There isn’t a position in college basketball that’s bringing back more proven talent for 2012-13 than the point guard spot. Despite the departures of such luminaries as Kendall Marshall and Tyshawn Taylor, there will be more than enough top-tier floor leaders to go around next season.
Few players in that high-powered group will be facing more pressure than Baylor’s Pierre Jackson. The Bears lose all three frontcourt starters from last season’s 30-game winners, so if they’re to remain in national contention, Jackson has to be a star in his final collegiate season.
Read on for a closer look at Jackson and the rest of the 15 most impressive distributors who will be back for the 2012-13 season.
Perhaps the best freshman in the country who didn’t jump to the NBA, Myck Kabongo was the prize of a recruiting class that made up half of Texas’ 2011-12 rotation.
Green as the Longhorns were, their first-year point guard helped pull the team together as they rallied to an NCAA tournament berth late in the season.
Kabongo didn’t do a ton of scoring himself, but he dished out 5.2 assists per game.
Many of those went to high-scoring J’Covan Brown (now off to the NBA), whose absence will force Kabongo to put the team squarely on his own shoulders in 2012-13.
Having to step into the shoes of a championship-winning folk hero like Kemba Walker is never an easy task, but Shabazz Napier fielded it with aplomb.
The 6’1” sophomore took over Walker’s scoring and passing responsibilities adeptly, averaging 12.7 points and 5.8 assists per game.
Unfortunately for Jim Calhoun’s squad, what Napier couldn’t duplicate was Walker’s magnificent postseason, and the ninth-seeded Huskies were bounced in the second round of the Big Dance.
With no postseason to play for in 2013—academic failings have UConn banned—the best Napier will be able to do as a junior is keep his team competitive in spite of losing Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb to the NBA.
Its ugly 15-16 record notwithstanding, Oklahoma actually had some impressive individual players in 2011-12. One of the most pleasant surprises was JUCO transfer Sam Grooms, who took over the point guard spot to remarkable effect.
Grooms dished out six assists per game in his first Big 12 season, even if his own point production—6.7 a night on woeful .350 shooting—left much to be desired.
With talented classmates Steven Pledger and Romero Osby also returning, Grooms has a real chance to make Sooners basketball relevant again next season.
The under-the-radar days are over for D.J. Cooper.
The rising senior had been one of the nation’s most overlooked point guards over most of the last three seasons, but after leading 13th-seeded Ohio to an upset of Michigan and a Sweet 16 berth, he’s not likely to sneak up on anyone this year.
Cooper couldn’t match the individual numbers of his dazzling sophomore season, but he still led the Bobcats with 14.6 points and 5.7 assists per game.
Every significant contributor is back on campus, so Cooper and Ohio should be set for quite an encore next year.
There’s not a whole lot else Nate Wolters can do to help his team win that he wasn’t already doing as a junior. The 6’4” PG led the Jackrabbits in scoring (21.2 points per game), rebounding (5.1 boards a game), assists (5.9 per contest) and steals (1.7 a night).
South Dakota State made its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance as a No. 14 seed, losing a hard-fought battle with Baylor in the second round.
If Wolters—who gets every teammate but center Griffan Callahan back— can trim even a couple of losses from his team’s 24-7 regular-season record, they have a great chance for a more manageable seed and their first ever March Madness win in 2013.
Aaron Craft’s first order of business at Ohio State is keeping the other team’s offense from functioning. The most devastating perimeter defender in the college game, Craft averaged 2.5 steals a night in 2011-12.
However, Craft’s brilliant defense shouldn’t entirely overshadow his offensive contributions.
He’s averaged 4.7 assists per game over his two seasons in Columbus, and with one Final Four’s worth of postseason experience already under his belt, he’s in a great position to lead the Buckeyes deep into next year’s tournament as well.
Freshman Quincy Miller was the most heralded addition to the Baylor Bears last season, but JUCO transfer Pierre Jackson had just as much to do with the team’s improvement.
Jackson’s insertion into the starting lineup boosted a lackluster backcourt, and his extraordinary clutch shooting saved the Bears in many close games during the Big 12 campaign.
As much notice as his shooting touch attracted, Jackson also proved to be an outstanding passer who dished out 5.8 assists a game.
He’ll probably need to do more scoring and less passing next year—the entire starting frontcourt is gone—but don’t be surprised if he still hangs around among the Big 12’s assist leaders.
Kendall Marshall wasn’t the only point guard who parlayed an uptempo offense and a high-powered frontcourt into eye-popping stats last season.
Jason Brickman ran the show for an LIU-Brooklyn squad that scored the third-most points in the nation (81.9 per game), and he had the individual numbers to show for it.
Brickman handed out 7.3 assists per game, fifth in the nation in 2011-12.
With the top four scorers back from a team that won 16 of 18 conference games, expect Brickman and his Blackbirds to return to the Big Dance and improve upon last year’s No. 16 seed.
The task facing Tim Frazier next season has to look awfully Sisyphean. By sheer force of will, he’s hoping to drag his one-man team out of last place in a Big Ten conference that could have as many as four legitimate Final Four candidates at the top.
Frazier himself was the only thing the Nittany Lions had going for them a year ago—he led the team in scoring (18.8 points per game), rebounding (4.7 boards a night at 6’1”), assists (a conference-leading 6.2 a game) and steals (2.4 per contest).
Now he has to hope that a year of experience helps PSU’s other four returning starters—a callow bunch a year ago—look a bit more like legitimate Big Ten ballplayers.
Chaz Williams had put in a solid performance as a Hofstra freshman, so UMass had reason to expect the transfer to be a valuable contributor last season.
They may not have been expecting him to become the best player on the roster, but that’s what they got.
Williams led the Minutemen in scoring with 16.4 points a game, shot .412 from three-point range and led the Atlantic 10 with 6.4 assists per contest.
Almost everyone is back from last year’s roster—only senior center Sean Carter departs—so Williams should be able to improve on the number that counts the most: the 25 wins his team posted in 2011-12.
Peyton Siva’s best impression of UConn’s Kemba Walker wasn't quite enough in 2011-12: The Louisville point guard led his team to an unlikely Big East title and Final Four berth, but fell to Kentucky in the national semis.
Unlike Walker, though, Siva has returned to campus for another go-round.
Siva’s not much for creating his own shots (he’s never averaged double figures in scoring), but he dished out 5.5 assists per game last season.
If the Cardinals can find a few more options for him to feed in the half-court offense, they’ll have every shot at a second straight Final Four trip come March.
In a lineup loaded with three-point shooters, Phil Pressey flew under the radar despite scoring a solid 10 points per game from his point guard spot and draining 36.5 percent of his treys.
Of course, he also benefited immensely from the scoring talent around him, dishing out a Big 12-high 6.3 assists a night.
With seven seniors departing, Missouri will be counting on Pressey to provide leadership in his junior season. It doesn’t hurt that in addition to boasting two years of starting experience, he’s also the team’s toughest defender (2.1 steals per game).
St. Mary’s is coming off one of the best seasons in school history, in which they won the WCC regular-season and tournament titles, racked up 27 victories and earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.
As they hope to build on that success, the most important piece is already in place: Matthew Dellavedova at the point.
The Australian star led the Gaels with 15.6 points and 6.4 assists per game last season. He’ll need to be even better as a senior to compensate for the loss of low-post bruiser Rob Jones to graduation.
Of all the great passers on this list, none is quite so criminally underappreciated as Vincent Council. The rising Providence senior went from 18th in the nation in assists two years ago to fourth last year (7.5 per game, tops in the country for a returning player).
Still, because his Friars have posted a combined Big East record of 8-28 in those two years, Council’s exploits have gone largely without acclaim.
That could change in 2012-13, when a superlative recruiting class led by SG Ricardo Ledo will give Providence a chance to make some noise in conference play.
The key factor in NC State’s rise from sub-.500 in 2011 to the Sweet 16 in 2012 was Lorenzo Brown’s rapid development. The sophomore point guard grew into a team leader who averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 assists per game last season.
The 6’5” Brown is only going to get better while leading the most experienced team in the ACC.
NC State loses only one starter from a team that came within three points of Kansas in the Big Dance, and the addition of ballyhooed freshmen Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren will make them bona fide national contenders next year.