Wooden Award winner Trey Burke may be gone, but there’s no shortage of terrific point guards in NCAA basketball for next season. Some are established stars whose numbers just keep getting better, while others will be unfamiliar names on the national scene.
One of the latter who’s in for a monster year is former Duquesne floor general T.J. McConnell. After two quiet years as one of the country’s most productive defenders, McConnell will get a chance to run a top-tier offense as he becomes eligible to play for Arizona.
Herein, a closer look at McConnell and the rest of next year’s 20-best point guards, with an eye on their probable numbers in the three biggest categories for the position: points, assists and steals.
Projected Stat Line: 11 points, 4.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Players heading into their sophomore seasons often take huge strides forward in performance as a result of getting used to the college game. One of the best candidates to make that leap in 2013-14 is Dominic Artis.
Even as a freshman, Artis showed enormous promise when he wasn’t hampered by a foot injury.
Graduation losses in the Ducks’ frontcourt will force him to call his own number more—and keep his assist totals from really taking off—but the playmaking defense that marked his debut season will continue to serve him well.
Projected Stat Line: 15.5 points, 3.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game
Trevor Releford is far from a natural as a playmaker, but Tide coach Anthony Grant has no reason to depose his incumbent PG next year.
Releford is one of five returning starters for a ‘Bama squad that should make a serious run at an NCAA tournament berth.
The rising senior will continue to be a scorer above all, but his familiarity with the PG role and with his teammates will help him add a few more assists to his ledger.
Just as importantly, Releford’s outstanding defensive instincts will keep him among the SEC’s top perimeter stoppers, even at just 6’0”.
Projected Stat Line: 12.3 points, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game
Naadir Tharpe served ably as Elijah Johnson’s backup last season, but now the weight of the starting job falls on him alone. The rising junior showed enormous potential, especially in the postseason, and he’ll have no shortage of weapons around him.
Tharpe is an aggressive three-point shooter (over half of his field-goal attempts last year came from long range), and he’ll get his share of points on penetration as well.
That said, he does know when to set up his teammates rather than pulling the trigger himself, and he’ll rack up plenty of assists feeding Perry Ellis and celebrated freshman Andrew Wiggins.
Projected Stat Line: 9.7 points, 5.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game
Ordinarily, the loss of athletic Reggie Bullock would be expected to put a dent in both the Tar Heel offense and Marcus Paige’s assist numbers.
In fact, though, UNC’s return to a more traditional two-forward, three-guard lineup will give its rising-sophomore floor leader even more chances to make things happen in the half court.
Paige won’t need to do a ton of scoring with James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston returning to anchor the offense.
The fleet-footed PG will benefit from the addition of another fast-break finisher (freshman Isaiah Hicks), but the Tar Heels’ offensive sets should improve even more behind hulking freshman center Kennedy Meeks.
Projected Stat Line: 14 points, 3.8 assists and 2.1 steals per game
Few point guards in the country will be facing as much pressure next season as Chris Jones. Not only is the national JUCO player of the year stepping up to the Division I ranks, but he’s replacing Peyton Siva as the floor general for the defending national champs.
Fortunately for the Cardinals, Jones is even quicker than his predecessor, with active hands to pile up plenty of steals and outstanding fast-break skills to run Rick Pitino’s transition-heavy offense.
Jones is more a finisher than a distributor, but he’ll still put up respectable passing numbers with high-scoring Russ Smith alongside him in the backcourt.
Projected Stat Line: 10.8 points, 5.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game
Scottie Wilbekin was one of last year’s most underrated point guards, but now he has another chance to get the acclaim he deserves.
The Gators standout played a vital role in making Florida one of the country’s toughest defensive teams, and his ability to force turnovers will take center stage again as he heads into his senior year.
Wilbekin is also a vastly improved passer who will help smooth out the rough-edged offensive games of new Gator forwards Dorian Finney-Smith (a Virginia Tech transfer) and Chris Walker (a freshman).
He’d be heading for even more impressive stats if it weren’t for freshman Kasey Hill, whose arrival will move Wilbekin off the ball for some of his minutes.
Projected Stat Line: 15 points, 5.1 assists and 1.9 steals per game
While high-scoring wings such as Will Barton and Adonis Thomas have gotten most of the headlines, Joe Jackson has quietly been Memphis’ most reliable player over the last three years.
Now, the rising senior will lead the Tigers into the new AAC as one of the conference’s top point guards.
Jackson has slowly but steadily improved his numbers every season, a pattern that has no reason to change with a strong team around him for 2013-14.
Big men Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols will be the main beneficiaries of his passing talents, but he’s also a legitimate candidate himself to lead the Tigers in scoring for the second straight season. Jackson is also an intimidating defender.
Projected Stat Line: 14 points, 6.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game
Kendall Williams is one of the streakiest scorers in the country, and that’s not about to change for the Lobos standout’s senior year.
Once the big games and the off nights even out, though, he probably won’t put up too many more points than he did for last year’s MWC champs.
The bigger jump in Williams’ numbers is going to be on the passing side, where he’ll benefit from a likely breakout season for seven-foot center Alex Kirk.
Even with SG Tony Snell gone, Kirk should ensure that Williams finishes his college career with his best assist numbers as a Lobo.
Projected Stat Line: 11.7 points, 5.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Andrew Harrison is unquestionably the best point guard (and by some accounts, the best player) in the 2013-14 freshman class. The soon-to-be Wildcat has an NBA body at 6’5”, 210 lbs, and an NBA skill set to go with it.
Harrison will mostly serve as a distributor on loaded Kentucky, though he has the shot to get his own points when needed.
His length also makes him a formidable defensive weapon as well as a noteworthy rebounder—expect somewhere around 4.8 boards a night.
Projected Stat Line: 14.9 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game
Although Jerian Grant’s most celebrated feat of 2012-13 was scoring 12 points in 47 seconds against Louisville, his passing is just as valuable to Notre Dame.
The 6’5” rising senior has tremendous court vision, especially on drive-and-dish opportunities to backcourt marksmen Pat Connaughton and Eric Atkins.
Of course, Grant will still do his share of scoring after leading the team in that category last season. Expect him to pick up a large share of the slack left by Jack Cooley’s departure (a loss which will also take a bite out of Grant’s assist numbers).
Projected Stat Line: 14 points, 6.0 assists and 1.6 steals per game
Lost in the senior-year heroics of Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry last season was Quinn Cook’s development into a top-flight point guard.
Now a rising junior, Cook went from an unheralded reserve to a standout passer who can also score a few points when he gets a good look.
Cook’s outstanding shooting accuracy (.393 from deep, .877 from the free-throw line) will keep defenses honest and give him more openings to feed Duke’s many perimeter scorers.
Along with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, he’ll also help keep Coach K’s defense among the ACC’s best with his ball pressure.
Projected Stat Line: 10.5 points, 6.5 assists and 2.6 steals per game
For the second year in a row, Arizona has a frontcourt loaded with scoring potential and a first-class shooting guard in Nick Johnson.
This time around, though, the Wildcats have a bona fide point guard in T.J. McConnell to help them take advantage of all those assets.
The Duquesne transfer is a deadly three-point shooter (.432 in 2011-12), but his top priority is setting up his teammates. He’s also an opportunistic defender who should thrive in the freewheeling Pac-12.
Projected Stat Line: 16.8 points, 4.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game
About the only thing Semaj Christon didn’t do in his Xavier debut was win. Don’t be surprised if the 6’3” rising sophomore adds that to his portfolio next season, when he’s sure to put up impressive individual numbers again.
Christon’s attacking offensive mentality will serve him well on a team that doesn’t have a surplus of scoring options. Still, he’ll get his share of assists as defenses collapse on him.
He’s also a safe bet to be an impact defender himself, even if his team has precious few of those.
Projected Stat Line: 19 points, 5.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game
After playing Robin to Allen Crabbe’s Batman a year ago, Justin Cobbs gets to take over the lead role himself.
The rising senior helped give Cal one of the country’s highest-scoring backcourts, and he has a chance to challenge for the Pac-12 lead in that department with Crabbe (last year’s champ) gone.
The 6’3” Cobbs is also a reliable playmaker who will benefit from an experienced frontcourt, along with the addition of touted freshman Jabari Bird at SG.
The Golden Bears would love to see him improve on his unremarkable defensive numbers, but he’ll be a candidate for conference player of the year based on his offensive production alone.
Projected Stat Line: 8.8 points, 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game
Florida Gulf Coast may have lost head coach Andy Enfield, but the Eagles’ coach on the floor is staying right where he belongs.
Brett Comer’s deft passes made Dunk City’s offense soar during last year’s Cinderella NCAA tournament run, and he’s back to dole out more alley-oops as a rising junior.
Comer is never going to be a primary scorer, but he’s got plenty of weapons to set up in returnees Chase Fieler and Bernard Thompson.
The 6’3” PG is also an underrated part of the Eagles’ aggressive perimeter defense, and he and Thompson will continue to create turnovers in bunches.
Projected Stat Line: 11.1 points, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals per game
The best perimeter defender in college hoops, Aaron Craft has never averaged under two steals a night, and he’s not going to start now.
The rising senior will continue terrorizing Big Ten point guards to an extent that even his impressive numbers can't adequately reflect.
On offense, Craft has pretty thoroughly demonstrated that he’s always going to defer to others as a scorer (except, perhaps, in crunch time).
His assist numbers have remained remarkably steady throughout his career, so even the loss of super-scorer Deshaun Thomas shouldn’t cost him much in that area of the stat sheet.
Projected Stat Line: 18.3 points, 5.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game
For the second year in a row, Shabazz Napier is going to have to carry the primary scoring load for undersized UConn. Fortunately for the Huskies, the aggressive rising senior is well equipped to put points on the board in bunches.
Napier should also improve on last year’s subpar assist numbers, though sharing the ball with Ryan Boatright will still keep those totals from reaching the top of the charts.
Always a gutty defender, Napier is a sure bet to be among the leaders in steals in the AAC’s first season.
Projected Stat Line: 20.6 points, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals per game
On another team, Jahii Carson would’ve been one of the most celebrated freshmen of 2012-13.
Even a scuffling Arizona State squad, though, couldn’t entirely obscure Carson’s electrifying performance, which saw him make a run at the Pac-12 scoring title in his college debut.
Carson will likely take home that crown next season, especially if he improves on a middling three-point stroke (.320 last year).
He’ll be doing too much shooting to add all that many assists to his total, but 7’2” rising-senior Jordan Bachynski will convert enough of his passes to keep him among the conference’s better distributors.
Projected Stat Line: 17 points, 6.8 assists and 2.3 steals per game
Healthy after losing his would-be senior year to a torn ACL, Tim Frazier gets another chance to finish his Penn State career in style. Even better, he has a far more impressive lineup around him than he did for his last full season in 2011-12.
Although he stands at just 6’1” and weighs 170 pounds, Frazier is enormously versatile (and he’ll even be a serious contributor on the boards, probably in the territory of 4.8 rebounds a night).
He won’t do quite as much scoring while sharing the ball with D.J. Newbill, but he should be headed for a career high in assists while continuing to post his usual eye-popping defensive stats.
Projected Stat Line: 16.9 points, 5.3 assists and 2.9 steals per game
At this point, any stat projections for Marcus Smart are bound to look like hyperbole. The multitalented rising sophomore passed up a top-five spot in this year’s NBA draft to return to Stillwater and continue overwhelming any and all Cowboys opponents.
Smart’s 6’4”, 225-pound frame makes him an impossible matchup (not to mention a terrific rebounder who should grab at least six boards a game).
He’ll be a frontrunner for the Wooden Award and might even lead Oklahoma State back to the Final Four with enough help from the frontcourt.