Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: Revisiting the Nation's Top 20 Guards

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Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: Revisiting the Nation's Top 20 Guards

About two months ago, I ranked the top 20 guards in the country. A quarter way through the season, I'll be taking a look at how those guards are doing and where they rank now.

This list is a list of the best guards in college basketball. It in no way represents NBA potential.

 

1. Junior Stephen Curry, Davidson College (Previous Rank: 1)

Stephen Curry tops the list of best guards in the country, but the gap between first and second is closing ever so slowly with the stellar play of fellow Tar Heel State guard Ty Lawson.

Coach Bob McKillop moved the junior guard over to the point guard position with the graduation of the nation's best assist man, Jason Richards. The move certainly hasn't slowed Curry down, as he's embraced the move incredibly well.

Curry is averaging 6.8 assists per game and has also been a thief on the defensive end, picking up almost three steals per contest as well.

But Curry's bread and butter has been and always will be his ability to score. Curry leads the country in scoring (31.9 ppg) despite being held scoreless by Loyola when he faced a double-team all game.

Curry's ability to finish offensive possessions incredibly well is what sets him apart. The junior does it all every time he touches the ball. Something he does (shoots or turns the ball over, essentially) finishes 37.5 percent of the possessions he's on the floor, which leads the country.

Curry is also fifth in the country in assist ratio at 42 percent, which means when he's on the floor, he assists on 42 percent of his team's field goals. Considering Curry also scores at will, the majority of Davidson's baskets when Curry is on the floor, which is 86 percent of the time, somehow go through his hands.

 

2. Junior Ty Lawson, North Carolina (3)

The MVP of the top ranked Tar Heels is not Tyler Hansbrough or Wayne Ellington, but Roy Williams' floor general, Ty Lawson. The junior point guard is thrashing opponents with his speed that Kenny Mayne would describe as incendiary.

Lawson's ability to move up and down the court has resulted in some mind-boggling numbers. The junior only plays about 26 minutes per game because of North Carolina's dominance, so his tempo-affected statistics aren't too eye-popping. Lawson averages a solid 16.3 ppg and 6.9 apg.

His tempo-free statistics are what make him stand out. Lawson is sixth in the country in offensive rating at 143.3 (in possessions he ends, this translates to 1.43 points per possession). Lawson also only trails Curry by a few percentage points with an assist rate of 38.7 percent, which ranks 19th in the country. The Tar Heel guard has been knocking down his threes at a stunning rate of 54 percent nine games into the year.

Lawson has also been a solid defender. He picks up almost three steals per game and has a steal rate of 5.4 percent (when he's on the floor, 5.4 percent of the opposing team's offensive possessions end in a Lawson steal).

 

3. Senior A.J. Abrams, Texas (unranked)

Not including A.J. Abrams on the preseason list was a big mistake. Abrams has stepped into his role as starting point guard and filled the footsteps of former Longhorns guards Daniel "Boobie" Gibson and D.J. Augustin quite nicely.

The senior hasn't had to be the focus of the Longhorns offense, but when he needs to step up this year, he has. During UT's last three games, all tough wins, Abrams is averaging 29 ppg and has knocked down 14 of 25 three-point attempts. He's also been clutch at free throw line, hitting almost 85 percent of his free throws.

Abrams' 33 three-pointers rank 10th in the country.

 

4. Sophomore Jonny Flynn, Syracuse (7)

There's probably no guard not named Stephen Curry in the country who's more calm, collected, and poised to win a game with a late shot than the Orange's Jonny Flynn. In just over a season, Flynn has knocked down a game-winner against St. Joe's, drained a three-pointer to tie Kansas to complete a 13-point comeback, and with 24 seconds left against Cleveland State, drilled another long bomb to bring the 'Cuse to within two.

The super sophomore has led the team in scoring in all but three games this year, as he puts the ball in the hoop to the tune of 18.1 ppg. Flynn has also been a solid distributor, setting up his teammates for five baskets per game.

Flynn also continues to be an ironman for Jim Boeheim. The undersized guard plays over 34 minutes per game, and in tight games, Flynn likely will play 36+ minutes, if not the entire game.

 

5. Senior Darren Collison, UCLA (2)

UCLA's Darren Collison dropped a few spots in the rankings despite a very solid start to the season. The Bruin point guard has been scoring well (15 ppg) and passing well (five apg), but Collison has struggled against the top two teams he's faced this year.

Against Michigan, Collison scored just 13 points in 36 minutes of play and turned the ball over four times to counteract his five assists. In the Bruins' loss to Texas, Collison scored a season-high 22 points but needed 22 shot attempts to reach that mark. The senior also turned the ball over six times.

With that said, Collison has still been a premier point guard. He's shooting very well—95 percent from the charity stripe and 59 percent from three-point range. Collison has adjusted pretty well to becoming the centerpiece of Ben Howland's offense after the departures of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.

6. Sophomore Manny Harris, Michigan (unranked)

On the preseason rankings, a commenter threw out Manny Harris' name as a candidate as someone that needs to be considered after averaging 16 points per game his freshman year. This year, Harris has exploded out of the gate as the premier shooting guard in the country.

The Wolverine two-guard has scored at least 15 points in every single contest this year and flirted with a triple-double against Northeastern. Harris is a rare player according to Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free statistics. He's one of only a few players to rank in the top 500 in the country in eight of his 12 statistics.

 

7. Senior Wesley Matthews, Marquette (unranked)

Few seniors have taken advantage of their full four years in college to become an outstanding player more than Marquette's Wesley Matthews. After three years of averaging between nine and 12 points, Matthews is leading the Golden Eagle attack.

He's fitting into Buzz Williams' new system quite nicely. The senior shooting guard has knocked down double-digit points in every game but one and has eclipsed the 25-point plateau five times. Matthews leads the country in free throws made with 84, which is nine more than second place. The Golden Eagle is arguably the best slasher in the country.

 

8. Sophomore Jeff Teague, Wake Forest (unranked)

The Demon Deacons' undefeated streak to open the season can be traced to the close to All-American play of sophomore guard Jeff Teague. The Demon Deacon is knocking down shots all over the court but also has shown a knack to get to the basket with ease. Teague's scoring over 19 ppg and hitting an astounding 57 percent of his three-point shots.

The only team that's been able to slow Teague down is Baylor and its three-guard lineup. Even then, Teague hit 12 free throws and contributed eight rebounds and eight more assists.

 

9. Senior Eric Maynor, VCU (16)

If you look at Maynor's improvements in the scoring column from year to year (4.7 ppg as a freshman, 13.9 as a sophomore, and 17.9 as a junior), everyone should have seen his latest explosion in scoring coming. Maynor has already hit the 30-point mark three times this year to lead VCU to a solid 7-3 record.

Maynor has also been a solid distributor for the Rams. He ranks 25th in the nation in assist rate at 37 percent by handing out 5.7 dimes per game.

 

10. Senior Jack McClinton, Miami (11)

Take away an idiotic slap to a Buckeye defender's face, and Jack McClinton is having an exquisite season. He's not scoring at an alarming rate (16.7 ppg), but McClinton is doing enough to win the Hurricanes games. The former Siena standout stepped up to play his best game of the season against the country's second-ranked team, UConn, dropping 27 points in the loss.

McClinton is best known for his pure shooting, which he is continuing to excel at in 2008. The Hurricane is drilling 42 percent of his three-point attempts and 87 percent of his free throws, which both rank near the top of the ACC.

11. Senior Jerel McNeal, Marquette (9)

The second guard in Buzz Williams' outstanding trio, Jerel McNeal has continued to do what he does best: Play defense and slash to the basket. He's been overshadowed by the stellar play of Wesley Matthews this year, but McNeal is still scoring over 17 ppg and picking up a couple steals a contest.

The Golden Eagle senior is also doing something that he's never been able to consistently do in his three years at Marquette—drain the three-pointer. McNeal is averaging two three-pointers per game and has already hit 19 treys this year, while his career high is just 35 for a full season.

 

12. Junior Wayne Ellington, North Carolina (6)

North Carolina's penchant for blowing teams out has hurt Wayne Ellington's numbers a bit, but the junior is still producing very solid statistics. Ellington's minutes have dropped almost five minutes per game and his scoring average has decreased by three points. But Ellington's point per shot ratio is still 1.22, and he's hitting 38 percent of his threes.

Ellington hasn't had to be a focal point of Roy Williams' offense because of the absurd number of scoring options Williams possesses. Ellington is the team's fourth leading scorer. His biggest contribution to the Tar Heels might actually be his solid ball-handling. Ellington has a stout assist to turnover ratio of 2.8/1.

 

13. Junior Sherron Collins, Kansas (unranked)

After being the Jayhawks' sixth man on the national title team last year, Sherron Collins has emerged as the Big 12's second-best guard. Collins is also a leading candidate for the Big 12's Most Improved Player of the Year after an eight-point jump in his scoring.

The Jayhawk junior has also been an efficient point guard with an assist rate of 27 percent with 4.8 assists per game.

 

14. Senior Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame (unranked)

Across the board, Kyle McAlarney has improved from his outstanding junior year. Name an area of McAlarney's game, and it's better. 44 percent three-point shooter last year, 47 percent this year. Free throw line? 82 percent last year, perfect this year. His scoring is up three points per game to 18.6 a game.

Over a five-game stretch that included the Maui Invitational, the senior guard hit 37 three-pointers. That alone would rank him fifth in the country. McAlarney's effective field goal percentage, which gives extra weight to three-point shooting, stands at 63 percent, an extremely high number for a guard.

 

15. Senior Ben Woodside, North Dakota State (unranked)

He knew if he redshirted one year, Ben Woodside would have one chance to make the NCAA Tournament as a senior. The Bison have completed their entry period into Division I basketball and are eligible for the big dance for the first time. Woodside is doing his part to get NDSU dancing.

The senior guard is doing absolutely everything, from scoring 60 points in a game to recording double-doubles of 31 points and 10 assists. Woodside's assist rate is third in the country, and he's also third in the country in scoring average (26.9 ppg).

16. Junior Devan Downey, South Carolina (13)

Historically one of the SEC's worst teams has the conference's best guard. Gamecock Devan Downey has kept coach Darrin Horn's new team afloat with the SEC East's best record. The Cincinnati transfer is averaging 20 points per game and has a studly 1.39 point per shot ratio.

Downey has been remarkably consistent in the scoring column, dropping between 16 and 25 points in every game this year but the season opener. Downey singlehandedly won the Gamecocks a few games last year, and if USC wants to have any chance of going dancing in 2009, Downey is going to have to consistently be the conference's best guard.

 

17. Sophomore Nick Calathes, Florida (14)

The Baby Gators are starting to grow up behind the strong play of sophomore stud Nick Calathes. The guard has an all-around game, scoring at a clip of 15 plus per game, hitting 38 percent of his threes, dishing out almost seven assists, and grabbing four rebounds per game.

Calathes' overall shooting is up to 48 percent after a subpar 42 percent his freshman year. His 2.3 steals per game ranks him in the top 100 in the country in steal rate as well.

 

18. Senior Curtis Jerrells, Baylor (19)

Baylor's most talented guard is LaceDarius Dunn, but coach Scott Drew's most effective guard has been Curtis Jerrells. The senior has picked up his game in areas where Baylor most needed it. Jerrells has become a better passer and teammate, increasing his assist rate by six percent from last year.

Jerrells is also contributing directly to the scoring sheet with almost 16 points per game. His field goal percentage is up to 45 percent from last year's 42 percent, and his three-point percentage is up a little as well.

 

19. Sophomore Kalin Lucas, Michigan State (unranked)

One of the Big Ten's most talented sophomores is really starting to come into his own. Spartan point guard Kalin Lucas has been one of the country's purest point guards, as he's passing first and second before looking for his own shot. Lucas is setting his teammates up almost seven times per game, and he has five games of at least eight assists.

What's been most impressive about Lucas is his ability to be Tom Izzo's floor general without turning the ball over. He turns the ball over on just eight percent of his team's possessions, which ranks near the top of the country for point guards.

 

20. Senior Levance Fields, Pittsburgh (unranked)

It looks like Levance Fields is improving every game from his broken foot that sidelined him for a large chunk of last year and early season practices. All of Fields' shooting percentages are up, as well as his assists per game, while his turnovers are down. The senior guard ranks 27th in the country in assist rate.

With his shooting percentages up, Fields has been incredibly efficient on the offensive end of the floor. His offensive rating of 130 ranks 47th in the country, and his point per shot ratio is a cool 1.42.

Others Considered

Jodie Meeks, Kentucky: Stop turning the ball over and do more than just score.

Marcus Thornton, LSU: Play some real opponents so we can get a real gauge of what you can do.

Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga: Knock down a shot. You may be a point guard, but if you want to play at the next level, you have to be able to shoot a little bit.

E'Twaun Moore, Purdue: Hasn't taken that next step forward yet.

Jrue Holiday, UCLA: Been a good defender, but doesn't have a strong scoring touch yet.

Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Stop being a ball hog and start knocking down those jump shots you love to take.

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