By Kevin Sweeney
Great guard play is essential for a mid-major with aspirations of making a deep run into March. Since it is so difficult for mid-majors to find high-quality big men on the recruiting trail, coaches usually look to develop their team around a strong, deep backcourt. Let’s take a look at some of the best guard units in all of mid-major basketball:
- St. Bonaventure- If Steph Curry and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors are the “Splash Brothers”, the Bonnies’ starting backcourt of CCSU transfer Matt Mobley and Jaylen Adams should be called the “Splash Sons”. Both guys make over 3 triples per game and feature limitless range from beyond the arc. However, Adams and Mobley aren’t just shooters. They both are excellent at getting to the basket and getting their teammates involved. The tandem combines to average 44.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game. Saint Bonaventure has a chance to compete for an A-10 Championship, and Adams & Mobley are the biggest reason why.
- Fort Wayne- The Mastodons certainly aren’t flying under the radar anymore after beating Indiana in late November. Fort Wayne starts four guards, and all of them average double figures. Leading the way is Summit League Player of the Year candidate Mo Evans with 18.8 points and 6 assists per game, but the glue that holds this unit together is sophomore John Konchar. Konchar was huge in the game against the Hoosiers, playing every minute of the game and posting a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Bryson Scott, the junior transfer from Purdue, also contributes over 15 points per game, while Kason Harrell averages just over 10 for the Mastodons.
- Central Michigan- It may be one of the shortest backcourts in the country, but there is no doubt that the Chippewas’s guard unit is one of the best. They are led by a pair of 5-9 guards in Marcus Keene and Braylon Rayson. Keene is the nation’s leading scorer, with his 31.4 points per game an incredible 6 points per game more than any other player. Last night against Green Bay, Keene posted 40 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds in one of the best performances by a mid-major player in recent memory. Rayson has been no slouch either, averaging 17.6 ppg. The Chippewas are certainly reaping the benefits of Rayson and Keene’s huge seasons, as they are 8-2 despite being picked last in the MAC West division before the season.
- UNC-Wilmington- In order to play in a system that likes to get up and down the floor & force turnovers, you need a deep, athletic backcourt. Kevin Keatts’ Seahawks certainly have that, and have been able to force over 17 turnovers per game as a result. The star of the group is senior Chris Flemmings, who walked on last season after transferring from D-2 Barton College before leading the Seahawks in scoring. He’s off to a strong start to the season, posting averages of 19.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Flemmings is one of 6 guards that averages at least 19 minutes per game for the Seahawks, with guys like sophomore C.J. Bryce and senior Denzel Ingram among thoseplaying key roles. Thanks to these guards, the Seahawks are the favorites to win the CAA for a second consecutive season.
- Monmouth- Last season’s national darlings for their upset wins and choreographed dance routines, the Hawks bring back every major backcourt contributor for the 2016-17 season. We all know the exploits of diminutive point guard and defending MAAC Player of the Year Justin Robinson, but this unit goes far beyond Robinson. There’s defending MAAC Rookie of the Year Micah Seaborn and Oklahoma transfer Je’Lon Hornbeak, each of whom are outstanding shooters and perimeter defenders. When this team starts stroking it from downtown, they are impossible to stop, and that’s thanks to guys like Robinson, Seaborn, and Hornbeak , who each have hit 39% from 3-point land this season. Austin Tilghman and Josh James also provide toughness and leadership for this Hawks team.
- Rice- If you are looking for star power in a guard unit, then you will love this Rice team. Leading the way is sophomore sensation Marcus Evans, one of the best players in the country. He’s averaging over 23 points per game for the Owls and has developed as a point guard this season, recently setting his career high with 8 assists against Houston Baptist. Egor Koulechov, a wing player who has been deployed as a small-ball 4 at times, has also been fantastic, averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting over 50% from beyond the arc. Koulechov’s versatility is incredibly valuable for the Owls. Mike Rhoades seems to have turned the corner in his rebuild of this Rice program, and with these two guys in tow, the future is bright.
- NJIT- Jim Engles brought this NJIT program to unprecedented successes, and former Engles assistant Brian Kennedy has stepped in and continued to the program’s success thus far this season. Damon Lynn, a senior guard who is the program’s D-1 all-time scoring leader, is one of the most prolific shooters in all of college basketball. He’s on his way to being a 2,000 point scorer, and could potentially reach 500 career made 3-point goals for his career. Behind Lynn, Tim Coleman is a great second option who rebounds extremely well, while Ron Ukawuba is also a steady contributor. That senior trio is a big reason why the Highlanders have a chance for their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance this season.
- Grand Canyon- There is as much talent in this Antelope backcourt as any in mid-major basketball, but there has been one problem: It hasn’t been at full strength yet this season. Point guard DeWayne Russell has averaged almost 28 ppg this season, but missed the first 2 games with a NCAA suspension. Joshua Braun, who was perhaps the favorite for WAC POY entering the season, has battled a knee injury for much of the season. If that duo can come together, the Antelopes could have a very special season.
- Florida Gulf Coast- The addition of UCF transfer Brandon Goodwin has put a good guard unit over the top. “Dunk City”‘s guards are athletic, quick, and experienced, and are a big reason why the Eagles nearly upset Michigan State and Baylor early this season. Goodwin is one of 3 guards averaging in double figures for FGCU, recording over 15 points per game. Zach Johnson has also been excellent, averaging 14 points per game.
- Murray State- The Racers are no strangers to excellent guard play, having produced current NBA point guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne. Once again, Murray State has a strong group of guards leading the charge. Tulane transfer Jonathan Stark has been as good as advertised, averaging over 22 points per game for the Racers. Meanwhile, veterans Bryce Jones and Damarcus Croaker are both key contributors for the Racers. Stark has quickly entered discussion for Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, and the Racers look to be contenders once again in the OVC.