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.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

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

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.