In the NCAA tournament there’s always someone looking to ruin the fun, someone eager to be the villain.
Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State all have hopes of making a tournament run this year – and certainly of being able to reach the Sweet 16. Their early matchups seem favorable enough, the games winnable enough.
But for each, there could be that someone standing in the way, a player who could send them home the first week. One wears No. 1 for the LSU Tigers, as if signifying he’s the biggest problem. Another is the SEC player of the year, at Arkansas. Then there’s a St. John’s player named Sir’Dominic, which almost speaks for itself.
All three are capable of big games. For the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Wolfpack, they could be the basketball villains this week.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas
Call him the “Headband Man.” Also call Bobby Portis a headache and a handful for every team that plays against him.
Few players at Arkansas are compared to former Razorbacks star Corliss Williamson, but Portis has reached the same stature in his sophomore season.
Like Williamson, Portis has been named the SEC player of the year. Like Williamson, Portis has been selected to All-SEC teams in each of his first two seasons.
That Portis once had Williamson as his AAU coach only adds to it, but Portis is his own man. And, potentially, at 6-foot-11 and 242 pounds, a huge matchup problem for North Carolina.
Should the fourth-seeded Tar Heels win their opening game against Harvard in the West Region and Arkansas tops Wofford, the Heels will have to deal with Portis.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson calls Portis the “face of the program” and the Hogs’ hardest-working player, and it’s reflected in every statistical category. Portis leads the Razorbacks (26-8, 13-5 SEC) in scoring (17.7), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (1.5) and topped the SEC in field-goal percentage (56.3).
Portis, from Little Rock, is the first player in program history with 30 points and 10 rebounds in an SEC game – 32 and 11 against Vanderbilt. He also had a program-record nine double-doubles in SEC play, including 21 points and 15 rebounds against LSU.
The Tar Heels aren’t lacking big guys. Should they play Arkansas, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Joel James could be used against Portis and there could be others.
Jarell Martin, LSU
They’re still talking about the dunk against Florida this season. Fast break, mid-air, between-the-legs, big finish. It had LSU fans at Pete Maravich Assembly Center roaring and Tigers coach Johnny Jones, well, muttering a bit.
Jarell Martin often produces the unexpected. A 6-10, 235-pound sophomore, he easily can go inside and do the dirty work or float outside for a 3-pointer. In the game against the Gators, he drained a 3 just before the buzzer, in front of Florida coach Billy Donovan, and scored 28 points in a 70-63 win.
“We don’t have anyone who can handle him one-on-one,” Donovan told the media after the game. “We never have and never will. There’s very few guys in the country where you can throw them the ball any spot on the floor and he can create a play for himself.”
Martin could be N.C. State’s biggest concern Thursday when the eighth-seeded Wolfpack (20-13) opens NCAA play against ninth-seeded LSU (22-10) in an East Region game in Pittsburgh. Should the Wolfpack win, it likely would face Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East, but there will be no Saturday game unless the Wolfpack can handle Martin and the Tigers.
Martin was named Mr. Basketball in Louisiana in 2013 and competed in the McDonald’s All-Star Game. Heavily recruited, the Baton Rouge native decided to stay home and play for Jones.
Martin, averaging 16.9 points and 9.2 rebounds, doesn’t shy from the big stage or disappear against big-name opponents.
The Wolfpack has some bigs to throw at Martin – Lennard Freeman, Abdul-Malik Abu, BeeJay Anya. Come Thursday, the team may need them all.
Sir’Dominic Pointer, St. John’s
Some players wonder how they would handle themselves against Duke, under the glare of Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski. Not Sir’Dominic Pointer.
Pointer and the Red Storm played the Blue Devils this season. Krzyzewski was after his 1,000th victory in the Jan. 25 game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and the quick, pesky Red Storm did all it could to keep him from getting it.
Especially Pointer. The 6-6 senior from Detroit had 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks – how’s that for filling a stat sheet? – for the Red Storm, which led by 10 points with a little more than eight minutes left in the game.
The Blue Devils rallied for a 77-68 win, giving Coach K his “1K” victory, but Pointer and the Red Storm came away believing they could match up with the Blue Devils. St. John’s may have another chance if it can top San Diego State in its opening game in the South Region in Charlotte. Duke plays either North Florida or Robert Morris on Friday.
Pointer, who played two seasons at Quality Education Academy in Winston Salem, was used at power forward this season by the undersized Johnnies. He ranked among the top 10 in the Big East in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, steals and field-goal percentage.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin told the New York Daily News that Pointer was “the unicorn of college basketball.” Lavin said Pointer was unique, adding, “Few have his ability to influence the game at both ends of the court.”
Pointer was a second-team All-Big East selection and was named co-defensive player of the year. He also received the conference’s Most Improved Player award.
The only thing missing for Pointer? Another shot at Duke.