Kris Dunn (AP)

Ranking the best lead guards in college basketball

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We kick off our position-by-position rankings with the lead guards.

What is a lead guard, you ask? 

It’s a loose definition, I know, but it’s the guy that we think is going to be the team’s primary ball-handler and/or playmaker. True point guards, combo-guards, shooting guards that operate best with the ball in their hands. They all count.

Definitive, right?

Anyway, here are our rankings.

What did we get wrong?:

[MORE: Top backcourts | Top frontcourts]

1. Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn was an easy pick here just as he was an easy pick for No. 1 in our top 100 players countdown. As a sophomore last season, Dunn averaged 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.7 steals. With LaDontae Henton graduating during the offseason and Ed Cooley’s preference to play uptempo basketball, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those stats on the uptick this year. Dunn does, however, have two major flaws in his game: he turns the ball over too much and he needs to become a more consistent and confident jump-shooter. He’s been putting in the work to improve, but we have to wait and see if it manifests in production on the court.

2. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

We had Paige pegged as the Preseason National Player of the Year last season, and that turned out to be wrong. It wasn’t necessarily because Paige wasn’t good enough. The 6-foot-3 senior spent much of last season battling foot and ankle injuries and was forced into a situation where he had to primarily play as a point guard. Well, Paige is healthy now, and with Joel Berry expected to take over the point guard role for the Tar Heels, Paige should be freed up to be in more of an attacking role.

3. Melo Trimble, Maryland

Trimble’s numbers as a freshman were impressive: 16.2 points, 3.0 assists, 41.2% 3PT, 86.3% FT. As good as those numbers were, perhaps Trimble’s true value came in his late-game demeanor. He was, for lack of a better term, one of the most clutch players in the sport, a major reason that the Terps were able to win so many close games. Losing Dez Wells is going to hurt, but with more talent around him this season, Trimble should be asked to do less offensively as a sophomore. But he’ll still have the ball in his hands late in games, which is why Maryland is a considered a favorite to win the national title.

4. Jamal Murray, Kentucky

At this point, it’s hard to imagine Murray living up to the hype he has entering the season. Anything short of Steph Curry or Jimmer Fredette will almost feel like a disappointment. That’s not to say Murray can’t play. He can. He’s the odds-on favorite to lead Kentucky in scoring and will likely be the primary handler in ball-screen actions. The key for Murray: efficiency and consistency. He has a habit of being a bit of a streaky shooter.

RELATED: Top 100 players | Top off-guards | Top Wings | Top Bigs

5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)
5-foot-11 Demetrius Jackson (AP Photo)

5. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

If this list was my own, and not a collaboration with the rest of the CBT team, Jackson would be higher. I think he’s going to have a huge year, good enough to be a second- or third-team all-american. Mike Brey loves to force-feed his lead guards, putting them in ball-screen after ball-screen and allowing them to carry the load offensively, as a scorer and a creator. Jackson has the talent to follow in those footsteps. He may not be as good as Jerian Grant, but he’s got lottery pick written all over him.

6. Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

Fred Van Vleet is a senior. He reached the Final Four as a freshman, he led Wichita State to a 35-0 record and a No. 1 seed as a sophomore and, as a junior, he helped get the Shockers to the Sweet 16 by beating Kansas in the NCAA tournament. He’s a winner in every sense of the word, and it doesn’t hurt that he averaged 13.6 points and 5.2 assists.

7. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Ferrell is the engine that makes Indiana’s high-octane offense go. As a junior, Yogi’s numbers were quite impressive: 16.9 points, 4.9 assists, 1.9 turnovers and 41.2 percent shooting from three. But the reason that the Hoosiers lost 14 games last season was that they were ranked 214th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. That wasn’t all on Yogi, but he didn’t exactly solve the issue of Indiana’s sieve-like perimeter defense. I will say this: You may not find a more entertaining point guard to watch this season.

8. Monte Morris, Iowa State

Morris is a junior. He’s also the two-time national leader in assist-to-turnover ratio. Starting at the point on a team that has ranked 16th and 17th nationally in pace the last two years, Morris has a grand total of 66 turnovers. For comparison’s sake, Kris Dunn had 138 turnovers last year alone. The biggest question with Morris, like Iowa State as a whole, is how well he will adjust to Steve Prohm’s offense. Worth noting: Prohm turned Isaiah Canaan into an all-american and an early second round pick while helping Cameron Payne develop into a lottery pick.

9. Tyler Ulis, Kentucky

Murray is the guy that is likely going to put up the impressive numbers for Kentucky this season, but don’t let that blind you to just how good Ulis is. He’s everything that a coach looks for in a point guard: he’s a tough defender, he’s a leader, he’s unselfish, he protects the ball, he creates for his teammates, he can shoot it.

10. Malik Newman, Mississippi State

Newman is a tough guy to rank. On the one hand, the kid is one of the more talented scorers in the country, a combo-guard that can get hot and hit threes from deep. He’s a good bet to lead the entire SEC in scoring. But he’s also on a team that isn’t going to have that many other weapons, meaning that there are going to be times where a bad shot from Newman is a good shot for the Bulldogs. In other words, he’ll be a high-usage, high-scoring, low-efficiency player. How much do you value those offensive ratings?

  • 11. Tyrone Wallace, Cal: Wallace is a guy that I think should be getting more attention nationally. His shooting issues are a red flag, but he’s going to be the lead guard for what should be a Pac-12 contender embracing the small-ball revolution.
  • 12. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State: Consistency and efficiency. He went for 30-plus three times last season, but he scored in the single digits eight times, shot 28.1 percent from three and averaged 3.4 turnovers. Hopefully, the influx in talent in Tallahassee means he won’t have to do so much.
  • 13. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: Arguably the most underrated player in the Big East. His decision to return to school instead of declare for the NBA Draft is the reason Georgetown is a Big East contender.
  • 14. Nic Moore, SMU: Moore’s three postseasons at SMU: snubbed as a sophomore, goaltended as a junior and banned as a senior. It’s a shame, because he’s really, really good.
  • 15. Frank Mason, Kansas: Mason turned into the heart and soul of last year’s Kansas team. He’s tough, he sets a tone defensively and he makes some big shots. The most popular man in Lawrence not named Bill Self.
  • 16. Jalen Brunson, Villanova: How good is Brunson? He may end up moving the reigning co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono off the ball this season.
  • 17. Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Taylor never really seemed to get into a rhythm after injuring his wrist last November, but he should be a perfect fit at the point for new head coach Shaka Smart.
  • 18. Cat Barber, N.C. State: The former five-star recruit should finally round into form as a junior. He’s had some big moments helping the Wolfpack reach back-to-back Sweet 16s.
  • 19. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig took over for the injured Traevon Jackson midway through last season, keeping his starting spot even when Jackson returned to health. He’ll have a lot on his plate this year as the Badgers replace five of their top seven from last season.
  • 20. Sterling Gibbs, UConn: Gibbs was impressive last season despite Seton Hall’s late season collapse. He’s a stop-gap for UConn at the lead guard spot as they wait for Jalen Adams to be ready to run the shot.

Others considered: Shaq Harrison (Tulsa) Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova), London Perrantes (Virginia), Maodo Lo (Columbia), Bryce Alford (UCLA), Jalan West (Northwestern State)

Thursday’s Three Things To Know: Drexel’s historic comeback, Arizona survives, Houston doesn’t

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1. DREXEL COMPLETED THE BIGGEST COMEBACK IN DIVISION I HISTORY

Drexel trailed Delaware 53-19 late in the first half on Thursday night.

They won 85-83.

Both of those things are 100 percent true and 100 percent happened.

2. ARIZONA WON WITHOUT ALLONZO TRIER … BARELY

No. 14 Arizona was forced to play without Allonzo Trier on Thursday night at Oregon State after Trier tested positive for a banned substance again. The Wildcats led by 12 points in the first half, but Wayne Tinkle’s club slowly but surely chipped away at the lead. They were ahead with less than a minute left with OSU missed two wide-open threes on the same possession before a pair of Rawle Alkins free throws forced overtime.

Alkins — who finished with 16 points on the night — took over in the extra frame, but if there is anything that we learned in the 45 minutes that Arizona played without Trier available on Thursday, it’s that they are going to struggle to win games if they do not have their second-leading scorer available.

3. TUBBY SMITH FINALLY BEAT A RANKED TEAM

Tubby Smith has been crushed throughout his tenure with Memphis, and deservedly so. The Tigers are not selling tickets and are not competing at a level that is expected of that program in the post-John Calipari era. That said, they aren’t terrible. On Thursday night, Memphis beat No. 23 Houston in FedEd Forum — Smith’s first win over a ranked opponent since he took over the job — to alleviate some of the heat that has been directed his way this season.

Houston, on the other hand, is probably pretty safe when it comes to inclusion into the NCAA tournament at this point, but they sure have had a weird seven days. It started with a win over Cincinnati, then turned into a 21-point win at Temple and concluded with a loss to Memphis. Such is life in the AAC, I guess.

Ford leads No. 22 Saint Mary’s past Pepperdine, 75-61

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MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Jordan Ford had 18 points and a career-high 10 rebounds, and No. 22 Saint Mary’s rolled to a 75-61 victory over Pepperdine on Thursday night.

Calvin Hermanson scored 14 points and Tanner Krebs added 12 for the Gaels (26-4, 15-2 West Coast Conference). Jock Landale scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Ford shot 7 for 11 from the field and 4 for 6 from 3-point range and fell two points short of tying his career scoring high.

Saint Mary’s remained one game behind Gonzaga (26-4, 16-1), a 77-72 winner at San Diego, in the WCC with one regular-season game to play. The Gaels can earn a share of the WCC regular-season title with a victory at home against Santa Clara and a Gonzaga loss at BYU on Saturday.

Saint Mary’s point guard Emmett Naar, who injured his left ankle late in the first half against Portland on Saturday, started and had three points and six assists in 14 minutes, most of those in the first half.

Trae Berhow and Knox Hellums each scored 13 points for Pepperdine (4-25, 1-16).

Ford had 14 points and six rebounds in the first half, when Saint Mary’s built a 46-26 lead.

Pepperdine guard Eric Cooper Jr., who averages 13.2 points, did not make the trip because of a shoulder injury. Udenyi Amadi started in his place.

BIG PICTURE

Pepperdine: The Waves lost their eighth straight game and are locked into sole possession of last place in the WCC. Pepperdine will be the No. 10 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Saint Mary’s: The Gaels won their second straight after losing back-to-back games to Gonzaga on Feb. 10 and San Francisco on Feb. 15. Saint Mary’s had won a school-record 19 straight games before falling to Gonzaga.

UP NEXT

Pepperdine hosts Portland on Saturday in its WCC regular-season finale. The Waves fell 85-76 in overtime at Portland on Feb. 1.

Saint Mary’s hosts Santa Clara on Saturday in its final WCC regular-season game. The Gaels beat the Broncos 81-57 on Jan. 11 at Santa Clara.

Thornton, Rivers lead Memphis past No. 23 Houston

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Jimario Rivers and Raynere Thornton each scored 21 points, helping Memphis beat No. 23 Houston 91-85 on Thursday night.

Rivers also grabbed nine rebounds and Thornton made four 3-pointers as Memphis (17-11, 8-7 American Athletic Conference) earned its third straight victory.

Rob Gray had 30 points and seven assists for Houston (21-6, 11-4), which entered the Top 25 this week for the first time this season. Armoni Brooks and Corey Davis Jr. each scored 15 points.

The Cougars led 43-37 at halftime, but they shot 32.3 percent from the field in the second half. The Tigers made 54 percent of their shots while rallying for the victory.

Memphis went ahead to stay with a 22-8 surge that made it 76-68 on Mike Parks Jr.’s basket with 6:28 remaining. The Tigers closed it out at the line, making 29 of 36 attempts for the game.

Houston had won five in a row. It went 18 of 20 at the line.

BIG PICTURE

Houston: The Cougars, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, went 4 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half. They also surrendered their most points this season.

Memphis: Leading scorer Jeremiah Martin left in the first half with a lower body injury. Thornton picked up the scoring after the break, scoring 19 points in the second half.

UP NEXT

Houston: Entertains East Carolina on Sunday.

Memphis: Travels to UConn on Sunday

No. 6 Gonzaga rallies to beat San Diego, 77-72

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Killian Tillie scored 17 points, Rui Hachimura added 16 and No. 6 Gonzaga beat San Diego 77-72 on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title.

The Bulldogs (26-4, 16-1 WCC) defeated the Toreros (17-12, 8-9) for the eighth straight game and for the 19th time in their last 20 meetings.

Olin Cater III led San Diego with 21 points.

After trailing at halftime and falling behind by eight points in the second half, the Bulldogs didn’t seize the lead until midway through the second half, when Tillie’s 3-pointer made it 52-51.

It was a back-and-forth affair from there, with the Toreros relying on their stingy defense to slow the up-tempo Bulldogs. But Gonzaga had too much firepower and was helped by four straight free throws from Hachimura when taking the lead for good with four minutes remaining.

Gonzaga demolished San Diego in last year’s visit by 58 points. The Bulldogs built an early six-point lead in this one but San Diego bounced back, tying the score at 27 with five minutes left on the first of three straight 3-point baskets by Carter. When he hit his second one, San Diego had a three-point advantage, its first edge since the game’s opening bucket.

Tyler Williams’ mid-range jumper gave San Diego a 35-30 lead and it was 37-34 at halftime. San Diego finished the first 20 minutes by converting 4 of 7 3-point shots.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: When Gonzaga fell behind early in the game, it was the first time it had trailed in four games. … The Bulldogs have earned at least a share of the WCC title in 17 of the past 18 seasons and 18 of the last 20. … Gonzaga is the only team in the nation with seven players to score at least 20 points in a game this season.

University of San Diego: The highest-ranked team the Toreros have beaten is No. 14 UCLA in the 2002-03 season. … Forward Cameron Neubauer was honored before the game on senior night.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga is at BYU on Saturday night.

San Diego is at San Francisco on Saturday night.

Carsen Edwards scores 40 points, No. 9 Purdue beats Illinois 93-86

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Carsen Edwards scored career-high 40 points and Dakota Mathias added 18 to help No. 9 Purdue outlast Illinois in a 93-86 victory on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers were without their second-leading scorer Vincent Edwards but had no problem scoring.

Purdue shot 58.3 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Edwards and Mathias each had four from behind the arc.

There were eight lead changes in the first half, highlighted by two big runs. With just under 10 minutes left Edwards stole the ball and went down for a huge dunk to spark a 17-6 run for the Boilermakers. The Illini responded with a 10-3 run to close out the half trailing 43-38.

Illinois stayed within striking distance the rest of the game, but ultimately Purdue’s size and Edwards scoring were too much. The sophomore scored 25 of his points in the second half, including a monstrous dunk on Trent Frazier with just under seven minutes to play.

The Boilermakers also outrebounded the Illini 33-20.

Leron Black led Illinois with 28 points, notching his fourth-consecutive 20-point game.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois continues to struggle in close games. The Illini have now lost 10 games this season by single digits.

After losing three straight games, Purdue has reestablished itself in the Big Ten with two close victories over Penn State and Illinois. The Boilermakers are one win away from tying the second most victories in school history.