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Ranking the Final Four: Point Guards

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Outlook: As was the case across the country this season, the point guard sport is absolutely loaded in this year’s Final Four. As a matter of fact, there is an argument to be made that the best, and/or most important, player on each roster is the starting point guard.

Ranking the PGs:

1) Kemba Walker, UConn
This isn’t even a question. Kemba hasn’t just been the best point guard in March and arguably the best point guard in the country all season long, there is a large faction of people that matter that believe that the man known as “EZ Pass” has been the best player in the country this season. He’s averaging 26.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg, and 5.3 apg in UConn’s nine tournament games in March, but that only begins to tell you his value to this team. Walker is the Huskies’ leader in every sense of the word, on and off the court. He’s made too many big shots this season to count. He’s nearly impossible to defend one-on-one, but he’s unselfish enough to pass the pass when he has people open. He’s the reason UConn had a chance at making the tournament, forget the Final Four.

2) Shelvin Mack, Butler
I’m giving Mack the nod as the second best point guard in the Final Four. While Matt Howard has been the guy that has hit the game-winners, Mack has been Butler’s rock. He scored 30 in their win over Pitt and added 27, including what amounted to the game winning three pointer, against Florida in the Elite 8. Mack isn’t necessarily Butler’s point guard, per se. With the lineup that the Bulldogs have, he’s probably listed as an off-guard. But he is the guy that makes plays and he is the guy with the ball in his hands in crucial situations. And as an added bonus, he’s the only player on this list that has had success in the Final Four.

3) Brandon Knight, Kentucky
What Knight has provided this Kentucky team cannot be understated. What’s surprising, however, is that Knight actually has been. All the stories written on the Wildcats the past week have been about Josh Harrellson and DeAndre Liggins, about John Calipari’s rivalry with Jim Calhoun, or about the struggles of Terrence Jones. Has anyone made mention of the fact that Knight has hit two game-winners in this tournament in games that he struggled? Or that in the other two games he has scored a combined 52 points? Knight is a playmaker on this team. And he’s their closer down the stretch.

4) Joey Rodriguez, VCU
The fact that Rodriguez is the “worst” point guard in this field should tell you something about the quality of the point guard play in the Final Four. J-Rod (yes, I’m calling him J-Rod) has been terrific in the tournament. He orchestrates the VCU offense, he gets into the paint and finds open shooters, and he’s one of those point guards that never gives up his dribble unless he has too.

Future Pros: Kemba Walker is going to be a lottery pick come June. He’s got pro written all over him. Brandon Knight has a shot at playing his way into the lottery as well, but he doesn’t have quite as much upside as Walker. Joey Rodriguez is not going to be playing in the NBA.

As far as Mack is concerned, his physical tools don’t lend themselves to the next level. He’s not the kind of athlete that they look for at the next level. He also doesn’t have the size of someone like Chauncy Billups. That said, the kid is a terrific basketball player. He’s a clutch shooter and a winner (sorry for the cliche). If he doesn’t make it in the league, I’d bet he’s got a nice professional career overseas waiting for him.

Essential to winning a title?: Umm, yes!

Is it any wonder that in a tournament as unpredictable as this one that all four teams in the Final Four have quality back court play? Or that teams with question marks at the point this season — Arizona, Kansas, Florida — lost in the Elite 8?

Point guards at the leader on the floor. They are an extension of the coach. They are the guys that facilitate the offense and get the ball to the players that need the ball in their hands. Point guard play could very well determine who wins this year’s national title.

Five Things We Learned This Week: Gonzaga’s a talking point, Monk’s a terror, Duke hasn’t changed

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 9: #5 Nigel Williams-Goss of the Gonzaga Bulldogs drives past #10 Brandon Brown and #15 Stefan Jovanovic of the Loyola Marymount Lions, on his way to the basket at Gersten Pavilion on February 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
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1. Gonzaga is going to be the team that we spend the most time arguing about for the next two weeks: That was probably already going to be the case given that the Zags get no credit for their record as a member of the WCC, but losing at home in a game where they led by 16 points is going to throw that argument into overdrive.

Can Gonzaga win a title? Is this a team you can trust in March? Do the Zags deserve a No. 1 seed? Are they nothing but a bunch of frauds?

I tried to warn you that this was coming six weeks ago.

Guess what: it’s here.

2. UCLA beat another elite team with some clutch defending: A little more than two weeks ago, Oregon went into Pauley Pavilion, opened up a 19-point lead and looked like they were ready to cruise to a blowout win over the Bruins, that is until UCLA finally decided to stop defending like a CYO team that just found out their postseason pizza party was canceled.

The same thing happened on Saturday night in Tucson.

Only this time, the Bruins switched to a 3-2 with 15 minutes left in the game, crashed the offensive glass and totally took the air out of the ball and Arizona out of their rhythm. For 25 minutes, the Wildcats got whatever they wanted offensively against UCLA. For the final 15 minutes, they looked like they had never practiced zone offense.

The concern with the Bruins is always going to be how well they defend. As good as they are offensively, they have to be able to get some stops if they’re going to be the elite teams across the country. They’ve down that the last two times they’ve faced an elite team in conference play and now own wins at Kentucky and at Arizona, and, if it wasn’t for Dillon Brooks hitting a buzzer-beating three, they’d have a win at Oregon, too.

The Bruins have their flaws, but man, this team still looks pretty dangerous.

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3. Is North Carolina the best team in the country?: That’s the argument that I made when the Tar Heels picked off Louisville at home on Wednesday. Where is their weakness? Is it Joel Berry II’s consistency? Because that’s less of a concern with Justin Jackson playing the way that he has been playing.

Is it their health? Theo Pinson and Isaiah Hicks have battled injuries this year and the Tar Heels need both of them on the floor because it’s unclear just how good they actually are defensively. Hicks is also always in foul trouble, which is never a good thing in a single-elimination tournament, and neither is a team that doesn’t have a multitude of great shooters.

But when compared to the rest of the elites in college hoops, those question marks seem relatively minor. Kentucky is too often a one-man team. Gonzaga’s guards might not be good enough. Duke and Kansas have no inside depth. Louisville’s scorers can’t score. Arizona doesn’t have a point guard. Oregon has had some issues with consistency. UCLA doesn’t defend.

We can play this game with everyone.

The issues that are brought up with the Tar Heels, however, just seem relatively minor in comparison.

4. Malik Monk is the scariest player in college basketball: It’s not like this is breaking news or anything. Monk has been lighting up defenses all season long. He’s been single-handedly winning games for Kentucky since the start of the season. He had 47 points in the win over North Carolina. He had 31 points in the second half and overtime to help the Wildcats avoid an upset loss to Georgia. He had 33 points against Ole Miss.

This is just kind of what he does.

But Saturday’s performance felt different because before Monk went for 30 second half points to help lead the De’Aaron Fox-less Wildcats to a win over No. 13 Florida, a win that gives them the inside track to an SEC regular season title, he played one of the worst halves of his career. He was 1-for-5 from the floor with three points, five turnovers and two fouls. That came after he had just 11 points in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win at Missouri.

Monk turned it on like that in a game where Florida, a top five defensive team in the country, spent 20 minutes executing the “Stop Malik Monk” game-plan to perfection.

You don’t want to see a guy that can do that on your side of the bracket.

LEXINGTON, KY - FEBRUARY 14: Malik Monk #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball against the Tennessee Volunteers at Rupp Arena on February 14, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Malik Monk (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. Duke is exactly who they were a week ago: I’m done trying to tell people what to think of Duke. You all made up your minds weeks or months ago. If you’re like me, you see a roster that includes Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen and you pick them to win most of the games they play in. But if you look at their lack of interior defense, their depth issues, the injuries that won’t go away and the point guard question marks and worry about a team like that making a run, you’re certainly not wrong.

Duke is beatable.

We saw that this week, when they fell on a banked-in, buzzer-beating 23-footer at Syracuse and lost by five at Miami.

What I will tell you, however, is that if you let those two losses change the way you felt about Duke prior to Wednesday’s tip, you’re being silly.

Winning on the road in the ACC is hard. There’s a reason there are people talking about the conference as maybe the best ever. There’s a reason that only one team in the league has less than five league losses with two games left in the regular season. These are two road games to likely tournament teams decided by a total of eight points.

Losses like that are the kind of thing that happen in college basketball.

Team of the Week: Miami Hurricanes

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 20: Bruce Brown #11 of the Miami Hurricanes shoots the ball over Devon Hall #0 of the Virginia Cavaliers during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 20, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)
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Believe it or not, Miami actually entered this week without having an NCAA tournament bid locked up.

They had just two wins over tournament-caliber teams on the season and four loseable games left on their schedule.

Well, things change fast in college basketball, and now we’re looking at a situation where the Hurricanes might be able to climb their way up as high as a No. 5 seed. It started with an overtime win at No. 18 Virginia, where the Hurricanes matched Virginia stop-for-stop in a 54-48 overtime win. (You didn’t misread that score.)

They followed that up by picking off No. 10 Duke at home as Bruce Brown played like the best freshman in the ACC and the Hurricanes once again looked like one of the nation’s best defensive teams, holding the Blue Devils to 50 points and Jayson Tatum and Luke Kennard to a-combined 10-for-36 shooting.

The Hurricanes may now find themselves ranked in the top 25 this week.

Not bad for a team that was still in doubt of being in the tournament at this time last week.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Butler: The Bulldogs just keep winning. For a team that has already amassed wins over the likes of Villanova at home and Arizona on a neutral floor, this was probably their best week of the season. Not only did they hand Villanova’s player their first-ever loss at The Pavilion, but they also picked off Xavier in Cincinnati.
  • UCLA: The Bruins made a statement on Saturday night, as they went into Tucson and beat Arizona, making a run in the second half that was built around their defense and ability to crash the glass. UCLA now has the best pair of road wins — they won at Kentucky as well — of any team in the country.
  • Providence: The Friars have just about played their way into the NCAA tournament, assuming they don’t find a way to lose to St. John’s or DePaul in the last week of the regular season. They picked off Creighton and Marquette this week after beating Xavier and Butler last week.
  • UNC: The Tar Heels clinched at least a share of their eighth regular season title in the last 13 years this week when they beat Louisville and won at Pitt. The Tar Heels also staked their claim to being the best team in college basketball.
  • Iowa State: The Cyclones have turned things around since they slotted Solomon Young in the post in their starting lineup. They’ve won five straight games, and this week alone they won at Texas Tech and picked off Baylor at home.

Player of the Week: J.J. Frazier, Georgia

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21:  J.J. Frazier #30 of the Georgia Bulldogs drives toward the basket as Yuta Watanabe #12 of the George Washington Colonials defends during the CBE Hall of Fame Classic game at the Sprint Center on November 21, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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J.J. Frazier deserves more credit and more attention than he has gotten this season, and there’s no better time to give it to him than this week.

In two games — two wins that keep Georgia’s minuscule hopes of getting an at-large bid alive — Frazier averaged 28.5 points and 4.5 assists, leading the Bulldogs to wins at Alabama and over LSU at home despite the fact that they are playing without Yante Maten, who sprained his knee in last Saturday’s game against Kentucky.

Frazier, by the way, had 36 points in that game against the Wildcats.

All told, he’s gone for at least 28 points in four of his last five games and has spent the better part of February as arguably the best guard in the SEC. Yes, that includes Malik Monk.

The unfortunate part of this is that the J.J. Frazier takeover happened too late. The Bulldogs are likely going to end up on the wrong side of the bubble because they have six losses in league play by six points or less or in overtime. They lost at Florida in OT. They lost at Kentucky in OT. They lost to Kentucky at home by five. They lost to South Carolina twice by a combined eight points. They lost at Texas A&M because the clock stopped running on the final possession, meaning that they didn’t get their final shot off in time despite the fact that there were 5.6 seconds listed on the clock when the shot was taken.

It’s been brutal.

The least we can do is give the kid his shine.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Adebayo is starting to play his best basketball of the season. It started with a 22-point, 15-rebound performance in a win at Missouri on That was followed up by the 18 points and 15 boards he put on Florida, damn-near finishing with a first half double-double that kept Florida from being able to open a lead Kentucky couldn’t bounce-back from.
  • Eric Mika and Elijah Bryant, BYU: The best performance from a Cougar that we saw this week was the 29 points and 11 boards that Mika had when BYU won at No. 1 Gonzaga and ended their undefeated season. But Bryant, who had 14 points in that win, also went for 39 points during the week as BYU beat Portland.
  • Justin Jackson, UNC: Jackson seems to have taken control of the race for ACC Player of the Year thanks for the 21 points he scored in UNC’s emphatic win over Louisville on Wednesday. He followed that up with 23 points in a win at Pitt.
  • Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris had 23 points and six assists in an overtime win at Texas Tech on Monday night, following that up with 17 points and seven assists as the Cyclones picked off No. 9 Baylor in Hilton Coliseum on Saturday. They’ve now won five straight games.
  • Bruce Brown, Miami: The Hurricanes scored 109 total points in wins at Virginia  (in overtime!) and over Duke at home this week, and Brown had 39 of them, scoring a team-high 14 points against the Wahoos before popping off for 25 against the Blue Devils.

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Kansas, North Carolina vault past Gonzaga, Villanova

AUSTIN, TX - FEBRUARY 25: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives around Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns at the Frank Erwin Center on February 25, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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With Gonzaga taking their first loss of the season on Saturday night, it’s time for a reshuffle at the top of the top 25 standings.

We went with Kansas in the top spot, although I’m not sure if they’re actually the best team in the country.

I think North Carolina may be more complete, and while the Jayhawks have some serious front court depth concerns, if you were to give me the choice of a top seven vs. top seven, I would probably pick Kansas.

Anyway, here is the rest of this week’s top 25:

1. Kansas (26-3, Last Week: No. 3)
2. North Carolina (25-5, 6)
3. Gonzaga (29-1, 1)
4. Villanova (27-3, 2)
5. Oregon (26-4, 5)
6. UCLA (26-3, 8)
7. Louisville (23-6, 4)
8. Arizona (26-4, 7)
9. Kentucky (24-5, 11)
10. West Virginia (23-6, 10)
11. Baylor (23-6, 9)
12. Butler (23-6, 24)
13. Duke (22-7, 12)
14. Florida (23-6, 14)
15. SMU (25-4, 17)
16. Purdue (23-6, 13)
17. Notre Dame (22-7, 18)
18. Saint Mary’s (26-3, 19)
19. Florida State (23-6, 20)
20. Iowa State (19-9, 21)
21. Cincinnati (25-4, 16)
22. Wisconsin (22-7, 15)
23. Wichita State (27-4, 25)
24. Oklahoma State (20-9, UR)
25. Miami (20-9, UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 22 Virginia, No. 23 Northwester
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Miami

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