March of the Guard
First off, putting money into a March Madness bracket is basically putting your cash into a full horse power InSinkErator Evolution Excel garbage disposal. Secondly, for NCAAMB teams to win the national title, they need good guard play. Yes, there are exceptions, last year UNC proved that size and bigs (more on that) can get a team to the promised land, but generally its due to guard play. Just listen to Reggie Miller back in 2015 below.
Over the past five championships, guards have been the leading scorer for their respective teams 63% of the time in tournament games. Take the 2013 Louisville team for example. In their six games in the tournament, Russ Smith, a guard, led the team in scoring five of the six times (although you could argue that Hancock is more of a guard than a forward as he is listed). Russ Smith led the team in the regular season with 18 pts/game and in the tournament he averaged 22 pts/game. While it was Hancock with the huge finals game, going five for five from three and scoring 22 points and winning the MOP, the person who got them to the title game was Russ Smith. Luke averaged 11.5 in the tourney and under 10 in the regular season. He wasn’t the driving force.
Same storyline with the 2015 Duke team. There was only one game where a big led all scorers (Oakfor in their second game vs San Diego State he dropped 26). But it was guards the rest of the way, with the likes of Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, and Quinn Cook.
The 2014 Uconn team had Shabazz Napier lead them in four out of six games and averaged over 21 pts/game in the tournament. This was on par with his regular season performance as he led the team 18 pts/game.
In fact, looking at the regular season leaders for these five team, only two had bigs as their number one scorer. UNC’s Jackson and Duke’s Oakafor.
Are you really a Forward?
As previously mentioned, North Carolina, relied heavily on their bigs. Four of their six games a big led the team in scoring. Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks powered the team. But take a second look at Justin Jackson. He was listed as a forward, with 6-8″ fram and just 193 lbs. While he has the height he does not really play like a traditional big man. He isn’t just sprinting block to block and posting up.
During the 2016-2017 season (they were 33-7) Jackson shot the more threes than anyone else on the team with 284 — 54 more than guard Joel Berry. Big guys don’t do that, right? What about rebounds? Big dudes get boards! Meeks, listed as a forward, fits the traditional big man mold (6-9″, 290 lbs.) averaged 9.5 boards a game. Jackson? 4.7. This is while Jackson played 7.7 more minutes a game than Meeks. In fact, if you were to break rebounds down per 40 minutes, Jackson is ninth on the team. He isn’t under the hoop. He is on the perimeter, shooting threes.
The traditional mold of positions in basketball is being broken by taller, leaner, more athletic players who are matchup nightmares. More and more players are playing like, well, guards. Dirk, KD, LeBron, Giannis, Kristaps, etc. It’s all about Guard play, baby.
Sources: www.sports-reference.com, ESPN.com, Getty Images