Ranking a Stacked Group of Sweet 16 Point Guards
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jalen Brunson
Earlier today, I ranked the entire Sweet 16 field from an overall power rankings perspective. Given how important guard play is the deeper we get into the tourney and seeing the plethora of point guard talent remaining in the field, I thought it would also be useful to rank the Sweet 16 point guards.
1. Jalen Brunson (Villanova)
Brunson isn’t the best pro point guard prospect left in the tournament, but he’s the best remaining lead guard at this moment. Brunson is the best reader and reactor in pick and roll in all of college basketball. He is also an elite advancer of the ball in transition, which will come in handy against Press Virginia on Friday. He doesn’t have elite lateral quickness, but makes up for it with his strength, instincts, and intellect. An underrated aspect of Brunson’s game: his ability to post up and move without the ball in an offense that has several elite passers.
2. Devonte’ Graham (Kansas)
The top two on this list sit in a tier of their own. Graham, arguably the best individual offensive player in the entire tournament, has every conceivable shot available in his offensive repertoire. Combine that with his elite court vision and you can consider Graham 1b to Brunson’s 1a.
3. Jevon Carter (West Virginia)
Carter doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he’s the best two-way point guard in the field, leading both Bob Huggins’ full court pressure defense and cut and fill motion offense. The senior leader has been tremendous thus far in the tournament on offense, while performing even better on defense. (Carter completely shut down two explosive guards in Marshall’s Jon Elmore and Murray State’s Jonathan Stark).
4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Kentucky)
Few players have been individually more impressive off late than SGA. He has almost solely been responsible for UK’s transformation into a legit title contender. At 6’6, he’s an elite player on both ends of the floor in pick and roll, while his shooting ability is slowly becoming a respectable aspect of his game.
5. Keenan Evans (Texas Tech)
We saw how vital Evans was to Texas Tech when he missed some time with a toe injury. Evans is the undisputed alpha in Chris Beard’s motion offense; things grind to halt when he’s off the floor. He’s far from the best shooter on this list, but his intangibles and importance to his team are off the charts.
6. Clayton Custer (Loyola Chicago)
Custer is perhaps a surprise at No. 6 for people who haven’t followed the Valley, but he’s arguably the most important point guard left in the field. Loyola Chicago lost two games all year with a healthy Custer. When he was out with an ankle injury, Loyola lost to Milwaukee, Indiana State, and Missouri State.. Custer is an elite shooter, passer, and defender. He is simply the perfect floor general for head coach Porter Moser’s “Rick Majerus” influenced offensive scheme. He’s behind only Sister Jean in the Ramblers’ “Heart and Soul” power rankings.
7. Cody Martin (Nevada)
The facilitator of the Martin twins has also stepped up his scoring output in March. He’s also the Pack’s best defender. Martin is the perfect lead guard in Eric Musselman’s NBA style “pace and space” offense. He has been outstanding since taking over full time ball handling duties after Nevada lost Lindsey Drew to injury for the year.
8. Josh Perkins (Gonzaga)
Steady. That’s the first descriptor that pops into my mind for Josh Perkins. He’s a steady ball handler, steady passer, and steady shooter. That consistency allows Gonzaga’s ball screen continuity offense to exploit inherent mismatches in the frontcourt. Perkins won’t blow anyone away, but he also won’t cost his team points.
9. Zavier Simpson (Michigan)
Zavier Simpson emerged from a murky preseason point guard situation into a perfect fit in head coach John Beilein’s 2 Guard offense. Perhaps most importantly, his on ball defense has transformed Michigan into a surprisingly elite defensive unit.
10. Carsen Edwards/Dakota Mathias (Purdue)
We will now enter the “tandem” portion of this list. Edwards and Mathias are both excellent passers in head coach Matt Painter’s motion offense. Both also work well off each other when moving without the ball. Mathias is the better defender and shooter, while Edwards has the most offensive explosion and ability to individually break down defenses.
11. Barry Brown/Kam Stokes (Kansas State)
Kam Stokes’ role has been a bit nebulous since returning from injury, but he has shown flashes of his old self in this tournament. Meanwhile, Barry Brown has an elite ability to penetrate and draw contact at the rim. Both have incredibly quick hands in head coach Bruce Weber’s halfcourt pressure defense.
12. TJ Starks (Texas A&M)
TJ Starks has perhaps the most upside on this list. His on ball skills are off the charts, but his excessively high turnover rate caps his immediate ranking on this list. It’s important to remember he’s just a freshman that is currently playing in an offense that doesn’t showcase his skill set nearly enough.
13. Trevon Duval/Grayson Allen (Duke)
Trevon Duval might quietly be the most important player listed. In all but one of Duke’s seven losses, he had three or more turnovers. Duke has simply looked exceptional when Duval plays well, which he has done in both tournament games thus far. A steady hand at the point catapults Duke into the stratosphere offensively. Conversely, when Duval is flustered or rendered ineffective by ball pressure, Allen has to take over primary ball handling duties, and he’s far more effective working off the ball.
14. Frank Howard (Syracuse)
A big bodied point who reminds me of former Cuse guard Michael Carter-Williams. However, his streaky jump shot and lack of speed off the bounce limits his rating on this list. Having said that, he is a perfect fit defensively for the top of head coach Jim Boeheim’s vaunted zone.
15. Shelton Mitchell/Marcquise Reed (Clemson)
Mitchell is more of the distributor and Reed the scorer in this duo. However, both have been efficient running head coach Brad Brownell’s newfound commitment to pick and roll offense. As a result, Clemson has suddenly catapulted into the 21st century on that end of the floor.
16. Braian Angola/Trent Forrest/CJ Walker (Florida State)
The quintessential point guard situation for head coach Leonard Hamilton. His positionless brand of basketball focuses on length and versatility 1-4 and the ability to exploit mismatches with whomever has the ball. All three guards mentioned above are streaky shooters at best, but can each draw contact off the dribble and play outstanding ball pressure defense.
Photo credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports