October 27, 2008

Lawson tops preseason point guard rankings

Our rankings of the top 10 point guards are a microcosm of our top 65 rankings dominated by the Big East but North Carolina at No. 1.

The Big East has four point guards on our list; no other league has more than two in our top 10.

The strength of the Big East is going to be a popular refrain this season. Maybe one reason it is expected to be so dominant is because of its talent and experience at point guard. When we expand our list at each position to 25 when we release our Power Rankings before the start of the season, there could be as many as seven Big East point guards.

"This is a guard-oriented league, and the depth of the guards is unprecedented," Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. "Just look at the backcourts at Villanova, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Marquette. There are some really special players in there, and that is one of the main reasons this league is so deep."

The list of special players includes Marquette senior Dominic James, part of a three-guard starting lineup for the Golden Eagles.

"When you start going through the teams in the league, it seems like everyone has a great point guard," James said. "(Connecticut's) A.J. Price has done a great job. (Villanova's) Scottie Reynolds has really led his team. (Pittsburgh's) Levance Fields has put his team in a position to be very successful."

Who does James believe is on top in the Big East?

"If I couldn't say myself, I'd probably lean towards A.J. because he has so many people to go to," James said.

Nonetheless, the top two guys on our list won't have any fear of the Big East. Each of them has been somewhere none of the Big East point guards has been the Final Four. In fact, they have four national semifinals appearances between them.

It's a good bet someone from the Big East will join the club in 2009. Our Nos. 1 and 2 hope to be back there waiting for him.


1. Ty Lawson, North Carolina, Jr., 5-11/195
He entered the NBA draft but withdrew late in the process, automatically moving the Tar Heels from ACC favorite to national favorite. One of the fastest players in the game with the ball in his hands, Lawson is adept at getting in the lane and setting up teammates. He also has a knack for finishing on forays to the basket even when off-balance. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.2 assists (third in the ACC) and 1.6 steals per game last season and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.36-1 to lead the conference. He also is one of the best free-throw shooters in the ACC (sixth at 83.5 percent). The bottom line is he makes good decisions with the ball almost every time.

2. Darren Collison, UCLA, Sr., 6-0/160
It says a lot about Collison that the Bruins have been to three Final Fours in his three years on campus. Like Lawson, his speed is one of his greatest weapons, and he also can be counted on to get the ball in the right player's hands. He averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 assists and 1.8 steals per game last season. Collison also has made himself into an outstanding perimeter shooter: He shot a sizzling 52.5 percent (53-of-101) from 3-point range. Collison has shot better from the field, 3-point line and free-throw line in each of his three seasons.

3. A.J. Price, Connecticut, Sr., 6-2/181
Price had his breakout season last season, ranking second in the Big East in assists (5.82 to Notre Dame's Tory Jackson's 5.85), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.46-to-1) and 15th in scoring (14.5 ppg). He led the Huskies in 3-pointers (52) and steals (43). His return from an ACL tear suffered in an NCAA first-round loss to San Diego is critical to the Huskies' hopes of claiming their third national title in the past 10 season. "He's our leader," UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. "He's got the street cred. The guys pay attention to him." They should because he'll get the ball to them in the right spots, and he can shoulder much of the scoring load.

4. Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga, Sr., 6-2/219
Pargo went through the NBA evaluation process before deciding to return for his final season. He's the reigning West Coast Conference player of the year after leading the WCC in assists (6.0) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.79-1). He's an explosive player, and he's more physical than many at his position. He tallied 18 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals against Davidson in a first-round NCAA tournament loss. For the season, Pargo averaged 12.1 points and 1.4 steals. He also shot 49.7 percent, proof that he's adept at getting in the lane and getting good looks because he's not particularly dangerous from the perimeter (26.5 percent from 3-point range).

5. Levance Fields, Pittsburgh, Sr., 5-10/190
The Panthers went 19-4 last season in the 23 games Fields was able to start. They were 8-4 in the 12 games he missed with a broken foot. Four of the 19 wins came in an amazing run to the Big East tournament title. Fields earned all-tourney honors after averaging 11.3 points, 5.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds as Pitt took down in succession Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown. He averaged 11.9 points, 5.3 assists and 3.9 rebounds for the season. His assist average would have ranked third in the Big East but he didn't play in the required 75 percent of Pittsburgh's games. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.18-to-1 was the best in school history.

6. Jonny Flynn, Syracuse, Soph., 6-0/186
The Big East Conference Co-Rookie of the Year delivered on his five-star status last season. He averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 assists, and his assist total of 185 was the second-highest freshman total in school history. His 548 points were the fourth-highest freshman total in school history, behind only Carmelo Anthony, Lawrence Moten and Donte Greene. With Greene leaving for the NBA, Flynn will have an even bigger role. Because of injuries, Flynn averaged more than 35 minutes per game last season. He scored at least 20 points 12 times as the Orange reached the NIT quarterfinals.

7. Stephen Curry, Davidson, Jr., 6-3/185
OK, so he played shooting guard for the Wildcats last season. Anyone really want to argue that he won't be good at the point? Curry averaged 25.9 points to rank fourth nationally in scoring. He made an NCAA single-season record 162 3-pointers last season and led Davidson to the Elite Eight, where they fell to Kansas when a last-second shot missed. Curry averaged 2.9 assists, a number that should rise. Coach Bob McKillop will count on that and Curry's assist-to-turnover ratio improving significantly as well. But don't make any mistake: Curry still will shoulder plenty of the scoring load.

8. Devan Downey, South Carolina, Jr., 5-9/175
Downey, a Cincinnati transfer, was first-team All-SEC in his first season with the Gamecocks, averaging 18.4 points, 5.4 assists and 3.2 steals in 37.4 minutes per game. His scoring average was third in the SEC, his assist average was second and his steal average ranked first. Downey is as fast as anyone on this list with the ball, and he can make defenders look silly in the open court. "You cannot cover him one-on-one," Tennessee forward Tyler Smith said. Downey scored at least 20 points 15 times last season, including a season-high 30 against Penn State.

9. Tyrese Rice, Boston College, Sr., 6-1/190
Rice averaged more than 38 minutes per game on the way to first-team All-ACC honors. No one in the ACC played more minutes. He averaged 21.0 points and 5.0 assists, ranking second in the conference in both categories. Rice is perhaps best known for his scoring outburst last season against North Carolina. He dropped 46 points on the Tar Heels, including eight 3-pointers and 10-of-11 free throws. It was one of nine games in which he scored at least 25 points, including 32 against Wake Forest and 32 against N. C. State.

10. Dominic James, Marquette, Sr., 5-11/185
James' scoring, assist and rebounding averages have gone down over the past three seasons, yet he remains an explosive player with a solid skill set. Most encouraging is that his assist-to-turnover ratio hit an all-time best of 2.05-to-1 per game last season. He still does an excellent job of setting up his teammates (4.4 assists per game), and he averaged 12.9 points and 1.8 steals last season. He had a season-high 25 points in a big road win at Villanova, and he had 10 assists in the second-round NCAA loss to Stanford. James ranks fourth on Marquette's career assists list.


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