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

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”

Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen to declare for NBA Draft

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Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen will announce today that he is declaring for the NBA Draft and signing with an agent, according to multiple reports.

The program is holding a press conference for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

Markkanen is a 7-footer from Finland that averaged 15.6 points this season while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. He’s projected as a top ten pick, and his size and versatility should make him a valuable piece given the way that the NBA is trending.

There is very little surprise with this decision. The expectation always was that Markkanen would be gone after one season.

The news was first reported by Scout.com.

Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller at Dayton

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Dayton has hired Anthony Grant to replace Archie Miller as head coach, the program announced on Thursday.

“Anthony Grant is a proven winner with the highest integrity,” Athletic Director Neil Sullivan said. “He has successful experience in coaching, recruiting and playing basketball at an elite level. I welcome Anthony to our staff and look forward to partnering with him as we continue to aggressively pursue graduating student-athletes, winning conference championships and advancing in the NCAA tournament. He is absolutely the right coach.”

Grant is a Dayton alum. He spent 12 years as Billy Donovan’s assistant coach before finally landing a head coaching gig at VCU. After three seasons with the Rams, he took over at Alabama, where he was fired in 2015.

Grant has spent the last two years with Donovan as an assistant with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“I am honored and humbled to be the head coach at the University of Dayton,” Grant said. “It’s a great responsibility to take over at an institution that is so well-respected. Anyone you talk to in college basketball would say our program is a successful one, but the potential is here for so much more.”

North Carolina ‘repeals’ HB2 to satisfy NCAA, anti-LGBTQ discrimination remains legal

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Late on Wednesday night, literally hours before an NCAA-imposed deadline that would have prevented the state of North Carolina from hosting any and all NCAA tournament events until at least 2022, the lawmakers in the state announced that they have reached an agreement to repeal House Bill 2, a discriminatory law that is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The question now is whether or not this repeal will be enough to satisfy the NCAA, who was one of a handful of businesses that pulled out of the state due to HB2. According to the AP, more than $3.7 billion in revenue will be lost over the next decade as a result.

The issue with HB2 isn’t just that it makes it illegal for transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as. That gets the headlines, but the real damage done by this law is that it curbs legal protections for the LGBTQ community by banning local governments from passing laws to make discrimination illegal for at least three years.

From the New York Times:

Gay rights advocates were harshly critical of the bill. Cathryn Oakley, senior legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, said that the compromise would leave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with no statewide anti-discrimination ordinance and no ability to seek such protections from local government for a number of years.

“What that means for the L.G.B.T. community is that we continue to be boxed out of nondiscrimination protections,” she said.

Chris Sgro, executive director of the gay rights group Equality North Carolina, said that the proposal “keeps North Carolina as the only state in the country obsessed with where trans people use the restroom through law.”

From the Charlotte Observer:

“The rumored HB2 ‘deal’ does nothing more than double-down on discrimination and would ensure North Carolina remains the worst state in the nation for LGBTQ people,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “The consequences of this hateful law will only continue without full repeal of HB2. Sellouts cave under pressure. Leaders fight for what’s right.”

The NCAA had pulled first and second round games from Greensboro for this year’s tournament, instead allowing Greenville, South Carolina, to host the games. That’s significant because the NCAA, in 2002, pulled all events from that state because they flew the confederate flag on the statehouse grounds. The flag came down in 2015, and the NCAA rewarded the state with games; it’s hard not to see that as a statement to North Carolina.

In this year’s tournament, No. 2 seed Duke lost a game to No. 7 seed South Carolina in a game that was played in South Carolina instead of in North Carolina. The location wasn’t the only reason Duke lost that game, but you’ll have trouble convincing me that quasi-home court environment didn’t play a role.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.