The NCAA Tournament hopes of college basketball programs rides on many things.
They ride on talent, first and foremost. They ride on coaching and the ability of a staff's flexibility to adjust and adapt to personnel within the season. They rely on schedule, opportunity and even a little bit of good fortune.
There are innumerable factors that can make or break a team's March Madness hopes that far outnumber those ingredients, but among the most important is the caliber of your point guard. Their play can make or break how good -- or bad -- you fare in and out of the conference. A good one can lead you to great heights. A bad one -- or worse, more than one bad ones -- and your team may have a melancholy March, no matter your talent level elsewhere.
So to overstate the importance of the position, even in a team game, would be foolish. As such, the position is a major focus as the college hoops season fast approaches. With that in mind, we look at the top 15 at the position -- from newbies to seniors -- entering the 2018-19 campaign.
1. Carsen Edwards | Purdue | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 18.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.8 apg
With all due respect to the other point guards in the sport, Purdue's all-everything Carsen Edwards gets the definitive nod here simply because he may actually be the best player in college basketball next season. Last season he averaged 18.5 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting from beyond the arc, and he's slated to be cast in a jumbo role in 2018-19. Look for him to evolve into an even more successful playmaker in his new part.
2. Cassius Winston | Michigan State | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 12.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.9 apg
Cassius Winston, Michigan State's trusty ball-handler, took an incremental step forward last season. But his progress was hardly noticed in East Lansing, as Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges got the majority of the praise for Sparty. Gone are those days. He returns as the team's leading scorer after putting up 12.6 per game last season, on an uber-efficient 50.7 percent shooting from the floor and 49.7 percent from the 3. Dropped into a larger role with both cashing checks in the NBA, Winston should flourish. He remains one of the more dynamic do-it-all guards within the sport. His 6.9 assists per game mark last season should be the only stat that takes a slight dip, for the betterment of MSU. The more shooting Izzo can bring out from Winston, the better.
3. Tremont Waters | LSU | Sophomore
- 2017-18 stats: 15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.0 apg
Tremont Waters was a hidden gem for the LSU Tigers last season, averaging 6 assists, 15.9 points and 3.5 rebounds as a true freshman. Not only should his team improve in his second season, he should as well, so look for him to be among the sport's more well-known names. He has excellent court vision and awareness on both ends of the floor, which led to his 33.9 assist rate and 3.5 steal rate last season. Both of those ranked top-45 nationally, according to KenPom. Expect a heavier dosage of Waters and bigger numbers all the way around.
4. Lindell Wigginton | Iowa State | Sophomore
- 2017-18 stats: 16.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.8 apg
Like Waters, Lindell Wigginton didn't get enough pub as a freshman last season because his team didn't warrant the coverage. But similar to LSU, Iowa State's in line for a bit of a course correction, and a big reason for it is the expected sophomore leap from Wigginton. He does a lot of things really well to make his team around him better, and the best thing for his Cyclones in 2018-19 may be getting more shots. He shot 40.1 percent from the 3-point line last year and 41.4 percent from the field. If those numbers keep trending, the only 2-pointers he should take moving forward are dunks. And boy, we all know he can do that.
5. Clayton Custer | Loyola-Chicago | Senior
- 2017-18 stats: 13.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Save for Cassius Winston, nobody -- not even Carsen Edwards or Lindell Wigginton -- shot better from the 3-point line than Loyola-Chicago's Clayton Custer. He put up outside shots at a 45.1 percent clip, and more astounding, made 52.8 percent of his field goals. Add in his efficient 24.8 percent assist rate and reliable every-night scoring, and you've got a top-5 player at the position.
6. Ky Bowman | Boston College | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 17.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.7 apg
Bowman's been fantastic for Boston College, but his shine has been shared with fellow running mate Jerome Robinson. Now that Robinson is off to the NBA, Bowman is in line to take a lion's share of the work and improve off his already impressive 17.6 points per game mark. Another area he already excels in: rebounding. For a player at his position, he pulled down an incredulous 6.8 boards per contest last season. He's 6-foot-1 but plays like he's 6-6.
7. Shamorie Ponds | St. John's | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 21.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
As far as overall talent level, scoring potency and NBA potential, Ponds may easily be top-3 on this list. But as a sophomore last season, he proved to be turnover-prone, and also shot an unremarkable 25.3 percent clip from the 3-point line. Still yet, opportunity will be abundant for Ponds to be a feature player for St. John's, a team that, with Mustapha Heron eligible, should absolutely be expected to be an NCAA Tournament team.
8. Chris Clemons | Campbell | Senior
- 2017-18 stats: 24.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.1 apg
There is perhaps no more prolific scorer at the point guard position returning in 2018-19 than Campbell's Chris Clemons. Though his stature is small -- he's listed at 5-9, 180 -- his game is twice the size. The senior put up 24.9 points, 3.1 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game as a junior last season as he improved his 3-point shot and free-throw accuracy, and after deciding to return for a final season following a brief test in the NBA waters, he's destined to be the NCAA's leading scorer. He finished fourth in that category a season ago.
9. Anthony Cowan | Maryland | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.1 apg
The leading returning scorer and distributor for the Maryland Terrapins, Anthony Cowan's due to become one of the best in the Big Ten this upcoming season. Last season as a sophomore, he hit 36.7 percent of his 3-pointers, 42.2 from the field, and played an incredible 92.1 percent of the team's minutes. If that doesn't express his value, this should: Only 20 other players in the sport played more last season.
10. Justin Robinson | Virginia Tech | Senior
- 2017-18 stats: 14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.6 apg
Justin Robinson has gobs of potential he's finally realizing, as he led the Hokies last season in scoring. As a senior fresh off leading Va. Tech to an NCAA Tournament last season, he's primed to again be the catalyst for another, more successful, March run. He does a little of everything, and his most underrated talent is getting teammates involved on a regular basis. His assists numbers spiked last season while turnover numbers stayed the same. If he cuts down marginally on careless mistakes, he might just wind up under consideration for All-ACC first team honors.
11. Jalen Adams | UConn | Senior
- 2017-18 stats: 18.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.7 apg
While UConn fell off the radar in the final two seasons of Kevin Ollie's tenure, Jalen Adams quietly built a stellar Huskies career. Now, as he readies for his fourth and final under a new coach in Dan Hurley, he'll be saddled with expectations of again being the No. 1 on a team that has some positive momentum and a fresh start under a new regime. He took on more of a scoring role and less of a distributor role last season as a junior, and I expect more of the same in his final campaign at UConn.
12. D'Marcus Simonds | Georgia State | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 21.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.4 apg
The reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year will not be left off this list, and with good reason. Simonds put up incredible numbers last season for Georgia State, all while boosting his assists, rebounds and scoring stats overall. Statistically, his shot efficiency from field goal range and beyond the arc dipped a tad, but he's a proven scorer who can get big buckets on a winning team.
13. Payton Pritchard | Oregon | Junior
- 2017-18 stats: 14.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.8 apg
Pritchard led Oregon in scoring, 3-point percentage and assists as a sophomore last season. Though the Ducks lost Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Roman Sorkin and Troy Brown, their re-worked roster centered around Bol Bol, Louis King and Will Richardson should be conducive for Pritchard to continue leading the way in those categories.
14. McKinley Wright IV | Colorado | Sophomore
- 2017-18 stats: 14.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.5 apg
McKinley Wright was the super-sensational freshman star nobody saw coming last year. Just a three-star prospect out of high school, he led the Buffaloes in scoring, assists and steals in 2017-18, and also finished tops on the team in field goals made and field goals attempted. With George King gone, expect more of the same in his second season as he looks to continue an unlikely hot start to his college career.
15. Darius Garland | Vanderbilt | Freshman
- 2017-18 stats: True freshman
It's tough to become an upper-echelon point guard as a true freshman, but if anyone can do it, my money is on Darius Garland. Garland, the second-highest rated Vanderbilt signee in program history, is in line to take the reins of a re-made roster that has fellow five-star Simi Shittu, as well as returning pieces Saben Lee, Joe Toye and Maxwell Evans. Garland will be the straw that stirs the drink and the beverage could be potent enough to finish in the top-half of the SEC given the sheer talent Bryce Drew has to work with.