Jim Boeheim, the coach of Syracuse, positively lit up when asked what he thought of Georgetown's Michael Jackson.
"I know Michael Jackson is the most underrated player in the country," he said. "He'd start for just about any team anywhere, as a point guard or shooting guard. If I had Michael Jackson he'd start. Look at how he's played the last eight or nine games of the season. And yet, people outside the East hardly know anything about him. He's the most underrated player, not just point guard."
Jackson is underrated and overlooked, probably because he plays with Patrick Ewing, probably the best center in college basketball since Bill Walton. But no team, not even one with a 7-foot all-America, is complete without a smart, creative point guard. And Georgetown not only has one in Jackson, a 6-foot-2 junior, but a better-than-average substitute in junior Horace Broadnax.
Together, they have adjusted swiftly to the team's radical mid-season change from basically a half-court offense to an emphasis on the fast break and transition game, and now are in charge of the best offense Georgetown has had in Coach John Thompson's tenure.
"Everybody talks about Georgetown's offense now, and, if you're going to do that, there's only one guy who touches the ball every time down court and that's Michael Jackson," Boston College Coach Gary Williams said. "Without him, you can't be as sophisticated as Georgetown's offense is."
The statistics support Boeheim's assertion that Jackson is playing his best right now at the end of the season. In the last eight games, including three at the Big East tournament, Jackson has had 58 assists and committed only 15 turnovers, a ratio of nearly four to one.
"Down the stretch, Michael Jackson was the best point guard in the conference," Williams said, "and we're talking about a league with Michael Adams (from his own team) and (Syracuse's) Pearl Washington."
Three times in the last five games, Broadnax -- who averages 18 minutes per game -- has committed no turnovers. In the last five games, he has 14 assists and six turnovers. Those numbers reflect far better than average ballhandling, especially when considering how up-tempo Georgetown's offense has become.
A lot was expected of Jackson this season. The first two years, he averaged 11 points per game, and last year shot 51 percent even with increased duties as a point guard. He hasn't scored as much this season -- 7.3 points per game -- and his shooting has dropped to 44 percent. But Jackson averaged the same number of assists as Washington, a recent third-team all-America, this season -- 5.7 -- and his ratio of assists to turnovers has improved dramatically.
Several coaches around the country could use Broadnax as a starter. But at Georgetown, he is a reserve, assuming some of the defensive responsibilities Gene Smith previously held. Jackson is offense, Broadnax is defense. Coach John Thompson has found the combination works well.
"Michael's probably a better offensive point guard," Thompson said. "I'm not talking shooting, I'm talking ballhandling, setting up people properly. Both are good shooters. Horace is probably a better defensive point guard, perimeter player. Both are capable of playing defense, but I think Horace is a little stronger.
"We become better defensively when Horace is on the perimeter. We become better offensively, as far as running and regulating the team, when Michael is in. I think Michael will be one of the best point guards in the country next year if he's not now."
Jackson, from Reston and South Lakes High School, came into some prominence his freshman year when he scored 31 points in a victory at Syracuse. "My first year, I played off guard and point guard and also did both last year," Jackson said. "It really doesn't make a difference as long as I'm playing. I can shoot well enough to play off guard."
Even so, Georgetown needed him to play the point this year more. His first two years, Jackson's high assist total was eight. In five of the last eight games, he has had more than eight assists.
"I would say Michael is the general of the team," Broadnax said. "He runs the show all the time. If Michael is playing a great game my time will be limited, and I don't have any problem with that; I think Michael is the best on the team at the point. I'm a point guard for certain situations, but usually if more defense is needed where they want me to come in the game and apply more pressure."