The early portion of the college basketball season has been dominated by excellent guard play from coast to coast. An influx of freshman guards has upped the level of guard play around the country, and each of the freshies has been great. Some players turned down a chance to go pro to stay another year, while others have broken out through the first month or so of action.
Starting with the number one team in the nation in Villanova. Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson are averaging a combined 32.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Hart is in the mix for the Wooden Award and leads the Wildcats in rebounds with 7.1 per game. Hart’s shooting percentages of 54% from the field and 46% from deep are eye popping.
Staying in the Big East, Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster have been great for the Creighton Bluejays. Foster leads the team in points at 17.8 per game, while shooting over 40% from three. Watson is averaging almost a double-double with 13.1 points per game and 9.1 assists per contest, which leads D-1. The backcourt pairing has Creighton unbeaten through their first ten games.
Watson and Foster are veterans at the college level, but the freshmen duo of Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox have been more than impressive at Kentucky. Both have played themselves into the top 10 for the draft. The duo is combining for 34.5 points, eight rebounds and 9.3 assists per contest.
Monk has shown off his three-point range, hitting 38% from three-land. He’s a microwave scorer, but leads the Wildcats in scoring. Fox has excelled at getting to the basket and has shown excellent vision, especially on the fast break. Fox also has a triple-double to his credit this year.
Not to be outdone are Phil Forte and Juwan Evans of Oklahoma State. Despite a soft schedule early, Evans is dropping in almost 24 points per game and is knocking down 56% of his triples. Forte, who is somehow still at OSU, is scoring 13.2 per, despite his three point shot not falling at rates we’re accustomed to seeing from him.
Going out west to Los Angeles, the UCLA Bruins have been helped by a tandem of freshmen, more specifically, Lonzo Ball. Ball has partnered up with Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton to form a three-headed monster out of the backcourt. The Bruins score 98 points per game, with almost half of that (48.3 ppg) coming from the backcourt (Aaron Holiday also scores 13.3 off the bench).
With Ball’s excellent passing skills, he sets up Hamilton (45%) and Alford (42%) for wide open threes.There were questions about Ball’s ability to shoot with funky form on his jumper, but has connected on 45% of his looks from downtown. Ball is also second in the country in assists, with 8.8 per.
A list of best backcourts wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of the Duke Blue Devils. Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen are doing their best J.J Redick impressions this season for Coach K. If it weren’t for preseason injuries, the Blue Devils would likely be unbeaten. However, Allen and Kennard have been better than ever, scoring 37.7 points a game between the two of them. Both of them have also been solid on the glass and as distributors, with this team lacking a true point guard.
It’s been more of the same for Allen, who’s second on Duke in scoring at 17.7 points per game and leads Duke in assists per game. Meanwhile, Kennard has improved his playmaking ability, and has shown an ability to take the ball to the basket and leads Duke in scoring at 20 points per game and bringing in six rebounds per game. Kennard is slashing an efficient.520/.886/.409.
For as good as those backcourts have been, the best backcourt in America lies in Lawrence, Kansas, where Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham just continue to produce for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Mason is the early leader for player of the year, scoring 20.5 points per game and dishing out 5.5 assists, which both lead Kansas. His shooting numbers? Off the charts. Shooting 58% from the field is good for centers, never mind a 5’10” point guard. Mason is fearless attacking the basket and can finish among the trees. As for his range, how does 54% from three-point range sound? Graham hasn’t been too shabby either, scoring 13.3 points per game, while shooting 49% from the field and 43% from deep. Graham is second to Mason on the Jayhawks in assists.
For as good as the stats are, the leadership on and off the court is what sets these two apart. Both are senior leaders on roster that has few proven options outside of Mason and Graham. Also, with Carlton Bragg getting into legal trouble, they’ll need to replace his production. Both come up big when it matters most, and despite being on the smaller end of the scale, both are tough defenders. They are capable of making the big shot, and Bill Self trusts them probably more than any other player he’s had.
For Kansas to win its 13th straight Big XII, Kansas will rely on its senior guards to get them there.
Cover Photo via CJ Online