You have one possession to win a title down by one point. Who gets the ball?
Raphielle Johnson: Remember last year when Kentucky wanted Fred Van Vleet to have the ball in his hands on that final possession? That won’t be happening this time around. I’ll take Van Vleet, because not only is he a better shooter than a year ago but you’re also going to be well-positioned to get a good shot from anywhere on the floor. Question doesn’t say that he has to shoot the ball, and while I’m fine with Van Vleet taking the shot I’m even more comfortable with the likelihood that he’ll know how to find another quality option (Ron Baker or Tekele Cotton) should that opportunity arise.
Scott Phillips: Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison proved to be college basketball’s best clutch shooter after his NCAA Tournament full of daggers last season, but I’m putting the ball in the hands of a creator who can get his own look or find someone else with a pass.
I think North Carolina point guard Marcus Paige best fits the bill for my criteria and his ability to make tough shots going left or right or being able to find another option as a passer makes him a tough out.
Final plays can easily get thwarted by good scouting (like Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State’s third option on the play, shooting the final shot against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament last season) and you need someone who can make it happen for multiple guys if the play breaks down. Paige is my guy for that job.
Terrence Payne: With the game on the line I’ll go with Marcus Paige. While he’s slow getting out of the gate this season (11.5 points and 2.5 assists per game) in North Carolina’s two wins, that’s a small sample size for the preseason All American pick. Paige, as we saw time and time again last season, could catch fire in the second half. With more offensive options alongside him this season, Paige with the ball in his hands could take the shot, or create for someone else.
Rob Dauster: There are two clear-cut choices here, in my opinion. These guys are in love with Marcus Paige, but he’s not even the best option in the ACC. That title would belong to Jahlil Okafor, who is the best low-post scorer in the country. He’ll force you to double-team him and is talented enough to pick out the right pass if he does draw extra defenders. He may not be the one to score, but getting him a touch almost guarantees a good look at the rim.
The other pick is Kevin Pangos from Gonzaga. He’s a sniper from three, he’s as good as any point guard in the country in the pick and roll, he’s finally healthy after a banged up junior year and he has major Sam Cassells.
Are we due for another surprise Final Four team this season? Who best fits that profile?
Rob Dauster: We probably are going to get another Final Four sleeper making a run to Indy this season. It happens nearly every season these days, and the craziest part is that there really isn’t a profile that all of those teams fit. Please, tell me what 2014 UConn, 2014 Kentucky and 2013 Wichita State have in common? I’ll wait.
If I had to pick a team to come out of nowhere and make it that far, I’d probably pick someone like Notre Dame (Jerian Grant going all Shabazz Napier) or Ohio State (they really, really defend). But more than anything, I think ‘we’re due’ for a Final Four with nothing but elite teams. At this point, I think there is a clear-cut top five teams in the country: Kentucky, Wisconsin, Duke, Gonzaga and Arizona, in that order. I’d love to see four of those five playing for the national title come the first weekend in April.
Terrence Payne: A season ago we saw a No. 7 seed beat a No. 8 seed in the national championship, so why wouldn’t we see another surprise Final Four team this March in Indianapolis. Entering the season, we’ve seen a host of teams labeled as darkhorse Final Four teams. Last week, I went with Villanova as my Final Four given the experience it brings back from a 29-win season, overshadowed by early exits in March. While I still believe Villanova can be there in April, I’m also buying stocking VCU early in this season. Treveon Graham is one of the toughest forwards to matchup with. Briante Weber can effect the game in so many ways as he did in his season debut against a good Toledo team on Tuesday. The return of Melvin Johnson has been huge, averaging 22.5 points per game (8-of-19 from three).
Scott Phillips: I picked Wichita State to actually make it back to the Final Four this season, but they’re hardly a surprise at this point after already doing so and then last season’s 35-0 start.
As for the question, I do believe that we could see another surprise Final Four team this season and I’m going to go out on a limb and say Iowa. If we do see a power conference team sneak up on people, I expect them to get beat up a bit in conference play and then figure things out late in the season. With tremendous depth and a lot of veteran leadership and outside shooting, I think Iowa has a chance.
Raphielle Johnson: I’m not sure if we’re “due” another surprise Final Four team, but given the format of the tournament I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened. And I’m going to go off the radar for this one: George Washington. They’ve got an experienced backcourt led by Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, and forwards Patricio Garino and Kevin Larsen are very good at their respective roles. And I’d keep an eye on freshman Yuta Watanabe, as I think he’s only going to get better as he becomes more comfortable with the way Mike Lonergan and his staff want things done. We’ll learn more about the Colonials Friday night when they take on No. 9 Virginia, but I like the group they have.