It’s been said many times over that guard play is needed to make a run deep into the NCAA tournament, and with good reason. Look at teams that have won national titles over the years, and quality options on the perimeter tend to be a tie that binds. With that in mind, below are some of the guards (one per team) you need to know heading into the NCAA tournament beginning with four who have been part of national Player of the Year and All-American conversations all year long.
Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: Valentine’s versatility is what has made him a favorite for national Player of the Year honors along with Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. On the season the senior guard, who can play any position on the perimeter for the Spartans, is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. No other player in the country can boast averaging 19/7/7 per game.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma: Hield’s the prolific scorer who leads the way in a backcourt rotation that includes two other veterans in Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Hield’s averaging 25.0 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 46.4 percent from three. Teams have tried a variety of approaches in defending Hield, but few have been successful. He’s that good of a scorer.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: The sophomore point guard has emerged as one of the best leaders in college basketball. Sure there’s talent, with Ulis averaging 17.2 points and 7.2 assists per game, but his work running the Wildcats has helped the team’s role players with their development.
Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia: The ACC Player of the Year, Brogdon leads the Cavaliers in scoring with an average of 18.7 points per game. The redshirt senior is shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from three, and he’s also one of the best defenders in the country.
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Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Good as a junior, Ferrell’s been even better in his senior season for the Big Ten regular season champions. Averaging 17.0 points and 5.5 assists per game, Yogi’s shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also made strides as a leader, which has been key for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Much has been made of Paige’s perimeter shooting struggles and rightfully so, as the Tar Heels lack consistent options in that area. But one has to believe that at some point he’ll get going, and the senior guard did a very good job defensively against Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon in the ACC championship game Saturday night.
Fred VanVleet, Wichita State: VanVleet already has a win in this year’s tournament under his belt, and his experience (along with fellow seniors Ron Baker and Evan Wessel) is something that will help the other Shockers in the NCAA tournament. VanVleet’s ability to score and distribute the basketball is what makes Gregg Marshall’s team go, and they could make another run to the second weekend as a result.
Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson’s been the point guard Mike Brey envisioned him being when the Fighting Irish lost last year’s starter (Jerian Grant) to graduation. Jackson’s averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists per contest, and with a possible matchup with No.3 seed West Virginia in the second round he’ll be a key figure against the Mountaineers’ full-court pressure.
Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn began the season as a favorite for national Player of the Year honors, yet despite dealing with health issues on multiple occasions the redshirt junior has remained one of the nation’s best point guards. Dunn can make things happen offensively, but he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. If Dunn’s at his best, Providence is capable of making some noise in the Big Dance.
Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall: The Most Outstanding Player of the Big East tournament, Whitehead’s been a big reason why the Pirates are making their first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. As a sophomore Whitehead has a better grasp of when to score and when to get the ball to his capable teammates. Whitehead’s talent and toughness have rubbed off on a team that entered the season looking to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15 season. Mission accomplished, with SHU looking to do even more this week.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: There aren’t many point guards who have the versatility of Payton. He currently leads the Beavers in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. Oregon State’s making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1990, when Payton’s father ran the show as a senior. The skill sets are different, but the younger Payton has has a major impact on Wayne Tinkle’s program.
Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart broke out down the stretch last season, and he’s picked up where he left off the Big East regular season champions. Hart’s averaging 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, shooting 51.1 percent from the field. Hart can both knock down jumpers and attack the basket, and with his combination of size and skill the 6-foot-5 junior is a touch matchup for many opponents.
Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble’s struggled in recent weeks, but there’s no denying the talent possessed by the sophomore point guard. Trimble’s a handful off the bounce, and as evidenced by his game-winner at Wisconsin in January Trimble’s more than willing to take the big shot as well.
Danuel House Jr., Texas A&M: House is shooting just over 39 percent from the field, but he’s a player capable of exploding offensively in any game. House is averaging 15.5 points per game, sharing the team lead with forward Jalen Jones. House’s scoring ability opens things up for the Texas A&M front court, which is led by Jones and freshman Tyler Davis.
Five who could spark a surprise run
- A.J. English, Iona: The senior guard is averaging 22.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game, and he’s the only player in college basketball who can make that claim this season.
- DeAndré Bembry, Saint Joseph’s: Bembry’s an incredibly versatile player, and the emergence of Isaiah Miles and Aaron Brown has taken some of the load off his sholder.
- Wes Washpun, Northern Iowa: Washpun’s jumper to beat Evansville in the title game of the Missouri Valley tournament. He’s been a handful in pick and roll situations this season, so that’s something to keep an eye on when the Panthers take on No. 6 seed Texas in their tournament opener.
- Marvelle Harris, Fresno State: The Mountain West coaches named Harris their league player of the year and with goof reasons. Harris is averaging 20.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the Bulldogs, who have the pieces needed to play dep into the tournament.
- Chris Flemmings, UNCW: Flemmings, whose fascinating story began at Division II Barton College, emerged as one of the top players in the CAA in his first season on the court. With their matchup with No. 4 seed Duke, the Seahawks are capable of making some noise with Flemmings leading the way.