A Good Point's Best Dish Is Victory

Joakim Noah and Al Horford are the marquee names on Florida, but guard Taurean Green, above, played an integral role in the Gators' championship run.
Joakim Noah and Al Horford are the marquee names on Florida, but guard Taurean Green, above, played an integral role in the Gators' championship run. (By Andy Lyons -- Getty Images)
By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 21, 2007

There is an adage in college basketball that point guard play determines success in the NCAA tournament. Look no further than well-known playmakers on past champions this decade, including Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves, Duke's Jay Williams, Maryland's Steve Blake and North Carolina's Raymond Felton.

This season, however, the nation's strongest all-American candidates are big men or wing players, namely Wisconsin's Alando Tucker, Texas's Kevin Durant and Ohio State's Greg Oden. And many of the nation's top contenders this March will look for direction from point guards who generally have been overshadowed by more recognizable players.

Here are five big-program point guards who will have opportunities in the tournament to enhance their profile:

Joakim Noah and Al Horford are the marquee names at Florida, but point guard Taurean Green's ballhandling played an integral role in the Gators' run to last season's title. This season, Green leads the Gators in scoring, averaging 13.6 points per game, and has had his biggest offensive performances in Florida's biggest games. He averaged 23 points in games against Kansas, Florida State and Ohio State.

UCLA actually may have improved by losing Jordan Farmar early to the NBA draft. Darren Collison has more than filled the void, providing a burst of speed that Farmar did not possess. Collison, who averages 2.4 steals per game, also is perfect for Coach Ben Howland's defensive mind-set. It also helps that the sophomore distributes six assists per outing and shoots well; he made 59 percent of his shots in nonconference play.

Wisconsin's Tucker will contend for national player of the year awards, but point guard Kammron Taylor earned raves for his 25-point effort in a Jan. 9 victory over Ohio State. The performance helped Taylor, a converted shooting guard, earn Big Ten player of the week honors despite not recording an assist in a game that week. Taylor averages only 1.7 assists per game, but he is a threat from three-point range, where he makes 42.7 percent of his shots.

At North Carolina, there is even more of a ballhandling burden on freshman Ty Lawson now that Bobby Frasor is out after re-injuring his foot in a Jan. 13 loss at Virginia Tech. The 5-foot-11 Lawson took over starting point guard duties from Frasor earlier this season and has performed well. He has a 2.2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and plenty of scoring options by his side on what may be the nation's most talented team.

Few observers expected Mustafa Shakur to be with Arizona this season, and even fewer expected Shakur to have a successful season. Shakur flirted with the NBA draft last spring but decided to stay in school following what had been a three-year college career that failed to live up to the hype the Philadelphia native arrived with in Tucson. Shakur has averaged 7.6 assists and improved his outside shooting and leadership skills since not making a field goal in the season-opening loss at Virginia.

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