15 CBB Players Who Fuel Their Teams' Offenses
A variety of offensive options is a great asset for any college basketball team, but not every program has that luxury. For some teams—including plenty of college hoops’ best—the key to the offense is giving the ball to one elite player and letting him go to work.
Defending national champion Louisville, for example, has placed even more of its offensive burden on Russ Smith than it did a year ago. The lightning-quick senior is still the Cardinals’ leading scorer, but now he’s also one of the top passers in the AAC.
Read on for a closer look at Smith’s multi-threat performance, along with 14 more stars who are carrying their teams on the offensive end in 2013-14.
All statistics are through 2/26. Note that some of the season’s biggest names (say, Duke’s Jabari Parker) have been left out of this discussion, not because they aren’t playing brilliantly, but because their teams have more balanced offenses than the ones you’ll find on this list.
Xavier Thames, San Diego State
The Aztecs have plenty of highlight-reel dunkers when they can get out in transition, but in the half court, it’s Xavier Thames or bust.
The 6’3” senior not only leads SDSU in scoring (16.4 points per game), but he has more than twice as many three-pointers as any of his teammates.
As the nominal point guard (albeit for one of the worst passing teams in college basketball), Thames also hands out more assists than anybody else on the roster.
Perhaps the clearest demonstration of his importance came last Saturday, when his atrocious 3-of-15 shooting night left him with seven points and his team with a grand total of 44 in a loss at New Mexico.
Bryce Cotton, Providence
If it weren’t for Wooden Award favorite Doug McDermott, Bryce Cotton would be having the most impressive season of any player in the new Big East.
The Providence senior has rolled with the punches, lighting up scoreboards despite losing point guard Kris Dunn to injury for the second time in as many seasons.
Cotton has taken over Dunn’s playmaking duties, handing out an eye-popping 5.9 assists per game after failing to reach 3.0 in any previous season.
He’s also continued his explosive scoring without a hitch, racking up 21.5 points a night (or nearly 30 percent of his team’s total).
Joseph Young, Oregon
Oregon has largely dropped off the national radar after a disastrous run in Pac-12 play, but the Ducks still feature the No. 11 scoring offense in the country.
Remarkably, even as the team is turning out nearly 83 points per game, Joseph Young has managed to stand out above the rest of a high-scoring crowd.
Young, who’s running neck-and-neck with Washington’s C.J. Wilcox for second place in the Pac-12 scoring race, is more than five points up on his nearest teammate with 18.6 points per game.
The Houston transfer has been especially fearsome from beyond the arc, knocking down 56 treys (another team high) at a .421 clip.
Julius Randle, Kentucky
On paper, Julius Randle (whose scoring numbers have been skidding of late) doesn’t look like a much bigger factor than the rest of his ballyhooed freshman classmates at Kentucky.
However, a huge proportion of the 39.6 points per game that his perimeter teammates are tallying owes itself to the defensive attention occupied by Randle down low.
At 6’9”, 250 pounds, Randle commands double-teams from virtually every opponent, and his 15.7 points a night are the biggest reason defenses are so eager to pack the paint against Kentucky.
He’s also the best of UK’s many intimidating offensive rebounders (a remarkable 3.7 boards per contest), setting up even more scoring chances for the ‘Cats.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
A year after playing the facilitator for a stacked Hoosiers offense, Yogi Ferrell has been option No. 1 (not to mention No. 2 and No. 3) for this season’s squad.
The sophomore has added more than 10 points to last year’s scoring average, and his current 17.9 point-per-game figure is a full six points ahead of anybody else on the team.
Ferrell’s not a bad distributor, either, as he’s still dishing out 3.7 assists a night. On top of all the rest, he’s been a devastating three-point marksman who’s shooting .422 from deep while accounting for just over half of his team’s 145 treys.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Offense isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Aaron Craft or his Ohio State team. Nevertheless, even the Buckeyes’ potent defense wouldn’t have kept them in the Top 25 without their senior floor leader stabilizing a shaky offense.
Craft is the only player on this list who isn’t leading his team in scoring—for what it’s worth, he’s averaging 9.5 points and 4.6 assists per game—but he leads the country in intangibles.
On a team without anything resembling a go-to scorer, Craft creates opportunities for the Buckeyes’ unremarkable shooters and provides a steady hand at the helm—especially in the late-game situations in which he proved so deadly a season ago.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Although Marcus Smart's individual numbers are plenty impressive—17.4 points and 4.6 assists per game—they don't tell the whole story of what he means to Oklahoma State.
The real reason he belongs on this list, even with high-scoring Markel Brown in the same backcourt, is how his presence impacts the rest of the offense.
With Smart on the floor, Oklahoma State is 18-7 and has averaged 82.6 points per game. During the do-it-all point guard’s three-game suspension, the Cowboys went 0-3 and their offensive output dropped to 68.7 points a night.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Several of the nation’s top sophomores have developed from deferential playmakers to high-volume scorers since last season.
Nik Stauskas has made a similar evolution from the opposite direction, adding remarkable passing ability to his deadeye three-point shot.
Stauskas’ team-leading 3.5 assists per game are nearly triple his production in that category from last year. Of course, he’s still a .433 long-range shooter whose 16.9 points a night are convincingly ahead of teammate Caris LaVert’s 13.4.
During the 6’6” sniper’s one major slump—a five-game stretch in which his average plummeted to 10.2 points per contest—the Wolverines went 2-3 and dipped nine points under their season scoring mark of 75.2 per game.
Russ Smith, Louisville
Montrezl Harrell’s addition to the Louisville starting lineup was supposed to take some of the pressure off Russ Smith, but it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.
Even after a recent uptick in Harrell’s point production, he’s still far behind the Cards’ senior star, 17.5 to 13.0 points per game.
Not only is Smith (who provided a similarly hefty share of the offense last year) still scoring with abandon, but he’s now a high-level passer as well.
Even while sharing ball-handling duties with JUCO transfer Chris Jones, he’s handing out 4.5 assists per game to help cushion the loss of distributor Peyton Siva from last year’s champs.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Wednesday’s thrilling win over N.C. State did a nice job of encapsulating Marcus Paige’s place in the Tar Heels offense. The sophomore PG’s game-winning layup gave him 35 of his team’s 85 points, and he dished out five assists in the bargain.
On the year, the 6’1” Paige is averaging team highs of 17.5 points and 4.6 assists a night. He’s single-handedly rescuing an otherwise punchless perimeter offense, hitting 70 of the team’s paltry 117 three-pointers (with .400 accuracy, yet).
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Technically, the Bearcats have had other players score besides Sean Kilpatrick in the last two seasons, but fans could be forgiven if they haven’t noticed.
The senior SG (Cincy’s leading scorer in each of the last three seasons) has 2,018 career points, trailing only the legendary Oscar Robertson on the school’s charts.
This year, Kilpatrick’s one-man show has reached new extremes, as he’s nearly doubling up his closest teammate in scoring, 20.5 points per game to Justin Jackson’s 11.3.
With freshman PG Troy Caupain still learning the ropes, Kilpatrick has also been the team’s most effective passer at 2.5 assists per game.
Chaz Williams, UMass
If we were measuring in points per inch, 5’9” Chaz Williams would be the best player in the country. Even by the standards of more useful statistics, the senior has been awfully impressive.
Williams’ Minutemen average just under 28 field goals per game. Their floor leader not only records assists on a quarter of those (7.2 a night), but he hits another 4.7 himself.
For the year, Williams is scoring 15.6 points per contest, not least because he’s among the team’s most accurate shooters (.379 from deep, .736 from the foul line).
T.J. Warren, North Carolina State
With the predominance of the three-point shot in modern college basketball strategy, it takes a special player to dominate as a scorer without being a serious long-range threat.
T.J. Warren (.295 from beyond the arc) has proven that he’s one of those exceptional talents. The 6’8” forward ranks fourth in the country with 23.8 points per game, leading the stacked ACC by a healthy margin.
In the Wolfpack’s middle-of-the-pack offense, that means he’s not just outpacing second-leading scorer Ralston Turner—he’s convincingly ahead of his top two teammates put together (19.6 points a night from Turner and Anthony Barber).
Shabazz Napier, UConn
The AAC is deep in backcourt talent, but there isn’t a guard in the conference who’s had a hand in more baskets than Shabazz Napier. UConn’s 6'1" star puts up a league-best 5.5 assists per game, and that’s just the beginning of his contributions.
At 17.8 points a night, Napier is scoring almost half again as much as his closest teammate, the explosive Ryan Boatright. The senior's tally includes 54 three-pointers, the highest total on a team that boasts preternatural .394 accuracy from beyond the arc.
Doug McDermott, Creighton
After finishing third in the country in scoring as a sophomore and second as a junior, Doug McDermott has actually come up with an encore. His 26 points per game, the best mark in the nation, is nearly three points above his previous career high.
It’s also more than 14 points better than anybody else on Creighton’s roster, and that’s no mean feat when the team is scoring 80.6 points a night.
For all that McDermott takes an immense number of shots, he doesn’t waste many chances, either: He’s hitting 52.1 percent of his field-goal tries and 44.3 percent of his treys.