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Brian Mull | | March 11, 2016

March Madness: 9 guards who can lead a Cinderella run

  Makai Mason's (left) eight 20 point games helped Yale reach the NCAAs for the first time in 54 years.

March is the month when guards shine. Coaches turn the team over to their best ballhandlers and ask them to make the plays that can stun the college basketball universe. Steph Curry steered Davidson on an amazing run to the Elite Eight in 2008, although he’s hardly the only one. Bo Kimble (Loyola Marymount, 1990), D.J. Cooper (Ohio, 2012) and Sherwood Brown (Florida Gulf Coast, 2013) have also carried their team to headlines and fame.

So, don’t be surprised if these nine guards spoil a bracket or two next week.

Zach Johnson, Florida Gulf Coast -- The freshman scored in double figures in the final six games, although it’s his last-second game-saving blocked shot at the rim that thrust himself and the Eagles back into the national spotlight. FGCU will aim to repeat its 2013 run to the Sweet 16. Johnson averaged 11.2 points and 3.2 assists for the Eagles this season.

Carrington Love, Green Bay -- With a name that’s made for March, the 6-foot-1 senior poured in 17.7 points per game for the Phoenix, which rose from its No. 4 seed to stun the Horizon League and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996. Love can get hot in a hurry. He poured in 32 points at Stanford in the season opener and dropped 39 on Youngstown State.

A.J. English, Iona -- The 6-foot-4 senior is one of only three players in the last 20 years to average at least 22 points, six assists and five rebounds a game. He generated those numbers efficiently for the Gaels in a fast-paced, potent offense that scores 80 points per game. English needs 24 points to join the 2,000-point club. He scored 46 against Fairfield on Dec. 1.

Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa -- Evansville fans are thrilled that Washpun is a senior. He did this to them earlier this season.

Then, the transfer from Tennessee buried the game-winning shot in last Sunday’s Missouri Valley Conference championship game to propel Northern Iowa to the NCAA tournament for the seventh time since 2004. Washpun averaged 14.2 ppg and 5.2 apg this season.

George Marshall, South Dakota State -- The Jackrabbits have wasted little time making their mark in Division I. The Summit League champions are making their third NCAA tournament appearance in only their eighth year of eligibility. Guards like Marshall have played a key role in such success. The senior from Chicago registers 14.9 points per game, though he struggled through the Summit conference tournament (5.7 ppg).

Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton, UNC-Asheville -- A dynamic freshman duo that’s bound to cause problems in the Big South Conference for years to come. Sutton had a monster effort -- 25 points and 18 rebounds -- in the Bulldogs’ 77-68 victory over Winthrop in the championship game. Smith hit a game-winner to beat Furman earlier this season, averaged 13.5 ppg on 35 percent 3-point shooting.

Denzel Ingram, UNCW -- A fearless shooter, the transfer from Charlotte tied the school record for 3-pointers (set by John Goldsberry in the 2003 NCAA tournament) when he buried eight from long range in a 97-94 overtime victory over William & Mary. Ingram, a junior, also buried this game-winner in a pivotal regular season victory over Hofstra, helping the Seahawks share a piece of the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship. He scored 17 points in the CAA tournament title game victory over Hofstra.

Makai Mason, Yale - The 6-foot-2 guard advanced from reserve contributor as a freshman to sophomore star this season, averaging 15.8 points and 3.7 assists per game, while connecting on 38 percent of his 3-point attempts. His perimeter prowess enabled the Bulldogs to conquer the Ivy League and return to the NCAA tournament after a 54-year absence. Mason had eight 20-point games for Yale, including a 22-point performance in the 71-55 win over Columbia that clinched the regular season title.


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