Road to The Final Four at Ford Field: Top Guards In The Nation

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IOctober 21, 2008

They are a team's floor general, it's sharp shooter or pure scorer. Guards come big like UAB's 6'5'' Robert Vaden or come small like South Carolina's 5'9'' Devan Downey. It's the size of the player's skills that matters the most and the following players are giants in game of college basketball

1. Junior Stephen Curry, 6'2'', Davidson College, Type of guard (ToG): Pure Scorer

If college basketball fans voted for their favorite college basketball player, Stephen Curry would probably run away with the vote. The best pure scorer in the entire country plays for the Cinderella everyone loves to root for. Curry toyed with opponents in the NCAA Tournament to a tune of 31 points per game in five career tournament games.

It seems like it doesn't matter what opponents do defensively because Curry eventually finds a way to get the ball in the basket. Without stud point guard Jason Richards, Curry will be relied on to distribute the ball as well. If Curry can improve on his 25.9 ppg scoring average, he'll be a contender to be the nation's leading scorer.

2. Senior Darren Collison, 6'0'', UCLA, ToG: Floor General and Sharpshooter 

There aren't too many players that can hit a three as well as Darren Collison. The senior drilled almost 54 percent of his long bombs in 2008. Collison didn't frequent the three-point stripe much, launching just 52 three-points last season, but when he does, he brings UCLA right back into games.

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Collison will also be asked to lead an impressive group of freshmen who will be asked to replace departed stars Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Russell Westbrook. Collison will be the glue that keeps a group of experienced upperclassmen and dynamic newcomers together. The only other guard that will have that kind of pressure is Stephen Curry, and he isn't playing at UCLA.

3. Junior Ty Lawson, 5'11'', UNC, ToG: Floor General

The Tar Heel point guard flirted with the NBA, but Ty Lawson is back and ready to lead UNC to a national title after a disappointing end to 2008. Lawson won't be asked to be a big time scorer, but can put the ball in the basket at an efficient rate. He's a tremendous shooter all over the court. He hits his free throws and can knock down a three, but he also gets to the basket and scores inside the arc.

Lawson's agility and speed are what fuels the up-tempo Tar Heel attack that finished near the top of the country in scoring. He's averaged at least five assists per game during his first two years in Chapel Hill and has a tremendous assist to turnover rate of almost 2.5.

4. Senior Tyrese Rice, 6'1'', Boston College, ToG: Pure Scorer

Few players do more in general for their team than Boston College's Tyrese Rice. The senior never hit double digits in assists, yet still returns as the ACC's third leading passer at 5.0 apg. Despite the fact that Rice is the Eagle's point guard, he's one of the best pure scorers in the conference.

Rice is the master of creating his own shot which allows him to average 21 ppg and dish out five assists without a lot of surrounding help. Rice has had some explosive performances to put himself on the map including a 46 point masterpiece in a loss to UNC.

5. Senior Robert Vaden, 6'5'', UAB, ToG: Pure Scorer

There are doubts on whether Robert Vaden will step onto the court after a recent arrest in Bloomington, but if the Blazer finds his way into a gym this season, he can single handily dethrone Memphis as the king of Conference USA.

Ask Kentucky about Exhibit A of what Vaden can do as a scorer. The guard torched the Wildcats with basket after basket from anywhere and everywhere on the court en route to 33 points and a win.

Vaden doesn't do much but score, but he does that incredibly well at 21 ppg and nails 40 percent of his three point attempts.

6. Junior Wayne Ellington, 6'4'', UNC, ToG: Sharpshooter

If North Carolina is going to win a national title, Wayne Ellington is going to need to step up and hit the outside shot. In UNC's three losses, Ellington shot an abysmal 3-22 from three including 1-9 in the National Semifinal game against Kansas.

Ellington provides the range the Tar Heels generally lack, hitting 40 percent of his attempts from long range. The junior drilled 78 treys last year en route to averaging almost 17 points per game.

7. Sophomore Jonny Flynn, 5'11'', Syracuse, ToG: Floor General

One college player reportedly outperformed every amateur player and even many pros at LeBron James' Camp over the summer and that player was Jonny Flynn. The Big East Co-Rookie of the Year not only put points on the board last season (15 ppg), but also dished out his fair share of assists (5.3 apg).

With several scorers back from injury, Flynn will be able to return to his more natural role of floor general. Flynn told Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News that the 'Cuse guards' goal for the upcoming season was to average at least 8.0 assists per game. It's a lofty goal, but when you're as talented as Flynn and have the type of scorers he has around him, it's definitely a realistic goal.

8. Senior A.J. Price, 6'2'', UConn, ToG: Floor General

An ACL injury is the only thing keeping A.J. Price from ranking above Flynn as the top point guard in the Big East. There's a lot of uncertainly about injuries as serious as Price's, but if he can return to his 2008 form, he'll be in the running for Big East Player of the Year honors.

Price led the Huskies back to the NCAA Tournament after a disastrous 2007 season. The senior provides a nice scoring touch (14.5 ppg), but distributes the ball even better (5.8 apg).

9. Senior Jerel McNeal, 6'3'', Marquette, ToG: Slasher and Lockdown Defender

The first true slasher to make the list of top guards in the country is Marquette's Jerel McNeal. After testing the waters of the NBA, one of the nation's premier defenders is back to shutdown opposing guards. McNeal picked up over two assists per game and enters his senior season as the school's third all-time leading thief.

The senior is also adept at getting to the basket better than any other guard in the country. His ability to finish greatly improved from his sophomore to junior year and is evident in his increase in shooting percentage (41.7 percent to 45.6 percent). One more step forward and McNeal can become a big time scorer in a loaded Big East.

10. Senior Jeremy Pargo, 6'2'', Gonzaga, ToG: Floor General

The reigning West Coast Conference Player of the Year is back and poised to take the Zags to Final Four for the first time in school history. Pargo has no problem passing the ball, dishing out six helpers a game, but it's his shot that needs some work.

After shooting 38 percent from three-point territory his sophomore year, Pargo regressed significantly, shooting just 26 percent last year. If the senior can figure his shot out, he'll repeat as WCC Player of the Year and will have a shot at being an All-American.

11. Senior Jack McClinton, 6'1'', Miami, ToG: Sharpshooter

There's one player in the ACC that will be on a team good enough to make him a serious challenger to Tyler Hansbrough as ACC Player of the Year and that's Jack McClinton. The former Siena Saint has turned into one of the most dangerous shooters in the country.

He's shot over 42 percent the last two years from three and has buried over 180 three-points the past two seasons combined. McClinton will make the Hurricanes contenders to finish second behind UNC in the conference.

12. Senior Marcus Thornton, 6'4'', LSU, ToG: Pure Scorer

There's probably only one superstar guard in the country that is as unknown as LSU's Marcus Thornton and that's the player listed next. Thornton returns to Baton Rouge as a guard who can and will score from anywhere. There's no shot Thornton won't take.

He may be a fearless shooter, but his shot selection is still his biggest knack. If he can improve his 43.6 percent shooting percentage, Thornton will be an All-SEC performer and even a third or fourth team All-American.

13. Junior Devan Downey, 5'9'', South Carolina, ToG: Floor General

There's no guard in this country that has gotten as little exposure as the Gamecocks' Devan Downey. The former Cincinnati Bearcat left the Queen City for Columbia, but hasn't found success in terms of wins and losses.

Downey has elevated his game to be one of the best in the SEC. The Gamecock should single handily win new coach Darrin Horn several key games all by himself. Downey returns as the conference's second leading scorer at over 18 ppg, but also shells out five dimes.

14. Sophomore Nick Calathes, 6'6'', Florida, ToG: Floor General and Pure Scorer

Not too often is your starting point guard 6'6''. Gator Coach Billy Donovan has a tremendous young talent in Nick Calathes who will take Florida back to the NCAA Tournament.

The SEC Co-Freshman of the Year is a triple-double waiting to happen after averaging 15 ppg, 6 apg, and 5 rbg. Calathes can also bury the three and is genuinely a jack-of-all-trades.

15. Sophomore Patty Mills, 6'0'', St. Mary's College, ToG: Pure Scorer

Perhaps the best player to come out of Australia since Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills is an incredible talent and force to be reckon with in the WCC. Mills will challenge fellow guard Jeremy Pargo for player of the year honors.

The sophomore struggled at times in the conference schedule, but made a name for himself during the non-conference slate. Mills dropped 37 points against Oregon in an upset of the Ducks.

16. Senior Eric Maynor, 6'2'', VCU, ToG: Pure Scorer and Floor General

Two years ago, one guard from a little school in Richmond took down almighty Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Then a sophomore, Eric Maynor scored 22 points against the Blue Devils in the upset. Last season, Maynor's Rams dropped a disappointing conference tournament game against William & Mary, leaving VCU sitting at home during the NCAA Tournament.

2009 represents Maynor's last chance to star on the big stage once again as his Rams are the favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Association title.

17. Sophomore E'Twaun Moore, 6'3'', Purdue, ToG: Sharpshooter

Purdue has renewed optimism because the Boilermakers return one of the best sophomore tandems in country. The smaller half of that tandem is guard E'Twaun Moore.

The sophomore knocked down 43 percent of his threes and hit 66 total as a freshman. A year older and a year of Big 10 basketball under his belt, Moore should turn into an all-conference guard while leading Purdue to a conference title.

18. Junior Greivis Vasquez, 6'6'', Maryland, ToG: Floor General

Venezuela typically produces star baseball players, but one man has the left the country an NBA prospect. Like Nick Calathes, Greivis Vasquez is a triple-double waiting to happen. Vasquez did it all for the Terps during his sophomore season, scoring 17 points, dishing out almost seven assists, and grabbing six boards per game.

One of the most improved players in the conference last year, Vasquez increased his scoring average by over seven points per game.

19. Senior Curtis Jerrells, 6'1'', Baylor, ToG: Slasher

The Baylor basketball program has quickly been rising from the depths of tragedy and it's rise through the ranks started with guard Curtis Jerrells. The senior has averaged double-digits in points during each of his three seasons in Waco.

Jerrells is the best player in one of the best all-around backcourts in college basketball. Jerrells will lead fellow stud guards Tweety Carter, Henry Dugat, and super sophomore LaceDarius Dunn into the NCAA Tournament.

20. Freshman Jrue Holiday, 6'3'', UCLA, ToG: Lockdown Defender

The best freshman guard in the country will team up with the best senior point guard in the land to make one of the best starting backcourts in the country. Jrue Holliday can be a big time scorer and may be called upon to do so if needed.

Where Holliday will immediately make an impact is as a defender. The freshman is going to help UCLA create a strong transition game and be the reason UCLA will have a strong chance to return to the Final Four.

Others Considered (in no particular order)

Pitt senior Levance Fields, Marquette senior Dominic James, Kansas junior Sherron Collins, Alabama senior Ronald Steele, UT-Martin senior Lester Hudson, Drake junior Josh Young, Texas senior A.J. Abrams, Notre Dame senior Kyle McAlarney, Cal-State Fullterton senior Josh Akognon, and Villanova junior Scottie Reynolds.

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