As I mentioned yesterday, point guard is an important position. Heading into the 2011-12 season there’s only one lead guard in the Pac-12 with a proven track record of success – Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez. Taking a deeper look at the league’s point guards, we learn that they’re either experienced and light on talent, or young with a heavy burden of proof.
The floor generals of the Pac-12 south:
Arizona: Outbound is Momo Jones by way of surprising transfer. Inbound is freshman Josiah Turner by way of Sacramento. He’s a big, strong, play making point guard whose lone fault appears to be an inconsistent jumper. He arrives in Tucson with lofty expectations. Already there’s NBA buzz but Sean Miller is making sure his talented guard stays grounded and focused on the season at hand. And Turner agrees. “I just let it fly by me,” he says when asked about the NBA hype and season’s expectations. NBA aside, the 6’3” point guard has a lot to accomplish in Tucson if the Wildcats expect to repeat any semblance of last season’s success. Also, don’t sleep on Jordin Mayes. The sophomore played well in a backup role one year ago and has put on significant size this off season. His improved strength should translate to playing time and tougher defense and the Wildcats should benefit from his steady shooting (45% from distance).
Arizona State: Want to talk uncertainty? If Jahii Carson – a talented freshman – doesn’t qualify with the NCAA this season, not only are the Sun Devils out a good freshman, they’re going to rely on a junior college transfer (by way of Iowa State) who shot a cool 27% and committed 59 turnovers in 29 games during his one season with the Cyclones. Chris Colvin is his name and Herb Sendek’s team – who often rely heavily on their floor general – will likely need him to play better than 2 TO/game whether Carson is available or not. Some accounts have Colvin playing well in practice and scrimmages to date which is a good sign for the senior-less Sun Devils. Also, if you’ve never seen the bouncy, 5’10” Carson in a mixtape, you’re welcome.
Colorado: Welcome to the Pac-12! Now give your best player to the NBA. The Buffs will have the steady Nate Tomlinson, a senior, at the point. He’s not going to light up a stat line – he scored 10 or more points just once last season – but he’s smart, confident, and takes care of the basketball. He’ll share time in the backcourt with Shannon Sharpe, a redshirt sophomore, whose game is very similar to that of Tomlinson. Together, they should make up a ball control monster – they averaged just 1.6 turnovers per game combined last year – befitting coach Tad Boyle’s guard centric play. Ultimately, the Buffs’ backcourt should be experience heavy while a little light on talent.
Utah: It could be a rough one for the Utes. They return a senior point guard, Josh Watkins, who managed to shoot 26% from three and turn the ball over three-and-a-half times a game last season. That said, he can score a bit (14 ppg) and as one of four returning players, he certainly will be relied upon as a leader. With Utah, in their double inaugural season (Pac-12 and welcoming new coach, Larry Krystkowiak), there’s a lot more to discuss than whether or not they have a veteran point guard. After all, they bring on thirteen new players. Thirteen! It should be interesting to see what Krystkowiak can do with all things new in Salt Lake.
USC: Jio Fontan is a very good basketball player. Too bad he won’t be playing basketball this season. Fontan’s injured knee is a major blow to the Trojans as the senior was expected to anchor an otherwise youthful team. Insert sophomore Maurice Jones, a talented scorer but not all together pure point guard. Kevin O’Neil teams are often point guard-centric and Jones’ ability to facilitate USC’s pro-style, set play offense will likely dictate much of the Trojans’ success. He played the position well in Fontan’s absence last season, averaging 12 points and 4 assists per game. An injury depleted lineup will ask a lot of the sophomore but his brief body of work as USC’s PG demonstrates the Trojans could be in good hands.
UCLA: Arguably the most important position in the entire conference – point guard of the 2011-12 UCLA Bruins – it is my belief that Lazeric Jones holds the keys to a very expensive car. The question is how good of a driver is Jones? If he’s drinking-milk-in-Indy-good, the Bruins are going to turn heads. With the front court they have, a solid, Ben Howland possession guard, could go a long way in feeding a sizable Bruin squad. If he drives like most LA drivers and continues on his enigmatic, stop-and-go path, well so too will UCLA. The senior had an up-and-down junior year, flashing brilliance and cluelessness while also battling injury, but this year he will be depended upon heavily. The Bruins’ backcourt is inexperienced (two new players) and depleted (two early departures and a suspension) so Jones will get the majority of minutes. Also worth keeping an eye on: can the fiery Jones be an effective leader? This team has some attitude issues (Josh Smith, Reeves Nelson) and Jones needs to be the stabilizing force both on and off the court.