The Top 68 players in the NCAA tournament

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With the NCAA tournament hitting full throttle Thursday afternoon (60 first-round byes = nonsense), we at College Basketball Talk thought it would be a good idea to put together a list of the top 68 players in this season’s event. Creighton’s Doug McDermott leads the way on this list, and there are a number of talented players who didn’t land on this list. So without further ado, here are the 68 best players in the 2014 NCAA tournament. 

1. Doug McDermott, Creighton
The man given the nickname “Dougie McBuckets” by former CBT contributor Troy Machir will clean up on the postseason awards circuit and with good reason. McDermott averages 26.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, and he’s been efficient in doing so with shooting percentages of 52.5% from the field, 45.4% from three and 86.6% from the foul line.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke
Parker (19.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) hit a bit of a lull back in January, with his relying too much on perimeter shots being a key reason why. When the freshman is committed to attacking the opposition, which has been the case over the last month, he’s one of the toughest covers in the country.

3. Russ Smith, Louisville
The four-year transformation of Smith has been incredible to watch, as his decision-making has improved a great deal during his time playing for Rick Pitino. Those maddening moments that led the Pitino nicknaming his guard “Russdiculous” don’t happen very often these days, and in addition to scoring 18.3 points and 4.7 assists per game the senior is shooting 47.5% from the field and 40.5% from three.

4. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Wiggins has been under the microscope for much of this season, and while some have been underwhelmed with his play at times the fact of the matter is that he’s put together a very good season. Averaging 17.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, Wiggins enters the tournament averaging 31.0 points in Kansas’ last three games.

5. Shabazz Napier, UConn
In a season loaded with high-level lead guards Napier takes a back seat to no one, leading the way for a UConn team back in the NCAA tournament after having to miss out on all the fun a season ago. He’s unafraid of big moments and has the ability to both score (17.4 ppg) and distribute (4.9 apg) while also leading the Huskies in rebounding (5.9 rpg).

6. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Remember when most referred to Stauskas as a shooter and nothing else? After working hard during the offseason Stauskas won Big Ten Player of the Year honors, averaging 17.5 points per game in helping lead Michigan to the Big Ten regular season title. And after attempting just 87 free throws as a freshman, the more aggressive Stauskas has attempted 183 this season.

7. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Amongst transfers in college basketball this season Kane’s been one of the most successful, teaming up with Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to lead the Cyclones to their first Big 12 tournament title since 2000. Kane’s averaging 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season, and his percentages from the field (49.1%) and from three (39.8%) are the best of his career.

8. Gary Harris, Michigan State
On a team that has dealt with injuries throughout the season Harris has been the most consistent option, scoring 17.2 points per game for the Big Ten tournament champions. Harris has failed to reach double figures just once this season, and his ability to score from anywhere on the floor makes the sophomore someone opponents have to account for when preparing for the Spartans.

9. Nick Johnson, Arizona
Johnson won Pac-12 Player of the Year because of his skill level on both ends of the floor and his impact on the Wildcats’ success. Johnson’s improved his offensive repertoire in each of his three seasons in Tucson, and in addition to being Arizona’s best offensive option he also get the assignment of defending the opposition’s best perimeter player on most nights.

10. Joel Embiid, Kansas*
Embiid is the “wild card” in all of this, hence the asterisk. The freshman isn’t expected to play this week, but there’s no denying the impact Embiid has on the Jayhawks defensively. He’s one of the best rim protectors in the country, thus allowing Kansas’ perimeter players to be a bit more aggressive defensively. Embiid averages 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, and in three of the five games he’s missed the opposition has shot at least 47% from the field.

MORELead Guards | Off Guards | Wing Forwards | Big Men

11. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
12. T.J. Warren, N.C. State
13. Kyle Anderson, UCLA
14. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
15. Adreian Payne, Michigna State
16. Julius Randle, Kentucky
17. Marcus Paige, North Carolina
18. Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
19. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
20. Bryce Cotton, Providence
21. Scottie Wilbekin, Florida
22. Xavier Thames, San Diego State
23. C.J. Fair, Syracuse
24. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State
25. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
26. Aaron Gordon, Arizona
27. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
28. Jordan Adams, UCLA
29. Caris LeVert, Michigan
30. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
31. Perry Ellis, Kansas
32. Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
33. Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia
34. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
35. Rodney Hood, Duke
36. Kendall Williams, New Mexico
37. Keith Appling, Michigan State
38. Justin Jackson, Cincinnati
39. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
40. Jordan McRae, Tennessee
41. Georges Niang, Iowa State
42. Jahii Carson, Arizona State
43. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
44. James Bell, Villanova
45. Lamar Patterson, Pitt
46. Chasson Randle, Stanford
47. Joseph Young, Oregon
48. Ron Baker, Wichita State
49. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina
50. Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
51. Marcus Foster, Kansas State
52. Sam Dower, Gonzaga
53. Semaj Christon, Xavier
54. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
55. Cory Jefferson, Baylor
56. Chaz Williams, UMass
57. Terran Pettaway, Nebraska
58. Luke Hancock, Louisville
59. Alex Kirk, New Mexico
60. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
61. Elfrid Payton, Louisiana-Lafayette
62. Casey Prather (Florida)
63. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
64. Jordair Jett, Saint Louis
65. Langston Hall, Mercer
66. Kenny Chery, Baylor
67. Joe Harris, Virginia
68. LaQuinton Ross, Ohio State

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.

No. 22 Baylor comes from 12 down to beat Creighton

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It was another rough night for the Scott Drew Can’t Coach crowd.

No. 22 Baylor got 15 points apiece from Jo Lual-Acuil and Terry Maston and closed the game on a 37-19 run as they knocked off Creighton, 65-59, in the title game of the Hall Of Fame Classic in Kansas City.

King McClure led the way for the Bears with 19 points, picking up the pieces for Manu Lecomte, who struggled to deal with the defense of Khyri Thomas.

Creighton jumped out to a 33-24 lead at the break and extended it to 40-28 with 18 minutes left in the game, but that’s when Baylor turned the game around. A couple of tweaks to the way that they played their zone coupled with the Bluejays missing some shots that they were capable of making led to the comeback. Instead of simply writing another ‘See, I told you Scott Drew can coach’ column, I figured it would make more sense to show exactly what I mean when I say that.

Creighton had a smart, simple game-plan offensively on Tuesday night. Get the ball into the paint, whether it was via dribble penetration or finding one of their big guys near the foul line or at the short corner, and then find a shooter on the perimeter, a cutter going to the rim or, simply, score from 8-10 feet out. That’s the best way to beat a zone, especially a zone that has the amount of length and athleticism that Baylor’s does. Notice in the clip below how extended Baylor’s guards are and, as a result, the space it creates:

Once Baylor got down by 12, their game-plan changed. Instead of extending, their defense became more compact. What is usually something of a 1-1-3 zone turned into more of a 2-3, with the focus seemingly being cutting off penetration. Baylor dared Creighton to let Ronnie Harrell be the guy that beat them, and it worked. The result was that the open threes dried up, and the jumpers that Creighton shot in down the stretch were much more contested than the looks they were getting earlier in the game:

That’s coaching right there.

Game-planning is a part of coaching. Player development is, too, as is recruiting. But making in-game adjustments like that, figuring out how a team is beating you, devising a way to stop them from doing that and getting your players to execute those adjustments is arguably the most important part of being a coach.

Here’s another example of what I mean.

Khyri Thomas might be the best on-ball defender in college basketball, and I don’t say that lightly. He essentially eliminated Manu Lecomte from the game. He is to point guards what Darrelle Revis was to No. 1 receivers. Whoever he is guarding is on Khyri Island.

Lecomte is typically Baylor’s closer, but Drew ran actions that allowed Lecomte to be a facilitator and a decoy, taking Khyri out of the play and taking advantage of matchups he thought his guys could win. That involved running a double-high ball-screen, which confused Harrell and Martin Krampelj defensively a couple of times, and resulted in a high-low action between Maston and Lual-Acuil on a number of possessions down the stretch.

But then there was also this set he drew up, using McClure as the ball-handler in that double-high ball-screen and while putting Lecomte in the same side corner. McClure refused the ball-screen, drove straight at the gap where Thomas was not going to help off Lecomte and got a bucket out of it:

That’s coaching!

And I’m not trying to say McDermott got out-coached here. His game-plan worked. Drew’s adjustment turned out to be just a bit better.

But Creighton also has players that can make the tough shots that they were forced into in the second half. If two more of them go down – if the Bluejays shoot 37.5 percent from the floor instead of 34.4 percent, if they go 7-for-30 from three instead of 5-for-30 – then they probably win this game.

Sometimes that’s how basketball works.

It’s why you always hear coaches refer to it as a ‘make or miss game’.

The larger takeaway from this game should be this: Both Baylor and Creighton are good teams. Both landed good non-conference wins during this event. Both are likely headed to the NCAA tournament.

And both took part in a fun, tactical battle between head coaches on Tuesday night that one of them had to lose.

No. 13 Notre Dame drubs LSU 92-53 to reach Maui title game

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — T.J. Gibbs scored 26 points, Matt Farrell added 17 and Notre Dame dominated LSU 92-53 on Tuesday night to reach the Maui Invitational championship game.

The Irish (5-0) expectedly breezed through their opener against Division II Chaminade did the same thing to LSU in their first game against a power program this season.

Notre Dame shot well, shut the Tigers down on defense and were in control from the opening tip in a superb all-around game.

Bonzie Colson had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Irish, who shot 52 percent and hit 15 of 32 from 3-point range.

Next up: A top-of-the-marquee title game against No. 6 Wichita State on Wednesday night.

LSU (3-1) lost starting guard Brandon Sampson to an ankle injury in the game’s opening minute and struggled without one of its top defensive players.

The Tigers had trouble slowing the Irish on defense and labored from the perimeter on offense, hitting 6 of 23 shots from the 3-point arc while shooting 36 percent overall. Duop Reath led LSU with 17 points.

LSU beat Michigan 77-75 in its Maui opener behind the stellar play of Tremont Waters. The talented freshman point guard had 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with a spectacular over-the-shoulder, no-look assist from his knees.

Notre Dame had a much easier road to the semifinals, dominating Chaminade from the start of an 83-56 rout.

The Tigers had a tough break on their first possession of the semifinals, when Sampson came down on someone’s foot and rolled his left ankle. He had to be helped off the court, leaving LSU without arguably its best defensive player.

The Irish took advantage, scoring at the rim and the 3-point arc during a 15-2 run that put them up 25-10. Farrell had the highlight-reel play of the spurt, bouncing a pass between the long legs of 6-foot-11 Reath to set up Martinas Geben for a dunk.

Notre Dame didn’t let up, hitting seven 3-pointers, 15 of 31 shots overall and holding the Tigers to 1-for-8 shooting from the arc for a 40-24 halftime lead.

The Irish continued to stretch the lead in the second half, using a 6-0 burst midway through to go up 61-35.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame turned its first game against a power program into a laugher with a strong effort on both ends of the court.

LSU was hurt by the loss of Sampson, but it may not have mattered the way the Irish played.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame plays No. 6 Wichita State in Wednesday’s championship game.

LSU gets Marquette in the third-place game on Wednesday.

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

Hot shooting leads No. 3 Kansas past Texas Southern, 114-71

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas shot the ball from 3-point range better than it ever has in its illustrious history.

Once the Jayhawks found their rhythm from deep, their offense was virtually impossible to stop. Texas Southern coach Mike Davis was in awe.

“I’ve never seen a team pass the ball and shoot the basketball as well as they do,” Davis said.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 21 points, Udoka Azubuike added 20 and No. 3 Kansas cruised to a resounding 114-71 victory over Texas Southern on Tuesday night in the Jayhawks’ first game of the Hoophall Miami Invitational.

They got after it early, as with just under 5 minutes remaining in the first half Lagerald Vick hit the team’s seventh 3 of the half — a program record. A similar feat was achieved in the second half, when Devonte’ Graham hit No. 17, the record for 3s in a game.

“It’s super fun,” Graham said. “Being active, sharing the ball, it’s contagious. Just making that extra pass, and when the ball’s going through the hoop like that, it just feeds energy into us.”

Graham, Vick and Marcus Garrett all finished with a double-double for Kansas, as Vick posted 19 points and 10 rebounds, Graham had 17 points and 11 assists, and Garrett logged 13 points and 11 boards.

Texas Southern’s Demontrae Jefferson led all scorers with 24 points. Donte Clark added 19 and had a game-high 14 rebounds as well.

Davis has seen plenty of high-powered offenses run by Bill Self, as the pair used to meet regularly when they coached at Illinois and Indiana, respectively. After watching a performance like this, he has no doubts over his former rival’s future chances.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Davis said. “If you play basketball like they play basketball, they’ll be cutting the net down in April.”

BIG PICTURE

Kansas continues to thrive without freshman Billy Preston, who remains benched as the school investigates a single-car on-campus incident involving him earlier in the month. His absence has left Self with just two big men, but the lack of depth has yet to truly hurt the Jayhawks.

Texas Southern is still searching for its first win after facing a daunting schedule to start the season. Even though the Tigers have yet to find themselves in the win column, games against bigger schools like Kansas will continue to provide invaluable experience regardless of the score.

“It was a great opportunity for us,” Davis said. “We leave tomorrow to go play Clemson on Friday, and this game right here will get us ready for our next game.”

T’ED UP

Azubuike earned a technical foul midway through the first half when he hung on the rim following a thunderous dunk.

“He deserved it,” Self said of the technical. “I told the official — he said ‘I hate calling that,’ I said ‘but you got to call it.’ I mean, that’s good for us … he has a bad habit of doing that, and I was glad they called it because that may end up not costing us where we really need it, in a close game.”

SARCASTIC SELF

While Self agreed that the Jayhawks shot the ball about as well as they possibly could have, he wasn’t overtly enthused by the record, as per usual.

“I couldn’t be happier. I think we should celebrate for a week,” Self said. “My reaction is we made shots. That doesn’t mean anything to me.”

MODEL FOR SUCCESS

“Love the way they play,” Davis said of the Jayhawks. “That’s the way I want my team to play. When we get to January and play in our conference, that’s the way we want to be playing basketball.”

UP NEXT

Kansas will continue Hoophall Miami Invitational play Friday night with another home game against Oakland, which has already dropped its first two games of the tournament.

Texas Southern will once again face an uphill battle for its first victory as it travels to Clemson on Friday.

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

No. 12 Cincinnati uses strong start to defeat Richmond 75-48

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands (AP) — Unlike the previous night, Cincinnati didn’t need a hero on Tuesday night.

Instead, the 12th-ranked Bearcats relied on their defense, smothering Richmond in the first half and cruising into the championship game of the Cayman Islands Classic with a 75-48 win over the Spiders.

Cane Broome led a balanced attack with 13 points and Jacob Evans added 12 for the Bearcats (5-0).

Jarron Cumberland opened the scoring with 3-pointers on consecutive possessions and Evans hit another before the Spiders scored and when Justin Jenifer hit a 3 just beyond the five-minute mark Cincinnati was up 14-4.

The Bearcats hit 8 of 14 3-pointers and shot 54 percent overall to race to a 40-14 lead at the half and Wyoming’s opponent for Wednesday’s championship game was never in doubt. Five different Cincinnati players had six to nine points while forcing the Spiders (1-3) into 13 turnovers and 4-of-18 shooting.

“The first half, we played great defensively and on offense, when we did make the right pass, we found open shooters,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. “We try to start the best defensive lineup. We want to focus on things that win games, defense, rebounding, physicality, and guys that play together.”

Jenifer went 3 of 4 from behind the arc, scoring all nine of his points in the first half. Gary Clark, the leader in a hard-fought 73-68 win over Buffalo in the opener on Monday night with 24 points and 14 rebounds, had his eight points — all in the first half — and finished with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Richmond made five 3-pointers and went 12 of 24 from the field but never challenged in the second half.

“Obviously Richmond has a young team,” Cronin said. “I thought Buffalo made us better last night. We were able to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with our defense.

Freshman Jacob Gilyard led the Spiders with 12 points.

BIG PICTURE

Richmond: Gilyard was leading the nation’s true freshmen in playing time, averaging 37.3 minutes a game. He played 32 in the loss. … Grant Golden, a redshirt freshman, had 26 points in a win over UAB in the opener, the most by a Spider freshman in 10 years and with his seven rebounds was the first UR frosh with a 20 and 7 line since 1999. The Bearcats held him to four points and one rebound on Tuesday. … Khwan Fore, Richmond’s leading scorer last year, made his debut after missing the first three games recovering from a stress reaction in his left shin. He went 1 for 1 from the foul line with a rebound and an assist and three fouls. … The Spiders have one senior and five juniors.

Cincinnati: Freshman Sam Martin scored his first points, making a pair of free throws. … The Bearcats had 20 assists on 25 baskets but they also had 20 turnovers, 11 in the second half. But in that first half had a 16-0 advantage in points off turnovers. … With reserves seeing plenty of time, Cincinnati’s bench outscored Richmond’s 38-17, 28-15 in the second half.

NEXT GAME

Richmond will face Louisiana-Lafayette in the third place game Wednesday night.

Cincinnati meets Wyoming in the championship game Wednesday night.

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