Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Point Guards in the Final Four

It is one of the most cliche things to say during the NCAA Tournament.

You need a great point guard to make a run in the dance.

We have all heard it before, and every bracketologist, whether you are on ESPN or the "expert" filling out your office pool, has more than likely uttered those words yourself. On the surface, it seems to hold true this year. Michigan State's point guard Kalin Lucas was Big Ten player of the year. UNC's Ty Lawson also won conference player of the year, in the ACC. UConn's AJ Price was a second team all Big-East selection, but has been one of the best point guards in the country since Jerome Dyson went down (19.2 ppg, 5.1 apg). Villanova's tandem of Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher is one of the more underrated point guard duos around.

Scottie Reynolds scores the game-winning hoop against Pitt.
(photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP)

So does correlation equal causation here? Easier put, are these point guards the reason that these four teams advanced to the Final Four?

Not necessarily.

Sure, they played a vital part. Reynolds hit the game-winner for Nova against Pitt in the Elite 8. Price is UConn's leading scorer through four tournament game. If the tournament ended today, Lawson might be the MOP of this year's dance.

But that doesn't mean they are the sole, or even most important, reason these four teams have advanced.

Take Michigan State. Lucas has been far from dominant through four games. He is averaging 12.8 ppg (down from 14.8) and has shot just 40% (15-37) from the floor. Goran Suton has actually been the best player for the Spartans during the tournament. He is averaging 14.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg (to go along with 2.3 apg, 2.3 spg, and 1.3 bpg). If he didn't score 17 first half points against Louisville, MSU may not have been in a position for the huge run they put on the Cardinals in the second half.

Price has been nothing short of great for the Huskies in their run to the Final Four. He has averaged 20.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, and 5.3 apg. As valuable as he has been, Price has not been the most important player on the floor. UConn has won their four games simply because they out-big (is that even a word) every team they have faced. Hasheem Thabeet was a dominant force on both ends through the first three games, and when he struggled a bit against an uptempo Missouri squad, the more athletic Stanley Robinson and Jeff Adrien combined for 25 points, 16 boards, and 7 blocks. Price wasn't even the best guard on the floor in that game. Kemba Walker was, as he finished the game with 23 point, 5 boards, 5 assists, and broke the devastating Mizzou press by himself on a number of occasions.

AJ Price scores over DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons of Missouri.
(photo credit: Chris Carlson/AP)

For Villanova, since the first day of practice on October 15th, it has been all about team. It is tough to pick out a best or most valuable player for the Wildcats, simply because they have so many guys that are just solid players. Is Scottie Reynolds leadership really more important than the versatility provided by "posts" Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark? Is the dynamic Fisher more valuable than the fundamental play-maker Reggie Redding? More than anything, the reason that the Cats have made it this far is because they have been tougher, especially on the defense end, than anyone they have played (and that is saying something considering they beat Pitt in the Elite 8).

There is no question that Ty Lawson has been the best player on the floor for the Tar Heels. He took over the second half of the LSU game, scoring 21 points and helping UNC rally back after giving up a nine point half time lead. He continued that hot play against Gonzaga, as he scored 17 in the first half to help UNC open up a lead they would not relinquish. Even against Oklahoma, he was the Heels leading scorer with 19 points. But would UNC have won that game if they weren't able to get the lead on the Sooners? Maybe, but it would have been much closer than the final ended up being. Why were they able to build up said lead? Because their interior defense on Blake Griffin was outstanding for the first 11 minutes of the game, holding the player of the year scoreless. That allowed the Heels to stay at home on the Sooner shooters, who were never able to get into a rhythm, starting off the game 0-15 from deep and finishing 2-19.

Blake Griffin was swarmed by UNC's front line for most of the game.
(photo credit: Matt Slocum/AP)

When it comes down to it, no one player or position is going to get you to a Final Four. Yes, having a great point guard is important, but is it necessarily more important than having a great big man? Or playing great perimeter defense? Or having great shooters?


To win a national title, or even to make a Final Four, a team needs to be just that. A team. They don't even really need to be a great one. They just have to play great for four games.

As a team.

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