These Point Guards Can Slay the March Giants
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you should read this before filling out your bracket.
By Matt Foley
As is tradition in the days leading up to the NCAA Tournament, it’s easy to begin filling out your March Madness bracket and then realize, “Oh no, I have all 1-seeds in the Final Four.” Sure, that’s not the worst strategy — multiple 1-seeds make the Final Four more than half the time — but no one wants to go all “chalk.” March Madness is about mayhem — shocking upsets like Dunk City and emerging stars like Steph Curry.
This year, there’s no denying that March Madness is very much about the big dogs. With three No. 1 seeds from the conference including Duke and the otherworldly Zion Williamson, “the target is officially on the ACC’s back,” says Adam Zucker, host of Inside College Basketball on CBS. “And then you look at dangerous major conference teams with lower seeds. Can Villanova, [Virginia Tech] or Florida State make a run?”
The biggest challenge for this year’s marquee names will come if and when they face a game-changing point guard. Savvy, experienced point guards who win the turnover battle and catch fire offensively are paramount come March, when beating more talented teams comes down to outsmarting and out-shooting future NBA stars. So who should you be watching? Here are some teams (and point guards) that could play spoiler this weekend and beyond.
The First-Round Matchup With Real Ramifications
No. 5 Seed Marquette (Markus Howard) vs. No. 12 Murray State (Ja Morant). The top two candidates for this year’s Kemba Walker — the point guard most likely to throw his team over his shoulder and high-step to the Final Four — caught a raw deal with this West Region seeding. Basketball fans, however, should be ecstatic. Morant, projected No. 2 in most NBA mock drafts, averages 24.6 points, 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, with highlight-reel dunks a regular occurrence. Sadly, his March Madness show may be a guest spot. Marquette’s Howard is a shorter, equally talented scorer who shoots the ball better from deep (40.8 percent from three versus Morant’s 33.6) and turns the ball over less. He’s topped 35 points or more six times this year, including a 53-point gem. Howard can’t create like Morant, but Marquette is the deeper team with capable shooters across the board. If the Golden Eagles shoot their way to a Sweet Sixteen matchup with Gonzaga, they have the length and guard play to hang with the Zags.
No. 2 Michigan State (Cassius Winston). The Big Ten Player of the Year who carried his team to a conference title has been criminally overlooked this year. Winston is averaging 18.9 points and 7.6 assists on 40 percent shooting from three with less than three turnovers per game. So, of course, the selection committee stuck him in Duke’s bracket. This is a team with zero future NBA players on the roster, but Winston is the type of player who can beat Duke’s Tre Jones on both ends of the floor and take Duke to the wire.
No. 3 LSU (Tremont Waters). Is LSU the team that won the SEC regular season outright and ranked 10th in the nation in offensive efficiency or the team that lost to Florida in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals? With the recent FBI wiretap-related suspension of head coach Will Wade hanging over the program, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Behind the sophomore Waters (15.1 points, 5.9 assists per game), LSU could be on upset alert against No. 14 Yale, or it could roll to an Elite Eight matchup with Duke. The Tigers are one of the few teams athletic enough to keep up with Duke, and their playing styles are eerily similar. Will Waters’ buzzer-beating pedigree come in handy?
No. 7 Wofford (Fletcher Magee and Storm Murphy). Magee, who will likely break the career college basketball three-point record against Seton Hall, gets the attention, but Wofford isn’t a one-man show. The Terriers were one of five Division I teams to shoot over 40 percent from three-point range this year, with point guard Murphy hitting 48.5 percent from deep.
No. 13 Vermont (The Brothers Duncan). Vermont’s best player is forward Anthony Lamb (21.4 points, 7.8 rebounds), but the Catamounts are included here thanks to the Duncan Bros — Ernie, Everett and Robin. The fourth family trio to start for a Division I program, the Indiana natives can light it up from deep. Florida State should be afraid.
No. 13 UC Irvine (Max Hazzard). Not many teams won more games than the 30–5 Anteaters. Head coach Russell Turner is a former Golden State Warriors assistant who loves to run and gun, with a guard-heavy attack led by point guard Hazzard (12.5 points, 39.4 percent from three). Bonus: No team allows a lower shooting percentage on two-pointers than Irvine. That’s exactly the type of team that will give No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin trouble in the South Region.
No. 15 Colgate (Jordan Burns). Colgate is the best three-point shooting team in America since February 1, and 14th overall (38.8 percent) on the year. Meanwhile, No. 2 Tennessee has struggled to defend the outside shot all season. Burns is averaging 15.8 points and 5.8 assists per game, and he exploded for 35 points and 6 assists on 10–16 shooting (6–9 from three) in Colgate’s Patriot League championship win over Bucknell.
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