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2018 NCAA Tournament: The players you want taking the game-winning shot

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If you’re going to advance very far in the NCAA tournament, you’re going to be in your fair share of close games. It’s just the way it works. And if you find yourself needing to pull out a game late, you’re going to need a clutch player. Here’s our starting five of players you want with the ball with your season in the balance.

Jalen Brunson, Villanova: There might not be a cooler or level-headed player in the country. Brunson, our National Player of the Year is always in control, always calm and always in command of the moment. Brunson put up huge numbers this season, but it’s the intangible stuff, the things that makes the Wildcats go, that make him the go-to guy with the game on the line.

Keenan Evans, Texas Tech: Remember this shot?:

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier: Bluiett proved his worth last season when he was the best player in the tournament for three games while leading No. 11 seed Xavier to the Elite 8. And I would post a video here of him making a game-winning shot, but there are just too many to pick from.

Collin Sexton, Alabama: Texas A&M found out the hard way how good Sexton can be in the waning moments of a close game, as did the rest of the country. Sexton is one of the most dynamic players in the nation, and can get a good look whenever he wants thanks to his speed and athleticism. Give him the ball and let him go to work.

Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Not only is he a great player, but Edwards looks to be great at preaching coolness under pressure to his teammates.

This GIF is better than any inspirational poster ever.

Miles Bridges, Michigan State: Talent from head to toe and ice water in his veins, Bridges’ offensive ability makes him one of the great late-game players in the country. Get him the rock, and let him win you the game.

Devonte Graham, Kansas: He may not be quite as good in the clutch as his former backcourt mate Frank Mason, but Graham controls the game and is a great decision-maker. The Big 12 player of the year, Graham is completely capable of guiding the Jayhawks to the finish line when things get tight.

Trae Young, Oklahoma: Yes, Young’s production has dropped as the Sooners stumbled to the finish line this season, but ask yourself a simple question: Who is more capable of making a tough shot or creating an open look for a teammate with the game on the line than Young? The answer may be no one. Get Young across halfcourt and he’s within his range. Get him near the rim, and he’s got a circus shot he can execute. Throw extra defenders at him, and he’ll get the ball to an open shooter. If the game’s on the line and the ball’s in Young’s hands, you’ve got a shot.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Big men that will break your bracket

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There’s a line of thinking that the NCAA tournament is a guard’s game, and there’s ample evidence of its veracity when we look back at runs by Kemba Walker’s UConn, Kris Jenkins and and Josh Hart’s Villanova and Russ Smith’s Louisville in recent years. Don’t, though, forget the big guys. Here’s a list of post presences that could help determine a national champion – and your bracket pool winner.

Marvin Bagley III, Duke: The Blue Devils freshman was the toast of the sport early in the season before being overshadowed by Trae Young, but he’s been consistently great. He’s great around the bucket, good enough from distance to keep defenses honest and rebounds at a high level. He may not be June’s No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, but he ain’t slipping past five, either.

Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic, Arizona: This is about as close to a throwback frontcourt as you’ll see – despite the fact that Ayton fits well enough in the modern game to be a potential No. 1 pick in June. It’s rare that a team can put two seven-footers on the floor and make it work, but Arizona’s pair can make it work. Still, it’s Ayton that fuels this pairing as he’s established himself as a dominant force inside and capable of keeping the Wildcats moving through the bracket.

Michael Porter, Jr., Missouri: Jontay Porter and Jeremiah Tilmon held down the fort inside all season long for the Tigers, but they’re now adding Michael Porter, Jr. to the mix – which could either make them fearsome up front or create a rocky fit. It’s one of the big bets of the NCAA tournament that coach Cuonzo Martin is making here. The upside is massive given Porter, Jr.’s talent.

Isaac Haas, Purdue: It’s pretty astounding that the Boilermakers lost Caleb Swanigan, one of the best big men the sport has seen in recent years, and somehow had a better season. Isaac Haas is a big reason why. The 7-foot-2 senior is on the floor more this year without Swanigan now that coach Matt Painer doesn’t have to juggle the two big men, and Haas has upped his production as a result. His size and skill bends the defense like few other players in the country.

Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward, Michigan State: Jackson is the darling of NBA scouts with his modern game while Ward is a more traditional big man – together they make up an incredibly dynamic and productive frontcourt for the Spartans. Ward is the country’s most prolific offensive rebounder and Jackson is one of the top shotblockers in the nation. And both shoot better than 60 percent from the floor.

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Luke Maye, North Carolina: Maye went from a nice story on last year’s national champion Tar Heels to one of the most productive players in the country this year. He’s averaging a double-double of 17.2 points and 10.1 rebounds as his role has exploded from bit player to star for coach Roy Williams.

Killian Tillie, Gonzaga: With all the turnover off last year’s national runners-up, Tillie has seen his role and his production trend way up. He’s one of the most efficient scorers in the country with a true-shooting percentage of 68.2, which is top-10 nationally. He’s not as proficient as a shotblocker and rebounder, but he’s a major problem for defenses.

Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks’ roster is incredibly dependent on Azubuike given the dearth of other options inside, making his health status one of the more important subplots of the NCAA tournament. The sophomore missed the Big 12 tournament due to a knee injury, but is expected to return to the court this week. His presence inside really facilitates Kansas’ guard-oriented and 3-point heavy approach.

Mike Daum, South Dakota State: The 6-foot-9 Jackrabbit may be the best mid-major player in the tournament. He’s a high-usage player with a 59.5 true shooting percentage and rebounds on the defensive end at a high rate. His athleticism isn’t going to wow anyone, but his ability to score at every level and in unique ways makes him an incredibly tough cover. If South Dakota State turns into this year’s Cinderella, it’ll be Daum who fit them with the glass slipper.

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Angel Delgado, Seton Hall: The 6-foot-10 senior is a double-double machine, averaging 13.3 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. His prowess on the glass is what separates him from the rest of the big man pack as he’s elite on both the offensive and defensive ends on the floor in that area. He’s not a prolific scorer, but he creates extra shots for the Pirates and limits those extra opportunities for their opponents.

Tyler Davis and Robert Williams, Texas A&M: Another super-sized frontcourt that harkens back to a different era of basketball. Both of these guys are great around the rim, but not threats from the 3-point arc. Williams is a fantastic shotblocker while Davis is a great offensive rebounder.

Mohamed Bamba, Texas: Bamba appears to have healed up from a sprained toe and will try to help the Longhorns escape the first weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012. The 6-foot-11 freshman with an expansive wingspan is one of the most impactful defenders in the country as an elite shotblocker. His offensive game lags behind his defense, but he is capable of causing headaches for opponents on that end as well.

Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: URI survives, Kentucky comes back, Michigan State and Ohio State roll

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The 18th-ranked Rams clinched at least a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title, but it wasn’t easy as they needed overtime to beat La Salle 95-93 in Philadelphia. The “foul or defend” question came up on multiple occasions late in regulation and overtime, with Rhode Island head coach Dan Hurley opting to foul each time. Late in regulation the strategy didn’t work out, as Tony Washington rebounded an intentional miss and scored the basket that forced overtime.

B.J. Johnson was outstanding in a losing effort for La Salle, finishing with 29 points and 23 rebounds. The rebound total was one off of the Atlantic 10’s single-game record, which is held by the late Yinka Dare. As for URI, Jeff Dowtin and Stanford Robinson led the way with 25 and 20 points, apiece, with the former also dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds. With the win Rhode Island can clinch the outright A-10 title by beating Dayton Friday night, and the result also keeps the Rams in the conversation to earn a 4-seed (or possibly better) in the NCAA tournament.

BUBBLE BANTER: Texas A&M and Creighton suffer rough losses


On multiple occasions John Calipari’s young team has produced efforts that led to many wondering if they had turned the corner. But after ending a four-game losing streak on Saturday, the Wildcats trailed Arkansas 11-0 with Darryl Macon and Jalen Barford serving as the sparks for the Razorbacks. But instead of wilting and getting blown out Kentucky fought, pulling even by halftime. And in the second half the Wildcats were even better, controlling the action and picking up an 87-72 victory.

Five Kentucky players scored in double figures, with Kevin Knox accounting for 23 points and seven rebounds and fellow freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander adding 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Three of the five double-figure scorers came off the bench, with Jarred Vanderbilt and Quade Green providing much-needed sparks in the first half. Kentucky’s now won back-to-back games for the first time since late January, and while that may not seem like a big deal it’s certainly a positive development for this group.



Both the Spartans and Buckeyes took care of overmatched foes on their respective senior nights, with Michigan State beating Illinois by 20 and Ohio State whipping Rutgers by 27. With its win Michigan State wrapped up at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, and the Spartans can wrap up the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament with a win over Wisconsin on Sunday. Miles Bridges led the way with 19 points and Joshua Langford added 16 for Michigan State, which shot 47.1 percent from the field and 11-for-27 from three.

What Michigan State will need to do against Wisconsin will be known by tip-off, as Ohio State completes its regular season schedule Friday night at Indiana. Tuesday night, Chris Holtmann’s team rolled past an overmatched Rutgers squad, with C.J. Jackson scoring a game-high 18 points off the bench. Keita Bates-Diop shot just 3-for-11 from the field and scored six points, but Ohio State received quality efforts from multiple players as it ended a two-game losing streak.

No. 2 Michigan State tops Illinois 81-61, seals share of title

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Miles Bridges grabbed the Big Ten trophy, lifted it and flashed an ear-to-ear grin.

Bridges scored 19 points, leading No. 2 Michigan State to an 81-61 win over Illinois on Tuesday night to seal a share of the Big Ten championship.

The Spartans (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten) have won 11 straight and can claim the conference title outright if they win at Wisconsin on Sunday.

Bridges turned down a chance to make millions in the NBA this season to be a college sophomore in part to chase championships, and now he has one.

“That’s why I came back,” he said. “Memories that will last a lifetime.”

It is clear, though, he’s not satisfied with a Big Ten title.

“We’re not done yet,” Bridges told the Breslin Center crowd after the game.

Coach Tom Izzo, likewise, isn’t content with winning his eighth Big Ten title.

“It’s one of those years, I’m not satisfied with that one,” Izzo said.

The Fighting Illini (13-16, 3-13) were coming off a win over Nebraska and looked like they were building momentum, competing well enough to trail the Spartans by just three points at halftime.

Michigan State dashed their hopes of pulling off an upset by opening the second half with a 12-1 run to take control and went on to build 20-plus-point leads.

“They don’t have any weaknesses,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “I think they’re really capable of winning the whole thing.”

The cushion allowed Izzo to put his three seniors in and out of the game in the final minutes. That gave each of them an opportunity to kiss the school’s logo at midcourt and get an ovation from the crowd, following a tradition Shawn Respert started in 1995 during Izzo’s final season as an assistant under Jud Heathcote.

It was a feel-good night on a campus still reeling because of a crisis over how the school handled allegations against disgraced former sports doctor Larry Nassar . An ESPN report has also stirred Michigan State’s basketball and football programs by questioning how Izzo and Mark Dantonio have dealt with allegations against their players.

“I hope you enjoyed this team and I hope they brought a little bit of a bright light,” Izzo said to fans during a postgame ceremony that included raising a Big Ten title banner.

Joshua Langford had 16 points, Cassius Winston scored 12 and Jaren Jackson had eight points and five blocks for the Spartans.

Illinois’ Leron Black scored 20 points and Trent Frazier had 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting.


Illinois: The young team has experienced growing pains that may serve the program well next season, when it returns almost every player on the roster.

“We’re growing every day,” Underwood said. “We have one senior. We have two scholarships open so we could grow the program with the addition of some recruits. We signed what we think is an elite point guard (Ayo Dosunmu), one of the best in the country.”

Michigan State: Despite clinching a share of the conference championship, the Spartans have a lot to play for with an outright title at stake against the Badgers and a chance to improve their seeding for the NCAA Tournament.


Izzo started Tum Tum Nairn, Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter in place of Winston, Jackson and Nick Ward. The coach said it was Winston’s idea.


Michigan State’s Kenny Goins scored a season-high nine points In 17 minutes. Ward had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocks in just 15 minutes.


Illinois: Hosts Purdue on Thursday night and on Sunday plays at Rutgers, where the Illini will have their last chance to win a road game this season.

Michigan State: Wraps up the regular season at home against Wisconsin on Sunday, shooting for its first outright title since 2009 and aiming to improve its postseason seeding.

“We have other things to accomplish,” Izzo said.


More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

VIDEO: Tom Izzo appears on Judge Mathis

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When sports figures, be they athletes or coaches, make guest appearances on television shows they’re usually seen on sitcoms with the occasional drama mixed in. A show in which court cases are argued? That doesn’t happen all too often.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo did just that during the summer, as he was part of the courtroom audience on “Judge Mathis.” The episode was filmed in mid August.

Judge Mathis took time to acknowledge Izzo’s presence in the court room, as his daughter was a student-assistant to the head coach during her time as a Michigan State student. Seated next to Izzo was Michigan State assistant Mike Garland.

Four takeaways from No. 3 Michigan State’s dominating win over No. 5 Notre Dame

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With the ACC having already secured a landslide victory in its annual challenge with the Big Ten, Thursday night promised to offer some respite into the one-sidedness of the competition.

Well, the Big Ten added to its paltry win total, but there wasn’t much in the way of competition as No. 3 Michigan State walloped No. 5 Notre Dame, 81-63, to improve to 6-1 on the season and send the Fighting Irish to their first loss of the season.

The Spartans controlled the game from the outset, getting up big early and withstanding a second-half charge from the Irish.  Notre Dame, especially at the Breslin Center, was simply no match for Michigan State.

Josh Langford and Cassius Winston both had 17 for the Spartans with Winston also contributing seven assists. Miles Bridges had 14 points and Nick Ward 12.

Bonzie Colson led the way for the Irish with 17 points while Rex Pflueger had 15.

It was a dominating performance from the Spartans, who have made a habit of being dominating since that Champion’s Classic loss to Duke. Their last five wins have all come by at least 18 points.

Here’s what we learned Thursday:

Michigan State at full-bore is scary good

The Spartans were dominant for about 30 minutes of this game, having to withstand about a 10-minute second-half push from Notre Dame. When they were on, it was clear that Michigan State is among the top tier of teams that appear capable of winning a national championship. Duke’s win over Tom Izzo’s team and its run through the PK80 has them at the front of the line right now, but the Spartans aren’t far behind.

Against a top-five opponent, Michigan State shot 51.4 percent in the first half despite 4 of 13 from 3-point range. The held the Fighting Irish to 37.9 percent shooting (3 of 11 from 3) and forced six turnovers to be 20 points better heading into halftime.

There was that lull from the Spartans after halftime – and give credit to Notre Dame for punching back – but Michigan State still at least 12 points from four starters and nine from Matt McQuaid off the bench. Jaren Jackson was the sole starter not to break 10 points, but foul trouble limited to 14 minutes and he still managed three blocks.

It’s not surprising or news to notice that Michigan State is really, really good, but it’s still impressive to see them at full stride.

Bonzie Colson is awesome, but does have his limitations

The Notre Dame senior is one of the best players in college basketball. He’s incredibly fun to watch as a 6-foot-5 forward with an expansive wingspan. The guy gets buckets.

But when faced with a defender with size, length and/or athletcism, it can cause problems for him.

That’s what happened Thursday night.

Colson was 6 of 19 from the floor (31.5 percent) against the Spartans, who were able to throw a number of defenders at him, though it was Jackson (6-10 with a 7-f wingspan) that really gave him fits. What makes him so strong is his efficiency, and Michigan State took that away completely.

Miles Bridges shouldn’t settle for jumpers

Michigan State’s star had a so-so night with 14 points, six rebounds, four assists and a block, but he was 6 of 15 from the floor and committed three turnovers in 32 minutes. The biggest issue for Bridges is that he wasn’t getting to the rim in the halfcourt with much consistency, instead launching 3s. He made just 1 of 7.

Bridges can make 3s. He’s actually a pretty good shooter from distance, having converted at a 38.9 percent clip last year and coming in at 36 percent this year. But he’s too much of a dynamic physical weapon with his size and athleticism to shoot from 3 that much, taking the pressure of a defense that would likely nothing more than to avoid the prospect of getting dunked on by Miles Bridges. He’s shot at least five 3s in four of Michigan State’s seven games.

If Bridges can use the 3-point shot more as a strategic threat than principal play, it’ll go a long way.

The Spartans are going to blow through the Big Ten

The Big Ten got absolutely waxed in its annual matchup with the ACC, dropping 11 of 15 games. It’s a pretty good indication that the league, as a whole, just isn’t as strong as most years. Minnesota and Purdue have probably looked the best of the potential contenders, but neither of those teams appear to be at an elite level.

That really just leaves Michigan State to carry the banner for the conference this season, and, as noted above, they are more than capable of doing just that. The Spartans appear poised for a No. 1 seed in a couple months, and, given that it won’t be surprising if they clear the Big Ten by three or more games, the conversation will likely be about their worthiness for the top overall seed.