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Ranking the Best Point Guards so Far in the 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

Thad NovakCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2013

Ranking the Best Point Guards so Far in the 2013-14 NCAA Basketball Season

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    Point guard is the most demanding position for an NCAA basketball star, and not just because of the balancing act of being a great scorer and a great passer. No player’s performance is more closely linked to his team’s record, as every loss calls into question his otherwise unmeasurable “leadership” skills.

    One player who’s walked that tightrope to perfection during the early stages of the season is Shabazz Napier. Not only has the senior led UConn to a flawless 9-0 start, but he’s pacing the team in almost every statistical category.

    Is Napier’s sensational performance enough to make him the country’s top floor general? Read on to find out where he fits in among the nation’s best scorers, passers, defenders and (yes) leaders at the point guard position.

20. Julius Brown, Toledo

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    If Julius Brown and his Rockets had played a more impressive schedule early on, he might be getting the same buzz Chaz Williams is garnering at UMass.

    Instead, the MAC’s best player on the young season remains anonymous despite his 15.4 points and 7.4 assists per game.

    The latter figure is good for third place nationally, but neither stat looks like a fluke based on the junior’s career development.

    At 5’10”, he’s a non-factor as either a rebounder or a defender, but his scorching offensive performance deserves to be recognized—at least until 8-0 Toledo faces its one serious test, at Kansas on Dec. 30.

19. Pierria Henry, Charlotte

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    Even in this company, Pierria Henry’s 6.0 assists per game are an impressive figure, all the more so for the lackluster group of offensive players he’s setting up. The 6’4” junior is a respectable scorer himself, but it’s his rebounding that cements his spot on this list.

    Henry is grabbing 5.6 boards per game, a key factor in Charlotte’s surprising ranking of 16th nationally on the glass.

    He’d be a couple of spots higher still if he hadn’t suffered through his worst shooting night (5-for-17) during his team’s signature win over Michigan.

18. Tim Frazier, Penn State

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    Back from last year’s ruptured Achilles tendon, Tim Frazier has stepped right back into the starring role for an improving Nittany Lions team. Not only is he scoring 18.6 points per game, but he’s fifth in the country at 7.2 assists a night.

    Just as he did in his last healthy season (2011-12), the senior is also making major contributions as a rebounder and defender.

    Still, his portfolio does take a hit from his team’s iffy 7-3 record, and especially from his inability to prevent an embarrassing home loss to Bucknell.

17. Briante Weber, Virginia Commonwealth

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    Most point guards control the game with the ball in their hands. Briante Weber controls it with the ball (temporarily) in his opponent’s hands, leading the nation in steals at 3.9 a night.

    Weber (diving for ball at left) hasn’t done much scoring, but he’s been an effective distributor with 4.1 assists per game in his debut as a starter.

    He struggled badly in a loss to Florida State but nearly saved the Rams three days later against Georgetown with 22 points, six rebounds, four steals and three assists.

16. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

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    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Against Wichita State’s two toughest opponents—BYU and St. Louis—Fred VanVleet has been unable to keep up his gaudy defensive stats (2.1 steals per game, achieved mostly against bottom-feeders).

    Offensively, though, the Shockers sophomore appears to be the real deal, combining for 22 points and nine assists in those key wins.

    VanVleet is shooting a sizzling .444 from long range, a major factor in WSU’s trey-heavy attack. His overall averages aren’t great (11.7 points and 5.6 assists per game), but he’s making the plays his team needs to keep that zero in the loss column.

15. Kendall Williams, New Mexico

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    With his 19.1 points per game, Kendall Williams currently stands second in the neck-and-neck-and-neck race for the Lobos’ scoring lead with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk.

    The huge jump in the senior’s point production is a function of vastly improved shooting, as he’s gained 10 percentage points in every category (field goals, free throws and three-pointers) compared to last season.

    A quality passer, Williams is also the heart of the physical defense that’s helped New Mexico to a 7-1 start. That one loss, though, saw him get convincingly outplayed by UMass standout Chaz Williams.

14. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

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    Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

    For the second year in a row, Yogi Ferrell got steamrolled by the Syracuse zone, managing 12 points but just two assists in a decisive loss. However, that’s one of the few similarities the sophomore PG has shown to his deferential 2012-13 performance.

    Ferrell has embraced the primary scorer’s role in Bloomington with zeal, pouring in 17 points per game (up from 7.6 a season ago) and draining 41.1 percent of his three-point tries.

    He’s still handing out the same four assists a night that he did when Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo were on the other end of his passes, but he’s not contributing a whole lot when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.

13. Quinn Cook, Duke

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    Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

    Lost in Jabari Parker’s astounding debut performance at Duke has been another terrific season for junior PG Quinn Cook. He’s taken full advantage of the addition of Parker and Rodney Hood to the offense, raising his assist totals to 6.3 per game.

    Cook is also a valuable scorer, though his three-point shooting has dipped a bit compared to last season. So, too, have his rebounding and steal numbers, thanks in particular to disappointing showings in the Blue Devils’ two losses.

12. Matt Carlino, BYU

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    BYU has a great case for being the best offense in college hoops this season, and Matt Carlino has been right in the middle of it. The third-year starter has been far more than Tyler Haws’ sidekick, piling up 18 points and 5.4 assists per game in his own right.

    Unlike Haws, Carlino is also an impact defender who’s grabbing 1.9 steals per contest. Even in a heartbreaking loss to DeAndre Kane and Iowa State, he managed four steals to go with 19 points, four boards and seven assists.

11. Jahii Carson, Arizona State

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    Jahii Carson’s No. 1 asset is his scoring punch, and at 20.5 points per game, he can trade shots with any point guard in the country. The sophomore has also become a lights-out three-point shooter, draining 52.9 percent of his long-range tries so far.

    As a passer, Carson is solid but unspectacular—in this competition—with 5.1 assists per game. He’s not a playmaker on defense, but he does get more rebounds (3.7 a night) than his 5’10” stature would predict.

10. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    It would be tough to find a streakier shooter in the country than Tyler Ennis, who scored two points on 1-for-8 shooting against lowly St. Francis a week before lighting up Justin Cobbs and California for 28 points on 9-for-12 from the field.

    As erratic as his scoring has been, he’s been a premier defender night in and night out, averaging 2.7 steals per game at the top of Jim Boeheim’s zone.

    Ennis has also done a marvelous job running the Orange offense as a freshman, handing out 4.9 assists per game during a 9-0 start.

    If he can gain a bit more consistency as a scorer, both his 11.3 points per game and his position in rankings like this one will benefit.

9. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

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    The extraordinary thing about Jerian Grant’s hot start is that he’s sharing the backcourt with Eric Atkins, another playmaker very nearly as productive as Grant himself.

    That the son of former NBAer Harvey is putting up 5.9 assists a night anyway is a sign of how effective Mike Brey’s offense has been this season.

    Despite his 6’5” length, Grant doesn’t rebound very well, but that’s about all he’s struggled at this season.

    With 19.4 points and 2.1 steals per game, he’s been the best player on both ends of the floor for a respectable—though deservedly unranked—Notre Dame squad.

8. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State

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    DeAndre Kane’s eye-opening rebounding numbers (8.0 boards a night as a 6’4” point guard) say as much about undersized Iowa State's playing style as they do about Kane’s own nose for the ball.

    Still, his contributions on the glass go a long way to making up for his portion of the Cyclones' perennial shaky defense.

    Offensively, the Marshall transfer doesn’t have his new team’s affinity for the long ball, but he’s still scoring 15.4 points per game.

    He’d be putting up even more than 5.3 assists a night if freshman Monte Morris weren’t playing so impressively behind him.

7. Aaron Craft, Ohio State

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    Even in the best scoring year of his career, Aaron Craft is never going to be mistaken for Trey Burke. Few players in the country, though, do so much to help their team win aside from putting points on the board.

    Craft, who averages 2.6 steals per game, is the best perimeter defender in college basketball.

    He’s a fine passer and a decent rebounder, but the statistics that really speak to his value are those of his opponents—like the 18.9 percent shooting and 20 turnovers Marquette compiled in a humiliating loss to Craft’s Buckeyes.

6. Chaz Williams, UMass

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    Undefeated and 21st-ranked Massachusetts wouldn’t even be on the national radar without Chaz Williams.

    The 5’9” senior has cast a giant shadow this season, especially against his team’s toughest opponents (32 points and 15 assists against BYU, 24 and nine against LSU).

    Williams’ 7.6 assists per game are the second-best mark in the country, and he’s scoring 17.5 points a night to go with them.

    Even so, the Minutemen wouldn’t mind if he got back to playing the kind of ballhawking defense that he featured in his first two seasons in Amherst.

5. T.J. McConnell, Arizona

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    T.J. McConnell hasn’t been as overpowering on D as he was at Duquesne, but Arizona’s new point guard is still grabbing 1.7 steals per game.

    Even that performance, though, takes a back seat to the junior’s brilliant showing running the Wildcats' attack.

    McConnell is dishing out 6.8 assists per game, good for eighth nationally. He hasn’t been scoring much in the loaded Arizona offense, but he came through with 13 points when his team needed him to stave off an upset by UNLV on Saturday.

4. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Any point guard who can hang 32 points on the Louisville defense is a force to be reckoned with.

    Marcus Paige led his Tar Heels to a road win over the Cardinals with that career-high point total, the best of several gaudy offensive stat lines for the speedy sophomore.

    Paige has more than doubled his scoring average to 18.8 points per game, and his passing hasn't suffered any in the process.

    He’s still a quality defender and a solid three-point shooter, too, but as the only competent perimeter scorer Roy Williams has, he can leave his team vulnerable with a slump like his 0-for-6 from long range in a loss at UAB.

3. Keith Appling, Michigan State

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    Always a dangerous scorer, Keith Appling has become a far more effective distributor as a senior. Michigan State’s floor leader is averaging a career high in assists (5.3 per game) and a career low in turnovers (1.6 a night).

    Appling has also turned his three-point shot into a far more reliable weapon.

    He dueled Marcus Paige to a standstill in the Spartans’ loss to North Carolina, though that performance pales in comparison to his dazzling effort in a win over then-No. 1 Kentucky (22 points, eight boards, eight assists and four steals).

2. Shabazz Napier, UConn

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Through nine undefeated games, 6’1” Shabazz Napier is leading UConn in rebounding at 7.0 boards per game.

    The No. 12 Huskies would rather see their big men start making an impact on the glass, but until they do, Kevin Ollie’s floor general will add that to his list of lofty (and team-high) stats.

    Napier also leads the roster in scoring, assists (5.9 per contest) and steals (2.1 a night). On top of that, he’s the Huskies’ most accurate three-point shooter at .571 on the young season.

1. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State

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    Even after Memphis knocked his Cowboys from the ranks of the unbeaten, Marcus Smart still stands as a leading candidate for national Player of the Year honors.

    The sophomore is the most athletic point guard in the country at 6’4”, 220 pounds, and he’s putting up even more impressive stats than the eye-popping totals he managed last season.

    Foremost among them is his scoring (19.7 points per game), which has been fueled by a drastic improvement in his three-point shot (.346, up from .290).

    He makes things happen for OSU in every phase of the game, and he already has a pair of 30-point, four-assist performances to his credit.

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