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BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Do Guards Really Matter More in NCAA Tournament?


There is a saying that is repeated often by radio talk show hosts and college basketball analysts that in the NCAA Tournament it is the guard position that matters the most.  If you don’t have good guards you can’t win because those guys have the ball in their hands the most.  If you are, let’s say Purdue, and your team is centered around big guys your chances are much smaller.  Teams like UCONN in 2011 and 2014 rode hot guards to titles.  But is this really the case year in and year out or are their just exceptional cases where guards have carried their teams.

Looking at each UK Final Four team since 1993, just who has led the team in scoring in the NCAA Tournament those years?  Below are the Top 3 scorers in each NCAA Tournament in those FF runs:

1993 (5 games)
FORWARD, Jamal Mashburn: 97 points
GUARD, Travis Ford: 73 points
GUARD, Dale Brown: 63 points

1996 (6 games)
GUARD, Tony Delk: 113 points
FORWARD, Antoine Walker: 88 points
FORWARD, Walter McCarty: 67 points

1997 (6 games)
FORWARD, Ron Mercer: 98 points
GUARD, Wayne Turner: 76 points
GUARD, Cameron Mills: 71 points

1998 (6 games)
GUARD, Jeff Sheppard: 99 points
FORWARD, Scott Padgett: 82 points
CENTER, Nazr Mohammed: 80 points

2011 (5 games)
GUARD, Brandon Knight: 80 points
CENTER, Josh Harrellson: 65 points
FORWARD, Terrence Jones: 52 points

2012 (6 games)
GUARD, Doron Lamb: 99 points
CENTER, Anthony Davis: 82 points
GUARD, Marquis Teague: 80 points

2014 (6 games)
FORWARD, Julius Randle: 89 points
GUARD, James Young: 79 points
GUARD, Aaron Harrison: 79 points

2015 (5 games)
FORWARD, Karl Towns: 71 points
FORWARD, Trey Lyles: 53 points
GUARD, Andrew Harrison: 52 points

Now, a couple things to keep in mind.  First, only 3 centers show up on the list, Nazr Mohammed, Josh Harrellson (barely a center) and Anthony Davis (only the best player in UK history).  So what you can say is the CENTERS are generally minimized in the NCAA Tournament.  Which is good for UK this year because our centers can’t score.  We don’t really need Skal, Lee, and Humphries to score for the Cats to win.  That’s good.

But, the idea that guards are the key really doesn’t seem to have much proof above.  In the 8 Final Fours above you have 12 guards, 9 forwards, and 3 centers.  Forwards have led the team in NCAA Tournament scoring in 3 of the 8 seasons, including the last 2.  With that said, it’s hard to imagine anybody but Jamal Murray or Tyler Ulis would lead UK in scoring over a 5-6 game stretch, but these stats show that if Derrick Willis or Alex Poythress get hot in late March there is no reason to claim that is a bad thing.  I think Murray and Ulis do need to play well for UK to succeed.  That really doesn’t need to be discussed.

But do they HAVE TO lead the team in scoring?  I’m not so sure.

Article written by Bryan the Intern

19 Comments for BTI’s Rants and Ramblings: Do Guards Really Matter More in NCAA Tournament?

  1. ukjaybrat
    8:10 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    unfortunately, this is why the tournament is random. because guards that rely on their shooting ability (and hit those shots) are almost always win the championship. you live by the three and you die by the three, but you only have to live 6 times to win it all. our guards have been real streaky all year, but take away the 2nd half of Tennessee, they have been REALLY good lately. i think they can make a 6 game run.

  2. LongTimeReader
    8:16 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Looking at the stats the play of the Forwards tend to be more important, overall. Hopefully, Willis can stay consistent heading into March, and Alex is able to come back from his injury and they give themselves a pretty good chance at making a big run.

  3. ukjaybrat
    8:20 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Also, this is only UKs stats. It would be interesting to look at every final four team’s stats since 1983, one could argue that we are the exception, not the rule. Looking at just our stats is not defining a rule for the rest of college basketball. maybe every other final four team since 1993 were led by guard scoring but we are making guesses based on our teams alone. not very telling.

    • ukjaybrat
      8:20 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

      1993 – typo

  4. Duuuuuude
    8:26 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    I think one could argue that despite being loaded with big men the past two seasons, our tournament runs were because of strong guard play by the Harrisons, and our exits from those tournaments were due to poor guard play by the Harrisons.

  5. empiremaker
    8:27 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    What is definition of a center anymore? Once backcourt crosses center all five positions blend and that is here to stay. Matter of fact for the past few years our bigs could handle and fly up/down the court. NBA has become a guard oriented league and Cal has adjusted accordingly. To answer the headline, yes guards have been are more valuable since Jordan’s Bulls.

  6. jonthes
    8:39 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Obviously scoring isn’t the only thing guards do. Duh. Tyler is exactly the kind of point guard who could lead to a title, witness the last two UConn championships – unfortunately both over UK.

    • ukjaybrat
      8:51 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

      exactly, putting points on the board isn’t the only quantifiable stat. ulis can coach the team on the court, he gets assists left and right, not to mention briscoe is a great rebounding guard (i mean he has to because our bigs aren’t that great).

  7. UKMallard86
    9:39 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    It would be interesting to look at stats for the teams that actually won the tournament in those years when we didn’t… That may give more insight into whether or not exceptional guard play is necessary to actually win a title.

  8. smahurin
    9:46 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Not to be rude, but this list isn’t really that informative or earth shattering. With the exception of Harrelson its basically a list of the top 3 scorers on each final four team. In general, the guys who score most throughout the season tend to score most during the tournament. Tournament games aren’t any different from regular season games. They are still basketball games. The only difference is, if you lose in the tournament, you go home. This false narrative that basketball pundits like to throw out that guard play matters more in the tournament is just wrong. If you have good players (at any position) or similarly a player who gets hot you give yourself a better chance to win. The team with the better players regardless of position “usually” wins. But its a single elimination format, in which anything can and often will happen in a 1 game scenario.

    • ukjaybrat
      9:56 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

      but the evidence behind the narrative “that guard play matters more in the tournament” is based on the fact that it’s easier to have streaky shooting than it is to have streaky post play. you are either strong or finesse enough to score in the paint or you aren’t but you can have good and bad nights from outside. So shooting (typically from your guards) can either win or lose you a game regardless of how good or bad the rest of your team is. In any given tournament, you guards may be good or great, but if one team has guards that knock down shots 6 games in a row, they are going to win the tournament. You can say that the narrative may not always be right, but you can not argue that it is flat out wrong because there is evidence and reason that suggests it is at least somewhat true.

  9. hartlines left arm
    9:53 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Other than uconn I don’t see guard play winning tournament games. The refs tend to swallow their whistles late in games taking away the the ability for guards to draw fouls. Last year we were winning the game because of feeding the ball inside in the last few min.s tried scoring and drawing fouls with the guards and lose. When jorts was here we were winning tournament games by feeding him, in the last game we don’t get him the ball and try to win with guard play and lose.

    • 2thepoint
      10:37 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

      I agree with your post, but I will take it farther. The most important players in the game are those that fill their rolls well. If the worst position on the team doesn’t step up it becomes very hard to win. If a team is relying on guard play to win there is too much weakness at other positions. Take the ’96 team for instance, because every position was solid. For that reason I don’t see this team going far into the tourney UNLESS the front court guys can score and rebound better than they have done so far. That is why there are 5 guys playing at once and why they call it TEAM.

      Pete Maravich was the most prolific scorer in basketball, but they never won many games. Look at other great scorers and how they failed to win championships. LSU with 3 great players never won the title. I am talking Shaq, Roberts and Jackson, but the other positions failed them. Last year’s UK game saw guards not hitting shots and failure of WCS to show up for the game. WCS shows up we win so who was the most important player?

    • EdC
      8:26 pm February 10, 2016 Permalink

      Finally somebody else that will say out loud that Willie sucked and cost us that game. He had very limited offensive responsibilities. Basically he set picks and was supposed to get offensive rebounds but he didn’t do it. Too many people were so impressed by his flashy dunks (thanks to great assists) that they forget that he disappeared a lot and at bad times.

  10. david8577
    11:53 am February 10, 2016 Permalink

    BTI, it is no longer necessary for you to put your name on your posts. We know when you are the author.

  11. za
    1:36 pm February 10, 2016 Permalink

    Cal has only had one center at UK. Dakari.

    • EdC
      8:27 pm February 10, 2016 Permalink

      I think Big Cuz might beg to differ.

  12. christopherharrison26
    3:22 pm February 10, 2016 Permalink

    This is a myopic review of a limited dataset. Someone needs to stake a stats course – there are too many confounding variables requiring compensation when considering the worth of guard scoring as the metric that makes “good guard play” important in the tournament.

    As noted in someone’s comment above – need to consider the guards’ assists, turnovers, rebounds, minutes played, and the effect that the “good guard” has on the opposition defense, e.g. creates need for second defenders and then help for the helper – making it easier for nonguards to score and for forwards/bigs to get rebounds. Also did other nonguards exceed their average output because good guard play disrupted defenses?

    There’s an old saying that you can make stats prove whatever you desire if you choose to evaluate limited parts of the data without full understanding of the hypothesis and which test to apply to which data.

    • ThatsAShame
      3:48 pm February 10, 2016 Permalink

      I don’t disagree with you Chris. Although I do wonder who you are hanging out with if you believe this is an “old saying”

      “that you can make stats prove whatever you desire if you choose to evaluate limited parts of the data without full understanding of the hypothesis and which test to apply to which data.”

      Doesn’t really have many of the features you would expect in a saying.

      Just sayn