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College Basketball’s Best Lead Guards

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For the first time in what feels like ages, the point guard position in college basketball is not going to be dominated by freshmen.

There is a clear-cut top three at the position, and all three are upperclassmen. Of the top ten, just two are freshmen. Only one other is a sophomore, and he redshirted a season with a foot injury. 

This may take away from some of the intrigue in the sport this season – who didn’t love watching Lonzo Ball and De’Aaron Fox play? – but it should mean that some of the best teams in the country are primed to start well. 

Before we dive into the top 20 lead-guards in college basketball, a quick disclaimer: We used four positions to rank players – lead guards, off guards, wings and big men. If your favorite player isn’t on this list, he’s probably slotted in a different position.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Lead Guards
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1. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Only a junior and already with a national championship to his credit, this will be the first time that Brunson is a major focal point in the Villanova offense. While last season saw Brunson blossom playing alongside proven seniors like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, this season, Brunson will be counted on to be Villanova’s main source of offense.

Capable of boosting his scoring averages, Brunson should also have more post help this season in the form of freshman big man Omari Spellman. Having played on the AAU circuit with former Duke big man Jahlil Okafor, Brunson has already shown an ability to get the ball inside to a double-team threat and it should open up his very good perimeter shooting ability even more.

Most of the lead guards on this list are at their best playing at a certain tempo. Brunson is one of the few guards in the nation who will always seemingly be in control no matter what is going on around him.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Devonte’ Graham (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

2. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

Stepping out of Frank Mason’s immense shadow will be Graham as he’s been one of the Big 12’s most dependable perimeter players in the past few seasons. The big thing for Graham will be how he handles the full point guard responsibilities now that Mason has exhausted his eligibility.

A former high school point guard who has also owned a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio during a season at Kansas, Graham has the pedigree to be successful but he still has the expectations of winning another Big 12 title and competing for a national title. With a supporting cast that has a lot of new pieces and not a lot of big men, this year will be a considerable challenge for Graham.

3. Joel Berry II, North Carolina

It’s hard to put a value on a point guard who has played in two consecutive title games and took home the most recent MOP from the Final Four. Berry became the first player since Bill Walton to score 20 points in back-to-back title games. He was MVP of the ACC Tournament as a sophomore.

And yet Berry doesn’t seem to get nearly enough praise for his penchant for stepping up in the big moment. Although he’s not the most efficient player when it comes to shooting and he doesn’t put up monster numbers during the season, Berry has consistently stepped up when North Carolina has needed him the most.

Senior season should be fascinating for Berry as he’s already dealing with a broken hand that will likely cause him to miss early time. It’ll be fascinating to see how the Tar Heels perform without him.

Joel Berry II (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

4. Collin Sexton, Alabama

Avery Johnson finally gets his star guard with the Crimson Tide as this five-star prospect has a chance to be a special talent. Likely only in Tuscaloosa for one season, Sexton is an elite scorer despite being a bit on the smaller side. When he played in the Nike EYBL, Sexton led the league in scoring by over eight points per game while also getting to the free throw line a massive amount of times.

And I haven’t even talked about Sexton’s ridiculous motor.

The type of dude who will talk himself into a frenzy during every moment of competition, Sexton doesn’t give up on either end as his intensity is perhaps his best trait. Sexton is going to be one of the country’s most fascinating freshmen this season. Since he is not playing for a traditional basketball factory while also being such a unique talent, make you to make time to watch Sexton this season. Alabama won’t just be a must-watch for football this season.

5. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

The Big 12’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Carter is West Virginia’s best player at creating his own shot. For a team that can struggle mightily to create consistent offense in the halfcourt, Carter is vitally important for West Virginia since he can knock down his own shots while also finding others.

Press Virginia gets its nickname and mentality in-part from Carter’s hard-nosed defensive play as that aspect of his game is a tone-setter for the Mountaineers.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami
Trevon Duval (Reagan Lunn/Duke Athletics)
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

6. Trevon Duval, Duke

Considered by many to be the top point guard in the high school senior class, Duval gives Duke the lead guard they lacked last season. With the size and athleticism to get in the paint whenever he wants, Duval comes into Durham with the reputation as a winner after leading multiple teams to prominent summer titles.

Nobody is doubting Duval’s ability to get in the paint for himself. The major question marks will deal with how Duval looks when the game gets slowed down. Always a monster in transition, Duval has a shaky perimeter jumper and he also hasn’t run a lot of offenses that required patience. There have already been some question marks about Duval’s ability to fit in on a Duke team that desperately needs shooting and leadership. But if Duval can find teammates and limit turnovers, he might be just what the Blue Devils need to return to the Final Four.

7. Landry Shamet, Wichita State

Monitoring Shamet’s health will be a major storyline during the early season as he’s recovering from a stress fracture in his foot that was found in July. Once Shamet became Wichita State’s starting point guard in January, the Shockers didn’t lose until their epic battle against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

One of the nation’s most efficient players last season — even though he was only a redshirt freshman — Shamet could see his role in the offense expand even more as a sophomore now that he’s more comfortable with the playbook.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Off Guards
Jaylen Adams (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

8. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure

Perhaps the best player in college hoops that nobody talks about, Adams has been a regular on the All-Atlantic 10 first team over the past two seasons. A dynamic scorer who can also distribute a high number of assists, Adams plays nearly every minute for the Bonnies as he’s the leader of one of the best backcourts in the country playing with shooting guard Matt Mobley.

Is this the year that Adams and the Bonnies can make the NCAA tournament? Four starters are back from a 20-win team as expectations will be high on Adams to help carry them back for the first time since 2012.

CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke

9. Rob Gray, Houston

Leading the American in scoring last season at 20.6 points per contest, Gray is a nightmare to defend thanks to his 38 percent three-point shooting. Although he was a known scorer entering last season, Gray also did a solid job of improving other aspects of his game as his numbers went up nearly across the board.

Another warrior guard who doesn’t leave the floor very often, Gray had multiple 40-minute games last season as the Cougars are hoping he can carry them to March.

10. Nate Mason, Minnesota

The engine that made Minnesota go during their turnaround season, Mason was one of the best players in the Big Ten last season. The Golden Gophers’ leader in points and assists last season, Mason was Richard Pitino’s first recruit at Minnesota as he’s been a program-changing player.

If there is one area that Mason needs to improve it will be his inefficient field goal percentages as Mason can put up a lot of shots to get his points during some games. With so many weapons around him for a team with high expectations, those numbers need to go up this season.

RELATED: Top 100 Players | Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top Off Guards
Khadeen Carrington (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
  • 11. Shake Milton, SMU: This will be Milton’s team after the Mustangs lost so much firepower from last season’s team. Scoring can come easy for Milton but it’ll be intriguing to see how he makes others better.
  • 12. Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall: Steadily improving each season of his college career, Carrington will be one of the most dangerous guards in the country this season. He’s a known scorer but his assist-to-turnover ratio needs to improve.
  • 13. Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: After stepping into the starting lineup last season, Farrell proved himself to be one of the most important players in the country. Notre Dame plays fast but Farrell leads the chaos with limited turnovers.
  • 14. Aaron Holiday, UCLA: Perhaps the nation’s best sixth man a season ago, Holiday still put up great numbers across the board as he has a chance to be one of the best two-way guards in the country.
  • 15. Kyron Cartwright, Providence: With Kris Dunn moving on to the pros, Cartwright had his time to shine as he was fourth in the nation in assists last season. Cartwright could make another leap if he improves as a scorer.
CONTENDER SERIES: Kentucky | Kansas | Arizona | Michigan State | Duke
Jalen Adams (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
  • 16. Jalen Adams, UConn: Adams can be reckless at times but he’s also really fun to watch if he gets rolling as a scorer. Now that the Huskies have more talent around him it’ll be interesting to see if Adams becomes more efficient.
  • 17. Jordan McLaughlin, USC: A major presence for the Trojans the last three seasons, McLaughlin is a reliable scorer and distributor as he’ll lead one of the best teams in the country.
  • 18. Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern: McIntosh’s shooting numbers actually dipped as a junior but he’s still one of the most offensively gifted lead guards in the country if his shot isn’t falling. If his shot comes back, watch out.
  • 19. Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest: Underrated in the ACC, Crawford had six 20-point games in his final eight last season, closing out a strong sophomore year in which he became a much more efficient player.
  • 20. Trae Young, Oklahoma: This freshman sharpshooter has a chance to lead an underrated Oklahoma backcourt as he can pull up and knock down jumpers from beyond NBA range.

No. 2 Arizona drops second-straight

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — SMU attacked the glass and kept scoring off turnovers to offset a bad shooting performance. It was enough to hand No. 2 Arizona a second stunning loss to an unranked opponent in two nights.

Ben Emelogu scored 20 points and the Mustangs upset the Wildcats 66-60 in Thursday’s consolation round at the Battle 4 Atlantis, a jarring start for an Arizona team that began the season as a Final Four favorite with a preseason Associated Press All-American in Allonzo Trier.

Arizona (3-2) lost to North Carolina State 90-84 in Wednesday’s first round. It’s the first time the Wildcats have dropped back-to-back games against nonconference opponents since losing to Mississippi State and San Diego State in November 2011.

“This is a different feeling,” coach Sean Miller said. “It might be healthy for our team because instead of everybody telling you how good you are and you’re going to get to a Final Four and you’re awesome, it’s going to go opposite now.

“And I think that it could be something that drives our team to have even better practice to fix a few things and hopefully get back in the winner’s circle.”

The Mustangs (5-1) blew an 11-point lead in the second half but responded with a 10-2 run to go ahead for good. SMU won despite shooting 31 percent and going eight minutes without a basket in the second half.

“I always say — and everybody thinks I’m lying but I’m not when I say this — the best wins of the year are always when you can’t get your shots to go in the basket and you find a way to win anyway,” SMU coach Tim Jankovich said. “That’s how great seasons are made. Everybody wins when they shoot great and feel great and all that.”

The Mustangs hung on in two ways. First, they capitalized on 20 Arizona turnovers by scoring 19 points off those miscues. Then there was their effort on the boards; they were outrebounded 43-39 overall but nearly doubled up Arizona on the offensive glass (20-11) to finish with 23 more shot attempts and 14 second-chance points.

“We talk about this all the time,” Jankovich said. “Really break it down: Does it take a lot of talent to go run after a ball? Does it take a lot of talent to dive on a ball? … And the answer is no. So really what it takes is the character and it takes an unselfishness and a commitment to the things that win rather than the things that necessarily make me look good.

“And in the end, if you have a team full of those guys, then you’re going to have a successful team.”

Trier scored 22 points to lead the Wildcats, who shot 47 percent. Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton added 17 points and 15 rebounds, but no other Wildcats player scored in double figures. Arizona also shot just 5 of 20 on 3-pointers.

“No, our confidence isn’t affected at all,” freshman forward Ira Lee said. “We’ve just got to see these two games as a learning experience and move on.”

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: Miller immediately said offense wasn’t the problem after the loss to N.C. State, noting the Wildcats haven’t dropped many games when scoring 84 points. Rather, he was concerned about a bad defensive effort. This time, his team had some good defensive moments, but Miller said there was something missing in glaring fashion.

“Maybe we did play some good defense,” Miller said, “but defense always ends with the rebounding. And we were unable to rebound.”

SMU: The Mustangs trailed much of the way against Northern Iowa in their first-round tournament game, but played from ahead in this one. They also came up with a counterpunch, regaining the lead after Arizona erased that 11-point deficit.

“The effort, gosh darn, I don’t care if we were big or tiny or medium-sized out there or who was guarding who, I saw some fighting cats out there,” Jankovich said. “And I loved it.”

EMELOGU’S NIGHT

Emelogu went 7 of 11 from the field and 5 of 7 on 3-pointers to lead SMU’s offense. The rest of SMU’s starters made 12 of 53 shots (23 percent).

“A lot of times, you just play hard and play defense, you win games even though offense didn’t go our way,” Emelogu said.

UP NEXT

Arizona: The Wildcats will play No. 18 Purdue in Friday’s seventh-place game.

SMU: The Mustangs will play Western Kentucky in Friday’s fifth-place game.

Western Kentucky upsets No. 18 Purdue 77-73 in Bahamas

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Darius Thompson scored 12 points and hit two clinching free throws with 5.1 seconds left to help Western Kentucky upset No. 18 Purdue 77-73 in Thursday’s consolation round at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Hilltoppers (3-2) led nearly the entire night, but needed to make several clutch plays late to hang on.

P.J. Thompson hit a corner 3-pointer with 5.8 seconds remaining to bring the Boilermakers (4-2) to 75-73, but Thompson answered with two free throws that made it a two-possession game and all but sealed the win.

Justin Johnson led the Hilltoppers with 17 points, including a tough driving score for a five-point lead with 21 seconds left.

Isaac Haas scored 22 points to lead Purdue, which shot just 32 percent in the first half. The Boilermakers trailed 42-31 at the break and never fully recovered.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: That’s an 0-2 showing in two days for the Boilermakers in the Bahamas. The high-scoring, 3-point shooting offense hasn’t found its rhythm here, though Purdue shot 50 percent after halftime in this one to give itself a chance late.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers were coming off a loss to No. 5 Villanova, making this the first time they had played consecutive games against ranked opponents since the 1993 NCAA Tournament. But they earned a win against a ranked team for just the second time in the last 15 tries.

UP NEXT

Purdue: The Boilermakers will play the Arizona-SMU loser in Friday’s seventh-place game.

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will play the Arizona-SMU winner in Friday’s fifth-place game.

Duke overcomes tenacious Portland State 99-81

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Marvin Bagley III said the Blue Devils knew they had to wake up for the second half against Portland State.

And eventually, they did. Trevon Duval had 22 points and No. 1 Duke pulled away for a 99-81 victory over the surprisingly tenacious Vikings on Thursday to open the Phil Knight Invitational.

 Bagley added 18 points, and Grayson Allen had 14 points and nine assists. The Blue Devils (6-0) will face the winner of the Thursday game between Butler and Texas.

Duke trailed by as many as eight points but took control midway through the second half when Wendell Carter Jr.’s dunk put the Blue Devils in front 67-62. They would go on to lead by as many as 21 points.

“The first half we obviously weren’t playing like we were normally do. We weren’t doing the things that we do well. We weren’t going to our strengths. We kind of came out sluggish,” Bagley said. “But going into the second half it was just ‘You have to wake up.’ They (the coaches) mentioned to us that these are the type of games that are going to be like that if you don’t come out ready to play.

It was coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 200th victory as coach of a No. 1-ranked team. He’s 200-29 when the Blue Devils sit atop the poll.

Deontae North led the Vikings (4-1) with 24 points, including 20 in the first half, but fouled out with 8:39 left in the game.

It was the first time in program history that the Vikings had faced a top-ranked team. Portland State’s last win over a ranked opponent was an 86-82 victory over then-No. 25 Portland in December 2009.

“I thought they just knocked us back the whole first half,” Krzyzewski said. “We were in a reactionary mode the first 20 minutes.”

The tournament involves 16 teams playing in two brackets on Thursday, Friday and Sunday, with a break on Saturday. The field also includes No. 4 Michigan State, No. 7 Florida and defending national champion North Carolina.

Dubbed the PK80, the tournament celebrates Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s 80th birthday.

Duke and Portland State were in the Motion Bracket, playing Thursday at the Memorial Coliseum. Teams in the Victory Bracket played at the adjacent Moda Center.

Knight was sitting courtside for the game.

The five-time NCAA champion Blue Devils were coming off a 92-63 victory over Furman on Monday night, led by Bagley with 24 points.

Portland State was coming off an 83-79 victory over Utah State at the Memorial Coliseum on Monday. The Vikings are playing the first season under coach Barret Peery.

“I’m proud of our team,” Peery said. “But I was proud of our team before the ball went up.”

Portland State was no pushover from the start, taking a 12-11 lead on North’s 3-pointer with 16:54 to go in the opening half. North hit another 3 that put the Vikings up 19-15 and Michael Mayhew’s jumper extended the lead.

North made another 3 to make it 33-26 with 8:33 left in the half. The Vikings stayed out in front until Gary Trent Jr. made a pair of free throws for Duke to tie it at 42 with 2:09 left in the half.

Mayhew hit a long 3-pointer and Portland State led 49-45 at the half. Mayhew was among five Vikings who fouled out in the second half.

Carter’s layup put Duke out in front 54-53, but North answered with a jumper and Bryce Canda added a 3-pointer.

Carter had another layup to give the Blue Devils a 61-60 lead and Bagley’s tip-in pushed the lead to 63-60, energizing the mostly blue-clad crowd at the Coliseum. Duke never trailed again.

“This was a big stage for us,” said Canda, who finished with 14 points. “But we can’t hang our heads.”

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Allen scored just five points against Furman, and Krzyzewski said he was banged up and held out of a couple of practices going into the game. But he was back in form against Portland State. He taunted a Portland State player late in the game and got a technical, eliciting a strong reaction from Krzyzewski.

Portland State: It was the first time Portland State had faced a No. 1-ranked team. The Vikings have twice faced a No. 2 team, including Duke in 1997. … The Vikings play in the Big Sky conference. They’ve made the NCAA tournament twice, in 2008 and 2009, with first-round losses both times.

MORE COACH K: Krzyzewski has coached 229 games with a No. 1-ranked team, surpassing John Wooden for the lead. … It is the 500th week that Duck has been ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll under him, most by a coach in the AP Top 25’s history.

NORTH’S SECOND TECH: North was on the floor in front of the scorer’s desk, getting ready to check into the game when he earned his second tech of the game. Coach Peery said apparently the ref thought North had commented on the previous play.

UP NEXT

Duke: The Blue Devils go on to face the winner of the late Thursday afternoon game between Butler and Texas when the tournament continues on Friday.

Portland State: The Vikings will face the Butler-Texas loser.

Terrell lifts Rhode Island past No. 20 Seton Hall, 75-74

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jared Terrell made a running layup with 5.2 seconds left to give Rhode Island a 75-74 victory over No. 20 Seton Hall on Thursday night in the second game of the Preseason NIT.

Terrell finished with 32 points to help the Rams improve to 3-1. Stanford Robinson added 15 points.

Myles Powell led the Pirates (4-1) with 21 points. Angel Delgado had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez had 12 points each.

Following Terrell’s layup, Seton Hall inbounded the ball to Carrington, who raced up court but lost his dribble and the Pirates were unable to recover the loose ball before the buzzer sounded.

Trailing by nine at halftime, Seton Hall outscored Rhode Island 27-17 in a 14:06 span to take the lead at 72-71. Carrington made two free throws with 5:54 left to give the Pirates their first lead since his jumper 5:09 into the game.

Defense was both the cause and effect for Seton Hall’s turnaround. Specifically, the Pirates played defense in the second half after surrendering 60.7 percent (17 of 28) shooting from the field — including 77.8 percent (7 of 9) from 3-point range — —in the first 20 minutes.

The Rams regained the the lead, 73-72, on Andre Berry’s layup with 4:05 left. The lead lasted for 2:02 until Ismael Sanogo’s layup gave Seton Hall a one-point advantage.

BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: The Pirates entered the game having yielded just 254 points_or an average of 63.5 points per game_in winning their first four games. Against Rhode Island, Seton Hall allowed 54 points in the first half and the Rams broke the 64-point barrier with 11:03 left in the second half on Jared Terrell’s 3 in front of the Rhode Island bench.

Rhode Island: The Rams authored an otherworldly offensive performance — in the first half. Rhode Island scored 54 points on 60.7 percent shooting. But college basketball is a two-half game and, in the second, Rhode Island only made 8 of 31 shots from the field.

NOTABLE

Seton Hall Fell to 7-2 against Rhode Island

Rhode Island: The second of two games at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center also marked the second time Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley coached against his alma mater. Hurley scored 1,070 points in five years at Seton Hall.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall: Plays Vanderbilt in the consolation game Friday.

Rhode Island: Plays Virginia in the championship Friday.

No. 5 Villanova beats Tennessee 85-76 in Battle 4 Atlantis

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 16: Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats drives against Elijah Long #55 of the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 16, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help fifth-ranked Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday’s semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of a break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

Mikal Bridges added 21 points for Villanova, which shot 52 percent after halftime and built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers.

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee (3-1), which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield’s 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half’s worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

Villanova: That’s two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one — full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor — brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday’s third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday’s championship game.