College Basketball’s Best Wings

Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP
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As the game has moved more and more to prizing versatility and positional flexibility, the amorphous “wing” designation has perhaps never been more important.

Coaches prize players that can guard one-through-four (and sometimes five) thanks to length and athleticism while still being skilled enough stretch the floor with shooting and attacking defenses with penetration.

How in demand those skills are is reflected at the top of our list.

It is dominated by freshmen who almost surely will spend one year in college basketball before being among the first players NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces at the NBA draft come June.

The players on this list will not only make up the top of mock drafts all winter and spring long, they’ll perhaps be the most impactful in determining who is the last team standing in Minneapolis come April.

Could the top four picks in the draft be on this list?

It’s very possible.



1. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

The 6-foot-7 Blue Devils freshman is the universal projection to be the top pick in the NBA draft come June. He’s been heralded as a potential top pick for years, certainly since as a 17-year-old he put 38 points on Team USA en route to a FIBA U19 World Cup crown.

This season, he’ll be leading the way for an ultra-talented Duke team that will once again lean heavily on freshmen. Barrett is a lot of pundits’ bet to be on the shortlist for National Player of the Year come March, and there’s little doubt that there are few that can match Barrett’s ceiling. He’s a top-tier scorer, an excellent rebounder and a gifted distributor.

2. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

There are few people in the world with the physical gifts Zion WIlliamson possesses. He’s 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, which is a frame built for bruising, yet Williamson is a high-flyer. Whatever happens for the rest of his career, he’s a mixtape legend. It’s also worth mentioning he’s got 1.8 million followers on Instagram. Williamson isn’t the best player – not even the best freshman or wing, according to this list – on his team, but he might be the most-watched college basketball player this year.

The challenge for Williamson this season will be to shed the “just a dunker” label, even though that sounds like an awesome label. It’ll also be interesting to see what his role is with a team featuring Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.

3. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

Are you noticing a trend here? Little makes for three freshmen among the top of these rankings, an indication of the strength of the 2018 class, but also how integral wings are in the pace-and-space era. Not many of the good ones are spending much time in the college ranks.

Little may not have the Q-Score of Barrett or Williamson, but he’s going to rival both in impact on winning. The 6-foot-6 Florida product has a wingspan that measures more than 7 feet and was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game this past spring. He’ll also have the luxury of a veteran offensive focal point in Luke Maye to allow him a little more room to operate.

4. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter had a shot of being a first-round pick in June’s draft, but instead opted to return to Virginia following a freshman season in which he averaged 9.2 points and shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range in fewer than 20 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-7 Philadelphia native probably – almost certainly – won’t put up overly impressive raw numbers given Virginia’s pace of play, but if he’s given more time on the floor, which is expected, his usage rate and efficiency numbers from his rookie campaign suggests he could be in for a big season.

5. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

Paschall might have the best chance to overperform this ranking as he steps into a major role at Villanova following the departure of the Wildcats’ top four players from last year’s national championship team to the NBA. As a junior, Paschall averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.

What suggests he may be on the path to stardom, though, is he led the conference in Big East play in offensive rating with a monster 134.2 number thanks to shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range during league play that helped translate to a true shooting percentage of 72.4 He may not be able to maintain those efficiency numbers with a bigger workload and an intensified defensive focus, but a small hit will probably be outweighed by an increase in volume.

Eric Paschall (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

6. CAM REDDISH, Duke

Hey, look, another Duke freshman. And another McDonald’s All-American. The top-five recruit averaged 23.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals in EYBL play ahead of his senior season in 2017 and makes up one fifth of the Blue Devils’ top-ranked 2018 class.

Reddish is ultra-talented, even if he’s behind his new teammates Barrett and Williamson. How Mike Krzyzewski makes the pieces fit will be one of the more interesting things to see unfold this season, but there’s no doubting the amount of talent Duke is going to have on the wing this season.

7. CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan

The 6-foot-6 Chicago native had a breakthrough sophomore season for the Wolverines last season, averaging 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists while playing 30 minutes per game, all after barely cracking the Michigan lineup as a freshman.

Matthews’ ability to ratchet things up once again will be key in Michigan’s encore season after last year’s NCAA tournament title game appearance. The show will be more of his to run without Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and how he is able to handle a bigger role will help determine the Big Ten pecking order.

8. JAMES PALMER, Nebraska

Palmer went from an afterthought at Miami to a budding star at Nebraska. He averaged 3.5 points in 11.9 minutes per game as a sophomore with the Hurricants, but after sitting out the 2016-17 season upon transferring to Lincoln, the 6-foot-6 swingman put up 17.2 points in 31 minutes per game.

What holds Palmer back from being further up this list is his shooting. He converted just 30.9 percent of his shots from 3-point range and a pedestrian 51.3 percent on shots inside the arc for an effective field goal percentage of 49.6. If he can bump those numbers up – and the Huskers can get back to the tournament for the first time since 2014 – Palmer will find himself making a few more waves.

Keldon Johnon (Chet White, UK Athletics)

9. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

The Oak Hill Academy grad is also an alum of the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games, Johnson isn’t necessarily the most highly-regarded of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s 2018 recruiting class, but he’ll provide the firepower on the wing that none of Cal’s other five-star can. The 6-foot-6 freshman, who is also an NBPA Top 100 Camp MVP, averaged 20.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in EYBL play ahead of his senior season.

10. JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada

The Martin brothers might draw the most attention for the Wolf Pack, but the 6-foot-7 Caroline shouldn’t be overlooked on one of the country’s best teams (we’ve got Nevada sixth in the preseason). The Southern Illinois transfer averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a junior.

He’s a high-usage player for the Wolf Pack, and a high-rate rebounder as well. If the ‘Pack are going to max out – and make one “expert” look pretty smart – Caroline is going to be a massive reason why.

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.