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College Basketball’s Best Backcourts

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Guards win in March.

That’s why having the best guards in the country makes you such a good basketball team.

And that’s what makes this list of college basketball’s best backcourts so important.

These are the teams that are positioned to make a run in March.

1. KENTUCKY (Ashton Hagans, Tyrese Maxey, Immanuel Quickley, Kahlil Whitney, Johnny Juzang)

It’s hard to top a perimeter group that boasts four five-star prospects and multiple McDonald’s All-Americans, but it’s become practically the norm at Kentucky.

Ashton Hagans proved himself capable of running an offense and being a lockdown defender last season. The sophomore is hoping to expand his offensive game this season as perimeter shooting will be something to monitor. Tyrese Maxey is one of the most college-ready scorers in the freshman class as he’s also capable of playing with the ball in his hands.

The duo of Hagans and Maxey could also compliment each other nicely with Hagans as a lockdown guy and Maxey focused on bucket-getting. There might not be a better third guard in the country than former McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley as he can help on both ends of the floor. Freshman Kahlil Whitney could get heavy minutes on the wing as he’s a run-and-jump athlete with more skill than advertised.

2. MICHIGAN STATE (Cassius Winston, Josh Langford, Aaron Henry, Rocket Watts, Foster Loyer)

Having the Preseason Player of the Year in college basketball certainly helps the Spartans this season as Cassius Winston is the sport’s top returning player this season. With Winston maintaining his responsibilities at point guard, Michigan State is a big favorite to win the Big Ten as they try to capture a national title.

Although injured, Joshua Langford is a potent scorer and solid defender when he’s in the lineup. Langford’s health could ultimately be the key to unlocking the Spartans’ ceiling this season. Aaron Henry has a chance to make major strides as a sophomore as he showed plenty of promise late in the season. The addition of freshman Rocket Watts should give a nice boost to the Michigan State second unit as he could be looked upon to help score while the starters get rest.

3. FLORIDA (Andrew Nembhard, Noah Locke, Tre Mann, Scottie Lewis)

Expectations are high at Florida this season as a young-but-talented perimeter group could ultimately determine the Gators’ ceiling. The return of point guard Andrew Nembhard and shooter Noah Locke was big for Florida as both players produced solid freshman campaigns. Nembhard will be asked to do even more this season as one of the team’s few returning rotation players. Locke needs to be more consistent after a sluggish end to the season but he’s a capable shooter who limits turnovers.

The Gators are very excited by the addition of two McDonald’s All-Americans in athletic wing Scottie Lewis and in-state scoring guard Tre Mann. Lewis fits perfectly with this Florida outfit because he doesn’t have to score a lot to be a major factor. Lewis has outstanding defensive upside and can also help handle the ball in a pinch if needed. Mann’s ability to put up points in bunches will greatly benefit the Gators as his role in this perimeter group will be fascinating to watch.

4. NORTH CAROLINA (Cole Anthony, Brandon Robinson, Leaky Black, Christian Keeling, Andrew Platek, Anthony Harris)

There will be some question marks in the North Carolina backcourt this season with the loss of talented players like Coby White, Kenny Williams and Cameron Johnson. Having freshman Cole Anthony should alleviate a lot of those Tar Heel perimeter concerns. Anthony has a chance to be the most productive freshman in college hoops this season with his Westbrook-like impact on the game. Capable of the triple-double on any night, Anthony has to push North Carolina’s offense if the Tar Heels want to be great.

Senior Brandon Robinson and grad transfer Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern) should help provide floor spacing for Anthony. North Carolina fans have patiently waited for sophomore Leaky Black to unleash his vast potential. If Black figures out how to play with more aggression then he has the talent to be an impact ACC player. Freshman Anthony Harris could earn rotation minutes if he’s healthy enough following a torn ACL last December.

5. DUKE (Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell, Wendell Moore, Cassius Stanley, Jordan Goldwire)

The return of Tre Jones at point guard was gigantic for the Blue Devils as the sophomore has a chance to be one of the nation’s top players. A standout running the offense and defending on the perimeter, Jones has to improve an inconsistent perimeter jumper that became a liability at times last season. Even if Jones isn’t knocking down shots, he still makes everyone around him better and he’ll be the unquestioned leader of Duke’s defense.

Junior Alex O’Connell has carved out a role the past two seasons as a shooter off the bench as the Blue Devils hope he can become more well-rounded as an upperclassman. Two stud freshmen enter the mix as well in Wendell Moore and Cassius Stanley. Moore is a winning player capable of contributing in multiple ways. The freshman doesn’t need to score to make an impact. Stanley is a big-time athlete who can slash and flourish in the open floor. Perimeter shooting as a whole is going to be the major storyline to follow with this Duke backcourt.

6. KANSAS (Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji, Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss)

Plenty of talented perimeter pieces return to Kansas as the Jayhawks should have more stability there than a year ago. Devon Dotson pulling his name out of the NBA Draft and returning for his sophomore season was huge for Kansas. The downhill guard can create offense in an instant and he’s one of the toughest guards to slow down in the country.

After burning his redshirt in the middle of last season, Ochai Agbaji made a major splash as he was starting and contributing by the end of the year. Agbaji has big upside and seeing what he can do during a full season should be fun to watch. Junior Marcus Garrett returns as a lockdown defender and solid rotation piece. Grad transfer Isaiah Moss comes from Iowa ready to produce as an off-ball scorer as he gives the Jayhawks a perimeter threat that they needed for this roster.

7. MARYLAND (Anthony Cowan, Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith)

Following last season’s Round of 32 run, the Terps return their entire perimeter group after only losing big man Bruno Fernando this offseason. Anthony Cowan would receive far more attention at lead guard if he wasn’t in the same league as Cassius Winston as the senior is the team’s leading scorer and distributor. If Cowan can become a little more consistent then he could push for All-American honors.

It helps Maryland that Cowan has plenty of weapons around him as sophomores Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins and Serrel Smith all return. All three produced as freshmen last season. Wiggins, the team’s sixth man last season, could make a major leap with more minutes while Ayala and Morsell are established starters who fit nicely with Cowan. Smith gives Maryland a wealth of perimeter options as he would play more minutes on most teams.

8. OREGON (Payton Pritchard, Will Richardson, Anthony Mathis, Chris Duarte)

Not many backcourts in college hoops have a Final Four participant as the Ducks are led by veteran floor general Payton Pritchard. Helping Oregon reach multiple Sweet 16s the past three years, Pritchard is tough as nails and makes plays all over the floor. Pritchard will have weapons around him this season. Transferring in from New Mexico, senior shooter Anthony Mathis is reunited with Pritchard, his former high school teammate. Sophomore Will Richardson will both be asked to score more this season after being role player a year ago. The wild card in the group could be highly-touted JUCO guard Chris Duarte who some considered the best JUCO prospect in the country. As long as Pritchard gets scoring help from one of his four perimeter options, the Ducks should be fine.

9. SETON HALL (Myles Powell, Quincy McKnight, Myles Cale, Anthony Nelson, Shavar Reynolds Jr.)

A veteran backcourt with a potential All-American in Myles Powell, Seton Hall has a lot to look forward to from its perimeter. Powell is one of America’s premier players as he’ll have a chance to earn All-American honors if he plays like he did last season. Although Powell is a rugged scorer and solid two-way player, if he limits turnovers then he’ll be even tougher to stop. McKnight isn’t reliable as a perimeter shooter but the senior fills in a lot of gaps for the group as he can attack the basket, handle the ball and really defend. Junior Myles Cale adds an additional scoring punch that prevents defenses from overloading too much on Powell. Depth is a question mark for this group, although reserves like Anthony Nelson and Shavar Reynolds Jr. have been solid in limited minutes.

10. ARIZONA (Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Max Hazzard, Dylan Smith, Devonaire Doutrive)

The Wildcats are hoping for a return to the national spotlight this season thanks to the addition of two McDonald’s All-American guards in Nico Mannion and Josh Green. Both freshmen should receive big minutes right away. Mannion is a competitor on both ends who should be able to run Arizona’s offense while also providing some scoring pop on his own. Green is a smooth wing athlete who can slash and attack the basket. If Green can improve his shaky perimeter jumper than he’ll be tough to defend. Veterans Dylan Smith and Devonaire Doutrive both return and will be counted on to help Arizona’s perimeter defense. The addition of UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard should help as the senior was a big reason why the Anteaters made a splash in the NCAA tournament.

11. MARQUETTE (Markus Howard, Sacar Anim, Koby McEwen, Greg Elliott)

This group’s ranking gets a boost thanks to the return of Markus Howard for his senior season. One of the most dynamic scorers in the country, Howard is one of the only players in college hoops capable of going for 50-plus points on any night. Howard should have help this season in the form of senior Sacar Anim and Utah State transfer Koby McEwen. Anim has earned steady minutes in the Marquette rotation while McEwen is a former all-conference selection in the Mountain West who should alleviate some of the scoring burden placed on Howard. Sophomore Greg Elliott is a bit of a forgotten man in this group after redshirting last season with a thumb injury but he could give a nice addition to the unit — particularly on defense.

12. DAVIDSON (Jon Axel Gudmundsson, Kellan Grady, Luke Frampton, Carter Collins)

Not many backcourt units boast two all-league players returning  in the same unit. With Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Jon Axel Gudmundsson and first-team all-conference selection Kellan Grady back in the fold, Davidson has one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country. Gudmundsson is one of America’s most underrated floor leaders. The senior is a do-it-all guard capable of pushing for a triple-double any game. Grady (17.3 ppg) is the lethal scorer and former highly-touted prospect among the group as the junior can get rolling. And Luke Frampton made the most three-pointers in the A-10 last season as he rounds out a very tough trio of starters.

13. PROVIDENCE (Alpha Diallo, David Duke, Luwane Pipkins, A.J. Reeves, Maliek White)

The Big East has more perimeter star power on teams like Seton Hall and Marquette but you could make a solid argument that Providence has the deepest unit in the league. Diallo’s return to school gave the Friars a ton of hope this season as the second-team All-Big East selection is the productive leader of this group. From there, the Friars could get a leap from sophomores A.J. Reeves and David Duke as both former top-100 prospects nearly averaged double-figures last season. Point guard play will be the group’s biggest question but Providence was wise to add UMass grad transfer Luwane Pipkins and his scoring prowess to the lineup this offseason. If Pipkins struggles to consistently run the offense then senior Mallek White is one of the Big East’s better reserve guards.

14. LSU (Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor, Parker Edwards)

Losing Tremont Waters will certainly hurt. The good news for LSU is that Javonte Smart, Skylar Mays and Marlon Taylor all pulled their name out of the NBA Draft and returned to school. Playing more off the ball last season with Waters at point, Smart will get a chance to be the primary playmaker as a sophomore. While Smart’s perimeter shooting remains a question mark, he is undoubtedly strong when it comes to attacking the rim and making plays. Mays didn’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter last season but still produced a great season. The senior is an All-SEC caliber player who isn’t afraid to step up in big moments. Taylor didn’t get heavy minutes last season but he’s a mega athlete capable of playing above the rim and helping defensively. LSU’s perimeter doesn’t have a lot of depth but Southeastern Louisiana transfer Parker Edwards could carve out a useful role as a perimeter shooter.

15. CREIGHTON (Ty-Shon Alexander, Mitchell Ballock, Marcus Zegarowski, Davion Mintz)

The Bluejays have plenty of perimeter pieces to rely on this season thanks to the return of numerous veterans. Davion Mintz is a three-year starter capable of playing multiple guard spots but he’s at his best setting up the numerous weapons he has around him. Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitchell Ballock are two junior bombers who can really knock down perimeter shots. Alexander is the more well-rounded scorer while Ballock might be more capable of a one-night explosion as evidenced by his NCAA-record 11 threes against DePaul last season. Marcus Zegarowski is the intriguing sophomore of the group as he joined the starting lineup midway through last season and made a major impact scoring and distributing.

No. 1 goes down again as Texas Tech upsets Louisville

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NEW YORK — It was the fourth time it’s happened in the first five weeks of the season, the third time it’s happened against an unranked team and the second time that Madison Square Garden played host to the carnage.

The No. 1 team in the country lost.

On Tuesday night, in the opener of the Jimmy V Classic, No. 1 Louisville lost to the unranked Texas Tech, 70-57. That’s the same Texas Tech that arrived in New York City on a three-game losing streak — against Iowa, Creighton and DePaul — and who was forced to play with leading scorer Jahmi’us Ramsey, who missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury.

Davide Moretti led the way for the reigning national runners-up, finishing with 18 points, while freshman Terrence Shannon chipped in with 13 of his own and Chris Clarke added seven points, 12 boards and six assists.

As we have become accustomed to under head coach Chris Beard, Texas Tech won with their defense. They held Louisville to 34 percent shooting for the game. The Cardinals were 3-for-17 from three. They turned the ball over 19 times and made 18 field goals. It was, to be frank, as bad as it sounds.

Texas Tech does this to teams. They take you out of what you want to do offensively. The Red Raider coaching staff scouts as well as any staff in the country — in the first half, with their defense right in front of them, they were calling out Louisville’s sets as Louisville was calling their plays. — and this put Louisville in an impossible spot. They couldn’t get good shots out of their offense because Texas Tech wouldn’t let them, but with a point guard situation that is can be flatteringly called a work in progress, they didn’t have anyone that could create offense.

Texas Tech forces you to make plays.

Louisville doesn’t have anyone that can do that.

And it showed.

Penn State upsets No. 4 Maryland

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Penn State used five double-figure scorers and played consistently hard on both ends of the floor as the Nittany Lions stunned previously-unbeaten No. 4 Maryland with a 76-69 Big Ten win on Tuesday night.

Losing by 30 on the road to Ohio State in their last conference game, Penn State displayed impressive intensity on the defensive end, limited turnovers on the offensive end and received plenty of help for star senior Lamar Stevens when he wasn’t having his best game. For the second straight season, Penn State upset a ranked Maryland team on its home floor as the Nittany Lions proved they’ll be a tough out at home all season.

Penn State (8-2, 1-1) received double-doubles from both Stevens (15 points, 10 rebounds) and big man Mike Watkins (15 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks) as the duo did a ton of damage on the interior. The Nittany Lions also had double-digit scoring efforts from Myreon Jones (14 points), Izaiah Brockington (14 points) and Myles Dread (10 points). With 19 assists and only eight turnovers, Penn State’s offense did an outstanding job of running clean sets and getting good looks from multiple players.

This is a quality win for the Nittany Lions early in the Big Ten portion of the schedule. It gives an unproven team a major boost of confidence — particularly beating a top-five team on a night where Stevens was only 5-for-13 from the floor. The Ohio State road loss shows Penn State still has a long way to go to be considered any kind of major threat. But Pat Chambers’ team is at least balanced and feisty enough to be a really tough out at home this season. A few more wins like this could put Penn State in the NCAA tournament picture with the kind of schedule they’ll play in the Big Ten this season.

But the major story here is the loss for Maryland. Because the Terps have some concerning trends they need to address.

Early in the season, Maryland (10-1, 1-1) has made a habit of falling behind early. It happened multiple times in an early-season tournament. And it’s now happened in back-to-back Big Ten games against Illinois and Penn State. While Maryland has been able to overcome slow starts all season with talent and comeback wins, a bad start came back to really bite them on Tuesday.

Trailing by 10 at halftime, Maryland tried to make second-half runs to stay with Penn State. Ultimately, the Terps were derailed by inconsistent offense, sloppy and careless turnovers (Penn State had 17 points off turnovers in the first half) and an inconsistent effort on the inside.

Maryland’s offense had 20 turnovers to only nine assists for the game as the Terps never seemed to figure out the proper way to run its offense. Alternating between senior Anthony Cowan Jr. (16 points) and sophomore Eric Ayala (15 points) initiating offense, both guards had too many bad passes and unforced errors for a team with Big Ten title aspirations.

It’s very clear that Maryland has the talent to compete with nearly any team in the country. Even on an off night, the Terps made this a one-possession game against a balanced Big Ten team with some veteran players. But Maryland can’t have these kinds of unforced errors if they see themselves making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

That mainly falls on Cowan. A few of his turnovers were stunningly bad for a senior floor leader. Getting stripped 35 feet from the hoop and throwing lazy passes for interceptions and easy layups can’t happen for Cowan. There’s just too much talent on offense for Maryland to be giving away points in close games.

The good news for Maryland is that there is plenty of time to correct some of these mistakes. Cowan can limit the mistakes. The offense will likely play better and more together. But Maryland’s slow starts are a trend to keep an eye on as it has been a factor for them in multiple games this season.

Bracketology: Cardinals, Buckeyes sit atop latest bracket projection

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At the quarter-turn of our race to Selection Sunday, the Louisville Cardinals lead Ohio State by a nose for the No. 1 overall seed.  Close behind are Michigan, Kansas, Gonzaga and Maryland.  The Buckeyes and Wolverines are the surprise entries among that group, although both have earned their positions with impressive performances out of the gate.

While the first turn provides a quick glance at the Field, we still have three-quarters of the race to run – including a daunting backstretch and the turn for home known as conference play.  Those grueling furlongs tend to separate the pretenders and contenders.

Early brackets are notoriously fluid; margins between teams are thin. Early projections also tend to produce some quirkiness – especially related to conference balance.  Keep those things in mind.  By next month we could see a lot of changes.

UPDATED: December 10, 2019

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
EAST REGION Iowa State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION Georgetown vs. Oregon State
MIDWEST REGION  SACRED HEART vs. PRAIRIE VIEW AM
WEST REGION MONTANA vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis EAST – New York                       
St. Louis Cleveland
1) LOUISVILLE 1) OHIO STATE
16) NC-AT / SACRED HEART 16) RADFORD
8) West Virginia 8) VCU
9) Penn State 9) Texas
Sacramento Sacramento
5) Arizona 5) SAN DIEGO STATE
12) WESTERN KENTUCKY 12) UNC-GREENSBORO
4) Kentucky 4) Washington
13) LIBERTY 13) YALE
St. Louis Greensboro
6) MEMPHIS 6) Villanova
11) Saint Mary’s 11) Iowa St / Arizona St
3) DAYTON 3) TENNESSEE
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) VERMONT
Albany Greensboro
7) Florida 7) Seton Hall
10) DePaul 10) Indiana
2) Maryland 2) Duke
15) HOFSTRA 15) COLGATE
WEST – Los Angeles SOUTH – Houston
Omaha Cleveland
1) KANSAS 1) Michigan
16) MONTANA / PV-AM 16) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
8) Stanford 8) LSU
9) Marquette 9) Colorado
Albany Omaha
5) Michigan State 5) North Carolina
12) BOWLING GREEN 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Virginia 4) Baylor
13) BELMONT 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Tampa Tampa
6) Purdue 6) Auburn
11) Oklahoma 11) Georgetown / Oregon St
3) BUTLER 3) Florida State
14) RIDER 14) GEORGIA STATE
Spokane Spokane
7) Utah State 7) Xavier
10) Creighton 10) Connecticut
2) GONZAGA 2) OREGON
15) UC-SANTA BARBARA 15) NEW MEXICO STATE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Creighton Georgetown Iowa Arkansas
Connecticut Arizona State Wichita State Virginia Tech
Saint Mary’s Oregon State NC State Houston
Oklahoma Iowa State Richmond Oklahoma State

Top Seed Line
Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan, Kansas

Breakdown by Conference …
Big East (8)
Big Ten (7)
Pac 12 (7)
BIG 12 (6)
SEC (5)
ACC (5)
West Coast (2)
American (2)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

N.C. State forward Jericole Hellems released from hospital

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State says sophomore forward Jericole Hellems has been released from a hospital and is in “good spirits” after an injury in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest.

The team announced the news Sunday on Twitter. Hellems had fallen on a rebound attempt and banged the back of his head on the court with 28 seconds left. He was alert but had to be carried from the court on a stretcher. Then he was taken to a hospital for precautionary reasons to rule out a possible lower back injury as well as to be evaluated for a possible concussion.

The team says Hellems will meet with NC State doctors in the coming days, while coach Kevin Keatts will address his status later in the week.

NC State travels to UNC Greensboro next Sunday.

AP Poll: Louisville remains No. 1, Ohio State jumps to No. 3

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Louisville and Kansas finally provided some consistency to what has been a volatile Top 25 poll this season, while perennial bluebloods Michigan State and North Carolina continued to tumble after another wave of defeats.

The Cardinals solidified thier place at No. 1 in the AP Top 25 released Monday by routing then-No. 4 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and breezing past Pittsburgh over the past week. The Jayhawks stayed at No. 2 after returning from their Maui Invitaitonal title to thump former Big 12 member Colorado.

“I think it’s two games in a row, where we got stops,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said. “We didn’t allow second shots. We ran the clock on offense. We got great looks. We got layups, and that’s a killer.”

Ohio State jumped from sixth to third following its 74-49 rout of then-No. 7 North Carolina and a Big Ten blowout of Penn State. Maryland dropped one spot to fourth despite continuing to pile up wins, while Michigan slid one spot to round out the top five after Juwan Howard’s bunch ran into the Louisville buzzsaw for their first loss of the season.

The Spartans continued their fall from preseason No. 1 after losing to Duke, this time dropping from 11th to No. 16. The Tar Heels tumbled 10 spots to No. 17 after getting crushed by Ohio State and losing to No. 9 Virginia.

San Diego State joined the rankings at No. 25.

1. Louisville (55)

2. Kansas (4)

3. Ohio St. (5)

4. Maryland

5. Michigan

6. Gonzaga

7. Duke

8. Kentucky

9. Virginia

10. Oregon

11. Baylor

12. Auburn

13. Memphis

14. Dayton

15. Arizona

16. Michigan St.

17. North Carolina

18. Butler

19. Tennessee

20. Villanova

21. Florida St.

22. Seton Hall

23. Xavier

24. Colorado

25. San Diego St.

Others receiving votes: Utah St. 160, Washington 144, Purdue 130, Indiana 13, Marquette 11, Liberty 9, Saint Mary’s (Cal) 8, Texas 6, Florida 5, Penn St. 5, Georgetown 4, West Virginia 3, Richmond 3, LSU 2, Duquesne 1, DePaul 1, VCU 1.