How isn’t March voted the greatest month of the year? With the NCAA tournament getting ready to start, men everywhere are getting ready to celebrate another holiday season with the Madness. NCAA brackets are difficult to fill out, which is why people offer exorbitant amounts of money for anyone that can correctly predict a perfect bracket. People might sweat more over trying to pick what first-round upsets to pick than that hour spent at the gym. Hell, people might skip that gym session just to come home early and hit the Internet for any research on these teams. Is this year’s NCAA tournament the most difficult in recent years or what?
Arizona and Florida looked like clearcuts to be in the Final Four before the conference tournaments started. Then, Arizona lost to UCLA in the PAC-12 championship game and Kentucky was one slippery spot on the floor away from defeating Florida for the SEC championship. This is all before the NCAA tournament even started. Not to mention, veteran squads like Louisville and Michigan State received low seeds, but are undoubtedly threats to win it all. How can you pick against teams that are constantly in the Final Four? Is Creighton for real? What about Wichita State? There’s no way they make it out of that brutal Midwest bracket..right?
Basketball is a game played five-on-five by traditional standards, but everyone marvels at the satisfaction of one-on-one player duels, especially when a missed shot or made bucket can decide the fate of a team’s season. This becomes even more important when some of these collegiate players are playing the last potential games of their careers. Who remembers Khalif Wyatt of Temple in the NCAA tournament last season? He almost took down Indiana and Victor Oladipo by himself, scoring 31 points as his No. 9 Temple squad fell to No. 1 Indiana by six points. At some points, the game literally turned exclusively into the Khalif Wyatt isolation show. One-on-one player duels can create some of the most exciting moments of the tournament.
Some of these names on this list may be coming across your screen for the first time. Rest assured, these kids can ball. With this being said, here are five of the one-on-one duels that you have to keep your eyes on during the first few days of action in the NCAA tournament.
*** *** ***
Shabazz Napier vs. Langston Galloway
This matchup won’t catch a lot of headlines, but it’s a must watch. Ignore the fact that if St. Joe’s upsets Connecticut and VIllanova takes care of business against Milwaukee, there will be an epic battle of bragging rights in Philadelphia as ‘Nova would face St. Joe’s in the round of 32. Before any of that has a chance to happen, Napier’s Huskies and Galloway’s Hawks will face on in the round of 64. Both players are seniors, looking for one last hurrah to end their collegiate careers. While La Salle was the shocker from Philadelphia last season, St. Joe’s, led by veteran coach Phil Martelli, is looking to recreate the magic that had La Salle in the Sweet 16 last season.
The UConn Huskies are no stranger to Philadelphia either, as head coach Kevin Ollie is a former member of the 76ers. If the Hawks hope to advance past Connecticut, after winning their first A-10 championship since 1997, the duties will be placed on the shoulders of Langston Galloway.
Galloway is in his senior year with the Hawks and has averaged around 35 minutes per game during his four-year career. He’s been a contributor for St. Joe’s since he stepped on campus, but his game has really stepped up this season. Playing virtually the same amount of minutes and only taking one more shot per game, Langston has increased his scoring from 13.8 points to 17.5 points between his junior and senior seasons. His shooting numbers are up, hitting 44 percent from the field, 44 percent from deep and 83 percent from the charity stripe. In other words, he’ll be a problem for Shabazz Napier to contain. Both players have clutch mentalities, with Galloway draining a bucket in Michael Jordan fashion and Napier’s insane shot to defeat Florida in December. Both players love living in the moment and usually excel in the moment.
Shabazz Napier has similar stats when compared to Galloway, putting up 17.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season. Let’s be clear, in order to win, each player will have to takeover the scoring department for their respective team. Napier is the unquestioned leader of the Huskies, pacing his team in every meaningful statistical category. Even though UConn dropped the AAC championship game to Louisville, the Huskies look ready to surprise a lot of people in the tournament.
Napier and Galloway are so similar in many ways. Both are capable of single-handedly taking over a game and catapulting their team to victory. Both can nail the big shot when all the pressure is on their shoulders. Whatever way it’s looked at, these two players will be the reason their team comes out on top. Both have Cinderella potential this season as UConn is a No. 7 seed and St. Joe’s is a No. 10 seed.
SJU is playing it’s best basketball of the season right now, coming off a victory over VCU in the A-10 championship game, where Galloway scored 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting and made 5-of-8 attempts from deep. These two will be going head-to-head in the round of 64 and when the game is on the line, these players will be called upon to secure the game-winning bucket.
Doug McDermott vs. Shawn Long
Doug McBuckets is virtually impossible to stop and is the reason his Creighton Bluejays have been catapulted onto the national stage. McDermott is averaging 26.9 points and 7.0 boards this season. He’s shooting 53 percent from the floor, taking 18 field goals a game, and 45 percent from deep on 6.3 attempts from three. McDermott is fifth all-time in points scored by a college player and is the catalyst of a Bluejays squad that is fourth best in the nation in shooting, hitting 50 percent of their field goals as a team. There might not be a person in the nation that can slow down McDermott, but Shawn Long of the Ragin’ Cajuns will be trying to fill up the scoring sheet next to McDermott.
Shawn Long is a 6-9 sophomore for the Ragin’ Cajuns, who are lethal offensively, scoring 81.4 points per game, which is 13th in the nation. Long averages 18.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Long is shooting 52 percent from the floor and 43 percent from deep–he also averages 2.7 blocks per game. It’s tough to slow down McDermott, but Long will look to use his length to bother McDermott on the perimeter. With 2.7 blocks per game, Long might be able to get his hand on a couple of jumpers from McDermott. Long is a versatile player as he can hit shots from deep, inside and he can be an elite rim protector.
The Cajuns aren’t expected to defeat the Bluejays, but the battle between McDermott and Long should keep the game interesting. If anyone has an opportunity to both McDermott, it’s Shawn Long. Both offenses can pour in the points, so expect a high-scoring contest when this game tips off, spearheaded by Doug McDermott and Shawn Long.
Bryce Cotton vs. Marcus Paige
The matchup between the Providence Friars and the North Carolina Tar Heels has the world on upset alert. The Friars are fresh off beating Creighton to win the Big East Tournament. The Tar Heels ripped off 12 consecutive victories, then sputtered losing consecutive games to Duke and Pittsburgh. The loss to Pittsburgh was in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament, a tournament the Tar Heels looked ready to win. Now, North Carolina turns their focus to Providence in the first round, which has a surprisingly good matchup at the point guard position.The potential matchup of scoring point guards Bryce Cotton and Marcus Paige might be the best one-on-one duel of the tournament in the early stages.
Bryce Cotton is the figurehead for the No. 11-seeded Friars. This season, Cotton put up 21.4 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He’s led the Friars to victories in seven of their last nine games, including the Big East championship. Cotton is playing a Jimmy Butler-like 39.9 minutes per game–he is the Friars offense. The Friars are coming into this game expecting a victory–Cotton will need to perform for that to happen. There isn’t much help on the Providence squad besides Cotton, which explains his mentality as a scoring point guard. However, his squad is not afraid of the moment. As mentioned earlier, they defeated Creighton to win the Big East championship, a game where Cotton scored 23 points. Providence also defeated Creighton earlier this season and took Villanova to double-overtime earlier in the season, eventually losing by three points. In this game, Cotton will be matched up against UNC point guard Marcus Paige.
Marcus Paige is only a sophomore, but he’s the leader of the Tar Heels. Paige is averaging 17.4 points, 4.3 assists and 3.3 rebounds this season. Even though the Tar Heels have lost two in a row, that’s no shot at Marcus Paige–he showed up in these losses. Against Duke, Paige put up 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Paige didn’t shoot below 50 percent from any major shooting category against Duke. In the ACC Tournament loss to Pittsburgh, Paige scored 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting, also hitting four shots from deep. Win or loss, Paige is the catalyst of the Tar Heels.
Both Paige and Cotton stand at 6-1, with Paige weighing in at 175 pounds compared to 165 for Cotton. Marcus Paige is just in his sophomore year, while Bryce Cotton is in his senior year, ready to complete the upset of UNC. In order for the Friars to upset UNC, Cotton will have to be on fire for the majority of the game. The Friars are chock-full of momentum and Cotton is ready to charge into the round of 32 with the Friars. Whatever team comes out victorious, that team will likely be led by their respective point guard. Keep an eye out for the two studs bringing the ball up the court every time; it might be the best one-on-one matchup in the tournament.
Nick Johnson vs. Davion Berry
There is one thing guaranteed when Arizona and Weber State play Friday afternoon–the Wildcats are guaranteed to win. Both Arizona and Weber State are Wildcats, but with different paths to the NCAA tournament. Weber State will have its first NCAA tournament berth in seven years after winning the Big Sky Conference Tournament, while Arizona has been a lock to be in the tournament since the season began. According to Ken Pomeroy, Weber State has one in more than 2.1 million odds to win the tournament, compared to one in six chance for Arizona. Weber State is taking the tournament one game at a time and it all begins this Friday in San Diego.
People have become familiar with Weber State through the explosion of Portland Trail Blazers All-Star Damian Lillard. Lillard played his college ball at the mid-major and rose through the ranks to become a lottery pick in the NBA Draft… and now a superstar. Weber State has another upcoming guard in it’s ranks in senior Davion Berry. Berry is the Big Sky MVP, averaging 19.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. Berry is shooting 48 percent from the floor and 38 percent from deep. Berry scored in double-figures in all but two games this season. More important, Berry is hoping to lead his team to victory in this David vs. Goliath matchup. On the opposing team is Nick Johnson, which will open up another avenue of issues that Weber State could run into.
The Arizona-bred junior guard is the Wildcats scoring expert, putting up 16.2 points per game, which paces the Wildcats. Johnson will look at getting back to his lockdown defense in the NCAA tournament and his first opportunity will be against Berry. The leading scorers for their respective squads, it will be fun to watch Berry duel it out against Johnson. The score might get lopsided, but Davion Berry will look to put on a show in what may be his final college game–Nick Johnson will draw the defensive assignment.
A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed and this game won’t change that. However, Davion Berry will put on a show for his Wildcats. Weber State won’t go down without a fight and Berry will be in charge of proving that his Wildcats deserve to be on the same stage as Arizona.
Jeremy Ingram vs. DeAndre Kane
The North Carolina Central Eagles will be appearing in their first ever NCAA tournament when the ball is tipped off against Iowa State on Friday night in San Antonio. The Eagles just became eligible for the NCAA tournament during the 2011-2012 season, and are now champions of the MEAC. The Iowa State Cyclones appear ready to roll over the North Carolina Central Eagles, but former ISU assistant Bobby Lutz has a warning message (via The Des Moines Register): “Don’t sleep on North Carolina Central. I’m confident Iowa State will win the game, but it’s not going to be easy.”
The NC Central Eagles are currently on a 20-game winning streak, which has been lost in the conversations about the winning streaks of Wichita State, SF Austin and Florida. While Iowa State will probably take care of the Eagles, Jeremy Ingram won’t let his Eagles go down without a fight.
If you’ve never heard of Jeremy Ingram, you might want to start paying attention. This dude steps up when the lights shine the brightest. The senior scored 27 points vs. Cincinnati, 29 against North Carolina State and 37 against undefeated Wichita State. On the season, Ingram is averaging 20.6 points, shooting 44 percent from the floor in his senior season. There is no doubt that everyone will be talking about Ingram while this game is going on. He’s virtually unguardable and is the key for NC Central.
Ingram gets buckets and even ISU coach Fred Hoiberg is aware, saying (via The Des Moines Register), “The kid can flat out score the ball. Off the top of head, I don’t know who he reminds me of, but he’ll be one of the better guards we’ve played against this year.”
Ingram will need to light up during this game for NC Central to have a chance to win–no doubt he will have his hands full against DeAndre Kane. Kane is a versatile guard for the Cyclones, who averages 17.0 points, 6.7 boards and 5.8 assists per game. Kane is shooting 49 percent this season and is hitting 40 percent of his attempts from downtown. He’s flirted with a triple-double nearly every game this season, which is a testament to his ability to affect the game in more ways than merely the scoring column.
Can Kane put the clamps on the unstoppable Jeremy Ingram? Will Ingram be able to contain the multifaceted game of DeAndre Kane? Find out Friday night in San Antonio and be sure to keep your eyes out for these two.
What do you think?
Follow Drew on Twitter at @dcorrigan50.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.