We are now a week into the new season, which means it is time for us to do what we do every Tuesday: Player of the Year Power Rankings!
The season is just a week old, which means that this list is going to be comprised of players that were on the list during the preseason and players who have put together massive performances in the first couple of weeks of the season.
So without further ado, here are the Week 1 Player of the Year Power Rankings:
1. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
Barrett has been as good as advertised through the season’s first week. After putting up 33 points, six assists and four boards in a 34-point blowout win over Kentucky in the opener, the 6-foot-8 favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft made 23 points, six boards and a pair of assists look pedestrian in was what a disappointing, 94-72 win over Army. Hey, when you set standards as high as Duke did in their first game of the season, expectations follow.
2. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
The numbers that Zion has posted this season speak for themselves. He went for 28 points in the opener against Kentucky, following that up with an absolutely overwhelming performance against an Army did that simply did not have the athletes to compete with him — 27 points, 16 boards, six blocks, four assists. Through two games, Zion is shooting 81.5 percent from the floor.
But where things get really interesting are with this move, and with Zion’s jumper in general:
This is a defensive lineman creating two-feet of space with an off-hand, in-and-out dribble into a step-back 18-footer. The second clip is a great, slow-motion look at his release. He’s on balance, which is more important for him than getting a ton of lift; he’s not going to be taking jumpers like Kobe did. He needs to be able to force defenders to guard him from the three-point guard and have the balance to be able to make shots like the step-back he hit earlier.
Put another way, the biggest concern with Zion Williamson as a basketball player doesn’t look like it is too much of a concern.
3. C.J. MASSINBURG, Buffalo
Massinburg put together the single-best performance of the first week of the college basketball season on Friday night, going for 43 points, 14 boards and three assists in an overtime win at West Virginia. 26 of his 43 points came in the second half. He scored nine points in an 11-3 run in the final three minutes of regulation, including hitting the three that forced overtime. He scored nine of Buffalo’s 15 points in the extra frame. He was awesome:
We’ll see just how long he can remain on this list. While Buffalo is 3-0 on the season, Massinburg has combined for 18 points on 2-for-11 shooting from three in the other two wins. For now, however, he deserves every bit of his place here.
4. CHUMA OKEKE, Auburn
Who had Okeke as the best player on Auburn this season? If you did, you might end up proving smart. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has been sensational for the Tigers through two wins this season, including a 22-point blowout win over then-No. 25 Washington. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 9.5 boards, 3.5 assists and 2.5 blocks while shooting 6-for-8 from three.
I discussed Okeke on the most recent podcast with Dalen Cuff and why he, and Anfernee McLemore, are so important to the way that Auburn wants to play:
5. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga
Even without Killian Tillie eligible, the Gonzaga star is putting up impressive numbers. He had 33 points in Gonzaga’s opener and followed that up with 17 points in a win over a Texas Southern team that beat Baylor at Baylor. Gonzaga’s schedule kicks up a notch this week, as they play Texas A&M before heading to Maui for a tournament that includes Duke, Auburn and Arizona.
6. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue
The preseason first-team all-american hasn’t been anything less than what we expected. In two Purdue wins, he’s averaging 26.5 points.
7. TY JEROME Virginia
We all thought that De’Andre Hunter or Kyle Guy would end up being the best player on Virginia this season, but it might end up being Ty Jerome. At least that has been the case through the first two games of the season. Through two blowout wins, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 boards, 3.0 steals and shooting 68 percent from the floor and 71 percent from three.
8. CAMERON JOHNSON, North Carolina
I’m not ready to call anyone other than Luke Maye the best player on North Carolina just yet, but to date, Johnson has played the best of anyone on the Tar Heels. Through three games, he looks like a different player than he was last season. He’s averaging 18.3 points and 6.7 boards while shooting 10-for-14 from three. He looks more mobile and athletic than he was last season, and gives the Tar Heels a third long, athletic wing that — in theory — should allow them to matchup with Duke.
t-9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee and MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
It is tough to delineate between these two at this point. Both have been as good as advertised early on this season. In one game against Division I competition, Williams went for 31 points, 10 boards and three assists. Howard, through two games, is averaging 26 points, eight boards and six assists while shooting 9-for-22 from three.
10. SOMEONE ON KANSAS, Kansas
I’m not really sure who to pick here. At the end of the day, I think it will be Dedric Lawson. He’s the guy they run offense through, he’s the perfect four-man for Bill Self’s offense and he’s the player that went for 20 points, 14 boards and six assists in the win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic. But he also went scoreless in Monday night’s win over Vermont as LaGerald Vick, who had just two points in the opener, had 32 points on 8-for-8 shooting from three against the Catamounts.
With all the hand-wringing and excitement about the return of college basketball this week, you might be surprised to learn that just three teams ranked in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 lost.
Two of those losses came in the Champions Classic, as Kentucky and Michigan State fell to the top two teams in this week’s NBC Sports Top 25, Duke and Kansas, respectively. The third? Then-No. 17 West Virginia losing at home to now-No. 25 Buffalo on Friday night.
I say all that to say this: There really isn’t all that much to change about the Top 25 this week. There are really only three questions that need to be answered, so I’ll walk you through my thought process for each one:
Can Kansas fall out of the top spot with a win over a top 15 team?: Hell yes they can. The Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason based on projections and feelings we had about how good they might end up being. Now we have actual, actionable results to evaluate, and there really should be all that much of a discussion. I’m not even sure there are Kansas fans will sit here and say that, after watching Duke beat Kentucky by 34 points, they believe the Jayhawks are better than the Blue Devils.
How far should Kentucky fall?: I dropped the Wildcats to 18th. I’ve seen other top 25s that have Kentucky at the back-end of the top ten. I don’t think that’s crazy, but I also think that we have much more to worry about with this Wildcat team that those folks realize. Kentucky still has top ten potential, but for my money they are much further from reaching their ceiling than anyone realized. I ended up with them 18th because I couldn’t justify dropping them below LSU or Mississippi State.
What do we do with West Virginia and Buffalo?: I was already lower on West Virginia entering the season than the public, so dropping them out of the top 25 with a loss at home against Buffalo was pretty easy for me to do. I know that loss came as a result of a once-in-a-career blow-up game from C.J. Massinburg and that the Mountaineers didn’t have Beetle Bolden down the stretch as he dealt with cramping issues, but it seemed pretty evident that Press Virginia has some kinks to work out. Buffalo, on the other hand, entered the season as one of the best mid-majors in the country after smoking Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. They lived up to that billing, so why not reward them?
Francesco Badocchi has been something of a mystery for Virginia as the Italian big man wasn’t a highly sought-after recruit after an under-the-radar high school career. The mystery will not be revealed on the court immediately this season.
The 6-foot-7 freshman will take a leave of absence from the Virginia program due to medical reasons, the school announced Thursday.
Badocchi, a 6-foot-7 forward from Milan, Italy, redshirted last season for the Cavaliers and looked to be something of a candidate for a big role on a team looking to bounce back from last season’s loss to 16th-seeded UMBC.
The hope was the Badocchi, who averaged 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks as a senior while attending high school in the Kansas City area, could help provide some frontcourt shooting off the bench. He will remain in school while away from the team, Virginia said in its release announcing the leave.
The Cavaliers open the season Tuesday at home against Towson.
As the game has moved more and more to prizing versatility and positional flexibility, the amorphous “wing” designation has perhaps never been more important.
Coaches prize players that can guard one-through-four (and sometimes five) thanks to length and athleticism while still being skilled enough stretch the floor with shooting and attacking defenses with penetration.
How in demand those skills are is reflected at the top of our list.
It is dominated by freshmen who almost surely will spend one year in college basketball before being among the first players NBA commissioner Adam Silver announces at the NBA draft come June.
The players on this list will not only make up the top of mock drafts all winter and spring long, they’ll perhaps be the most impactful in determining who is the last team standing in Minneapolis come April.
Could the top four picks in the draft be on this list?
It’s very possible.
1. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
The 6-foot-7 Blue Devils freshman is the universal projection to be the top pick in the NBA draft come June. He’s been heralded as a potential top pick for years, certainly since as a 17-year-old he put 38 points on Team USA en route to a FIBA U19 World Cup crown.
This season, he’ll be leading the way for an ultra-talented Duke team that will once again lean heavily on freshmen. Barrett is a lot of pundits’ bet to be on the shortlist for National Player of the Year come March, and there’s little doubt that there are few that can match Barrett’s ceiling. He’s a top-tier scorer, an excellent rebounder and a gifted distributor.
2. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
There are few people in the world with the physical gifts Zion WIlliamson possesses. He’s 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, which is a frame built for bruising, yet Williamson is a high-flyer. Whatever happens for the rest of his career, he’s a mixtape legend. It’s also worth mentioning he’s got 1.8 million followers on Instagram. Williamson isn’t the best player – not even the best freshman or wing, according to this list – on his team, but he might be the most-watched college basketball player this year.
The challenge for Williamson this season will be to shed the “just a dunker” label, even though that sounds like an awesome label. It’ll also be interesting to see what his role is with a team featuring Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones.
3. NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina
Are you noticing a trend here? Little makes for three freshmen among the top of these rankings, an indication of the strength of the 2018 class, but also how integral wings are in the pace-and-space era. Not many of the good ones are spending much time in the college ranks.
Little may not have the Q-Score of Barrett or Williamson, but he’s going to rival both in impact on winning. The 6-foot-6 Florida product has a wingspan that measures more than 7 feet and was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game this past spring. He’ll also have the luxury of a veteran offensive focal point in Luke Maye to allow him a little more room to operate.
4. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
Hunter had a shot of being a first-round pick in June’s draft, but instead opted to return to Virginia following a freshman season in which he averaged 9.2 points and shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range in fewer than 20 minutes per game.
The 6-foot-7 Philadelphia native probably – almost certainly – won’t put up overly impressive raw numbers given Virginia’s pace of play, but if he’s given more time on the floor, which is expected, his usage rate and efficiency numbers from his rookie campaign suggests he could be in for a big season.
5. ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova
Paschall might have the best chance to overperform this ranking as he steps into a major role at Villanova following the departure of the Wildcats’ top four players from last year’s national championship team to the NBA. As a junior, Paschall averaged 10.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game.
What suggests he may be on the path to stardom, though, is he led the conference in Big East play in offensive rating with a monster 134.2 number thanks to shooting 45.7 percent from 3-point range during league play that helped translate to a true shooting percentage of 72.4 He may not be able to maintain those efficiency numbers with a bigger workload and an intensified defensive focus, but a small hit will probably be outweighed by an increase in volume.
6. CAM REDDISH, Duke
Hey, look, another Duke freshman. And another McDonald’s All-American. The top-five recruit averaged 23.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals in EYBL play ahead of his senior season in 2017 and makes up one fifth of the Blue Devils’ top-ranked 2018 class.
Reddish is ultra-talented, even if he’s behind his new teammates Barrett and Williamson. How Mike Krzyzewski makes the pieces fit will be one of the more interesting things to see unfold this season, but there’s no doubting the amount of talent Duke is going to have on the wing this season.
7. CHARLES MATTHEWS, Michigan
The 6-foot-6 Chicago native had a breakthrough sophomore season for the Wolverines last season, averaging 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.4 assists while playing 30 minutes per game, all after barely cracking the Michigan lineup as a freshman.
Matthews’ ability to ratchet things up once again will be key in Michigan’s encore season after last year’s NCAA tournament title game appearance. The show will be more of his to run without Mo Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, and how he is able to handle a bigger role will help determine the Big Ten pecking order.
8. JAMES PALMER, Nebraska
Palmer went from an afterthought at Miami to a budding star at Nebraska. He averaged 3.5 points in 11.9 minutes per game as a sophomore with the Hurricants, but after sitting out the 2016-17 season upon transferring to Lincoln, the 6-foot-6 swingman put up 17.2 points in 31 minutes per game.
What holds Palmer back from being further up this list is his shooting. He converted just 30.9 percent of his shots from 3-point range and a pedestrian 51.3 percent on shots inside the arc for an effective field goal percentage of 49.6. If he can bump those numbers up – and the Huskers can get back to the tournament for the first time since 2014 – Palmer will find himself making a few more waves.
9. KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky
The Oak Hill Academy grad is also an alum of the McDonald’s All-American and Jordan Brand Classic games, Johnson isn’t necessarily the most highly-regarded of Kentucky coach John Calipari’s 2018 recruiting class, but he’ll provide the firepower on the wing that none of Cal’s other five-star can. The 6-foot-6 freshman, who is also an NBPA Top 100 Camp MVP, averaged 20.7 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists in EYBL play ahead of his senior season.
10. JORDAN CAROLINE, Nevada
The Martin brothers might draw the most attention for the Wolf Pack, but the 6-foot-7 Caroline shouldn’t be overlooked on one of the country’s best teams (we’ve got Nevada sixth in the preseason). The Southern Illinois transfer averaged 17.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game as a junior.
He’s a high-usage player for the Wolf Pack, and a high-rate rebounder as well. If the ‘Pack are going to max out – and make one “expert” look pretty smart – Caroline is going to be a massive reason why.
The off-guard position in college basketball has a lot of intriguing questions heading into the 2018-19 season.
While the group is headlined by some strong returning players and some five-star freshmen, it seems as though many of the players on this list still have something to prove. Whether that is perimeter shooting, becoming a more complete player or bringing more consistency, the off-guard spot in college hoops could be in a great place this season if many of these guys make standard improvements.
Here’s a look at 20 of the key off-guards to watch this season.
1. CALEB MARTIN, Nevada, Sr.
The reigning Mountain West Player of the Year nearly left for the NBA before deciding to return with his twin brother, Cody, at the 11th hour. With the Martin twins back in the fold, many are projecting Nevada as a top-ten preseason team. Caleb had a huge junior season as he put up 18.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game as he was the clear go-to player on a deep Wolf Pack team.
Also a 40 percent three-point shooter, Martin’s ability to score from all over the floor is what separates him from many of his peers and it helps make Nevada’s offense one of the best in the country. This season, Martin won’t have to do as much since he’s playing on a veteran team that should be significantly deeper. But don’t discount Martin having a huge year and potentially vaulting into All-American status.
2. QUENTIN GRIMES, Kansas, Fr.
The prized pledge of another solid Kansas recruiting class, the 6-foot-5 Grimes should have a huge impact on the Jayhawks this season. The former McDonald’s All-American really came into his own as a more complete guard during his senior season as some believed he was the best guard prospect in the Class of 2018.
Capable of playing the one, but more likely to play the two given the Kansas backcourt situation, Grimes is a tough-minded two-way player who can score or distribute. The key for the reigning MVP of the 2018 FIBA Americas will be perimeter shooting. If Grimes can consistently knock down three-pointers then the Jayhawks should have an incredibly dangerous offense.
3. ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana, Fr.
Huge expectations will be lingering over Langford’s head all season, as the Hoosier faithful are hoping this in-state product can return Indiana basketball to glory. The former Mr. Basketball in Indiana is one of the most celebrated high school players to ever come out of the basketball-crazy state after putting up monster numbers.
At 6-foot-6, Langford is capable of 40-point outbursts where he’s scoring from all over the floor. Also a capable wing defender thanks to his length and athleticism, Langford is a likely one-and-done prospect if he lives up to his five-star billing. Consistency will be one of the keys to watch for with Langford. For as good as he can be, Langford had a tendency to disappear for minutes at a time for portions of his grassroots career. As long as Langford is engaged, he should be a force in the Big Ten.
4. LINDELL WIGGINTON, Iowa State, So.
After an impressive freshman season in which he was fifth in the Big 12 in scoring, Wigginton gets his chance to shine on a much deeper and more talented Iowa State team this season. Averaging 16.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 40 percent from three-point range, the 6-foot-2 Wigginton showed natural ability as a scorer last season, as he’ll look to become more of a complete guard in his second season.
Testing the NBA waters this offseason, Wigginton can enhance his national reputation, and pro stock, by helping the Cyclones win games after the team finished only 13-18 last season. With another year to grow, and more help around him, Wigginton should be among the Big 12’s leading scorers once again.
5. JALEN HUDSON, Florida, Sr.
The leading scorer for the Gators last season, the 6-foot-6 Hudson will be counted on for points once again this season. It’s going to be the other things Hudson can give Florida that ultimately helps dictate how they might finish.
If Hudson can show more leadership, while also helping to set up teammates, then he’ll help offset the huge loss of point guard Chris Chiozza. The Gators don’t have an obvious replacement at lead guard for Chiozza, so Hudson’s impact in the backcourt beyond scoring will be something to keep an eye on. Even if Hudson is only trying to get buckets, he’s a 40 percent three-point shooter who put up 15.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season. The Gators just ideally need him to contribute a bit of everything.
6. KELLAN GRADY, Davidson, So.
Putting together the best freshman season at Davidson since Steph Curry, the 6-foot-5 Grady made his own mark for the Wildcats last season. Although not quite as gifted a perimeter shooter as Curry (but really, who is?) Grady is no slouch in that department after shooting 50 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range while averaging 18.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
With Davidson leading scorer Peyton Aldridge moving on from the program, the reigning A-10 Rookie of the Year is going to be the go-to guy for a Wildcats team with NCAA tournament aspirations. Since Davidson doesn’t have a lot of experienced pieces returning from last season’s tournament squad, then we could be seeing a lot of 20-point games from Grady.
7. KY BOWMAN, Boston College, Jr.
Although backcourt running mate and NBA first-round pick Jerome Robinson received much of the attention for Boston College last season, Bowman also had a monster campaign. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-1 Bowman averaged 17.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line.
A North Carolina native who seems to play at his best when facing the in-state teams that passed him over in the ACC, Bowman just missed a triple-double in a win over Duke last year. Now that Robinson is gone, Bowman will be asked to do even more this season, as the Eagles are going to be counting on Bowman for a potential All-American season. If Bowman can lift his three-point percentage closer to the 44 percent he shot as a freshman, then he could very well reach that status.
8. MUSTAPHA HERON, St. John’s, Jr.
Immediately eligible after the NCAA gave him a hardship waiver, the 6-foot-5 Heron is a monster addition for the Red Storm. Coupled with a potential All-American at point in Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s now has one of the best backcourt tandems in all of college basketball.
Spending his first two seasons at Auburn, Heron averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game for the Tigers as a sophomore. The 220-pound Heron and his power and athleticism should pair well with Ponds’ slippery ability to get to the basket as the duo should be immensely fun to watch this season.
If Heron can find his three-point consistency like he showed during freshman season (42 percent from three-point range) then his perimeter shooting would also greatly open things up for Ponds as he attacks off the dribble.
9. KRIS WILKES, UCLA, So.
Quietly putting up good numbers as a freshman last season, the 6-foot-8 Wilkes was second on the Bruins in scoring and rebounding at 13.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Now the versatile perimeter threat will be asked to become a team leader on a young, but talented, Bruins team.
Wilkes flirted with staying in the NBA Draft, but by coming back for another year in the Pac-12, he has a chance to improve his average 35 percent three-point shooting while displaying more overall leadership for an intriguing team. Potentially an All-Pac-12 player with a big season, Wilkes will get asked to take a lot of big shots at UCLA this season.
10. MATISSE THYBULLE, Washington, Sr.
The offensive numbers won’t jump out at you. That doesn’t mean this 6-foot-5 senior doesn’t make a giant impact on all of Washington’s games. The Pac-12’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Thybulle can make game-changing defensive plays on one end while contributing quite a bit to other facets of the game.
Thybulle scored 11.2 points per game while getting 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game last season. But getting 3.0 steals per game and 1.4 blocks per game had an immense impact on a Washington team that finally showed signs of life on the defensive end. Also a 36 percent three-point shooter, Thybulle is the perfect three-and-d wing for a Washington team with a sneaky amount of talent this season.
11. ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga, So.
Gonzaga’s most consistent and versatile scorer has a chance to be a better all-around player as a sophomore. The 6-foot-5 Norvell put up 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 37 percent from three-point range. If Norvell improves defensively, then he’ll be one of college basketball’s best two-way guards.
12. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech, So.
Consistency will be the key for this ultra-talented 6-foot-5 guard. There were times last season when Alexander-Walker looked like Virginia Tech’s best players and other games where he was barely contributing. If Alexander-Walker finds a better balance, he could be a force in the ACC this season.
13. KYLE GUY, Virginia, Jr.
A veteran scorer who acts as Virginia’s top perimeter shooter, the 6-foot-2 Guy would put up even bigger scoring numbers in a more uptempo offense. Guy averaged 14.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range.
14. T.J. GIBBS, Notre Dame, Jr.
Coming on strong during his sophomore season, the 6-foot-3 Gibbs is going to be asked to do even more for a young Fighting Irish team. The good news is that Gibbs is already used to being the main scorer. Gibbs scored double-figures in 19 of 21 ACC games last season while averaging 15.3 points, 3.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game.
15. D’MARCUS SIMONDS, Georgia State, Jr.
The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year made a huge impression by putting up 21.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season. If Simonds can improve his woeful 29 percent three-point shooting then he’ll become one of the most complete scorers in the country.
The 6-foot-4 Weatherspoon saw his scoring numbers and three-point percentage dip from sophomore to junior season. But Weatherspoon also became a more well-rounded guard as he nearly doubled his assist total. If Weatherspoon lifts his perimeter shooting, then he could make this ranking look silly.
17. FLETCHER MAGEE, Wofford, Sr.
The SoCon Player of the Year is arguably the best pure shooter in college hoops. Just missing a 50/40/90 season as a junior, MaGee averaged 22.1 points per game while making 4.4 three-pointers per game at a 43 percent clip. Magee is perhaps most well-known for his 27 points in the Dean Dome last season when Wofford upset North Carolina.
18. PHIL BOOTH, Villanova, Sr.
It seems like Booth’s been with the Wildcats forever. This season the 6-foot-3 guard has more of a chance to shine. Already dropping 41 points, and nine three-pointers, on North Carolina in a preseason scrimmage, Booth appears to be ready to take a high number of shots in Villanova’s high-octane offense.
19. BRYCE BROWN, Auburn, Sr.
As dangerous as it gets from the perimeter, the 6-foot-3 Brown led the SEC with 107 made three-pointers last season. Auburn’s uptempo attack gives Brown a lot of makeable shots, as he averaged 15.9 points per game on 38 percent three-point shooting last season.
20. HERB JONES, Alabama, So.
Expectations are very high for the 6-foot-7 Jones to make a major leap this season. A potentially elite two-way guard who shows very strong defensive traits, Jones has the upside to make a leap to the pros. Jones has to expand on the modest minutes and numbers he put up last season, but he has major upside.
This season’s crop of lead guards doesn’t have a lot of star power or guaranteed All-Americans.
Most of the top players in college basketball this year reside at other positions. There just aren’t that many impact point guards this season when it comes to the game’s elite players. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a ton of players who won’t make a giant impact.
As you look through this list of college basketball’s top lead guards, you’ll notice that a healthy amount of the group is upperclassmen. That type of experience and leadership usually means that some of these teams could surprise this season thanks to some big games out of the backcourt.
This season’s freshman class also doesn’t add a lot when it comes to impact freshmen lead guards, as most of the top talents in the high school Class of 2018 come from the wing and interior.
So it should be a unique year for lead guards at the college level. This list already includes a lot of decorated players and 1,000-point career scorers. Many of these guys might be underrated, but they can also play.
1. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue, Jr.
Get ready for a fun season of Carsen Edwards. The 6-foot-1 junior will be among the nation’s leading scorers this season after Purdue lost the four other starters that played with Edwards last season.
Running with all that talent around him last season, the Boilermakers made the Sweet 16 for the second straight season as Edwards put up 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Now that Edwards will need to have even more of an impact on Purdue’s offense, he could put up massive scoring numbers. Expect Edwards to be a high-volume guard who gets tons of shot attempts this season while trying to get his new teammates involved as well.
Not many players in the country will have more resting on their shoulders than Edwards at Purdue. He’s also talented enough to put up 40 points and single-handedly carry an offense for a night. It’ll be fascinating to see how the newcomers step up, and how much Edwards can carry on his own.
2. TYUS BATTLE, Syracuse, Jr.
Battle’s decision to return for his junior season proved to be a pivotal one for the Orange as they become one of the country’s most intriguing teams. Syracuse’s best offensive option by a mile last season, the 6-foot-6 Battle often had to do a lot to score as he put up 19.2 points per game.
Also logging a ridiculous 39 minutes per game last season, Battle almost never left the floor for the Orange. He was counted on to be productive on both ends of the floor at nearly all times. One of the game’s biggest warriors, Battle should also get more help around him this season. The Orange have more perimeter weapons. They get a year older and better. That should contribute to Battle improving his 39 percent field goal percentage.
3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette, Jr.
If it weren’t for Trae Young generating so much attention last season then this 5-foot-11 guard might have received more headlines on his own. One of the most exciting perimeter scoring guards in college hoops, Howard had some monster games during his sophomore season.
Teaming with another high-quality shooter in Andrew Rowsey, Howard averaged 20.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. A 40 percent three-point shooter who can get absurdly hot from distance, Howard had two games with 11 three-pointers last season — including a memorable 52-point outing in a road win at Providence.
Defenses are going to focus even more on Howard this season with Rowsey moving on, but the Golden Eagles also have a more complete team filled with complimentary pieces. Howard could be in line for an All-American season if things go right in Milwaukee.
4. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s, Jr.
The 6-foot-1 Ponds is one of the Big East’s elite players, as he put up monster numbers for the Red Storm last season. Putting up 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, Ponds produces the type of all-around numbers that make him a prime Player of the Year candidate.
And it will help Ponds immensely to have more help around him this season. With the addition of Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron, St. John’s has a chance to be one of the best (and most exciting) backcourts in the country this season. That means that Ponds doesn’t have to take so many forced looks. If Ponds shoots more like he did freshman season (37 percent three-point range) than he did sophomore season (25 percent) then he’ll be nearly impossible to defend.
5. TREMONT WATERS, LSU, So.
There might not be a guard who is more fun to watch than this 5-foot-11 sophomore. Breaking LSU’s freshman school assists record while pumping in tons of tough shots, Waters averaged 15.9 points, 6.0 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game last season. With flashy handles and deep perimeter shooting ability, Waters was made to make highlights as he can single-handedly ignite an offense.
With more tools at his disposal this season, Waters also has a chance to improve his efficiency. LSU’s offense has more legitimate big men this season, which should help Waters improve his 41 percent shooting. The Tigers are young and talented, but they have a shot at a great year if Waters plays as well as everyone believes he can.
6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State, Jr.
The junior hasn’t received significant attention because of his NBA lottery-pick teammates. That will change this season. Winston is one of the most efficient and talented point guards in the country as he led the Big Ten in assists and three-point percentage last season.
It’s hard to ask for anything better than a point guard that just misses going 50/50/90 with 6.9 assists per game. Now that Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson are gone to the League, Winston should produce more points on his own. The Spartans will need Winston to up his scoring this season, as they haven’t found a capable go-to scorer over the last several seasons.
7. JALEN ADAMS, UConn, Sr.
One of the lone bright spots for the Huskies the past few seasons, the 6-foot-3 Adams has a chance to leave the program on a high note this season. A do-it-all guard who can score or make plays for others, Adams can put up flurries of points with the best of them.
Adams had eight 20-point games in the American last season and also dropped 20-plus on quality teams like Arkansas, Michigan State and Syracuse. While Adams hasn’t had the most desirable of field percentages during his career, he also hasn’t had the most consistent amount of help. If Adams improves efficiency and gets a little more help, then the Huskies could surprise this season.
8. JON ELMORE, Marshall, Sr.
Becoming a national darling during Marshall’s surprising NCAA tournament mini-run last season the 6-foot-3 Elmore put up absurd numbers playing in the Thundering Herd’s high-octane offense. Producing multiple triple-doubles during the season, Elmore put up 22.7 points, 6.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds per game last season while shooting 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range.
With the national spotlight more on him this season, Elmore is going to get a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Thankfully for Elmore, high-scoring backcourt running mate C.J. Burks has also returned as they form one of the best perimeter tandems in the country.
9. ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland, Jr.
It’s weird to think that this 6-foot-0 junior might be underrated. That’s also the burden of playing in Melo Trimble’s shadow. But now that Cowan has made a name for himself last season, he has a chance to be a breakout player for an intriguing Maryland team.
At 15.8 points, 5.1 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game last season, Cowan contributed in every facet of the game. He was also irreplaceable for the Terps. Cowan barely left the floor as he averaged 37 minutes per game. Underrated defensively, Cowan was also named to the Big Ten’s All-Defensive Team. Playing with a young supporting cast that is talented, but inexperienced, Cowan’s leadership will also be counted on in a major way.
10. MCKINLEY WRIGHT IV, Colorado, So.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of any freshman last season, the 6-foot-0 Wright led the Buffaloes in scoring, assists and steals as they had a winning record. Now with the chance to once again be the leader of a young team, Wright could be in line for a huge sophomore season.
A former Dayton commit who switched to the Buffaloes in the spring, Wright averaged 14.2 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game while also consistently getting in passing lanes. If Wright can improve his assist-to-turnover ratio by limiting turnovers, while also improving his inconsistent perimeter jumper (30 percent three-point shooting) then he has a chance to be an elite player this season.
11. BARRY BROWN, Kansas State, Sr.
Underrated during his career with the Wildcats, the 6-foot-3 Brown is comfortable playing either guard spot and both sides of the ball. With over 1,200 career points, Brown is one of the best guards in college hoops at scoring near the basket. He just has to improve his 31 percent perimeter shooting.
12. CHRIS CLEMONS, Campbell, Sr.
If Edwards doesn’t lead the nation in scoring then this 5-foot-9 guard has a good chance to do so. Clemons has over 2,200 career points as he’s a lightning bolt on the offensive end. Capable of getting in the lane at will, if Clemons improves his assist-to-turnover ratio then he’ll have All-American potential.
13. TY JEROME, Virginia, Jr.
The 6-foot-5 junior still has two more seasons after a promising sophomore season that saw him become one of the ACC’s most complete players. Capable of controlling tempo, scoring and finding others, Jerome is a plus perimeter shooter (37.9 percent three-point range) and one of the college game’s best closers at the line (90 percent).
14. DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt, Fr.
The McDonald’s All-American gives the Commodores plenty of immediate hope. At 6-foot-1, Garland is smaller in stature, but he makes up for it with a ridiculously high skill level. Garland can score with a sweet off-the-dribble jumper while also setting up others.
15. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon, Jr.
Already appearing in a Final Four, this 6-foot-2 floor general has a lot of big-game experience. A deadly three-point shooter, Pritchard averaged 14.5 points, 4.8 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game last season. Pritchard will be the catalyst behind an intriguing Oregon offense.
16. ASHTON HAGANS, Kentucky, Fr.
Reclassifying late from the Class of 2019 to immediately join the Wildcats, Hagans looks like a potential two-way stud. Potentially Kentucky’s best perimeter defender, Hagans is also capable of helping on or off the ball on offense. Kentucky’s backcourt will be crowded, but Hagans has a defensive ability that could separate him from the pack.
17. TRE JONES, Duke, Fr.
The younger brother of former Duke star Tyus Jones has some big shoes to fill as the team’s starting point guard. Craving stability at lead guard the past few seasons, Jones should be able to capably run an offense while providing leadership, athleticism, and some better defense than his brother.
18. JUSTIN ROBINSON, Virginia Tech, Jr.
The 6-foot-1 senior helped the Hokies make the Big Dance in back-to-back seasons as he now Virginia Tech tries to make a deep tournament run. Robinson averaged 14.0 points, 5.6 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game — and those numbers went up during ACC play. Robinson is also a lethal perimeter shooter.
19. CODY MARTIN, Nevada, Sr.
Moving to point guard late last season when Lindsey Drew went down with injury, the 6-foot-7 Martin can be counted on to do a bit of everything for the Wolf Pack. Brother Caleb is the go-to scorer, but Cody is reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year while adding plenty of points, steals and rebounds.
20. KAMAR BALDWIN, Butler, Jr.
Wired to score during his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, the 6-foot-1 Baldwin will be asked to do more as a floor leader this season. Capable of being one of the best two-way guards in college hoops, Baldwin must improve his ability to help others while also improving his three-point percentage.