Mar 19, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
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:
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.
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
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