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

Jalek Felton serves up first poster dunk of collegiate career

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The final seconds of No. 9 North Carolina’s 96-72 win at Stanford Monday night proved to be far more eventful than many anticipated, thanks to freshman guard Jalek Felton. The nephew of former Tar Heel point guard and 2005 national champion Raymond Felton, Jalek drove towards the basket with Stanford’s 6-foot-11 sophomore big man Trevor Stanback standing in the way.

The attempt to stop Felton at the rim did not work out well for Stanback. And someone on the North Carolina bench was so fired up about the dunk that he broke into a full sprint towards the baseline.

North Carolina played the game, with Stanford being coached by one of Roy Williams’ former players in Jerod Haase, ahead of its trip to Portland for the inaugural PK80 event.

No. 6 Wichita State beats Marquette 80-66 in Maui semis

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Landry Shamet scored 19 points, Connor Frankamp added 13 and No. 6 Wichita State rode its second-half defense into the Maui Invitational title game with an 80-66 victory over Marquette on Tuesday.

Wichita State (4-0) needed a massive rally just to get into the semifinals after a slow start against California in its opener. The Shockers had no such trouble against Marquette, trading baskets with the Golden Eagles (2-2) in a high-level first half.

Wichita State took control by turning up the defensive pressure in the second half, holding sharpshooters Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey in check long enough to build a 10-point lead.

The Shockers shot 54 percent and had a 44-33 advantage in the paint to earn a spot in Wednesday’s championship game against No. 6 Notre Dame or LSU.

Rowsey had 26 points and Howard 25 for the Golden Eagles, who were held to 10-of-33 shooting in the second half after a stellar first 20 minutes.

Marquette shot its way into the semifinals. Rowsey scored 15 of his 20 points in the first half and Howard had 18 of his 22 in the second to carry the Golden Eagles to a 94-83 win over VCU.

The Shockers appeared to be headed to the loser’s bracket after falling behind by 18 points early in the second half against Cal. Wichita State turned to a full-court press to get back in it and the tactic worked, leading to a string of turnovers and a 92-82 win.

The reward for both teams: An early wake-up call (8:30 a.m. local) to play in the semifinals.

Neither team seemed groggy early, trading 3-pointers, floaters and drives to the basket while hitting a combined 11 of 16 shots.

Howard picked up where he left off in the first round, scoring 17 points in the first half. Rowsey had an incredible four-point play, getting Samajae Haynes-Jones to bite on an up-fake, contorting his body after drawing contact, then making the shot — with his left hand.

Wichita State spread it around while hitting 16 of 30 shots, taking a 41-36 lead into the second half.

The offensive show continued in the second half, with Rowsey scoring seven quick points and the Shockers spreading the scoring wealth.

Then the Shockers clamped down on the Golden Eagles, contesting those long 3-pointers by Rowsey and Howard, challenging everything at the rim. Wichita State held Marquette scoreless for nearly 6 minutes, building a 58-48 lead with a 7-0 run.

Marquette made a short run, but Frankamp hit a pair of 3-pointers and the Shockers kept the Golden Eagles at bay the rest of the way.

THE TAKEAWAY

Wichita State flexed its defensive muscles in the second half and was good offensively all game to reach its first Maui title game. And they did it without forward Markis McDuffie (foot), their top scorer and rebounder from a year ago.

Marquette showed it can play with one of the top teams in the country in the first half, but couldn’t sustain it to end up in the Maui third-place game.

UP NEXT

Wichita State will face the winner between N. 13 Notre Dame and LSU in Wednesday’s title game.

Marquette plays the Notre Dame-LSU loser in the third-place game on Wednesday.

___

For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Michael Porter Jr. to undergo surgery, expected to miss season

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Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo surgery on his spine on Tuesday that will cause him to miss the rest of the season, Missouri announced.

The procedure is a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs and the projected recovery period will likely end his season.

Porter is a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft but he was injured, according to the school, during warmups of his first game with the Tigers. He played two minutes but was removed from the game and did not return. He did not sit on the bench with the team in wins over Wagner and Emporia State, and he did not travel to Utah, where the Tigers were blown out by the Utes.

This is a devastating blow to Missouri, who had hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament with the elder Porter on the roster. A likely one-and-done even after the surgery, Porter’s college career will likely span all of those two minutes.

The future is still bright for Cuonzo Martin. Porter’s younger brother, Jontay, and fellow freshman Jeremiah Tilmon are not likely to be one-and-done prospects, meaning that there is a core there for Martin to build around.

But this year, losing arguably the best player in college basketball is going to be too much to overcome.

Toledo’s Taylor Adway dishes up Thanksgiving for program, gives leftovers to local church

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Thanksgiving dinner, on the road, at the team hotel, wasn’t going to cut it for Toledo junior big man Taylor Adway.

Like many players away from their families during the holidays, Adway wanted a home-cooked meal. As the unofficial chef of the Rockets, Adway hatched a plan with Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk: he wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the entire men’s basketball program before they departed for a mid-week road trip.

Cooking for 15 players, team managers and five coaches and their families seemed like a daunting Thanksgiving feast for even the most seasoned chef.

Facing four days of cooking for over 30 people, Adway’s roommate, Deshaun Cole, a manager at Toledo, even offered the idea of a pair of HoneyBaked Hams to alleviate some of the burden. Adway shunned his roommate’s last-ditch offer for fresh-and-ready ham. The HoneyBaked Ham was the easy way out.

“I’m, like, no I want to cook these hams. When people eat it, I want them to know that it’s good and that Taylor made it. ‘That ham was good.’ Cooking relieves stress. I get joy from cooking. That’s why I didn’t want to buy nothing already made. I wanted to make everything,” Adway said to NBCSports.com.

After four days of hard labor in the kitchen, Adway put together an unbelievable spread for his coaches and teammates — all of it from scratch — including the first turkey he ever made completely on his own. The meal included:

  • smoked turkey with dressing
  • two hams — one pineapple citrus, one honey-glazed brown sugar
  • two pans of macaroni and cheese
  • sweet potatoes
  • greens
  • fried sweet corn
  • potatoes with string beans
  • cranberry sauce
  • toasted Hawaiian rolls

“A lot of the times, the guys will throw in five bucks and he’ll go and do a variety of different meals and just cook for the whole team,” Kowalczyk said of Adway. “And he just does that on his own at the spur of the moment without coaches asking him to do anything. He just loves to do it. And he’s really, really good at it. Really good at it. The meal that we had last night was amazing.”

Toledo’s players did a smaller-scale Thanksgiving on their own last year where they collected money before Adway cooked. For this year’s feast, Adway thought it would be smart to include the whole program. Not only would the meal bring more people together, it would be considered a “team meal.” The school and coaching staff could help pay for the groceries without NCAA interference.

Going grocery shopping last Wednesday with Director of Operations Justin Ingram, Adway started preparing the feast last Thursday, finishing everything up by Sunday morning. While Adway prepared everything in his kitchen, he called home to speak with his dad, Tony, for advice on handling things. Taylor learned his way around the kitchen from as young as seven years old thanks to his father’s love of cooking and grilling.

“He’s my foundation when it comes to cooking. Now that I’m older and I have my own place with my own kitchen and my own groceries, I try to do things my way. But everything kind of stems back to everything he taught me,” Adway said of his father. “When I was cooking Thanksgiving, I was constantly calling him, asking for advice. I just try to add my own spin to things. I want it to come off as Taylor’s recipe.”

Tony is so good with family recipes that he can often taste minor differences from his cooking and Taylor’s. Sometimes Tony will even point out specific ingredients his son might have used to alter the recipe. Family is a big reason why Taylor has grown comfortable making food. Adway comes from a big family that regularly spends holidays at his Great Aunt Esther’s, as everyone gathers together to eat, play games, laugh and watch football.

When his basketball career is complete, Adway wants to get into coaching, with the hope that he can also open his own restaurant. That means high school coaching is likely more feasible for achieving both goals since it involves less travel.

“I want to continue to play basketball after college, make money, and then save up and open up a restaurant called Triple T’s. Tony, which is my dad. Tyler, which is my brother. And, Tarmika, which is my mother,” Adway said.

“I get joy from making big meals and making new things. Big meals, usually I’m cooking for a lot of people. I just like cooking for people and they’re enjoying my food. And new things, like making stuff that I never made before, and it winds up being good. My confidence with cooking just gets higher and higher.”

Adway doesn’t adhere to traditional methods when it comes to cooking. While he watched Emeril Lagasse growing up, and still enjoys celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, Adway often sees a video of a recipe and stores it away to try at another moment. Scrolling on Instagram or Facebook will lead Adway to videos of things he wants to cook. One time, Adway took white rice with broccoli, chicken and steak and cooked it inside of a carved-out pineapple. Adway has also made everything from homemade french toast to lasagna and is an expert handling a grill. During the summer on campus, Adway sent group messages to teammates, asking what they wanted to eat. After receiving responses, Adway collected the money he needed for groceries and cooked for his teammates before gatherings.

“I know he’s really good with ribs and chicken on the grill. He’s fantastic on the barbeque,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s great in the kitchen but I think his passion is probably more on the grill side of it. He learned that all from his dad.”

Kowalczyk did assist Adway with some of the Thanksgiving spread for Toledo last weekend, challenging him to see who could make a better turkey and dressing. It was the only assistance that Adway had for the general meal, which also included a dessert table.

“To make it fun, we made it a little bit competitive. We had a turkey contest between myself and him — as well as stuffing. He did everything, I just did turkey and stuffing. His stuff was a lot better than mine. And I think I’m pretty good at it,” Kowalczyk said.

“He didn’t want to give it to me for the stuffing, but I asked my teammates, and everybody was saying mine was better. So, I got him on the cook-off this time,” Adway said.

Although leftovers are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, the team knew they’d be gone for the next five-to-six days.

While Adway and Cole might not have agreed on the preparation of the ham, the roommates were united in deciding to donate the leftovers to a homeless shelter.

They delivered their Thanksgiving food to the St. Paul Community Church on Monday evening.

Toledo’s Taylor Adway and Deshaun Cole deliver food to a homeless shelter.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Grayson Allen takes the early lead

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Today, we are rolling out the first installment of the annual NBC Sports College Basketball Player of the Year Power Rankings.

As always, these rankings are quite subjective and based on a consensus of all of my opinions.

Things that are relevant in this discussion:

  • Is the player on a team that can win? Whether it’s getting to the Final Four or winning their league, I can’t nominate a player for a postseason award if they are on a bad team.
  • Does that player put up impressive numbers, whether they are counting stats or advanced metrics?
  • How did he play in big games? Were there any moments that stand out from his season? College football has a Heisman moment. College basketball has about 284 Player of the Year awards, but the principle remains the same.

If your favorite player doesn’t check those three boxes, it’s hard for me to justify putting him on, or ranking him higher, on this list.

Take Allonzo Trier, for example. He’s been on fire for three games. He’s also chewed up three teams that have no business being on the same court as the Wildcats. The three guys above him? They all went nuts in one of the five most impressive wins we’ve seen this season.

Hopefully, that will help dissuade some of the anger lists like this create, (Ha! Right.) o let’s commence with the small sample size fun!

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS

1. GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke: Through five games this season, Allen is averaging 18.4 points, 3.4 boards and 3.2 assists. His last two games have been fairly unimpressive; 15 points combined against Furman and Southern while shooting 5-for-18 from the floor and 1-for-10 from three. He’s come back down to earth after the performance he had against Michigan State, when he went for 37 points – 23 in the second half – and hit seven threes as the Blue Devils picked off the Spartans without Marvin Bagley III healthy.

The last two years, a performance in the Champions Classic has vaulted a player atop the National Player of the Year race, and he remained there throughout the year. In 2016, it was Denzel Valentine’s triple-double against Kansas, and while he briefly ceded his lead to Buddy Hield when he got injured early in league play, Valentine did eventually earn a split of the Player of the Year awards; he was the NBC Sports Player of the Year.

Last season, it was Frank Mason that put together a run like that. He hit the game-winner to beat Duke in Madison Square Garden and never looked back. After he did this, is Allen next?:

2. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Monday night’s 36-point win over Hampton was the first time this season that Bluiett failed to score at least 25 points in a game; he had 21 on 7-for-9 shooting. It was also the first time that he didn’t make at least three threes in a game; he only shot three and hit two of them. On the season, Bluiett is now averaging 24.3 points while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor, 55.6 percent from three and 22-for-23 from the free throw line.

That’s efficiency.

But the biggest reason Bluiett is No. 2 on this list is for his performance at Wisconsin. He struggled to find a rhythm in that game but still managed to score 25 points and make some massive shots in the second half, including a pair of threes within the span of a minute that broke a tie and sealed Xavier’s win.

3. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: We’re only four games into the season, but Murphy is emerging as the guy that might be able to challenge Miles Bridges for National Player of the Year. He has four double-doubles this season, has yet to score fewer than 18 points in any games, is averaging 24.8 points and went for 23 points, 14 boards, three blocks and two assists as the Golden Gophers went into the Dunkin Donuts Center and knocked off a good Providence team by 12 points.

If you thought that Murphy was going to be Minnesota’s best player and the strength of that team was going to be their front court, you are a lying liar that’s full of lies.

4. ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona: No player in college basketball has had a hotter start to the college basketball season than Trier. Through three games, he’s leading the nation in scoring at 30 points while shooting 70 percent from the floor and 58.8 percent from three. He has 90 points in three games and it’s taken him 40 shots to get there. It’s early, but his offensive rating is 150.9, according to KenPom. That’s insane.

5. MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State: So this is how tough it is to be Miles Bridges this season: The Spartans are 2-1 on the season with a pair of blowout wins and a loss to the No. 1 team in the country when the No. 1 player in these rankings went for 37 points. Bridges, in those three games, is averaging 19.7 points, 7.0 boards, 2.7 blocks and 2.0 assists while shooting 41.2 percent from three on nearly six 3PAs per game.

And it feels like he hasn’t done much of anything through the first two weeks of the season. Sometimes the burden of expectation can be heavy.

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

6. MANU LECOMTE, Baylor: In a league that suddenly looks very deep in the back court, Lecomte has been the Big 12’s best player to date. He’s averaging 21.5 points and 3.8 assists through four games and just had his best performance on Monday night, putting 24 points and five assists on Wisconsin to advance to the Hall Of Fame Classic title game.

7. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have a bonafide star in senior lead guard Keenan Evans, who was the best player on the floor as Texas Tech knocked off Boston College (Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman) and Northwestern (Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay) to win the Hall Of Fame Classic at Mohegan Sun this weekend. He averaged 27 points in the two games while the three players  mentioned combined to shoot 11-for-34 from the floor.

8. JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN, USC: The USC program has struggled early on this season, as they are trying to find a way to get minutes for the 10 guys on their roster that deserve minutes while navigating the waters of an FBI investigation. They are still without De’Anthony Melton, who plays a role on that team that no one else can play. And when it looked like that would cost them a win at Vanderbilt, McLaughlin stepped up and ended any talk of that nonsense.

If the 37 points that Allen put on Michigan State wasn’t the most impressive individual performance of the season, McLaughlin’s 35 points in Memorial Gymnasium was. He put his team on his back and willed them to a win they weren’t going to get any other way:

9. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are 4-0 on the season and Colson is averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 3.0 blocks. They still haven’t really beaten anyone yet. Here’s to hoping we get to see Colson go up against Wichita State in the Maui finals.

10. KHYRI THOMAS and MARCUS FOSTER, Creighton: It’s hard to pick between the two here, so for now I’ll just list them both. Creighton has been one of the most surprising teams in the country, winning games at Northwestern and against UCLA on a neutral floor already this season. Thomas is the better defender of the two and has clearly improved his ability to play on the ball; in the past he’s been nothing but a 3-and-D guy. But Foster has been Creighton’s best scorer and is their most dangerous offensive weapon. One will emerge as their Player of the Year candidate before too long, but for now they both deserve the mention.