Ranking the Best 'Pass-First' Point Guards in College Basketball in 2014-15
With pressure increasing to become super-scorers like Chris Paul or Derrick Rose, college basketball point guards can too easily get overlooked if they don’t put tons of points on the board. The best floor generals, though, can control the game even if their own shots aren’t falling, and there’s an impressive supply of high-level distributors in this season’s college ranks.
One of the best, for at least one more year, will be Wichita State stalwart Fred VanVleet. The stars of the Shockers offense keep changing, but the cerebral VanVleet is the constant that keeps his team playing at a top-25 level on both ends of the floor.
Read on for more on WSU's junior standout and the rest of the top playmakers to watch next season. The rankings are based primarily on passing productivity, efficiency and leadership of a winning team, but other factors do play a role.
Note that if a returning player finished second or better on his team in scoring, he was automatically excluded from consideration here.
Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan
Why He’s Here: He had a rough freshman year, but Derrick Walton Jr. has the experience and (more importantly) the wealth of shooters around him to shine as a sophomore.
Key Stats: 2.9 assists per game, 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio, .410 three-point shooting
X-Factor: Although Caris LeVert is the better driver, Walton’s superior passing touch will make a difference in feeding snipers such as Zak Irvin and Kameron Chatman.
Troy Caupain, Cincinnati
Why He’s Here: Even as a reserve on a weak offensive team, then-freshman Troy Caupain showed his potential to create baskets off the dribble.
Key Stats: 2.2 assists in 19.1 minutes per game, 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: At 6’3” and 200 pounds, he brings a physicality that very few AAC guards can handle.
Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
Why He’s Here: His tendency to fling up ill-advised three-pointers has been dialed back, and Ryan Arcidiacono is now a (gasp) reliable presence at the helm for the prohibitive Big East favorites.
Key Stats: 3.5 assists per game, 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: A late-game specialist as a freshman, Arcidiacono didn't lose his touch, helping last year’s Wildcats finish a stellar 4-0 in overtime contests.
Shannon Scott, Ohio State
Why He’s Here: Shannon Scott, Aaron Craft’s longtime understudy, has learned that it’s possible to be too unselfish (as his mentor often was). That's a lesson that will help next year’s Buckeyes.
Key Stats: 3.4 assists and 2.0 steals per game, 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: More offensive-minded than Craft, Scott should help Ohio State get a few more fast-break points (and a few more highlight-reel dunks from the likes of Sam Thompson).
L.J. Rose, Houston
Why He’s Here: Once the future of Baylor’s backcourt, L.J. Rose has reinvented himself as a pure distributor for high-scoring Houston.
Key Stats: 5.5 assists per game, 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, .413 three-point shooting
X-Factor: Like many of the lower-ranked guards on this list, he’s likely to be forced into putting up more shots than he’d like, in this case because most of Houston’s scorers transferred out when head coach James Dickey left.
Anthony Barber, North Carolina State
Why He’s Here: Any point guard looks like a pass-first type when he’s feeding T.J. Warren, so 2014-15 is the year we really find out how defensive stopper Anthony “Cat” Barber wants to play on offense.
Key Stats: 3.5 assists per game, 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: Freed from battling Tyler Lewis (now at Butler) for minutes, Barber should be able to run the attack with more confidence.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Why He’s Here: Whatever you want to call the position 6’5” Denzel Valentine plays, he’s Michigan State’s best passer and the team’s best hope for a coherent half-court offense in 2014-15.
Key Stats: 3.8 assists per game, 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: If Travis Trice’s three-point shot (.434 last year) stays on track, look for Tom Izzo to flip-flop his backcourt, with the bigger Valentine running the point on offense but guarding opposing shooting guards.
Reece Chamberlain, Belmont
Why He’s Here: Belmont comes from the mold of Cinderella teams that pull March upsets with precision offense—see North Dakota State last season—and senior Reece Chamberlain has this year’s Bruins looking like bracket-busters again.
Key Stats: 5.5 assists per game, 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: Keep an eye on Belmont’s performance in nonconference play, because a strong showing could help Chamberlain and company snag a rare at-large berth for the Ohio Valley (in the event that dangerous Murray State wins the league).
Mike Gesell, Iowa
Why He’s Here: The ultra-deep Iowa Hawkeyes are all about interchangeable parts, but even they don’t have another playmaker to match Mike Gesell’s decision-making prowess.
Key Stats: 3.9 assists per game, 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: Iowa has a chance to improve on last year’s 9-9 conference record even without Roy Devyn Marble, and Gesell’s reputation will get a big boost if the Hawkeyes follow through on that potential.
Kasey Hill, Florida
Why He’s Here: Kasey Hill is more of a scorer than some guards on this list, which is just one reason he’s ideally suited to replacing Scottie Wilbekin in the Gators’ high-speed system.
Key Stats: 3.1 assists in 22 minutes per game, 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: As a sidekick to classmate Chris Walker, Hill’s got a real chance to take Florida to its fifth straight Elite Eight.
Kris Dunn, Providence
Why He’s Here: Healthy again and out of Bryce Cotton’s shadow, Kris Dunn is ready to show why he was such a coveted recruit two seasons ago.
Key Stats: 5.0 assists per game, 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: He’s still a freshman in terms of game experience, as reflected in his elevated turnover numbers.
Dee Davis, Xavier
Why He’s Here: Even NBA-bound Semaj Christon couldn’t take Xavier’s point guard job away from sure-handed Dee Davis.
Key Stats: 4.7 assists per game, 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: One of the country’s niftiest ball-handlers, Davis can get to the paint at will but rarely opts to finish himself.
Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
Why He’s Here: Replacing Sam Grooms in an otherwise experienced Oklahoma Sooners lineup, freshman Jordan Woodard made Oklahoma a top-10 offense in points per game.
Key Stats: 4.6 assists per game, 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: If he can keep the Sooners winning without Cameron Clark, Woodard might start getting some of the credit as a leader that fellow sophomore Isaiah Taylor has been earning for archrival Texas.
James Robinson, Pittsburgh
Why He’s Here: After taking a back seat to Pitt’s veterans (Ashton Gibbs, Lamar Patterson) for two years, James Robinson takes over as the leader of one of the country’s most efficient offenses.
Key Stats: 4.1 assists per game, 4.1 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: The ACC is so strong at the top that even a great year from Robinson might not be enough to put a thin Panthers roster back in the NCAA tournament.
Angel Rodriguez, Miami
Why He’s Here: After two strong seasons at Kansas State, Angel Rodriguez will be one of the most valuable newcomers in the ACC as he looks to salvage Miami’s attack.
Key Stats: 5.2 assists per game, 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: The Hurricanes are all but starting from scratch on offense, with transfer Sheldon McClellan and freshman Ja’Quan Newton expected to be the top scorers, so they’ll really benefit from Rodriguez’s veteran leadership early on.
Kenneth Smith, Louisiana Tech
Why He’s Here: Despite feeding the most anonymous of scorers at Louisiana Tech, Kenneth Smith is the nation’s returning leader in assists.
Key Stats: 7.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game, 3.2 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: One bad game in the conference tourney cost his Bulldogs an NCAA bid last year, and Smith will be under serious pressure to get back to the Big Dance as a senior.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
Why He’s Here: Even while spending most of his freshman year as a reserve, Monte Morris proved he was the best pure point guard on Iowa State’s roster.
Key Stats: 3.7 assists per game, 4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio (a Division I record for a freshman)
X-Factor: Bryce Dejean-Jones will do plenty of ball-handling for the Cyclones, but the error-free Morris will be the primary distributor.
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Why He’s Here: Once a preternaturally calm freshman in the Final Four, Fred VanVleet is now a battle-tested playmaker for the fastest-rising mid-major program in the country.
Key Stats: 5.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game, 4.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, .418 three-point shooting
X-Factor: Although feeding Ron Baker will still be VanVleet’s top priority, he'll need to show off his own three-point touch a bit more often with Cleanthony Early gone.
Tyus Jones, Duke
Why He’s Here: Tyus Jones couldn’t ask for a much better situation for his freshman year, as he lands on a Duke team with Final Four aspirations to showcase his precocious leadership, plus a wealth of scoring options to feed.
Key Stats: n/a (freshman)
X-Factor: He’s a terrific on-ball defender who would be getting more credit on that end of the floor if it weren’t for classmate Justise Winslow, who’s even better.
T.J. McConnell, Arizona
Why He’s Here: The ideal point guard for Arizona’s overloaded frontcourt is T.J. McConnell, who rarely shoots himself but knows how to find enough touches for all the big men.
Key Stats: 5.5 assists and 1.7 steals per game, 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio
X-Factor: With Nick Johnson gone, the Wildcats would love to see McConnell return to the three-point shooting form he flashed at Duquesne (.432 in 2011-12).