It was impossible to know back on Oct. 16 that the most clairvoyant statement of the 2013-14 college basketball season was about to be spoken into existence.
Inside a ballroom in the Charlotte Ritz Carlton, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was at a roundtable surrounded by reporters at the ACC’s preseason media day. In talking about his team and about college basketball in general, he said, "If you don’t have good guards, you don’t have—"
He didn’t finish. He didn’t have to. He was right, about his team, which tanked after Jerian Grant’s departure, and the game as a whole. Yes, 2013-14 was The Year of the Guard, which Connecticut added an emphatic exclamation point to (The Year of the Guard!) with its win over Kentucky Monday to clinch the national championship.
No, the Huskies weren’t dominate like 2013 Louisville and 2012 Kentucky—clearly the best teams in the land, and both came away national champions. But find me a more desirable backcourt than Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. I can’t think of a more dominant pair on both ends of the floor (if you can, though, feel free to mention so in the comments section).
(And if you’re not convinced of Napier and Boatright’s defensive prowess, please review what happened to Kentucky’s Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier II and Michigan State’s Gary Harris and Keith Appling)
Turning the national trend to a local focus, it was definitely the year of the guard in Durham. As in, Duke didn’t have good ones, at least not consistently. And, well, Duke didn’t have much to show for itself at the end, other than a Round of 64 loss to Mercer.
No, as gifted as Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood were offensively, they were no substitute for a capable point guard to run the offense.
"We didn’t have consistency at the point guard this year," Mike Krzyzewski said in his postseason press conference. "That’s how Tyler (Thornton) ended up playing so much even though he was less talented than either Rasheed (Sulaimon) or Quinn (Cook). He had the ability to lead. Now he did that better when he didn’t have the ball because he was a good but not great ballhandler. So when he was pressured, he wasn’t leading."
And when Thornton wasn’t leading, no one was leading, and that’s how things like losses to Mercer occurred.
Now it should be noted that Krzyzewski went out of his way to point out that leadership doesn’t have to come from a point guard, necessarily.
"Two of our best leaders were (Shane) Battier and (Christian) Laettner," Krzyzewski said. "And (Brian) Zoubek his last year was unbelievable."
Yes, true, but also note the point guards each of those big men had: Bobby Hurley, Jason Williams and Jon Scheyer, who ranked fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (as in, he didn’t often make mistakes).
Again: if you don’t have good guards, you don’t have—.
Now, here’s the good news for Duke. The Blue Devils will have a good point guard next year. There’s a 95 percent chance "good" is selling him short, but Tyus Jones, the top point guard in the Class of 2014, will at least be good, better than what the Blue Devils had this past season.
Krzyzewski thinks so highly of Jones that, after he was able to evaluate him at the Peach Jam after his sophomore year in high school, Duke stopped recruiting all other point guards. There was no plan B—for more than two years, Jones was plan A, B, C and D. He’s bringing best friend Jahlil Okafor, the center ranked No. 1 overall in the class of 2014, with him to Durham, so that’s a plus. But Krzyzewski is counting on Jones to bring some of the intangibles missing this past season, too.
"he’s a pretty good leader," Krzyzewski said of Jones, before pausing. "In fact, he’s an outstanding leader."
College basketball will be a guard’s game for the foreseeable future. Next year, Duke will be more equipped to handle it.