2017 NCAA Tournament: These are the guards that can carry a team to a national title

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One of the great things about the 2017 NCAA Tournament is that there will be a ton of premier guards taking the floor all over the field.

There are one-and-done NBA Draft prospects, senior veterans, sophomore All-Americans, juniors coming off of transfer seasons. It’s a wide variety of players on this list, but they are all perimeter-oriented players who you need to see during the next few weeks.

While many of these guys are playing on teams that expect to make deep tournament runs, there are other elite guards who might only last for a round or two.

Make sure to catch these guys if you can.

Players to Know

Dwayne Bacon, Florida State — If the Seminoles are to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament it will be because this 6-foot-7 sophomore is scoring at a high level. Putting up 16.9 points per game, Bacon has always been electric going to the rim but he’s now improved his perimeter shooting to the point where he has to be defended all over the floor. With Florida State having a lot of weapons, Bacon can get rolling and put up points in a hurry if a defense isn’t careful.

Lonzo Ball, UCLA — You’ve probably read the headlines and have some feelings towards Lonzo Ball’s father, LaVar. Don’t worry about the words of a sports dad and just watch Lonzo play. With an exceptional feel for the game, Ball has elite floor vision and throws a lot of passes that other players wouldn’t dream of attempting. Although his jumper looks unorthodox with a low and side release, Ball can knock down NBA-range threes and also catch alley-oops. He’s the heart of one of perhaps the best offense in the field.

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Josh Hart, Villanova — The defending champion returned for his senior season after participating in the NBA Draft combine and getting feedback on his shaky jumper. Don’t worry about the jumper anymore with Hart. He shot 40 percent from three this season as he put up 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. In close games that are coming down to the wire, Hart is the guy you want with the ball in his hands going towards the basket. He has a knack for making clutch plays.

Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen, Duke — America’s most hated player, Grayson Allen, is back for another potential title run as he played better in the ACC Tournament after an up-and-down season. Let’s hope nothing stupid happens on the sport’s biggest stage. Kennard, on the other hand, deserves praise for his outstanding sophomore season as he carried Duke through a lot of turbulent times this season. Not afraid to take big shots, Kennard is crafty navigating screens and he’s a polished scorer from all three levels of the floor. Kennard averaged 20.1 points per game and shot 44 percent from three-point range this season. He can get hot and go for 25 in a half.

Frank Mason, Kansas — The NBCSports.com National Player of the Year, Mason was a huge reason why the Jayhawks are a No. 1 seed. Putting up 20.8 points and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and three-point range, Mason put up huge numbers across the board while being brutally efficient. Much like Josh Hart, Mason seems to elevate his play during most clutch situations and he’s the type of player who makes sound decisions most of the time.

Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky — These two Kentucky freshmen have the highest ceiling of any backcourt in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Monk has already showcased himself as one of college basketball’s elite scorers. Putting up 47 points on North Carolina and 30 points in a half against Florida shows that Monk can take over a game–even against top competition.

Fox is just as important for the Wildcats. He’s elevated his play lately and been more aggressive as a scorer as Fox is getting in the lane at will and making plays. One of the fastest end-to-end players in the country, Fox is also a good on-the-ball defender who can make plays on both ends of the floor.

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Monte Morris, Iowa State — You should know this senior by now since he’s come up with so many big plays over the last four years for the Cyclones. One of the nation’s most reliable floor leaders, (6.1 assists to 1.1 turnovers per game this season!!) Morris runs Iowa State’s very good offense that features three senior weapons around him in Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton. Coming off of the Big 12 Tournament title, Morris and his teammates are playing with a lot of confidence as the point guard is another player on this list who is capable to taking and making big shots.

Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State) vs. Derrick Walton Jr. (Michigan) — There’s a good possibility that neither of these teams or players advance to the second weekend, but you are not going to want to miss this Friday first-round matchup in Indianapolis. Evans is coming off of an All-American season as he runs one of nation’s premier offenses at Oklahoma State. Averaging 26.6 points over his last three outings, Evans is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

Walton is playing just as well, if not better, for Michigan. The senior was a huge reason why the Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament as Walton put up a career-high 29 points to go with nine assists in the Minnesota win. He also had 22 on Wisconsin in the title game. Watching these two go head-to-head is going to be a treat.

And the winner of that matchup likely faces…

Donovan Mitchell, Louisville — The Cardinals have to face either Evans or Walton Jr. in the second round and they’ll rely on sophomore Donovan Mitchell as a counter. With an ability to play with or without the ball, Mitchell is Louisville’s most important playmaker. A ridiculous athlete who can crush finishes around the rim, Mitchell can be inconsistent at times as Louisville needs him to be a reliable, double-figure scorer. Mitchell playing at a high level gives the Cardinals a great chance at making a deep tournament run.

Allonzo Trier (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Allonzo Trier, Arizona — Once Arizona got Trier back into the lineup in late January they became a legitimate national title contender as they enter this week as a dangerous No. 2 seed. The sophomore has been one of the nation’s elite scorers lately as Trier has at least 19 points or more in his last seven games. The Wildcats beating UCLA and Oregon in the Pac-12 Tournament was a big step for this team and Trier is a big reason why Arizona could be playing close to home in the Final Four.

Melo Trimble, Maryland — Closers are always tough to come by but Maryland has a go-to guy in the clutch with this junior guard. Trimble is one of college basketball’s premier players in close games as he knocks down big shots, handles the ball and isn’t afraid of free throws. Even though he has four new starters around him from last season’s Sweet 16 team, Trimble is back in the NCAA Tournament with another new group of starters.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga — After transferring from Washington and sitting out a transfer season, this former McDonald’s All-American was one of the best guards in the nation this season. Williams-Goss averaged 16.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game while he also shoots 91 percent from the field. If the Zags are to finally break through and make a Final Four run, it will be because Williams-Goss is playing at a high level.

Cal promotes assistant Wyking Jones to head coach

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Cal will promote interim head coach and former assistant coach Wyking Jones to head coach, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. The story was first reported by Jon Rothstein of FanRagSports.com

A native of Inglewood, California, Jones has been an assistant coach for the Golden Bears for the past two seasons as he replaces former head coach Cuonzo Martin, who departed to take the Missouri job. This promotion comes as a bit of a surprise for some since Jones has never been a head coach at the Division I level.

Jones has spent 15 years as an assistant coach at the Division I level at places like Cal, Louisville, New Mexico, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount — where Jones spent his playing career.

Helping Louisville to the Final Four in 2013, Jones is a respected coach and recruiter who gets a great opportunity for his first head coaching job at the Division I level with Cal.

The Golden Bears made the NCAA tournament last year but finished 21-13 this season as they missed making the field of 68. Sophomore big man Ivan Rabb has already declared for the NBA Draft and it will be interesting to see what kind of roster Jones gets to work with right away.

One of the reasons Jones might have been retained is to help Cal keep its solid five-man recruiting class from bolting. While the Golden Bears don’t have any five-star talents coming in, it is a solid foundation for the program’s future led by a four-star guard in Jemarl Baker.

Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac declares for 2017 NBA Draft

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Florida State freshman forward Jonathan Isaac has declared for the 2017 NBA Draft.

The 6-foot-10 Isaac was a five-star prospect out of high school as he averaged 12.0 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. One of the most versatile defenders in the country, Isaac could protect the rim (1.5 blocks per game) and also switch out to the perimeter and cover smaller wings as well (1.2 steals per game). Also showing a solid skill level, Isaac shot 50 percent from the field, 34 percent from three-point range and 78 percent from the free-throw line.

That kind of versatility is what Isaac is banking on in the NBA Draft as he’s expected to be a top-15 pick. If Isaac can prove that he’s a reliable perimeter shooter then teams could be intrigued by him as a matchup nightmare in the front court.

Alabama loses Nick King, Brandon Austin to transfer

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Alabama is losing a pair to transfer as junior Nick King and sophomore Brandon Austin are planning to transfer, according to a release.

The 6-foot-7 King is expected to graduate and be eligible to play anywhere right away as a graduate transfer while the 6-foot-5 Austin will likely have to sit out a season before playing.

King started his career at Memphis but transferred to Alabama. A former starter at small forward, King played the first seven games of the season until a lung infection shut down his season. He averaged 3.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before shutting it down.

A former top-50 recruit from the Class of 2013, King will look to jumpstart his career elsewhere during his final season of college basketball.

Austin only appeared in six games and played a total of 44 minutes this season as he also dealt with injuries like an early bone bruise.

The Crimson Tide are bringing in one of the best recruiting classes in the country next season as their freshmen could see a lot of playing time. So it comes as no surprise that players like King and Austin would transfer to assure more playing time.

Candidates Georgetown could target for head coach

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Georgetown moved on from head coach John Thompson III after 13 years at the helm on Thursday as the move sent shockwaves throughout college basketball.

The Thompson family has been a major institution for Georgetown basketball, dating back to the ’70s when John Thompson Jr. was head coach. So this new hire for the Hoyas will be a fascinating process.

Here’s a list of some early names that could be involved with Georgetown.

Tommy Amaker, Harvard — With a successful tenure at Harvard that at one point included four NCAA tournament bids in a row, Amaker has won at his latest job while coaching at an elite academic institution.

Put together with previous stops at Seton Hall and Michigan and Amaker has run a big-time program while also winning at an Ivy League school. Leaving Harvard might be tough though when Amaker is beginning to recruit at a national level at the program.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s — Five years at Mount St. Mary’s has produced two NCAA tournament appearances for Christian as the 34-year-old would represent a bold, young hire for Georgetown.

Also an assistant coach for a season at VCU under Shaka Smart, Christian has recruited in that area before and he’s regarded by many as one of the bright, young head coaches in a low-major league. Coming from Smart at VCU, it should come as no surprise that Christian plays an uptempo system and presses on defense.

It would be a bit risky for Georgetown to hire someone as young as Christian but he also has the kind of enthusiasm to lead the tough rebuild that the Hoyas potentially face.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell — After leading Bucknell to the NCAA tournament in only his second season as a Division I head coach, Davis is someone to keep an eye on for the future.

The Washington D.C. native has quickly established himself as a potential young star in the coaching ranks but he also might be too inexperienced to take one of the Big East’s prestige positions. As a Division I head coach for only two seasons, Davis hasn’t faced the pressure of the high-major level at any of his previous coaching stops. Davis certainly deserves credit for his Division III coaching success and Final Four appearance with Randolph-Macon (Bo Ryan was pretty good in DIII before moving to Division I) but that’s a long way from the Big East.

Davis would have to prove that he’s capable as a coach and recruiter at the Big East level and he would be a risk if hired by the Hoyas.

Patrick Ewing Sr., Charlotte Hornets assistant  — The Hall of Fame center and Georgetown alum would be an intriguing name. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that the Hoyas are considering Ewing as a potential head coach.

This wouldn’t just be a Chris Mullin at St. John’s type of scenario where Mullin had no coaching experience before taking the job. Ewing has been grinding as an NBA assistant coach for the past 15 years in the hopes of getting an NBA head coaching job. Georgetown represents an unique opportunity for Ewing to rebuild his former program and his son, Patrick Ewing Jr., would potentially work for him.

Recruiting would obviously be a major question mark but Ewing has the playing and coaching pedigree to be a wild card in this.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island — The Rams finally broke through and made the NCAA Tournament in Hurley’s fifth year as head coach this season as Rhode Island made the second round before falling to Oregon in a close game.

Of the coaches on this list, the Rams have recruited a lot of top-100 prospects and futures pros like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin, so we know that Hurley knows how to navigate elite recruiting.

As the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and younger brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, Dan Hurley comes from a long line of basketball coaches. He’s made Rhode Island one of the premier programs in the Atlantic 10. Although he’s only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons as a head coach, Hurley has things trending in the right direction.

Shaka Smart, Texas — This isn’t likely going to happen but Georgetown is at least going to call. Since Smart was so successful at nearby VCU before taking the Texas job, the Hoyas are going to see if he’d be interested in returning to the area after this season’s disappointing last-place Big 12 finish.

If this Georgetown coaching position had been made available two years ago, before Smart had taken the Texas job, then it would have been intriguing to see where things might stand between the two. But now that Smart has at least four, four-star prospects entering Texas next season, while returning most of the current roster, he has a chance to build from this season’s last-place finish.

VIDEO: Why did the NCAA ban dunking in 1967?

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With UCLA playing in the Sweet 16 tonight, it’s a fitting time to bring up the story of the time that the association banned dunking.

It was in 1967, and it was because there was a kid named Lew Alcindor (who would change his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar) at UCLA who led the Bruins to a 30-0 record and a national title.

And just think, that rule change, which lasted until 1976, kept some of the game’s greatest dunkers from showing what they could really do in college. Imagine David Thompson rattling rims, rather than his assortment of finger-rolls and layups. Dr. J soared at UMass, but never like Dr. J really could. And so on.

So as you’re watching the rest of the NCAA tournament, thank the rule-makers who brought the dunk back. We’re better for it.