Perfect Pairs: The Best Teammate Duos in This Year's Tournament

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Perfect Pairs: The Best Teammate Duos in This Year's Tournament

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    Justin Hayworth/Associated Press

    The field of 68 teams in the 2014 NCAA tournament is littered with talented duos, but only the best of the best landed on our top 10.

    We included the most electrifying and skilled tandems in our rankings, but we also considered statistical productivity and how they led their teams to success.

    Three Big 12 teams managed to separate themselves from the pack and crack the list, and a couple of other Midwestern powers were represented. The East Coast doesn't have many star twosomes, but where it lacked in quantity, it compensated with some of the brightest young stars.

    Who are the absolute best duos balling in the Big Dance?

10. Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, UCLA

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Adams: 17.2 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.7 SPG, 48% FG

    Anderson: 14.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 6.6 APG, 49% FG

     

    The most striking characteristic of this West Coast tandem is its versatility. Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson can carry out a host of different tasks every night.

    They each flexed their multidimensional impact during UCLA's sensational run through the Pac-12 playoffs. Adams proved that he's more than a scorer, as he snagged a handful of steals and even dealt four assists in the title game.

    Anderson is the epitome of versatility, as he's a magnificent passer who can also rebound and score when necessary. The 6'9" point forward also swiped six steals in the first two games of the tournament.

    In the championship against Arizona, Anderson unloaded a sparkling stat line en route to the conference banner: 21 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

    They might be the least-athletic pair on this list, but they're a testament to the value of skill and smarts.

9. Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams, New Mexico

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    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Bairstow: 20.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 56% FG

    Williams: 16.4 PPG, 4.9 APG, 1.6 SPG 40% 3-PT

     

    New Mexico's standout tandem is not only one of the best senior duos in the country, it's also one of the best inside-out combo's you'll find.

    Cameron Bairstow thrives in the Lobos frontcourt, scoring 20-plus points on a smorgasbord of post-ups, turnarounds, putbacks and pick-and-pops. Feeding him the rock on a good portion of those baskets is cagey guard Kendall Williams, who averaged 4.9 assists while directing New Mexico's attack.

    When Williams isn't busy setting up his teammates, he's torching opponents from long range. No triple was bigger than his late-game rainmaker to clinch the Mountain West tournament championship.

    Compared to most duos on this list, this pair is under the radar. But don't sleep on it as it owns enough experience and skill to make an impressive run.

8. Cleanthony Early and Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Early: 15.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 47% FG

    Van Vleet: 12.1 PPG, 5.3 APG, 3.9 RPG, 45% 3-PT

     

    Hard to argue with this duo when it has zero losses.

    Wichita State is led by a trio that also includes Ron Baker, but Cleanthony Early and Fred Van Vleet deliver the inside-out punch that gives the Shockers a special edge as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

    Van Vleet's crafty playmaking and ultra-efficient shooting are just part of the equation, because he's a stingy defender with a knack for forcing turnovers in bunches.

    In the frontcourt, Early has enjoyed a splendid season finishing plays above the rim and splashing some jumpers from downtown. He's a handful in transition and a mismatch for most mid-major opponents.

    The confidence from last year's Final Four run coupled with the disappointment of falling just short will fuel this tandem to play at an extremely high level. After all, it has a chance to do what no other duo on this list can accomplish: a perfect 40-0 record.

7. C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

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    Nick Lisi/Associated Press

    Fair: 16.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 43% FG

    Ennis: 12.7 PPG, 5.6 APG, 2.1 SPG, 37% 3-PT

     

    Where would the Syracuse Orange be without these two studs?

    Certainly not at 27-5 with a No. 3 seed. With C.J. Fair's scoring versatility and Tyler Ennis' cool quarterbacking, the Orange climbed to a 25-0 start during their inaugural ACC season.

    Fair has evolved from a opportunistic scorer and utility role player to a legitimate college hoops star. He's comfortable taking the big shots for Syracuse, but he's also fine with getting his buckets within the flow of the offense.

    As for Ennis, well, he's a special case of a veteran-like freshman. It didn't take long for the 6'2" Ontario native to join the "fabulous freshman" fraternity. He dished dimes, sank clutch shots and won games, all seemingly without cracking a smile or raising an eyebrow.

    Syracuse is sputtering of late, but with these two calm stars in the locker room, a sharp NCAA turnaround is well within reach.

6. Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis, Kansas

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    Wiggins: 17.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 45% FG

    Ellis: 13.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 56% FG

     

    With Joel Embiid's stress fracture sidelining him until the later rounds, Kansas will rely on its multidimensional forwards to pick up the slack.

    Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis are an awesome combination of raw explosiveness and refined skill. Wiggins, the monumentally hyped freshman from Canada, is making our jaws drop a lot more often lately. On the other hand, Ellis' textbook footwork and soft scoring touch make us shake our heads in appreciation.

    Either way, the South Region defenses are in a world of trouble.

    Ellis is not only talented and coordinated; he's ridiculously efficient. He shoots 56 percent from the field, including 62 percent true shooting and a 24.3 player efficiency rating. In a time of year where every possession counts, that kind of economical delivery is priceless.

    And as for Wiggins, well, his attacking skills and takeover ability are peaking at the right time, and he's as good as gone once Kansas' tourney run concludes.

5. Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, Michigan State

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    Harris: 17.2 PPG, 2.7 APG, 1.9 SPG, 36% 3-PT

    Payne: 15.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 51% FG

     

    March is already shaping up to be a Sparty Party, especially after Gary Harris and Adreian Payne led Michigan State to the coveted Big Ten title.

    Harris occupied opposing defenses and created tons of opportunities for himself and his comrades throughout the tourney. In the paint, Payne closed out the week with back-to-back 18-point performances against Wisconsin and Michigan.

    With their full complement of role players healthy again, these two thoroughbreds can operate more effectively in Tom Izzo's system than they could for much of the year. If Harris and Payne get hot from long range, the East Region will be on its heels.

    For both of these guys, this postseason is their final audition for the NBA. If the conference bracket was any indication, they'll be providing some fireworks in the Big Dance.

4. Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, Oklahoma State

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Smart: 17.8 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.7 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 43% FG

    Brown: 17.1 PPG, 2.9 APG, 5.7 RPG, 52% FG

     

    Not too many No. 9 seeds over the years have boasted such a potent backcourt.

    It was a rocky Big 12 season for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but don't let them fool you: They're battle-tested and possess two of the most lethal guards in the country.

    Marcus Smart can terrorize opponents defensively, and Markel Brown is a mismatch due to his explosiveness and newfound creativity. When both are in sync offensively, OK State is a dynamic crew capable of upstaging No. 1 seeds.

    Smart and Brown are also one of the most fun pairs to watch as a fan; they're pretty much interchangeable on alley-oop sequences, as they take turns tossing the lobs and rocking the rim.

3. Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Smith: 18.3 PPG, 4.7 APG, 2.1 SPG, 48% FG

    Harrell: 14.2 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 61% FG

     

    Rick Pitino possesses a duo that nobody wants to face these days. Louisville's Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell are so successful because they overwhelm foes on both ends of the floor.

    They absolutely demolished their American Athletic challengers last week, stifling them with a nasty combination of perimeter pressure and rim protection. On offense, Harrell's 7'3" wingspan and explosiveness are a constant mismatch, and Russ Smith's speed is too much for anyone to handle for 30-plus minutes.

    Factor in their experience from last year's national championship, and it's no wonder why they're a nerve-racking tandem.

    There are a ton of big men out there who are more polished than Harrell, and there are several guards who are bigger and more attractive to the pros. But that's not really what matters over these next three weeks, right?

2. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, Duke

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    Parker: 19.2 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 48% FG

    Hood: 16.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 47% FG

     

    Both newcomers to Duke this season, freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore transfer Rodney Hood brought a much-needed scoring punch to the Blue Devils.

    Coach K's squad couldn't grab the ACC regular-season or conference crown, but it is undoubtedly an elite unit because of these two talented forwards. Parker can dismantle opponents with his potent blend of strength and finesse, while Hood burns them from deep and also finds buckets inside the arc.

    Parker was much ballyhooed prior to the season, and he sure lived up to it. After a brief midseason slump, he finished with a vengeance against North Carolina (30 points) and kept cooking with oil into the postseason.

    Hood, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise for most of us. Those behind closed doors knew he would be a great addition, but even they didn't anticipate this kind of production from him.

    It will take a collective effort to hoist the NCAA trophy, but you can bet Parker and Hood will team for 30-35 points per night in order to make it possible.

1. Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, Iowa State

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Ejim: 18.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 51% FG

    Kane: 17.0 PPG, 5.8 APG, 6.7 RPG, 49% FG

     

    If you're wondering why Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane are so high on this list, it's because they've dominated the stat sheet while simultaneously accomplishing the only stat that matters: wins.

    The Big 12's best player and greatest newcomer joined forces in 2013-14 to outshoot, out-rebound and out-pass everyone else in the conference. They both played so well that many, including CBS' Jon Rothstein, were "surprised" Ejim was voted Big 12 Player of the Year over Kane.

    These two simply wanted to win more than other teams' stars last week, and terrific scoring instincts and outside shooting prowess didn't hurt their cause.

    Moving forward, Ames, Iowa's biggest hoops stars will try to make their way from San Antonio, Texas, to New York to Arlington, Texas. In order to pull it off, Ejim needs to command the glass as usual, and Kane must keep the Cyclones supporting cast clicking.

    The final ingredient to a successful run through the East Region is timely shooting. If Ejim and Kane can shoot 40-45 percent from three-land, Iowa State has more than a puncher's chance to reach the Final Four.

     

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