Some teams' Top 25 aspirations to play out with unorthodox point guards

by | College Basketball Blogger
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Mark Lyons wasn't a point guard at Xavier. He'll get that chance at Arizona. (Getty Images)  
Mark Lyons wasn't a point guard at Xavier. He'll get that chance at Arizona. (Getty Images)  

Mark Lyons is used to playing alongside star point guards. While he has been paired with guards like Isaiah Thomas, Jonny Flynn, Talor Battle and Tu Holloway during his career, Lyons has not been charged with running a team on the floor since early in high school.

Until this season.

The 6-foot-1 Lyons transferred from Xavier to Arizona during the spring, and will immediately be counted on as the primary ball-handler for a Wildcats team that has weapons across the board. The Schenectady, N.Y., native averaged 15.1 points last season at Xavier, but Arizona's not looking for him to be a primary scorer.

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"It's one of the reasons I transferred here," Lyons said. "I get to show all my skills. I'm a better passer than a lot of people give me credit for; my coach wanted me to score, so I got away from the passing. I have a lot more to offer."

Lyons isn't the only one who needs to expand his game this season in order for his team to be successful. Several teams with top 25 aspirations will count on players who aren't true point guards, whether it is a point-forward, a scoring guard or just someone who makes plays with the ball in his hands. Strict positional players have become passé; many players are now able to man multiple positions. Versatility is a major asset. Coaches look for ways to get their five best players in the lineup -- no matter the position.

Butler lost senior Ronald Nored from last season, and guard Chrishawn Hopkins was dismissed from the team last week. During their first season in the Atlantic 10, the Bulldogs plan on using Rotnei Clarke to run the offense.

Clarke is a transfer from Arkansas who solidified himself as one of the nation's best 3-point shooters with the Razorbacks. He took 653 shots from behind the arc during three seasons in Fayetteville. With Butler, though, he's going to be the point guard.

"Brad [Stevens] has never been one to truly define positions," Butler assistant coach Michael Lewis said. "We're going to do everything we can to put our best players on the floor."

Even before Hopkins departed, the Bulldogs were going to use Clarke as the primary ball-handler. It's not an act of desperation; Clarke ran the point for the scout team last season while sitting out. He went up against Nored -- and held his own -- on a daily basis.

With Clarke spending so much time at the point, is his deadly outside shot going to take a back seat?

"He's a much better overall basketball player than he was at Arkansas," Lewis said. "At the same time, we're not doing anything crazy here. You don't want to limit Rotnei Clarke's shot."

While Lyons and Clarke are natural scorers looking to make the transition to the point, Creighton's Grant Gibbs is used to playing the role of facilitator. With that said, Gibbs is 6-foot-5 and doesn't exactly play like a lead guard. He prefers to make plays via the pass rather than breaking his man down off the dribble; he is one of the best rebounders on the team; and he operates primarily from the wing as opposed to the top of the key.

Antoine Young was the point guard for the Bluejays last season, but he has used up all his eligibility. In his place, coach Greg McDermott will be looking for more playmaking from Gibbs -- even if it's not from the point guard spot.

"Coach Mac saw that I could facilitate from the wing, even if I didn't bring the ball up," Gibbs said. "I like this role that I've grown into. I'm more of a creator and facilitator on the wing. I can create plays for other people."

Gibbs could be paired with Austin Chatman in the backcourt this season. Standing 6-foot with quickness, Chatman is more of a natural point guard than Gibbs, and that's just what Gibbs is looking for in a backcourt mate. Playing with a smaller and quicker guard means Gibbs doesn't have to guard the opposing team's point guard, enabling him to roam and create turnovers. Moreover, it frees Gibbs up to make plays offensively from the wing.

"You get a little more room to play a little differently; you see things a little differently," Gibbs said. "Not having the ball in your hands is easier too. Not having to bring it up the court. It's beneficial." More and more, coaches are finding unorthodox ways to get baskets in a half-court set. Whether it's having a taller player facilitate from the wing or letting a scoring guard run the offense, not all teams are rolling with a pure point guard.

This coming season, we're going to see plenty of successful teams banking on versatility to make plays offensively.

"It's all about reinventing positions," Gibbs said.

Five more 'point guards' to watch

Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Like Gibbs, Anderson is an excellent passer who sees over defenses and makes plays. But Anderson is also 6-foot-8 and nicknamed "Slo-Mo" for a reason. UCLA will put the ball in Anderson's hands plenty; he will need to make an impact.

Kenny Boynton, Florida: Boynton is known as a volume shooter who can fill it up when he's hot. With Scottie Wilbekin and Braxton Ogbueze the other point guards on the roster, though, expect Boynton to play some backup point this season.

Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart is a flat-out winner. He doesn't have a defined position, but he is a lockdown defender who does whatever it takes to get a victory. If that includes being the point guard for the Cowboys, that's something Smart will do.

Elijah Johnson, Kansas: The transition started last year when he ran the point during the Jayhawks' NCAA tournament game against Detroit. This season, with Tyshawn Taylor gone, Johnson will be the full-time point guard. Kansas should be in good hands.

Keith Appling, Michigan State: A season ago, Draymond Green was clearly Michigan State's best playmaker and passer -- but he's gone. Appling ran the point for most of last season, but he's a natural shooting guard. He will now need to facilitate more offense.

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