With just under two months until the start of the college basketball season, teams are busy preparing their students for a long slog ahead. Classes and buying books come first, of course, but there will then be a lot of basketball. A lot.
But before squads suit up, some will be adjusting to roster shakeups. Some players have moved on to life after basketball, while others will just be moving on to new roles for their respective teams when they take the floor, but coaches are looking for players who can be an extension of them on the court. MORE: 7 point guards you can trust in the pick-and-roll
Come tipoff of the 2016-17 college basketball season, here are a few names to watch at the point guard position.
In this case, that means increased opportunities and extra scrutiny for a guy that only cracked Mike Brey’s lineup sparingly a year ago.
When it came to the NCAA Tournament though, Brey employed Matt Farrell regularly in the off-ball guard position (20+ minutes in each of the Irish’s four games, despite eight DNPs in the regular season).
Notre Dame’s coach was rewarded for his confidence in the New Jersey native as Farrell provided some much-needed ball-handling and floor spacing during the Irish’s postseason run.
There will still be some firepower from the wing position with upperclassmen Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachem still in the mix — Vasturia was actually the team’s second-leading assist maker in 2015-16 — as well as junior forward Bonzie Colson bumping and grinding in the paint. But the main difference will be the drop-off in athleticism from Jackson to Farrell at the point.
Farrell will likely be the guy calling out the plays on offense, but he will have to use his basketball IQ to his advantage over more athletic defenders on most nights. Case in point, this skip pass to find Beachem for the three before the half is a prime example of taking what the defense gives you. Nonetheless, an adjustment is sure to be facing the Irish come start of the 2016 season.
Khadeen Carrington, junior, Seton Hall Pirates: The 2016 season for the Pirates ended on a down note after so much positivity surrounding head coach Kevin Willard’s squad. After upsetting Villanova to clinch the Big East Conference’s automatic bid, Seton Hall was promptly ousted from the NCAA Tournament in the Round of 64 by Gonzaga.
A few weeks later, it became clear that standout sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead would not be returning to finish his matriculation at Seton Hall. He was drafted into the NBA by the Brooklyn Nets in June.
So this year’s team will lean more heavily on a trio of juniors (forward Desi Rodriguez, forward Angel Delgado and guard Khadeen Carrington) for its production. At the top of that list will be Carrington’s assumption of the point guard role.
Given Seton Hall's tendency to rely on individual playmaking ability from the lead guards, there’s plenty of reason to expect a letdown without a de facto leader on offense but herein lies the real job of a point guard.
Carrington was able to operate as more of a scorer in the wing with Whitehead dominating the distributing duties, but this year Carrington will have to help orchestrate those same possessions on offense.
Perhaps even more important, he will need to make sure his team is going through the right reads to get quality looks on offense. That shouldn’t belie the fact that No. 0 can get his own looks — with good ability to score off the dribble when driving right or left — but that is not the only thing this team needs him to do anymore. MORE: Five Big East games to watch in 2016-17
Coach Willard won Big East Coach of the Year honors in 2016, and following that up by turning Carrington into the captain of this team on offense would be a heck of an accomplishment.
Markelle Fultz, freshman, Washington Huskies: There’s normally a lot of pressure on players that are expected to come in and be “the guy” on any college campus, but for Markelle Fultz that type of pressure shouldn’t be anything new.
Fultz, an incoming freshman at the University of Washington who took home MVP honors from the FIBA Americas U18 Championship in July, was the only freshman in the conference to be named to a preseason first-team All-American list.
Some have even tagged him as a potential top-five overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and that’s without even logging a single minute at the collegiate level, so let’s pump the breaks on that front.
Nonetheless, that’s the type of expectations facing Fultz and it’s the same type of high-pressure scenario that will greet the 6’4’’ point guard come opening tip for the Huskies against Yale on Nov. 13. That game should be a good opportunity for the young man to test his mettle against Yale’s Makai Mason (who made a name for himself in the NCAA Tournament against Baylor).
It’s important to note that Fultz will be stepping into a locker room that lost arguably three of its best players from a year ago in senior Andrew Andrews (20.9 points per game, 19th leading scorer in the nation) and a pair of freshman standouts in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss.
Long story short, this is a team with a bit of an identity crisis. But that’s not to sound the alarm just yet.
There is no shortage of talent for the Huskies with sophomores Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, and Matisse Thybulle all back in the mix, as well as junior forward Malik Dime, but it will be interesting to see how the offense jibes under the supervision of head coach Lorenzo Romar.
A two-week summer trip overseas to Australia and New Zealand gave the team a chance to play five games together at the beginning of August, and it could be just what the doctor ordered in terms of getting acclimated to one another on the hardwood.
Kyron Cartwright, junior, Providence Friars: Another team facing an uphill battle following the departure of several high-profile players is the Providence Friars.
Point guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil are no longer around to shoulder the load for the Friars, but Head Coach Ed Cooley can lean on the experience of his junior floor-general-to-be — Kyron Cartwright.
Cartwright will not be tasked with filling up the stat sheet scoring-wise, especially given that he only topped the double-digit point mark nine times in 2015-16, but the 5’11’’ dynamo from Compton, California, has a quick first step and an above average ability to finish with his left hand through traffic. Nonetheless, he will have to improve his free throw and 3-point shooting to help keep teams from cheating away toward other defenders.
More to the point, Cartwright’s pass-first mentality will be a boon for the Friars offense in a time of some uncertainty. Last year he totaled more assists (139) than made baskets (73), but saved some of his largest scoring bursts for his team’s biggest games (twice tallying double figures against eventual champion Villanova).
Cartwright also engineered a 10-point, six-assist effort in a First Round matchup with the USC Trojans in the NCAA Tournament to help Providence to a narrow victory. However, it’s likely going to be a team effort going forward on most nights with the lack of a “go-to-guy” on offense for Providence.
Coach Cooley will look to unleash Cartwright on opponents in 2016, but that move is predicated on the point guard's ability to run the offense properly and efficiently. That said, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.
Shake Milton, sophomore, Southern Methodist Mustangs: For SMU, the 2016-17 season will be a season of new beginnings. First-year head coach Tim Jankovich has taken over the helm from Larry Brown, and will inherit a squad with some important questions to address.
The trio of point guard Nic Moore, forward Markus Kennedy, and forward Jordan Tolbert have graduated and moved on to life after school, and SMU’s Keith Frazier has transferred out of the program to join the University of North Texas (where Jankovich served as head coach for four years).
But, perhaps more important is the team that Coach Jankovich will have in Dallas come tipoff against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 11.
SMU returns a number of players on the wing and upfront to complement the de facto lead guard in Shake Milton.
Forward Ben Moore, guard Sterling Brown, and Duke transfer forward Semi Ojeleye will all be in the mix, so depth will help support the transition at the point guard spot, but there’s still a lot for Milton to learn.
Despite playing in all 30 games in 2015-16, Milton benefitted immensely from being able to play in an off-the-ball fashion alongside Moore, the former Mustangs guard. In effect, that safety net at the point guard position allowed him to acclimate to the college game in a more manageable way.
Moore, who finished his career second (508) on the all-time assists list at SMU, was a Bob Cousy Award finalist a year ago as well as a watchlist member for the Oscar Robertson Trophy (given to the country’s most outstanding player).
In layman’s terms, Moore was one heck of a mentor for Milton to study under and learn from. So here’s hoping that Milton was absorbing as much as he can because the pace will pick up pretty quick in the 2016-17 campaign.
Most teams don’t have the luxury of bringing along high-level recruits in such a way, but it will pay huge dividends for Milton as he heads into his sophomore campaign.
SMU ranked 6th in the nation a year ago with 17.6 assists per game and 27th in the nation a year ago in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.42). When you consider some of the other names in the top 25 of that assist-to-turnover list — a group that includes Michigan State (1.73), UNC (1.65), Virginia (1.60) and Villanova (1.45) to name a few — it’s not exactly bad company to be keeping.
In other words, this is a team that values each possession quite highly. Regardless of the five on the floor, the tenet the team lives by is good solid offense. That begins with quality play from the point guard.
The team will get a good test in November at the World’s Most Famous Arena (that’s Madison Square Garden for those who don’t know) at the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. A tipoff against Pittsburgh and a potential matchup with the other teams in the field (either Michigan or Marquette) in a two-day span will give the Mustangs a chance to flex their muscles on a national setting.
Milton — the unanimous American Athletic Conference All-Rookie Team selection a year ago — had four or more assists in eight games a year ago, so the potential to make plays for teammates is there. If he takes to his new role on offense smoothly there’s some real reason for promise in 2016, and a trip back to the NCAA Tournament for SMU might not be out of the question.