NCAA

The seven best players to watch in the NCAA Tournament other than Zion Williamson

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The seven best players to watch in the NCAA Tournament other than Zion Williamson

All eyes will be on Zion Williamson and No. 1 overall seed Duke once the NCAA Tournament starts. But what other, lesser-known stars should you be watching? Here are seven names. 

1. Ja Morant, G, Murray State

The nation's most exciting guard, Morant is the straw that stirs the drink for the 12th-seeded Racers. The 6-3 sophomore not only averages nearly 25 points per game, he's dishing out 10 assists per contest, the only player in Division I averaging double-digit dimes. And get excited, Morant and Murray State get to face off with another name on this list in the first round...

2. Rui Hachimura, F, Gonzaga

When Gonzaga beat Williamson and Duke back in November, Hachimura poured in 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Bulldogs to an improbable upset win. And the Japanese big man hasn't slowed down, winning the West Coast Conference's Player of the Year award. If you're looking for an old-school, dominant post presence, look no further than Hachimura.  

3. Cassius Winston, G, Michigan State

The Player of the Year in the conference which earned the most tournament bids, Winston put together an incredible season for Tom Izzo and the Spartans. He can create his own shot (19.0 PPG), create shots for others (7.5 APG) and can fill it up from beyond the arc (40.8 3P%). Don't be surprised if Winston leads Michigan State on another deep tourney run. 

4. Markus Howard, G, Marquette

Ja Morant, meet Markus Howard. That's right, Murray State will be facing Marquette in the can't-miss matchup of the first round. Howard is short at 5-11, but that doesn't stop him from getting serious buckets. The Big East Player of the Year averages an even 25 points per game, the sixth-highest mark in the country. Morant vs. Howard is what March Madness is all about.  

5. Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

Speaking of getting buckets, Edwards does that in spades for Matt Painter's Boilermakers, averaging 23 points a game. And he gets it done on the defensive end too, leading Purdue in steals with 1.4 per contest. The only unanimous selection to the All-Big Ten team besides Winston, Edwards has the talent to lead Purdue out of the East Region. 

6. Myles Powell, G, Seton Hall

The 10th-seeded Pirates' tournament could come to a swift end against the red-hot Wofford Terriers, but Powell will make sure Seton Hall doesn't go down without a fight. Powell can score on anyone (22.9 PPG) as he proved during the Big East Tournament, dropping 31, 22 and 25 points in the Pirates' three-game run to the conference final, in which they fell to Villanova 74-72 Saturday. 

7. Shamorie Ponds, G, St. John's 

That's right, another guard from the Big East! Ponds will get to showcase his talents from the get-go when the Red Storm face Arizona State in their play-in game Wednesday night. He does it all for St. John's, with per-game averages of 19.5 points. 4.2 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.6 steals. The First Four doesn't often include as eye-catching a star as Ponds, so make sure you're in front of a screen at 9:10 p.m. ET on March 20. 

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    Mike Locksley and Terrapins coaching staff try to keep team together during coronavirus pandemic

    Mike Locksley and Terrapins coaching staff try to keep team together during coronavirus pandemic

    No spring football games, no practices, no recruiting visits, and believe it or not, less time in the day.  

    That is the current reality for Maryland’s head football coach, Mike Locksley. Not the easiest of circumstances to try and run a rebuilding football program in the Big 10. 
     
    “Man, it’s been tough. I usually get up and get a little work out in. I’ve got an in-home gym where I can just do something to get moving,” Locksley said. “I’m kind of like a kid where if I get off schedule, I’m not very good… I get up, I get dressed. I don’t play around in my pajamas or shorts and a t-shirt.” 

    Technically, the team has been on spring break this week, so there would have been no meetings in this first full week of quarantine.  But the staff has been busier than ever preparing for what life will look like when online classes begin on Monday. That is when the coaching staff will try to create some form of normalcy for their players.   

    “We get eight hours a week to virtually meet with our players, so we’re working hard on developing the football intelligence that it takes using all the technology we have,” Locksley said.  

    In normal times, only two hours a week would be allowed for film work or walkthroughs. The other six would be focused on strength training. These are far from normal times so this is where accountability comes into play. What they do now will pay off during the Big 10 season in the fall.   

    “I think this is where you’ll see the biggest strides in the game for our programs, what these guys do when nobody is around and nobody is watching them,” Locksley said. “We always talk about being the best version of yourself and this gives our players the opportunity to do that without coaches there.”  

    But it certainly makes it challenging to evaluate and develop players on a team that has much to improve upon finishing last season 3-9.  All 15 spring practices have been canceled, but Locksley says the Terrapins are focused on finding solutions for when the team is allowed back together, not excuses.  

    “There’s no substitute for being able to go out and practice and if we can’t physically develop them, we need to mentally develop them,” Locksley said. “A lot of football success is about making the right decisions. That’s where teaching, the installs, and the mental conditioning will help develop our team.”  

    So how do you get everyone in alignment during a time of pandemic?  First off, by staying up to date as best you can while staying home.   

    “It makes you have to stay on the cutting edge of technology,” Locksley said with a chuckle. “I had never heard of a Zoom meeting until about a week ago.” 

    Few of us had! Of course we’re all well aware now. Working from home has become the new norm and that was the way this interview was conducted. And it will play an even bigger role as Locksley and his staff look to continue the recruiting process for the class of 2021.   

    Fortunately, most recruits had already visited campus before school was shut down, but coaches are now using FaceTime, making countless phone calls, and using social media to connect with prospective future Terps. The coaching staff meets via video conference every day at 10:30 a.m., position coaches check in with their players daily and the staff reconvenes in the afternoon for updates.  

    It’s a time none of us could have expected and no one can predict when it will end. But there’s still work to be done.   

    “It’s about finding ways to improve yourself, not use this as an excuse for what’s to come,” Locksley said. “I think the strides we make now will determine what happens in the fall - if we are able to play football.” 

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    DMV native Jeff Green 'feels bad' for players unable to shine in 2020 NCAA tournament

    DMV native Jeff Green 'feels bad' for players unable to shine in 2020 NCAA tournament

    The NBA and NHL were suspended mid-season, Major League Baseball's start is postponed and among several more cancellations and suspensions in the sports world is the NCAA tournament. 

    The NCAA canceled their national tournament nearly two weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, taking away 67 games of March Madness action. 

    In those 67 games are typically countless opportunities for the nation's top players to prove themselves on the biggest stage. Not only that, but mid-major stars who are rarely heard of throughout the season have a chance to vault themselves into national stardom. 

    Those are the players, Houston Rockets forward and Cheverly, MD native Jeff Green feels for the most. 

    "I feel bad for the kids," Green said to Chris Miller on the Wizards Talk Podcast. "The kids that shine through this tournament that have never been acknowledged through their career. There's always a handful of kids that stick out like, 'Oh man, I've never watched him play.'

    "I look at CJ McCollum, who made his name at the tournament," he said. "It's kids like that I wish had the opportunity because this is what they live for."

    LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

    McCollum was a superstar at Lehigh, a small program in Pennsylvania, but he truly made a name for himself by scoring 26 points as a freshman against Kansas in the 2010 tournament. 

    Players like McCollum, as well as seniors like Maryland's Anthony Cowan Jr. and breakout stars such as Obi Toppin won't be able to show the world how good they are.

    The impact on the 2020 NBA Daft remains to be seen. It's unclear how much weight scouts put into the tournament versus their own private workouts and combine interviews, but how many players will teams miss out on without the benefit of a tournament consisting of so many high-pressure scenarios?

    Again, it remains to be seen, and that's Green's point. Those unknown mid-major starts will be challenged to get noticed before the draft. 

    "It sucks because now [the players] don't know what to do because the opportunity is gone," he said. 

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