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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

Big Ten releases conference schedule

CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 22:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans reacts against the Virginia Cavaliers during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena on March 22, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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The Big Ten released its 2016-17 conference schedule on Thursday as the conference season begins on Dec. 27 with a four-game set.

Conference play will conclude on March 5th before the 20th annual Big Ten Tournament is played at the Verizon Center in Washington D.C. from March 8-12.

Some notable games include Penn State hosting Michigan State at the Palestra on Jan. 7.

You can view the full Big Ten schedule here.

Arizona’s Talbott Denny injures knee, out for season

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Arizona senior forward Talbott Denny will miss the season after tearing the ACL and medial meniscus in his left knee.

The school said Wednesday that the 6-foot-5 graduate transfer from Lipscomb will have surgery.

Denny, from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School, missed all of last season at Lipscomb because of a shoulder injury.

Roy Williams: ‘There’s no question’ more ACC games equal no Kentucky in non-conference

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 23: Head coach Roy Williams of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Iowa State Cyclones at the AT&T Center on March 23, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Back in June, when the ACC officially announced that they would be expanding the league schedule to 20 games in 2019, I tried to warn you that it was going to put a dent into the non-conference schedule and the amount of quality, on-campus games that we’ll get prior to January.

Roy Williams essentially confirmed this as fact this week.

The North Carolina head coach hopped on a podcast with ESPN and more or less said that the bigger league schedule is going to lead to an end of some of UNC’s marquee home-and-home series.

“My feeling right now, and it could change by ’19, heck I could be fired by ’19, but my feeling right now is to play our conference schedule, play one exempt event where you have really good teams, and other than that play home games to help out your revenue and help out your budget,” Williams said. “We have the ACC/Big Ten and that’s not going to go away. So it’s 21 games already scheduled.”

When asked specifically if this would put an end to UNC’s series with Kentucky, Williams said, “Oh yeah, there’s no question. Why would I need to do that?”

There’s two reasons this makes sense. On the one hand, North Carolina needs to fill their home arena a certain number of times to help with the bottom line of the athletic department. They make enough off of ticket sales, merchandise sales, parking fees and food and beverage that they can afford to pay out more than $50,000 to bring a smaller opponent into their arena. More than that, playing a series of weaklings early in the year allows players to gain confidence, it allows Williams to figure out what his rotation will be and who can handle playing at this level, and it gives newcomers a chance to assimilate into his team against players that just aren’t that good.

And when a larger ACC schedule severely limits the number of non-conference games that UNC will be able to play, what’s going to get cut are the contracts that require the Tar Heels to play on the road when they don’t have to.

So buh-bye, Kentucky, it is.

John Calipari helping to raise money for Louisiana flood victims

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It’s easy to be critical of John Calipari.

You don’t have to be a Louisville fan to know all the jokes by now. He cheated at UMass. He cheated at Memphis. He’s had two Final Fours vacated. Teflon John. Yada yada yada.

I get it. Negativity comes with success, particularly for someone who is as brash about his success as Coach Cal is.

But even Cal’s harshest critics cannot begrudge the work he does — can get his players to do — for charity and how well he can harness the power of Big Blue Nation to make a tangible difference. Remember the ‘Hoops for Haiti’ telethon that raised more than $1 million to help earthquake victims back in 2010? Or the hundreds of thousands of dollars he raised for Hurricane Sandy relief? Or when his fantasy camps generated more than $1 million in charitable donations?

And should I mention the amount of times that stories of Kentucky players befriending sick kids or visiting children’s hospitals?

The cynic in me could say that all of this is for branding, helping ensure his players are image-conscious and aware of the sponsorship opportunities that come with being a likable, relatable and humble athlete. There’s probably some truth to that.

But do you think the kids that get visits from their Big Blue heroes care? Do you think it matters to the charities that get seven-figure checks to help with disaster relief?

I say all that to say this: During a press conference on Thursday morning, Cal had this to say, via SEC Country:

Calipari said former UK star Anthony Davis (currently of the New Orleans Pelicans) told Calipari, “Coach, you gotta do something” for Baton Rouge flood victims. Davis is out of the country but will try to get back for Sunday’s softball game to help. His 2012 title teammates, Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, were not previously on the celeb list for Sunday but will be there.

Calipari has decided to donate all proceeds from Sunday’s alumni/celebrity softball game will go to the Baton Rouge flood-relief fund, through Red Cross. “So what I’m asking you to do is buy these tickets.” They’re $5 apiece. The previously raised funds will still go to the other designated charities, like each year.

For those so inclined, you can donate to the flooding fund by texting “GIVE” to 859-955-8173.

Vermont women cancels game in North Carolina over HB2

DURHAM, NC - MAY 10:  A unisex sign and the "We Are Not This" slogan are outside a bathroom at Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use.  (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
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The University of Vermont is the latest in a ever-growing line of organizations canceling events in North Carolina due to the controversial HB2 law.

The Catamounts will not be traveling to play the Tar Heels on Dec. 28th as previously scheduled.

“We strive very hard to create an inclusive climate for our students and staff in which they all can feel safe, respected, and valued,” the school wrote in a statement. “It would be hard to fulfill these obligations while competing in a state with this law, which is contrary to our values as an athletic department and university.”

“This decision was made in consultation with our coaches, the women’s basketball team, and key university officials. We fully understand and sympathize with the impact that this decision may have on the North Carolina women’s basketball schedule. However, we believe this decision is consistent with our values and the conversations with our coaches and student team members. These were the most important considerations.”

Known as the “bathroom bill”, HB2 is the law that requires transgender people to use the public restroom of the sex that they were born not the sex they identify with.

Earlier this year, Albany was forced to cancel a trip to Duke due to legislation in New York regarding visits to North Carolina. The NBA has taken the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, and the NCAA is heavily considering pulling NCAA tournament games from the state.

Interestingly, ACC commissioner John Swofford was very non-committal on the subject when asked yesterday.