Ranking the 10 Point Guards Most Likely to Dominate the 2013 NCAA Tournament
The belief that elite point-guard play is required to have success in the NCAA tournament is more than just an adage; it's a fact.
Last year, it was reflected in the surprising run of Ohio behind the play of D.J. Cooper and the downfall of super-talented North Carolina after it lost Kendall Marshall to an injury.
A number of point guards are capable of dominating play and carrying their teams deep into this year's NCAA tournament, and we rank the 10 most likely to do so.
Just missing the cut were New Mexico's Kendall Williams and Pittsburgh's Tray Woodall, while several other point guards could become the talk of the postseason if their teams earn an NCAA-tournament berth. Matthew Dellavedova of St. Mary's heads that group, which includes Murray State's Isaiah Canaan, South Dakota State's Nate Wolters, Montana's Will Cherry, Ohio's Cooper, Detroit's Ray McCallum and Baylor's Pierre Jackson.
10. Mark Lyons, Arizona
Per Game: 15.2 points, 3.2 assists
Mark Lyons has nearly as many turnovers as assists, and his three-point-shooting percentage is average at best (34.6 percent). He's not even a true point guard, and the lack of a playmaker is one of the Wildcats' weaknesses.
However, there is a reason coach Sean Miller has the ball in Lyons' hands in every crucial situation. With the game on the line, Lyons invariably finds a way to score, often by driving through a defense designed to prevent penetration.
Having a go-to player who can routinely get his team a basket when it absolutely must have it is invaluable in the one-and-done NCAA tournament.
9. Phil Pressey, Missouri
Per Game: 12.4 points, 7.0 assists
Spectacular at times, Phil Pressey is very capable of getting on a roll that can carry his team deep into the tournament, either with his passing, penetration or scoring.
His ability to accelerate the pace of the game turns Missouri into an offensive powerhouse.
Even when he went 3-of-19 from the field against Illinois, he was the pivotal player in the Tigers' victory, dishing out 11 assists, collecting seven rebounds, getting key baskets and generally controlling the game's tempo. He was also a key factor in the upset of Florida, when he had 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals despite scoring just seven points.
If he did that consistently, he'd be higher on this list. The problem is, the erratic Pressey also has games like he did in the earlier 31-point loss to Florida, when he had 10 turnovers and went 1-of-7 from the floor while scoring two points.
8. Joe Jackson, Memphis
Per Game: 13.8 points, 4.7 assists
No player on this list is more pivotal to his team's postseason success than Joe Jackson. If he plays well, Memphis becomes the NCAA tournament's dark-horse team.
Quick and explosive, Jackson is capable of bursts of individual offensive brilliance that can wow people who seldom see Conference USA action. He has also become an outstanding three-point shooter this season, which, combined with his athleticism, makes him difficult to guard.
Postseason play often becomes a half-court game, and although Jackson has improved his playmaking, he's still not as adept as he could be at getting teammates involved in a set offense.
When Jackson is at his best, as he was in a 21-point, 10-assist, three-steal, one-turnover game in a 22-point victory over Central Florida, he dominates games.
7. Peyton Siva, Louisville
Per Game: 9.9 points, 6.0 assists
Placing Peyton Siva this high is based more on a feeling than on empirical evidence.
He has not shot well lately, and his scoring has declined in recent games after putting up impressive numbers earlier in the season. He's scored three points or fewer in five of the Cardinals' last 10 games, and they lost three of those five.
But, he is a senior with plenty of postseason experience, and he can dominate games with his playmaking skills and leadership, even if he does not score a lot.
Siva was named the most outstanding player of last year's Big East tournament, and he played well in the ensuing NCAA tournament, showing his ability to perform in pressure situations.
There is a reason Big East coaches voted him the preseason conference Player of the Year. Look for that level of talent to show up in the postseason.
6. Lorenzo Brown, North Carolina State
Per Game: 12.7 points, 7.0 assists
Nothing illustrated Lorenzo Brown's value to the Wolfpack better than the three-game losing streak that occurred when Brown was sidelined with an injury (he played only 10 minutes in the loss to Virginia to start that losing streak).
With Brown available for the entire game, North Carolina State is 19-5. Without him, it's 0-3.
No point guard is better in transition, and the Wolfpack's fast break, which is critical to its success, virtually disappeared without Brown on the court.
Brown is not a great outside shooter, and he commits more turnovers than he should, but he's the No. 3 rebounder on an outstanding rebounding team, and he makes North Carolina State's offense go.
Everything about North Carolina State's offense looks better when Brown is on the floor, and that figures to be the case in the postseason.
5. Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse
Per Game: 12.5 points, 8.0 assists
Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams will be the closest thing to Magic Johnson in this year's NCAA tournament.
A tall (6'6") point guard, Carter-Williams can do just about anything and is the player most likely to record a triple-double in the postseason.
Although his greatest asset is being a playmaker, he's an adept rebounder and scorer, and his length works well in Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone defense. His only shortcoming is that he's not a great outside shooter, but even that has improved after he started the season 1-of-15 from three-point range.
Carter-Williams averaged just 10 minutes a game last season as a freshman, but he has been one of the team's most consistent performers as a sophomore, scoring between 10 and 18 points in 19 of the past 23 games.
4. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Per Game: 15.0 points, 4.3 assists
The only freshman on this list, Marcus Smart is certainly not the prototypical playmaker. He looks more like a fullback than a point guard, providing the Cowboys with a needed physical presence and making him nearly unstoppable when he decides to drive to the hoop.
Smart is built in the Dwyane Wade mold and defies a particular-position label. He dominates games with strength, will and a varied skill set.
He is not a great shooter yet, and his decision making is sometimes suspect. But he is an outstanding rebounder for a guard, as well as a willing passer, and he has a can-do court presence that suggests greatness to anyone watching him play.
In the overtime loss to Kansas, he was just 2-of-14 from the field with one assist. But he was still the best player on the floor and made the three-point shot that sent the game into overtime. When he fouled out with 2:24 left in the second overtime, with the Cowboys leading by a point, the life was sucked out of Oklahoma State, which scored only two more points the rest of the way.
3. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Per Game: 9.6 points, 4.4 assists
Aaron Craft is a decent offensive player, but he is on this list for one reason: defense.
The best one-on-one perimeter defender in the country, Craft did outstanding defensive work on Michigan point guard Trey Burke in their two regular-season meetings, enabling the Buckeyes to win the first matchup and force the second into overtime before losing by just two.
Because point-guard play is so critical in the postseason, Craft's defense against opposing point guards will have greater significance in the NCAA tournament, and he could dominate games with his defensive ability alone.
Craft is also one of the toughest guys in the country, giving the Buckeyes the kind of persona and on-court leadership needed for postseason success.
2. Shane Larkin, Miami
Per Game: 13.1 points, 4.3 assists
Sophomore Shane Larkin is the baby on a strong Miami team filled with seniors, but he is the Hurricanes' most indispensable player, which is why he leads the team in minutes played.
Larkin is the player on whom coach Jim Larranaga relies in pressure situations, and Larkin, whose greatest asset is his poise, generally responds by making the right play. That's what will make him so important in the postseason, when games can be won or lost on a single play in crunch time.
Larkin is an excellent outside shooter, vital for a team that is just an average three-point-shooting team otherwise.
His numbers are not going to be spectacular on a team that averages less than 69 points a game and relies on defense and balance to win games. Nonetheless, he still can control and dominate games in his own understated way, which is why he is a strong contender for Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year despite the presence of All-American candidates on other ACC teams.
1. Trey Burke, Michigan
Per Game: 18.9 points, 6.9 assists
Trey Burke is the best college player in America. Period.
He may not be named the college player of the year, because the Wolverines, who have shortcomings on the interior, have slipped a bit in the rankings. But being the best player at the most important position makes him a prime candidate to be the star of the NCAA tournament.
The fact that Burke has scored in double figures in every game this season and has scored at least 15 in each of the last 15 contests only begins to illustrate the consistent contributions he makes to his team.
No other player combines outside shooting prowess with the ability to break down defenses to create opportunities for himself or teammates the way Burke does.
Burke benefits from his talented teammates, especially in the backcourt, but he is smart enough and skilled enough to make use of that talent, enhancing his ability to dominate games.
Burke had a mediocre game (16 points, 5-of-15 shooting, five assists) in Michigan's surprising loss to Ohio in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season. That should provide motivation for Burke after consistently performing at an elite level in the nation's best basketball conference this season.