College Basketball: Little Guys That Have Big Game
Sometimes the biggest contributions in college hoops come from the smallest guys on the floor. Undersized guards can shred opposing defenses or hound ball-handlers to do just as much damage as a towering Anthony Davis-type center.
For a prime example of that phenomenon, fans need look no further than one of Davis’ Final Four adversaries, Louisville’s Peyton Siva. Without the leadership of their 5’11” PG, the Cardinals wouldn’t have captured the Big East tournament title or made it as far as the national semifinals.
Herein, a closer look at Siva and the rest of the 10 best players in the nation who stand under six feet tall.
10. Omar Strong, Texas Southern
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Considering that he’s the smallest player on one of Division I’s least-recognizable programs, it’s easy to overlook 5’9” Omar Strong. Strong’s shooting ability, however, makes him a weapon who deserves some attention.
The juco transfer led the Tigers in scoring with 13.3 points a game last year, but he made his biggest mark from beyond the three-point line.
Strong ranked eighth in the country in 2011-12 with 102 three-pointers made on the season, and with a year of D-I experience behind him, he could easily top that figure next season.
9. Korie Lucious, Iowa State
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Coach Fred Hoiberg’s transfer machine is in tip-top shape, and one of the latest products is point guard Korie Lucious. The 5’11” senior looks to resurrect his reputation after being kicked off the Michigan State roster in 2010-11.
Assuming that Hoiberg continues his streak of rehabilitating Big Ten discipline problems (a record that includes another ex-Spartan, Chris Allen), Lucious will be a first-class floor leader for the Cyclones.
In his final year in East Lansing, he was dishing out 4.1 assists per game before he got the axe, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to feed on the ISU roster.
8. Kwamain Mitchell, St. Louis
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One of four returning starters for the veteran Billikens, senior Kwamain Mitchell is a leader on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he’s not only a solid point guard who dished out 3.7 assists per game, but also the team’s top returning scorer at 12.4 points a night.
The 5’10” Mitchell is just as valuable to the smothering defense that will continue to make St. Louis one of the Atlantic 10’s toughest teams.
He led last year’s Billikens with 1.3 steals per contest, and his three years of starting experience will be just as valuable as his quick hands in 2012-13.
7. Kevin Ferrell, Indiana
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There are freshmen who enter the college ranks with higher expectations, but few have more riding on their performance than Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell.
The 5’11” point guard, the prize of Indiana’s recruiting class, will be asked to start immediately as the floor general for a national championship frontrunner.
Fortunately for Hoosier fans, the fiercely competitive Ferrell appears to be up to that challenge. He’s an outstanding penetrator and distributor with a reliable mid-range jumper, and he can even play some defense in the bargain.
6. Carl Jones, St. Joseph’s
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Most undersized guards excel as ball-handlers or passers, but you won’t find many who can put points on the scoreboard like Carl Jones. The 5’11” Hawks senior has averaged 17 points a game in each of his two seasons as a starter.
Although Jones isn’t quite the three-point sniper that backcourt mate Langston Galloway has become, he’s still a legitimate threat from deep (.348 shooting last year).
He’s also not a bad distributor for a No. 1 scoring option, ranking second on the roster with 3.3 assists a night.
5. D.J. Cooper, Ohio
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After three seasons as a first-rate point guard, D.J. Cooper finally garnered some national attention in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
The 5’11” leader of the Ohio Bobcats keyed one of the Big Dance’s best Cinderella runs, carrying his 13th-seeded squad to the Sweet 16 and taking mighty North Carolina to overtime before bowing out.
Cooper is the heart of the Ohio offense, leading the team in both scoring (14.7 points per game) and assists (5.7 a night). The senior is an imposing defender too, having posted his third straight season of at least 2.3 steals per contest.
4. Chaz Williams, UMass
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Although he stands just 5’9”, Chaz Williams is the best all-around weapon in the Atlantic 10 and one of the best in the nation.
The Hofstra transfer lit up his new conference last season by leading the Minutemen in scoring (16.4 points per game) and assists (6.4 a night, ninth-best in the country).
Williams makes plenty of noise on the other end of the floor, too, having grabbed 2.2 steals per game last season. With three other starters returning around him, Williams is set for a monster junior season.
3. Pierre Jackson, Baylor
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For all Baylor’s reputation of winning with its superior size last season, the Bears’ 17-0 start owed a great deal to 5’10” Pierre Jackson.
The clutch shooting of the juco-transfer PG saved a number of close games for Scott Drew’s team, and he finished as the squad’s leading scorer with 13.8 points per game.
Jackson’s late-game heroics overshadowed an impressive set of point guard skills, including his 5.9 assists per contest. He was also one of the toughest individual defenders for zone-happy Baylor, pacing the roster with 1.8 steals a night.
2. Peyton Siva, Louisville
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Louisville made the 2012 Final Four on the strength of an impenetrable defense, and Peyton Siva played a major role in that effort. The 5’11” Siva averaged 1.7 steals per game, turning plenty of them into fast-break offense for the Cardinals.
It was on offense that Siva had his biggest impact for Louisville, dishing out 5.6 assists a night as the only reliable component of the Cards’ sputtering half-court attack.
After leading a late-season run that took a seventh-place team to a conference tourney title and a Final Four berth, Siva has a real chance to lead a national championship run in 2012-13.
1. Phil Pressey, Missouri
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Four starters are gone from the 30-win Tigers of 2011-12, and the man in charge of bringing together all the new faces will be Phil Pressey.
The 5’11” point guard lit up scoreboards in last year’s loaded MIzzou offense, dishing out the 13th-most assists (6.4 per game) in the country.
Pressey also hit 36.5 percent of his three-point tries, and he may need to look for his own shot more often if coach Frank Haith’s slew of transfers doesn’t click right away in the scoring department.
The junior floor leader will also be the trigger man for the Tigers on defense, where his 2.1 steals a night were a team high a year ago.