2013-14 Season Preview: Top 20 Lead Guards

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Basketball has five positions, but the way that the sport has grown, particularly at the collegiate level, has produced hybrid players, unusual roster makeups and far too many teams with players that don’t fit into a typical positional category. Few teams actually field a traditional starting five, which is why CBT decided to make our positional rankings reflect that.

We will be ranking:

Lead guards are the term we will use to define a team’s primary ball-handler. Different systems require different qualities from their lead guards, with some needing the floor general to be a primary scoring option while other systems prefer a player who will primarily play the role of distributor. This list will include “true” point guards, combo-guards, shoot-first point guards and everything in-between, so long as it is the player that gets his team into an offensive set.

Here is our top 20:

1. Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State): Smart surprised more than a few people with his decision to return to Stillwater for his sophomore campaign, and he’s a big reason why the Cowboys are expected to contend in the Big 12. Smart averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game as a freshman, and he should be even better as a sophomore.

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2. Jahii Carson (Arizona State): The electric Carson was a huge reason why the Sun Devils were able to entertain thoughts of an NCAA tournament bid for much of the 2012-13 season. After averaging 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game as a freshman, it’ll be interesting to see what Carson can do for an encore as he looks to lead Arizona State to its first NCAA appearance since 2009.

3. Aaron Craft (Ohio State): Craft’s been praised for his defensive prowess throughout his time in Columbus, and the departure of Deshaun Thomas could mean more points from the senior. As a junior Craft, whose three-pointer pushed the Buckeyes past Iowa State in the Round of 32, posted averages of 10.0 points, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

4. Shabazz Napier (UConn): Napier was asked to lead the way for a program ineligible for postseason play last season and he certainly didn’t disappoint, posting averages of 17.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. Now back in the postseason mix, the senior should receive even more national attention.

5. Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado): The 6-foot-6 Dinwiddie may be the best on-ball defender in America, and offensively he’s developed into one of the tougher match-ups at the position as well. Dinwiddie averaged 15.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game as a sophomore.

6. Andrew Harrison (Kentucky): Kentucky fans expect things to be far different this season, with Andrew Harrison being one of the many reasons why. Andrew, teaming up with twin brother Aaron, averaged 15.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists as a senior in high school and is one of the nation’s best newcomers.

7. Quinn Cook (Duke): With the senior trio of Curry, Kelly and Plumlee gone the Oak Hill Academy product will be one of the leaders for the Blue Devils. Cook took a major step forward as a sophomore, averaging 11.7 points and 5.3 assists per game and ranking second in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio.

8. Semaj Christon (Xavier): Christon was phenomenal in his first year with the Musketeers, posting averages of 15.2 points and 4.6 assists. As he becomes a better shooter and cuts down his turnovers, he’ll only get better. I know Doug McDermott is in the Big East now, but don’t be surprised to see Christon in contention for Big East Player of the Year is Xavier has a big season.

9. Michael Dixon Jr. (Memphis): Dixon didn’t play at all last season after being dismissed from the Missouri program. But his arrival at Memphis is expected to pay dividends for Josh Pastner’s Tigers, as Dixon was Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year in 2012 (13.5 ppg, 3.3 apg).

10. Kendall Williams (New Mexico): The reigning Mountain West Player of the Year will once again lead the way for the defending Mountain West champs. Williams, who scored 46 points in a win at Colorado State last season, averaged 13.3 points and 4.9 assists per game in 2012-13 and his assist-to-turnover ratio ranked third in the Mountain West.

source:
Chaz Williams (AP photo)

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • 11. Chaz Williams (UMass): Williams nearly made the decision to go pro during the summer after averaging 15.5 points and 7.3 assists, and his return to Amherst makes the Minutemen a player in the Atlantic 10 race.
  • 12. Justin Cobbs (California): With Allen Crabbe off to the professional ranks, Cobbs will get a chance to show the country how good he really is.
  • 13. Deonte Burton (Nevada): The Wolf Pack won’t get much attention in the Mountain West race this season, but Burton certainly is worth watching. He averaged 16.3 points as a junior.
  • 14. Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga): Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris overshadowed Pangos last season, but don’t forget about just how good he was as a freshman.
  • 15. Jerian Grant (Notre Dame): Grant is the best guard in one of the best perimeter attacks in the country. Eric Atkins, his back court mate, could very easily be listed here as well.
  • 16. Trever Releford (Alabama): Releford’s role as a point guard will only increase this season with Alabama losing guys like Trevor Lacey and Devonta Pollard.
  • 17. Joe Jackson (Memphis): Jackson was Conference USA Player of the Year, the best player on a team that won more than 30 games and posted huge numbers — 13.6 points, 4.8 assists, 51.9% FG and 44.7% 3PT.
  • 18. Chris Jones (Louisville): Just how good will Jones end up being remains to be seen, but he has plenty of hype as the JuCo transfer tries to replace Peyton Siva.
  • 19. Elfrid Payton (Louisiana-Lafayette): Payton’s numbers in the Sun Belt last season — 15.9 points, 5.6 boards, 5.5 assists, 2.4 steals — were legitimized when he made the U19 USA team.
  • 20. Olivier Hanlan (Boston College): Hanlan is one of the most underrated players in the country. He averaged 15.4 points as a freshman for one of the ACC’s sleeper teams.

Texas Tech forward Zach Smith returns to school after withdrawing from NBA Draft

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Texas Tech forward Zach Smith will return for his senior season, the school confirmed on Monday.

The 6-foot-8 forward is one of the most intriguing athletes in college basketball as he’s been a double-figure scorer for the Red Raiders the past two seasons. As a junior, Smith put up 12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game as he shot 50 percent from the field.

Three-point shooting was something that Smith improved dramatically last season as he increased it to 39 percent in a small sample size. If Smith can continue to show that he’s a perimeter shooting threat then he could be an ideal three-and-d candidate at the pro level.

By returning to Texas Tech, Smith gives head coach Chris Beard a potential all-league candidate who should be counted on to be a double-double threat next season.

 

Missouri lands five-star forward Jontay Porter

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Missouri has another member of the Porter family in the fold as forward Jontay Porter officially committed to the Tigers on Monday night.

Following in the footsteps of older brother Michael Porter Jr., and father Michael Porter Sr., Jontay is currently a member of the Class of 2018 who is rumored to be reclassifying to the Class of 2017.

A 6-foot-10 forward who was recently elevated to five-star status on Rivals.com, Porter is having a monster spring in the Nike EYBL with MoKan Elite. Porter has been one of the best players in the league, as he’s putting up 18.1 points and 12.7 rebounds per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

If Jontay is able to join Missouri next season then he gives the Tigers another intriguing piece to play alongside his brother Michael, who is good enough to be a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Although Jontay isn’t the go-to player that his brother is, he could be a very effective SEC role player early in his career, as his ability to rebound and stretch the floor makes him an extremely intriguing piece on the floor.

Kevin Stallings is a tone-deaf clown

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Pitt guard Cameron Johnson is the most coveted transfer in college basketball this offseason.

The 6-foot-8 Johnson is coming off of a strong campaign with the Panthers in which he put up 11.9 points per game while shooting 42 percent from three-point range.

Not only is Johnson a proven double-figure scorer in a league like the ACC, but he’s eligible to play right away thanks to his graduation from Pitt. Johnson graduating from school in three years and missing one season due to injury also makes him the rare graduate transfer who has two seasons of eligibility remaining. So, not only can Johnson come in and make an immediate impact, but he’s also able to stay for another year after.

This sort of thing almost never happens, let alone with a 6-foot-8 shooter that could sway the national title race.

It’s why blueblood programs like Kentucky and UCLA are in hot pursuit of Johnson. It’s why another ACC school, reigning national champion North Carolina, is also intrigued by Johnson being on the market.

Except Johnson won’t be allowed to attend North Carolina, or any other school in the ACC, without first sitting out a season and losing one season of eligibility. At least that’s how things currently stand thanks to Pitt’s power over Johnson — despite Johnson graduating from the school and having no more formal educational ties to the school.

Here’s what Pitt said on the matter in a release to the News-Observer.

“Cameron Johnson and his father were informed of our policy as well as the appeals process when they elected to seek to transfer. They went through our transfer appeals process and were granted permission to contact ACC schools; however, the committee upheld the policy to limit immediate eligibility within the conference.

If Cameron were to transfer within the ACC, he would be eligible to receive financial aid immediately but would have to sit out a year of competition due to standard NCAA transfer regulations. Throughout this process, we have remained consistent to our department policy and we will continue to do so.”

Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings had a peculiar interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that was published about two weeks ago. During the interview, of which the full transcript was made public, Stallings went in-depth about Johnson’s transfer and the current state of college basketball. Stallings also made remarks about how the media holds programs accountable for trying to bully certain players.

Here’s a small sample of what Stallings had to say.

“But the unexpected departures are the things that are becoming more common than uncommon in college basketball. You have guys constantly trying to transfer up. You have guys going pro that have never played a minute of college basketball after they’ve sat out a year at a school. You have guys asking out of their letters of intent with frequency. We’re dealing in a landscape in college basketball right now that is as probably as difficult and peculiar as it’s ever been. It used to be if a kid signed his letter of intent and he wanted out of it, you had to play a year of junior-college ball to get out of it.

“The media didn’t basically force institutions to let people break a binding agreement. It’s kind of interesting now the media tries to put so much pressure on programs, whether it be athletic directors or coaches, saying ‘Well, the coaches can move.’ Well, hey, guess what? I’ve got a great big buyout in my deal that prevents me from moving. I’ve got something in my contract saying I can’t go to another league school. It’s not as easy for coaches to go. That’s everyone’s rationale — ‘Well, the coaches can leave.’ We’re dealing in an environment right now that is as fluid as it’s ever been. It’s just where we’re at in the whole thing with the unexpected departures.”

Stallings makes some sound points–particularly about coaches having buyouts and the general perception of coaching changes in basketball.

But Kevin Stallings mostly sounds like a tone-deaf clown here.

Nobody is going to feel sorry for a millionaire coach who willingly makes the decision to change jobs.

Nobody.

Especially if that same millionaire is comparing a choice to change jobs to the transfer decisions of unpaid student-athletes. It’s even more laughable now that Stallings is holding power over an unpaid student-athlete from going to play at another school because of purely basketball reasons.

Pitt and Stallings need to do the right thing and release Johnson to play at any school right away because Johnson has already done everything he needs to do to appease the program.

Things changed dramatically for Johnson during his three years at Pitt. He became one of the ACC’s better players and earned his degree. Johnson held up his end of the bargain when he signed his Letter of Intent.  Now Johnson just wants the chance improve his basketball future by playing with one of the nation’s elite programs.

Stallings can blame the current state of college basketball, the media, or whoever he wants for Johnson’s transfer from Pitt.

But Stallings also has to realize that he’s going to be the one who looks stupid if he continues to leave these restrictions in place for Johnson. Stallings already has a history of this sort of thing when he placed transfer restrictions on former player Sheldon Jeter. If Stallings continues to uphold transfer restrictions on Johnson, then he’s going to gain a permanent reputation in recruiting during a time when players continue to gain more freedom over their basketball futures.

If Johnson does happen to go to an ACC school like North Carolina, it’s not as if Pitt has any sort of competitive roster that is going to be fighting the Tar Heels for league supremacy during the next two seasons.

Stallings and Pitt need to just bite the bullet, let Johnson have his freedom, and hope it doesn’t come back to hurt them for one or two seasons in ACC play.

It surely beats the alternative of being labeled a head coach who limits player freedom after six players left Pitt during a single offseason. That type of burn lasts a lot longer than two years.

Presbyterian hires Wofford assistant Dustin Kerns as new head coach

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Presbyterian finally has its new head coach as the program is set to hire Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kerns, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Kerns has been an assistant at Wofford for the past seven years during his second stint with the program. Also spending six seasons as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, the Tennessee native is getting his first shot at running his own program.

Finishing last in the Big South last season at 5-25 and 1-17 in conference play, Presbyterian is trying to rebuild after head coach Gregg Nibert resigned in April. Nibert was the head coach of the Blue Hens for 28 seasons, so Kerns is going to be a completely fresh start for the program.

Tennessee lands impact graduate transfer James Daniel

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Tennessee and head coach Rick Barnes earned a commitment from one of the top graduate transfers on the market on Monday when Howard guard James Daniel pledged to the Volunteers.

The 6-foot-0 Daniel was the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game his junior season in 2015-16. Daniel played in only two games last season as a left ankle injury caused him to have surgery.

With nearly 2,000 career points to his name, Daniel gives Tennessee an additional perimeter scorer who should come in and make an immediate impact right away. While Howard has low shooting percentages and a high usage rate during his time at Howard, it’ll be interesting to see how the year off and more talented teammates will alter his game.

If Howard can be a more efficient scorer in his final season, then he has a chance to be one of the better players for the Volunteers this season.