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.

ACC coaches back idea of all D-I teams in 2021 NCAA tourney

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball coaches are pushing the idea of having next year’s NCAA Tournament include all eligible teams in Division I.

Numerous league schools and coaches released statements Wednesday after the coaches held their weekly call to discuss the proposal, which was first reported by Stadium. There are 357 Division I programs in the country, with NCAA spokeswoman Meghan Durham saying 346 of those are eligible to play in next year’s tournament.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said the ACC coaches are “united in strongly pursuing this” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the cancellation of last year’s NCAA Tournament days before the field of 68 was set to be revealed. Multiple coaches said creating an everybody-gets-in format would be an incentive for schools as they create the safest conditions possible for returning to play.

“This is not a regular season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “It is clearly an irregular season that will require something different. Our sport needs to be agile and creative. Most importantly, an all-inclusive postseason tournament will allow a unique and unprecedented opportunity for every team and every student-athlete to compete for a national championship.”

Durham declined comment specifically on the proposal in an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last month, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt said the Division I oversight committees for men’s and women’s basketball planned to announce by mid-September plans for whether the season and preseason practice would start on time or require a delay due to the pandemic.

Louisville coach Chris Mack said the proposal would provide flexibility during the season without mandating a number of nonconference or conference games to be played. And the league has already experienced that scheduling challenge with football and other fall sports.

The ACC announced in July that it would have each football team play 10 league games – including the addition of Notre Dame as a football member this year – and one nonconference game to be played in the home state of the member school. Those schedules were released in early August, slightly more than a month before Thursday’s UAB-Miami game kicks off the season.

“This is a time to think differently,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said, adding: “After all these players have been through, what better way to reward them than the opportunity to compete in an unprecedented version of the most exciting event in sports.”

College basketball floats idea of bubbles for safe season

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The NBA bubble has held. So has the NHL’s double bubble. The WNBA and MLS, no leaks.

In this unprecedented landscape of sports in a pandemic world, one indisputable fact has emerged: bubbles work.

Thousands of tests, minimal to no positive COVID-19 test results.

So as the NCAA gets set announce its plans for the 2020-21 college basketball season, there are clear precedents and blueprints in place should it decide to go the bubble route.

“It’s certainly viable,” said Mark Starsiak, vice president of sports at Intersport, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency, “From a basketball standpoint, I think we can follow those models.”

The college football restart has been scattershot. The season has already started, yet 53 FBS schools have the pads and helmets hanging on hooks while waiting for better pandemic news.

A much more unified plan is in place for the college basketball season.

The NCAA is hoping to start the season in late November/early December, with a vote by the Division I council expected Sept. 16.

A partnership between the Pac-12 and Quidel Corp. to potentially do daily, rapid COVID-19 tests on athletes should help smooth a return to the court.

The question then becomes: What’s the best way to safely play basketball again?

Bubbles may be the answer.

While bubble football would be next to impossible logistically, basketball could fit nicely.

The travel parties are much smaller and college basketball already has plenty of multiple-team events, from holiday and conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament. Add the effective safety measures of the pro leagues, find suitable sites and bubble basketball could work.

The NCAA is already looking at it, reportedly filing a trademark for the phrase “Battle in the Bubble.” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont also said there have been preliminary talks for bubble basketball at the Mohegan Sun resort.

“The idea of a bubble would be a really good idea, just to isolate all the teams who want to play against each other in that bubble and keep things safe, keep away from the public and keep us in our own area where we’re able to play the game the right way and safely,” Duke sophomore forward Wendell Moore, Jr. said.

A big key will be finding the right places to bubble.

The NBA has the ideal setup at Disney World, but college basketball might be better suited to follow the NHL’s lead.

Hockey’s two bubbles – Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta – cordoned off areas enclosing the arena and several nearby hotels. All personnel entering are tested and strict protocols are in place for vendors delivering food and packages into the bubbles.

Similar bubbles for college basketball could be set up at smaller resorts, cities with arenas and hotels nearby, or Division II or III schools with arenas not being used during the pandemic.

The NCAA could set up pods of multiple nonconference teams, conference tournaments could be held in similar fashion and so could the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, basketball bubbles could pop up all over the country.

“Maybe do it for maybe a week or two at a time, playing a certain amount of games and getting retested after you come back or something like that,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “It’s possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Pulling off a college basketball bubble, however, comes with a caveat.

NCAA players are considered students, so academics would have to be part of the equation.

Division I players are already accustomed to doing school work on the road and the majority take primarily online classes. To make the bubbles work, socially distant space would have to be carved out for the players to take their classes and study.

The programs may also have to rethink the size of their traveling parties.

“Discussions about the right amount of tutors or academic staff would need to take place,” said Starsiak, who has operated high-level sports and entertainment events for 15 years. ”

You have to look at, do we need three managers this time around? No, probably not. Do you take two and have a tutor or an academic come with us? Yeah, I think you could. I think there’s a way to kind of combine both things to have some live, in-person resources.”

The NCAA is going to do everything possible to have a basketball season.

The pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament last spring and the NCAA collected $270 million in cancellation insurance instead of the $1 billion TV payout it normally gets. A second straight year without March Madness could be devastating.

Bubbles may be the way to go.

‘Father of the Final Four’ Tom Jernestedt dies at 75

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tom Jernstedt, a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame for his contributions to college basketball and the NCAA Tournament, has died. He was 75.

The NCAA said Sunday Jernstedt died this weekend.

Nicknamed “Father of the Final Four,” Jernstedt has widely been credited with transforming the NCAA Tournament into the billion-dollar March Madness it has become today.

“A decade after his departure from the NCAA, Tom Jernstedt’s fingertips remain visible during March Madness and the Final Four,” NCAA senior vice president Dan Gavitt said in a statement. “His innovation and superb ability to develop relationships turned a basketball tournament into a three-week phenomenon that became a global event.”

A former back-up quarterback, Jernstedt worked his first Final Four in 1973 and helped push the growth of the NCAA Tournament from 25 teams to the 68, anything-can-happen bonanza held every spring.

Jernstedt helped the NCAA increase its television contract from just over $1 million to more than $10 billion when he left in 2011. He served as president of USA Basketball, was a member of the College Football Selection committee and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2017.

“Tom Jernstedt was a humble and unsung steward of the game,” John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, said in a statement. “Under his direction, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament grew into a phenomenon that brings college basketball fans together on a global scale. He will forever be remembered as the Father of the Final Four and one of the most respected leaders in basketball.”

Jernstedt established himself as a team leader despite being a backup quarterback at Oregon from 1964-66 and went on to serve as the Ducks’ events manager. He joined the NCAA in 1972 and spent 38 years with the organization.

“Tom served as a friend and mentor to countless people in and around collegiate athletics, and I’m proud to be among that vast group of people,” Gavitt said. “His legacy within the NCAA and its membership, and his impact on the sport of college basketball, is eternal. We extend our deepest condolences to Tom’s family.”

Aztecs extend Brian Dutcher’s contract 3 years through 2026

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State basketball coach Brian Dutcher has signed a three-year contract extension through the 2025-26 season.

Dutcher signed the deal following one of the most successful seasons in school history. The Aztecs went 30-2, won the Mountain West regular-season title and were expected to be a No. 1 or 2 seed before the NCAA Tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. They opened the season 26-0 and were the nation’s last undefeated team.

“Having spent more than 20 years at San Diego State University I understand what a special place this is,” Dutcher said in a statement Friday. “I am humbled and honored to continue to represent SDSU and Aztec Basketball as its head coach.”

Dutcher is 73-26 in three seasons, the most victories by an Aztecs coach in his first three seasons. He spent 18 seasons as Steve Fisher’s top assistant, including six as associate head coach/head coach in waiting. He took over as head coach after Fisher retired following the 2016-17 season. The Aztecs reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Before that, he spent 10 seasons with Fisher at Michigan. In Dutcher’s first season with the Wolverines, Fisher was promoted to interim head coach on the eve of the NCAA Tournament and won the national championship.

Indiana halts all voluntary workouts

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Indiana has halted all voluntary workouts indefinitely for its men’s basketball, field hockey, men’s soccer and wrestling teams after 14 participants tested positive for the coronavirus this week.

The Hoosiers did not identify which teams recorded the positive tests. The football team, like other Big Ten programs, is not playing this fall. Indiana said 63 positives have been reported from more than 1,400 tests of athletes, coaches and staff since June 8.

“Our athletic program is following strict protocols during these unprecedented times and we strongly support our medical staff as we try and mitigate this issue,” men’s basketball coach Archie Miller said.