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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
McDonald's game matchups to watch

By Paul Biancardi


The McDonald's All American Game is annually the nation's most prestigious high school basketball all-star event. The rosters have been announced for the Class of 2014, and this year's game will once again be played at the United Center in Chicago and will air live on ESPN on April 2.

Here's a deeper look at five exciting matchups we'll see in the 2014 contest.

1. The battle of the giants
Jahlil Okafor (West) vs. Myles Turner (East)

The most anticipated matchup will be between the nation's two best centers: Okafor (Duke) is ranked No. 1 in the ESPN 100, while Turner (uncommitted) is No. 2. Okafor is polished and patient in the low post with his back to the basket, and he understands how to seal his man while making and maintaining contact before he goes into his move. He owns a sweet jumper and a power drop step to score. In the McDonald's game, Okafor will be trying to score over the nation's best shot-blocker in Turner, who has enormous length, excellent timing and good shot-blocking range as he will go outside the lane to reject shots. On the flip side, it will be interesting to see if Okafor can cover Turner away from the basket as Turner has range that extends beyond the 3-point arc. This will be a tremendous matchup of two bigs who impact the game in different ways.

Tyus Jones
Duke-bound point guard Tyus Jones is one of five elite playmakers in the 2014 McDonald's All American Game.
2. Making a point
Tyus Jones and Romelo Trimble (East) vs. Emmanuel Mudiay, Joel Berry and Tyler Ulis (West)

These groups may be the key for their respective teams' success because they will be surrounded by so many scorers and so much size to finish inside. It's a great chance for each of these lead guards to show he can lead and distribute. Jones (Duke) is the consummate point guard as he organizes his team and plays as a pass-first -- but not a pass-only -- floor general who can score at a moment's notice. Trimble (Maryland) makes open 3s and has a college-ready body he uses to beat defenders and put them on his hip when he drives. Mudiay (SMU) will push the ball with power, speed and vision and attacks to put the defense on its heels. Berry (UNC) will distribute, make open shots and is a strong-minded driver, while Ulis (Kentucky) is a catalyst who goes out of his way to get an assist. The biggest question among this group is who will lead by words and example because they are quiet point guards. It will also be interesting to see who will defend their position best by getting back in transition, defending the pick-and-roll and leveling the drive away from the paint.

3. The best athletes in the country go head to head
Stanley Johnson and Kelly Oubre (West) vs. Theo Pinson and Justise Winslow (East)

These four elite athletes make plays on both ends of the floor with their physical gifts and also bring versatility and skill to the game. We are looking at multidimensional players who bring all different kinds of dynamic athleticism to the game. Johnson (Arizona) looks like a mini-LeBron James with his power drives and high motor. At 6-foot-7, Oubre (Kansas) has a 7-1 wingspan and the explosiveness to finish on the break or catch a lob at the rim. On defense, he can rack up steals and is also a great position shot-blocker. Pinson (UNC) has long been known as a great athlete with versatility and will finish plays with highlight dunks. Winslow (Duke) is strong, smart and defensive-minded and is one of the few who can influence this game without needing shots.

4. Kentucky vs. Kansas at PF
Trey Lyles (West) vs. Cliff Alexander (East)

This is what the future of the Kansas vs. Kentucky power forward matchup will look like. Alexander (Kansas) has been destroying the competition in his senior season with his physically imposing frame and athletic ability. His effort running the floor, rebounding and blocking shots has been constant -- nobody can finish a play quite like Big Cliff. His matchup with Lyles (Kentucky), however, will be a challenge because Lyles is extremely skilled and will use a series of shot fakes inside and face-up jumpers on the perimeter to keep Alexander off balance. Lyles must box out Alexander on every possession to negate his power and explosion.

5. ACC/SEC vs. Big Ten at SG
Grayson Allen and Devin Booker (West) vs. D'Angelo Russell and James Blackmon Jr. (East)

It's hard to find better shooters than these four. What's really impressive is they all have decent to great size, with good elevation on their release. Allen (Duke) is the strongest and most athletic of the bunch. His jumper is wet from deep, but he is still in the streaky stage of his development. Booker (Kentucky) was the 3-point contest winner at last summer's Elite 24 game. He is tremendous on the catch-and-shoot jumper because he has the size, balance and textbook follow-through to hurt opponents from long range and midrange. If you don't make him dribble into his shot, you might as well count it. Russell (Ohio State) is an elusive scorer and part playmaker, and that's what makes him special -- he is dangerous both with and without the ball. Finally, Blackmon (Indiana) has a jumper so accurate that it can change the momentum and outcome of a game. It will be fun watching these elite shooters launch it from both inside and beyond the 3-point arc.