomores Micah Potter and Andre Wesson, and freshmen Kaleb Wesson and Kyle Young.

The Pac-12 is foolish for scheduling Arizona-UCLA once during the regular season

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Last month, I wrote about one of the more troubling trends in college basketball: Teams steering away from playing the games that fans are going to care about the most.

It was the result of Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing stating publicly that he was “not thinking about Maryland” after the rivalry between the DMV’s two most well-known programs went by the wayside.

Ewing isn’t the only coach that is culpable here. Kansas and Missouri don’t play. Kansas and Wichita State don’t play, either. Duke and Maryland don’t play. Ohio State doesn’t play Cincinnati, Xavier or Dayton. It goes on and on.

But the blame can no longer only be given to the coaches that schedule to protect themselves and/or their program.

The conferences deserve some criticism as well. Take, for instance, the Pac-12, who released their schedule recently after deciding that Arizona, a contender for the preseason No. 1 team in the country, should only play UCLA and USC, the only two teams that have a realistic chance of upending the Wildcats for the Pac-12 crown, once apiece.

Not only that, but the games will be played in Tucson, an incredible advantage for Sean Miller’s club as they pursue the league’s regular season title.

Look, I get it. There are 12 teams in the league and there is an 18-game schedule. Each team in the league is going to play four of their 11 league foes just once. It’s simple math. But the answer should never, ever be to schedule the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once.

The reasoning is simple: Arizona and UCLA are the two biggest brands in the league. When they play it will draw more interest than when any other two teams in the conference play, and that’s something the conference should be trying to capitalize on. It takes a lot to convince anyone on the east coast to stay up to watch a Pac-12 basketball game. I cover this sport for a living and I have a hard time making it all the way through a 10 p.m. ET tip. When a two-year old is going to be screaming at me to make breakfast at 6:30 a.m., do I really want to stay up to watch Arizona blow out Washington or UCLA to beat up on Cal?

The Pac-12 should do everything they can to ensure that Arizona and UCLA play twice every season.

That is even more true this year. Arizona might be the best team in the country and they might have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Deandre Ayton. UCLA is a top 15 team that just so happens to have Liangelo Ball, the worst of the three Ball brothers and potentially the last one to matriculate through the college ranks. The seemingly inevitable LaVar Ball blow-up is something we all will be watching patiently to see.

Should I mention the simmering hatred between Sean Miller and Steve Alford as they continually compete for the best prospects on the west coast?

And that’s before you factor in that USC is the second-best team in the league, and anyone that UCLA plays twice, USC will also play twice.

I’ll be sure to watch a number of Oregon games this season, and I think that Stanford, Oregon State and Colorado all have the pieces to sneak up on some people this year. I’ll be sure to check in on them a couple times as well.

But the games that I’ll have circled on my calendar, the games I’ll be excited about watching, are between Arizona, UCLA and USC.

By scheduling the Arizona schools and the Southern California schools just once during the regular season, the Pac-12 cost themselves a third of that inventory.

That doesn’t seems like the smartest way to run a business conference.

But hey, if conference realignment and the development of conference-only networks taught us anything, it’s that major college athletics are all about competitive balance over those advertising dollars.

Vanderbilt lands commitment from Aaron Nesmith

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Vanderbilt landed their first commitment in the Class of 2018 with four-star wing Aaron Nesmith.

Nesmith is a native of South Carolina, and the Commodores beat out South Carolina for his services. At 6-foot-6, Nesmith is the kind of defensive presence and athlete that Vandy will need to replace Jeff Roberson, who will be graduating this season.

This is a critical class for Bryce Drew, who is squarely in the mix for five-star guards Darius Garland and Romeo Langford. Nesmith isn’t on that level, but he will be a nice piece for Vandy for four years.