Looking at the top wings in the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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PREVIEWSEast Region South Region | Midwest Region West Region

Guard play is very critical when it comes to March, but this season, college basketball has been spoiled with the amount of talent on the wing. The consensus national player of the year is a wing forward, as are two of freshman who are projected to be top-3 picks in the upcoming NBA draft.

Here’s a look at 12 of the most important wing forwards in the 2014 NCAA Tournament:

MORELead Guards | Off Guards |Big Men

Doug McDermott, Creighton — Do I have to really go into detail about Dougie McBuckets? For the third time in his college career, he’s averaged more than 20 points and grabbed more than seven rebounds per game. He was able to smooth bridge the Bluejays transition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East this season, along the way scoring his 3,000th collegiate point. For all the points, all the wins, all the accolades, McDermott is still missing one thing heading into the final month of his college career: His One Shining Moment.

Jabari Parker, Duke — He hit the wall as a freshman, going through a mid-season slump, but lately the Duke star has been on a tear. He’s averaging 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils. That production will need to remain the same as Duke is slotted as the No. 3 seed in the bracket’s toughest region, the Midwest. Parker won four Illinois state championships in high school, though this will likely be his only trip to the NCAA tournament.

Andrew Wiggins, Kansas — The Jayhawks have played without Joel Embiid for four straight games, over the course of the last three Wiggins is averaging 31.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game. He entered the season with so much hype and has been analyzed since Day 1. The Jayhawks’ top scorer and best perimeter defender leads his team — with or without Embiid — in a South Region will some familiar opponents. Kansas dropped Mountain West champion New Mexico earlier this season, but lost to Florida, the top overall seed, the game before. Wiggins had 26 points and 11 rebounds against the Gators.

Casey Prather, Florida — Speaking of the Gators, the nation’s top team has a talented wing of their own. Prather is one of the most improved players in the country, going from 6.2 points per game as a junior to 14.2 as a senior, leading Florida in scoring. He is a talented finisher and one of many Gators who can lock up defensively.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan — Another improved wing, Stauskas became the focal point of the offense for the Wolverines this season after losing Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA and Mitch McGary to a back injury. Was labeled as a shooter last season, but Stauskas has shown he’s more than that as a sophomore with improved ball handling and playmaking skills. During his time in Ann Arbor he’s also been a better athlete than gotten credit for.

Melvin Ejim, Iowa State — The Big 12 Player of the Year is part of a high-power offensive attack for Iowa State along with DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang. Ejim can put up numbers. Remember his 48-point, 18-rebound performance from early February? The Cyclones are a darkhorse for the Final Four. Ejim will be a big reason why they’d make a run.

MORE: Eight teams that will win it all Eight teams that won’t win it all

Rodney Hood, Duke — The Blue Devils lack a true big man, but the perimeter attack is a difficult matchup with Parker and Hood on the wing. While Parker is playing at a high level, Hood has been a consistent scorer, reaching double figures in 10 straight games. Parker and Hood each went for more than 20 on Mar. 8 in a rematch against rival North Carolina. How scary would it be if both of them catch fire at the same time in the NCAA tournament?

C.J. Fair, Syracuse — The Orange have lost five of their last seven games. Syracuse could be in for a quick exit this season, one year removed from a Final Four appearance. The confidence on the team is down, including Fair, who went 3-for-16 in a loss to NC State, but this is Fair’s last go around, and the lefty wing could help right the ship for slumping Syracuse.

T.J. Warren, NC State — After a First Four win against Xavier, it is clear that NC State was worth one of the final bids. T.J. Warren is one of the nation’s best scorers, and proved it again going for 25 points against the Musketeers. He’s gone for 20 or more in 18 straight games, going over 30 six times (40 in back-to-back contests). There’s a good chance Warren can lead the Wolfpack to the Round of 32 as they are matched up against Saint Louis, which has lost four of its last five.

Cleanthony Early, Wichita State — The only unbeaten team in the country has an NBA talent in Early. He came on in the NCAA tournament last year, averaging 16.2 points per game for the Shockers. He scored 15.8 points and grabbed 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent (36 percent from three) this season. Early dropped 24 points and recorded 10 rebounds against Louisville in the Final Four last year. That is a potential Sweet 16 game this year.

Aaron Gordon, Arizona — One of the several guys on this list, who could also be considered as a big man. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He’s the nation’s best defensive player with his ability to guard multiple positions. His defensive prowess will be tested in the West Region. He could see Marcus Smart and Markel Brown in the Round of 32. What about Wisconsin’s offensive attack, or Doug McDermott and Creighton in the Elite 8?

Kyle Anderson, UCLA — He could be listed at one of the guard positions, but the sophomore, who put up All-American numbers in Westwood this year has the size of a small forward. Slo-mo stuffs the stat sheet with 14.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game. The 6-foot-9 Anderson could lead that high-power offense against Florida’s defense in a potential Sweet 16 clash.


  • Lamar Patterson, Pitt
  • Luke Hancock, Louisville
  • LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State
  • Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
  • Taylor Braun, North Dakota State

Bill Self’s least impressive Kansas team is 40 minutes away from the Final Four

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OMAHA, Neb. — Kansas is vulnerable, exploitable and limited. The Jayhawks have no depth, are without a superstar and possess a middling defense.

They are Bill Self’s worst team.

And they have won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles, secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and are a win away from the Final Four.

The Jayhawks shrugged off some late sluggishness to dispatch No. 5 Clemson 80-76 on Friday night in the Midwest Regional semifinal at CenturyLink Center to put themselves in the Elite Eight for the third-consecutive year with a date with Duke on Sunday.

This year has often been about what this Kansas team couldn’t do after the losses of Frank Mason and Josh Jackson and then the ineligibility of Billy Preston. Early-season losses to Washington and Arizona State, the latter at the usually impregnable Allen Fieldhouse, were the proof this Kansas team might finally be the one not to win a Big 12 title. Then Texas Tech beat the hell out of them in Lawrence and it looked like the streak was on its way to over.

Devonte Graham was a poor imitation of Mason.  Svi Mykhailiuk was too timid and inconsistent. Udoka Azubuike was foul-prone and unproven. The supporting cast was a rung or two lower than a team with national-championship aspirations could carry.

Those problems are real. Those issues are troublesome. Those deficiencies are critical.

In spite of it all, Kansas won the Big 12 by two games, ripped through the conference tournament and are on the doorstep of playing for a national championship.

Bill Self’s worst team has a chance to be the country’s best.

“I’m so proud of our team because I think of all the teams that we’ve had here, this would be the team that everyone would have thought would not be in this game,” Self said Friday. “And so, hey, we’re in this game. We’ve got a legitimate shot to go to San Antonio.

“You prepare the whole year to play in this game. So I think we’ll play with no what-ifs. I think we’ll let it go. I think we’ll be as loose as we can be and still you’ve got to make shots.

“I’d like nothing more than to take my team this year to San Antonio and let them experience what the best of the best is in college basketball.”

The key to Kansas’ season has been embracing its shortcomings. Azubuike is the only big they’ve got that can give them both scoring and defense consistently. It’s a 180 for a program that’s featured Thomas Robinson, Cole Aldrich, the Morris Twins and Jeff Withey. Kansas almost always plays through its bigs. This year, they’re playing around one.

“I never played like this,” Self said. “It just goes against the grain from the teams that we’ve had in the past, but these guys have figured it out. They’ve learned how to play through it, and we’ve had unbelievable guard play and unbelievable leadership from our vets, and had some guys have some outstanding seasons.

“There’s less margin for error but these guys have certainly rallied around that.”

Kansas’ shooting is why they’re in the Elite Eight. The Jayhawks are 10th nationally with a 40.5 3-point shooting percentage. It’s Azubuiike, though, that makes so many of those good looks possible. The man makes 77.5 percent of his shots from the floor. That demands defensive attention. And that means defenders aren’t shadowing shooters.

“He’s a guy we can throw the ball into and he can go get a basket,” Malik Newman, who had a team-high 17 points Friday, said. “I think his passing is underrated. That’s another big key for him. When we’re able to throw it in and the defense collapses on him, he is able to kick it out and find an open shooter.

“It just opens up the whole game for us.”

It’s opened up a whole world of possibility for Kansas and a world of hurt for their opponents.

“Most teams have somebody that you can kind of scratch off,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell mused. “So one of the reasons they’re so hard to guard is they’ve got a center that scores if he catches it deep, and he’s bigger than everybody on the floor so he does get position. And then you’ve got guards that can all make shots and drive by you and they play with great spacing.”

Now, Kansas isn’t full of slouches. Graham was the Big 12 player of the year, Azubuike’s talent was apparent even if it was raw before injury robbed him of a freshman year. Mykhailiuk is all-Big 12 while Malik Newman and LaGerald Vick were heralded prospects. Still, there’s not a lottery pick among them. No Andrew Wiggins or Ben McLemore or Josh Jackson. The fit is strange and the depth is zilch.

All that has eroded Kansas’ wiggle room for mistakes, but when they operate within their comfort zone, it can make for great offense. The first two minutes of the second half when the Jayhawks hit back-to-back 3s was a thing of beauty, ball movement and shot making. It was the blueprint for a buzzsaw.

Maybe Self’s worst team is pretty damn good.

Keenan Evans closes strong (again) as Texas Tech advances past Purdue to Elite Eight

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BOSTON — Second Half Keenan struck again on Friday night.

Keenan Evans scored 12 of his 16 points and handed out three of his four assists in the final 10 minutes of the game as No. 3-seed Texas Tech held off No. 2-seed Purdue, 78-65. Zach Smith and Justin Gray paced Tech early, combining for 26 points that helped the Red Raiders build a lead that reached as high as nine before Evans went into takeover mode. Zhaire Smith added 13 points of his own, while the Red Raiders forced 17 Purdue turnovers.

And with that, Texas Tech will to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since … ever.

This is uncharted territory for for the Red Raider program that has never been to an Elite Eight and will be playing for their first-ever trip to the Final Four.

“To build a program there has to be a lot of firsts so myself and Keenan have only been together for two years, so we’ve never been to the Elite Eight in two years,” Beard said. “That’s more accurate.”

It’s also fitting, really.

Because it more or less sums up what makes this Texas Tech program so interesting.

On a night where their three-leading scorers never really got going, the Red Raiders advanced on the stretch of two things: Their defense, and the fact that they can stay in a game on the nights when their best players don’t play their best.

With just over 10 minutes left in the game, when Purdue was getting ready to make one final run at advancing to the Elite Eight, is when Evans took over. And there’s no question about it: He closed out this game. Everything that the Red Raiders got on the offensive end of the floor came through Evans down the stretch, even the stuff that doesn’t show up in the score book; for example, the Red Raiders executed a pick-and-roll to perfection with three minutes left, but the lob that Evans threw to Zach Smith ended up as a missed dunk that Zhaire Smith was able to put right back in. Evans doesn’t get the assist, but he made that bucket possible.

I saw all that to say this: With 10 minutes left, the three leading scorers in the Tech program — Evans, Zhaire Smith and Jarrett Culver — were a combined 4-for-16 from the floor with just 11 points.

And Texas Tech held a 50-41 lead. If Evans is Texas Tech’s closer, this was a save that he earned with a three-run lead.

“It’s our identity,” Beard said. “We have a lot of faith in our whole roster, we use a lot of different guys and tonight was fitting. That is the way we have played all year.”

If that doesn’t sum up Chris Beard’s program, I don’t know what does.

No. 2 Duke goes inside to defeat No. 11 Syracuse

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OMAHA, Neb. — Second-seeded Duke made just 5 of its 26 3-point attempts against No. 11 Syracuse on Friday in the two ACC programs’ Sweet 16 matchup.

So the Blue Devils just went inside.

Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter, Jr. both had big games to help the Blue Devils outlast the Orange, 69-65, to put themselves in the Elite Eight on Sunday against top-seeded Kansas.

“This was a heck of a game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought both teams played their hearts out. A great game to win, a really difficult game to lose, because Syracuse played such winning basketball.”

While Duke couldn’t beat the zone that took Syracuse from the First Four to the second weekend with its outside shooting, its two big underclassmen provided plenty of production. Bagley had 22 points and eight rebounds while Carter added 14 points and 12 boards.

“It was a hard fought game. We knew they were going to compete every second of the game,” Bagley said, “and we just tried to compete as well. We had a little point in the game where we started turning it over, and things weren’t going our way, but we stayed tough mentally and we finished it out.”

Bagley was on the receiving end of a number of lobs behind the Syracuse zone that helped the Duke offense stay out in front.

“We practiced it all week,” Bagley said. “We try to look for different things and different ways to score against that zone, and we did a great job at that and got the win.”

Tyus Battle had 19 points to lead the Orange. Oshae Brissett added 15 points and seven boards while Marek Dolezaj had 13 points.

Syracuse shot 53.8 percent from the floor in the second half while Duke shot 36.4 percent (and 11.1 percent from distance), but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Orange’s 16 turnovers or Duke’s 17 second-chance points.

Grayson Allen had 15 points and eight assists for Duke. The Blue Devils had 32 points in the paint.

Duke will now turn its attention to the Jayhawks, who defeated Clemson earlier Friday to make it to their third-straight Elite Eight. The game will tipoff Sunday at 5:05 p.m. (ET).

“We just got to come out ready to play from the beginning,” Bagley said. “We were kind of slacking in this game. I think we’ll be ready for that game. Everybody’s going to be up. We should be coming out strong.”

VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.