2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: The guards that will win you your bracket


It’s been said many times over that guard play is needed to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament, and with good reason. Look at teams that have won national titles over the years, and quality options on the perimeter tend to be a tie that binds. With that in mind, below are some of the guards (one per team) you need to know heading into the NCAA tournament beginning with four who have been part of national Player of the Year and All-American conversations all year long.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine’s versatility is what has made him a favorite for national Player of the Year honors along with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. On the season the senior guard, who can play any position on the perimeter for the Spartans, is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. No other player in the country can boast averaging 19/7/7 per game.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s the prolific scorer who leads the way in a backcourt rotation that includes two other veterans in Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Hield’s averaging 25.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three. Teams have tried a variety of approaches in defending Hield, but few have been successful. He’s that good of a scorer.

Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The sophomore point guard has emerged as one of the best leaders in college basketball. Sure there’s talent, with Ulis averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, but his work running the Wildcats has helped the team’s role players with their development.

Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an average of 18.7 points per game. The redshirt senior is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the country.

[   BRACKET BREAKDOWNS: East | South | Midwest | West   ]

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Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Good as a junior, Ferrell’s been even better in his senior season for the Big Ten regular season champions. Averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, Yogi’s shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also made strides as a leader, which has been key for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers.

Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Much has been made of Paige’s perimeter shooting struggles and rightfully so, as the Tar Heels lack consistent options in that area. But one has to believe that at some point he’ll get going, and the senior guard did a very good job defensively against Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon in the ACC championship game Saturday night.

Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet already has a win in this year’s tournament under his belt, and his experience (along with fellow seniors Ron Baker and Evan Wessel) is something that will help the other Shockers in the NCAA tournament. VanVleet’s ability to score and distribute the basketball is what makes Gregg Marshall’s team go, and they could make another run to the second weekend as a result.

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson’s been the point guard Mike Brey envisioned him being when the Fighting Irish lost last year’s starter (Jerian Grant) to graduation. Jackson’s averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per contest, and with a possible matchup with No.3  seed West Virginia in the second round he’ll be a key figure against the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure.

Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn began the season as a favorite for national Player of the Year honors, yet despite dealing with health issues on multiple occasions the redshirt junior has remained one of the nation’s best point guards. Dunn can make things happen offensively, but he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. If Dunn’s at his best, Providence is capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.

Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, Whitehead’s been a big reason why the Pirates are making their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. As a sophomore Whitehead has a better grasp of when to score and when to get the ball to his capable teammates. Whitehead’s talent and toughness have rubbed off on a team that entered the season looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season. Mission accomplished, with SHU looking to do even more this week.

Gary Payton II, Oregon State: There aren’t many point guards who have the versatility of Payton. He currently leads the Beavers in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Oregon State’s making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990, when Payton’s father ran the show as a senior.  The skill sets are different, but the younger Payton has has a major impact on Wayne Tinkle’s program.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart broke out down the stretch last season, and he’s picked up where he left off the Big East regular season champions. Hart’s averaging 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Hart can both knock down jumpers and attack the basket, and with his combination of size and skill the 6-foot-5 junior is a touch matchup for many opponents.

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Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s struggled in recent weeks, but there’s no denying the talent possessed by the sophomore point guard. Trimble’s a handful off the bounce, and as evidenced by his game-winner at Wisconsin in January Trimble’s more than willing to take the big shot as well.

Danuel House Jr., Texas A&M: House is shooting just over 39 percent from the field, but he’s a player capable of exploding offensively in any game. House is averaging 15.5 points per game, sharing the team lead with forward Jalen Jones. House’s scoring ability opens things up for the Texas A&M front court, which is led by Jones and freshman Tyler Davis.

Five who could spark a surprise run

  • A.J. English, Iona: The senior guard is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and he’s the only player in college basketball who can make that claim this season.
  • DeAndré Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry’s an incredibly versatile player, and the emergence of Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown has taken some of the load off his sholder.
  • Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa: Washpun’s jumper to beat Evansville in the title game of the Missouri Valley tournament. He’s been a handful in pick and roll situations this season, so that’s something to keep an eye on when the Panthers take on No. 6 seed Texas in their tournament opener.
  • Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: The Mountain West coaches named Harris their league player of the year and with goof reasons. Harris is averaging 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Bulldogs, who have the pieces needed to play dep into the tournament.
  • Chris Flemmings, UNCW: Flemmings, whose fascinating story began at Division II Barton College, emerged as one of the top players in the CAA in his first season on the court. With their matchup with No. 4 seed Duke, the Seahawks are capable of making some noise with Flemmings leading the way.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”


Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.


Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.


At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.


Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.