Top Returning SEC Guards: #3 – Dru Smith, Missouri

Checking in at #3 in our top returning SEC Guards countdown is yet another lockdown defender who offers a versatile toolkit on the offensive end of the court. Smith led the Tigers last season with 12.7 points per game and 3.3 assists. His 4.2 rebounds also ranked among the team-leaders. Defensively, Smith led the SEC with a stunning 2.1 steals per contest. Here’s a throwback to one of his best early performances of the year:

An early-season double-double at #21 Xavier (22 points, 10 rebounds) put Smith at least on the SEC’s radar, if not the national one. He punctuated that performance with an 8-8 effort from the free throw line, which became a theme throughout the year. He shot 90% from the charity stripe throughout the year, locking up close victories for Missouri all season long. During Missouri’s SEC slate, Smith put up some very impressive efforts, starting with a 22-point, 6-assist, 5-steal statline versus Florida. Just ten days later, Missouri welcomed Texas A&M to town, and Smith was all over the court, going 11-11 from the free throw line, notching 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists. His season-high in points was 28, and that came against #11 Auburn, Missouri’s highest-ranked opponent in the year. For a Missouri squad that struggled to escape the basement of the SEC standings, seeing their point guard step up in the biggest situations has got to be a sight for sore eyes. 

If Smith can continue to a do-it-all swiss army knife and lead Missouri to a few big wins, he should be in the conversation for being one of the most impactful players in the SEC.

SEC Top Returning Guards: #4 -Devontae Shuler, Ole Miss

With 2019-20 leading scorer Breein Tyree graduated, the Ole Miss Rebels will be centering their offense around their top returning player. For his versatility on both ends on the court and prominent role for his team, Devontae Shuler slots in as our #4 top returning guard to watch in the SEC. 

Shuler has featured impressive minutes since coming to Ole MIss, averaging a steal a game as a substitute in his freshman year, followed by consecutive campaigns of 1.7 steals per game – a top-5 mark in the SEC. He also rebounds beyond his 6’2 height, collecting 4.5 boards per game, while scoring 11.7 ppg and dishing out a team-leading 3.3 assists. He’s the top returning scorer for Ole Miss, so Shuler will be doing it all for the Rebels this year. Enjoy this quick mixtape of Shuler’s highlights (with apparently a unique spelling of his name by its creator)

Shuler’s numbers were relatively ho-hum to start his junior year last season, but the Ole Miss guard began to heat up as conference play started. He recorded his lone double-double of the season against Arkansas on January 11, and at the end of the month, he raised eyebrows with 26 and 28-point outputs against ranked Auburn and LSU squads. He complemented the Auburn performance with 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. On the year, Shuler shot 36% from three-point range and 42% from the field overall, and as the go-to-guy in the Ole Miss offense next year, look for those numbers to improve with increased shot volume. In 12 games last season in which Shuler got 10+ looks from the field, he averaged 16.5 points per game, so his averages should be shooting up as a senior, as the South Carolina looks to improve his draft stock and improve the Rebels’ chances in a highly competitive SEC. 

Top Returning SEC Guards: #5 – Sahvir Wheeler, Georgia

It may have been easy to watch Georgia basketball last season and solely focus on potential #1 NBA Draft selection Anthony Edwards. However, while Edwards was piling up points, his fellow freshman guard Sahvir Wheeler was quietly putting up an impressive and efficient season for the Bulldogs, and now with Edwards out of the spotlight, Wheeler looks prepared to be one of the top guards in the SEC. He kicks off our top returning SEC guards countdown, slotting in at #5. In his debut season, Wheeler, checking in at 5’10 and 180 pounds, averaged 9 points a game and 2.5 rebounds, along with a team-leading 4.5 assists, a mark that tied him for fourth in the SEC. He did it all while shooting at a red-hot 47% clip, and, as Georgia’s top returning scorer, he figures to get the lion’s share of scoring opportunities in this upcoming season. Check him out torching the Tide in this video:

Last year, although he mainly was a facilitator, setting up Edwards for his scoring chances, Wheeler had a few big games himself. He went off for 19-points in his collegiate debut, and he put up his best performance of the year in an overtime thriller against Alabama, pouring in 24 points and dishing out eight assists. In their lone SEC Tournament clash prior to the cancellation of the season, Wheeler notched 15 points and 8 assists en route to leading the Tide to an upset of Ole Miss.

 With Georgia’s go-to-guys headed for the NBA, Wheeler will be the main man in Athens this upcoming season. Look for him to be one of the top guards in the SEC, as Georgia hopes to return to contention for a postseason tournament. 

Top Returning ACC Guards: #1 – Carlik Jones, Louisville

Our #1 top returning (non-freshman) guard to watch in the ACC hasn’t actually played in the conference yet. Carlik Jones spent three years dominating the Big South with the Radford Highlanders, and now he’s looking to succeed Jordan Nwora as the do-it-all guard for the Louisville Cardinals. While the Big South is no ACC, Carlik Jones was rated as one the most efficient players in the country and, outside of Luka Garza, he was the highest-rated returning Power-5 player. Looking at Jones’ stats and game log, it’s not hard to see why – he quite simply does it all. 

After averaging 11.8 points per game his freshman year, Jones averaged 15.8 in his sophomore year, but he shot just 25% from three-point range. His junior season, the Radford star put it together, shooting 41% from beyond the arc and averaging 20 points a game to go with 5.1 rebounds (3rd on the team) and a squad-leading 5.5 assists. From his 31 point, 6 rebound effort in the season-opener, Jones was on fire out of the gate. He played two games against Power-5 competition (Northwestern and Mississippi State) and combined for 35 points and 14 assists. Against James Madison, Jones was just a single rebound shy of a triple-double – 23 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards.

Against the Big South, Jones tortured virtually every opponent, putting up video game numbers all season. Defensively, he was a lockdown defender, picking the locks on the hands of a bevy of Big South ball handlers. In the conference tournament quarterfinals, Jones poured in twenty-one points, collected nine boards, dished out six assists, and notched four steals. The Radford guard didn’t score under 15 points in the final two months of the season, leading the Highlanders to a 15-3 conference record and split of the regular season title. Now, Jones is on to bigger things, as he heads to Louisville, who certainly knows how to use a versatile guard, after enjoying the talents of Nwora for several seasons. 

Jones has proven over three-years he’s capable of being the go-to-guy for a successful basketball team, and now he’s taking his talents to the ACC, where the dynamic floor general will look to continue to ball out in the best basketball conference in America.

Top Returning ACC Guards: #2 – Tyrece Radford, Virginia Tech

It’s not often you see a guard lead his team in rebounding, but that’s exactly what Tyrece Radford did for the Virginia Tech Hokies. At 6’2, Radford is the third-shortest player on the roster, yet he collected 6.2 boards per game, to go with 10.2 points on 60% shooting. Radford did virtually all his damage inside the arc, leading to highly efficient outputs from the Louisiana product. That efficiency was the mark that caught our attention, and it landed Radford as the #2 guard on our top returning guards to watch in the ACC.

Radford didn’t get a lot of minutes at the start of the year, only playing 20+ minutes in three of the Hokies’ first six contests, but he averaged nine points and nine rebounds in those games on 70.6% shooting. As his opportunities to crash the basket and boards expanded, so did Radford’s production. In an early January ACC contest against NC State, Radford poured in 18 points and 9 rebounds, which he followed up with a 21 point, 13 rebound, and 4 steal effort at Wake Forest.

Teammate Lander Nolley did damage beyond the arc and combined with Radford to deliver a large portion of the Virginia Tech offense. When he got more than five shots a game ,Radford averaged over 13 points per game, and his consistency improved greatly throughout the year, averaging 14.6 points in his final ten regular season games, also improving his averages in rebounds (6.4), assists (2.6), and steals (1.3), becoming an impact player all over the court for the Hokies. Amidst his various contributions, he maintained his efficient shotmaking and took good care of the ball, turning the ball over less than once per contest. 

In the ACC, versatility and the ability to impact the game in different ways is critical and with just one year of collegiate basketball under his belt, the best is yet to come with Radford, who should be a dynamic player for the Hokies in 2020-21. 

Top Returning ACC Guards: #3 – Jose Alvorado, Georgia Tech

We are officially past the halfway point of our top returning ACC guards countdown, and slotting in at #3 is Jose Alvorado of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A three-year starter out of Brooklyn, New York, Alvorado shot 45% from the field last season and bumped up his scoring average to 14.4 points per game, to go with a team-leading 4 assists per game, as well as 3.4 rebounds. Alvorado’s bread-and-butter is his defense, as he lead the ACC with 2.2 steals per game, racking up as many as nine in a single contest. His versatility and production on both ends of the court earned him the #3 spot in our countdown of top returning ACC Guards. 

Alvorado was not exactly on a tear out of the gate last season, but as the calendar flipped to 2020, and ACC play began in earnest, the junior guard turned up the heat. In the first game of the new year, Alvorado, after not scoring more than 14 points in any game to that point, poured in 25 against UNC, while dishing out seven assists for the road victory. 18 and 20-point efforts against Duke and Virginia soon followed, and Alvorado began to tear it up on the court. He posted his lone double-double of the year at #6 Louisville (13 points, 10 rebounds) and torched NC State for 26 points, 9 steals, and 8 boards. 

Georgia Tech spent most of the season wallowing in the bottom half of the ACC standings, but behind the consistent and dynamic play of Alvorado, the Yellow Jackets skyrocketed up the standings in the final weeks of the regular season. Entering that aforementioned NC State game, Alvorado and Co. sat at 3-6 in conference play, but they used that big win as a launch pad, winning 8 of their final 11 ACC contests, and six of their last seven. In that stretch, Alvorado averaged 19 points a game to spur the ‘Jackets, and he boasted a four-game streak of at least 3 steals in each contest, highlighted by a 7-steal effort against Miami. Georgia Tech finished 11-9 in ACC games, their first winning record in conference play since 2003-04. 

Alvorado is evidently an elite defensive contributor, but he brings a versatile set of tools to the offensive end of the court as well, as he can shoot the three decently (35% in that 11-game stretch, 33% on the year), and he’s deadly efficient when he gets inside the arc, making shots at a 53% clip. At the free throw line, Alvorado sinks 80% of his efforts, and he posted some clutch performances at the charity stripe, including a 13-15 outing against Wake Forest to seal a critical road conference victory. A defensive stud and steady offensive contributor, Alvorado could be the driving force behind a potential Georgia Tech run back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

Top Returning ACC Guards: #4 – Kihei Clark, Virginia

If you’re a real college basketball fan, you will know Kihei Clark from his insane game-saving, high-IQ play in the 2019 Elite Eight. Clark collected a long rebound and fired a half court dime to assist on a game-tying buzzer beater. Virginia went on to take down Purdue in overtime and win their first ever national championship two games later. But Clark was not a one-hit wonder, and he followed up a solid freshman campaign with a far better sophomore season, and he slots in at #4 in our top returning ACC guard countdown. 

The buzzer beater was great…but do you remember the pass

Clark ranked third in the ACC with 5.9 assists per game last season, and on a low-scoring Virginia squad, he was second on the team with 10.8 points per game. Another sneakily impressive statistic is his 4.2 rebounds per game. Not only is that mark quite solid for a guard, but Clark is 5’9, yet he still collects his lion’s share of boards. With UVA’s top scorer and top two rebounders graduating, Clark will be the key to the Cavaliers’ offense in 2020-21. 

Clark’s gritty style of play was on display from Game 1 this season, as in an ugly season-opening 48-34 win over Syracuse, Clark dropped ten points and grabbed 11 rebounds while playing the whole game. The California product was a consistent playmaker for Virginia all year, and he elevated his game in certain big situations, posting a 13 point, 8 rebound, 7 assist slash line in a road overtime win at Wake Forest, a team that slaughtered Duke. In a visit to #5 Louisville, Clark poured in 23 points on the Cardinals, to go with five rebounds and seven assists. When Virginia ended the abbreviated season on a 8-game winning streak, it coincided with Clark’s most consistent stretches of the season, as he averaged 12 points a game with efforts of 17, 17, and 18 points while continuing to be a defensive stalwart for the stingy Cavaliers. It’s hard to quantify the impact that Clark has on each basketball game, but his clutch factor is undeniable, and his numbers are quickly improving. If he makes similar strides in his junior season, Clark will be even better than this #4 ranking in this countdown. Watch out for Kihei Clark in 2020.

Top Returning ACC Guards: #5 – Prentiss Hubb, Notre Dame

There are few things scarier to an ACC basketball team than playing Notre Dame and seeing Prentiss Hubb make a couple of shots. Because when he’s hot, Hubb rarely misses, and he can change the complexion of a game in a hurry. Called “My Patrick Mahomes” by head coach Mike Brey, Hubb may not have been the highest scorer on the court, but he is a difference-maker for the Irish, and his presence in the backcourt will be relied on heavily with star forward John Mooney graduated. Kicking off our latest countdown, Hubb comes in at #5 of our top returning guards to watch in the ACC. 

Hubb has been a starter since stepping foot on campus, averaging over thirty minutes per game in each of his first two seasons, and his efficiency on offense took a step up last season, as he increased his scoring average by four points to 12.1 points per game, while distributing the ball well –  his 5.1 assists per contest ranked fifth in the conference. And whether it was at the charity stripe (71%), beyond the arc (34.4%) or from two-point range (45%), Hubb’s numbers increased across the board, and he showed flashes of his elite talent during red-hot in-game surges. 

Hubb made his presence known from the get-go of his sophomore season, dropping 22 points in a road season opener at UNC, shooting 5-9 from deep. Hubb was relatively quiet for most of the Irish’s non-conference slate, chipping in where necessary, but against a bevy of weak opponents, he didn’t need to do much for Notre Dame to emerge victorious. In a massive January contest against Syracuse, one of the many teams that clogged the middle of the ACC standings all season, Hubb poured in 22 more points and facilitated the offense, notching nine assists. He also posted huge performances against a top-ten Florida State team – twice scoring 24 points against the Seminoles. 

With John Mooney and fellow senior TJ Gibbs gone, Hubb is the top returning scorer for the Irish, so he will get plenty of chances to put up big numbers. One concern is whether Hubb can be a little less streaky  – he had a one month stretch where he shot just 25% from three-point range, but if he can play to his full potential for a majority of the season, Hubb will be a scary player to face in the ACC this coming season. 

Mid-Major Top Returning Guards: #1 – Terry Taylor, Austin Peay

If you were to gaze at the Austin Peay men’s basketball statistical leaders in major categories, you may think you were simply looking at the statistics for Terry Taylor. The rising senior led his squad in points, rebounds, steals, and blocks as well as field goal percentage among regulars. Taylor has dominated the Ohio Valley Conference for two years now, and when he announced his decision to return to Austin Peay for his senior season, the Governors must have breathed a sigh of relief. With the announcement of his return, Taylor became our #1 returning mid-major guard in the country, finishing off our countdown. Although Taylor played minutes at forward, he is listed by ESPN as a guard, and he’s one of the most versatile players in the country. 

Taylor has been a difference-maker since his debut collegiate campaign, and his production has only increased in the subsequent seasons, improving from 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman to 21.8 points and 11 rebounds last year, fuelling the Governors as they battled in a heated three-team race of the Ohio Valley Conference. And it wasn’t just the OVC falling victim to Taylor’s talent, as the mid-major star proved himself against a bevy of Power-5 squads. He dropped 18 points and 9 rebounds on Georgia and combined for 39 points and 12 boards against West Virginia and Arkansas before entering conference play. Once there, Taylor was nearly automatic, as he racked up double-doubles, earning 18 on the year, a mark which ranked 7th in the nation.

 Against conference-leading Belmont, Taylor posted an absurd 26-point, 23-rebound effort in a tough road loss, and when it came time for the postseason, Taylor didn’t slow down; in two conference tournament games, the Bowling Green, Kentucky product poured in 27 points in both contests, to go with a combined 22 rebounds. A 55% shooter, Taylor did a lot of his damage inside the arc, but if he unlocks his shot from beyond the arc, he boasts All-American talent and versatility. On the defensive side of things, Taylor led the Governors in both steals and blocks per game, making him an impact player on both ends of the court. 

Taylor’s tremendous versatility and production on both offense and defense for one of the best teams in the Ohio Valley Conference earned him the #1 ranking in our top returning mid-major guard countdown.

Mid-Major Top Returning Guards: #2 – Loren Cristian Jackson, Akron

We are into the stretch run of our top mid-major guard countdown, as we continue our rankings with our #2 guard in Akron’s Loren Cristian Jackson. Jackson was the key cog behind Akron’s MAC-winning season last year, leading the team in points per game, assists, and three-point percentage. Entering his senior year, the Chicago product looks primed to be one of the best guards both in the MAC and in the country. 

Jackson’s averages of 19.8 points and 4.5 assists, along with his 43% shooting from three-point range, all ranked in the top-four in the MAC in the 2019-2020 season. His averages have improved in each of his three collegiate seasons, and he was one of the most efficient players in the country by Player Efficiency Rating, and he did it all while being an absolute workhorse for the Zips, averaging almost 35 minutes per game. 

Not only did Jackson post some superb averages, but he flashed his ability to have some big-time games, both against MAC-competition and Power-5 squads. In a road game at West Virginia, Jackson dropped 16 points and 6 assists on the Mountaineers, followed by a premier performance at #2 Louisville, where the rising senior notched a 20 point, 6 assist, 6 rebound effort, as Akron nearly stunned the Cardinals. Jackson got stronger as the season wore on, averaging nearly 24 points per game in the Zips’ final eight contests, highlighted by three efforts of 30+ points. In three games against the next two best teams in the MAC – Buffalo and Bowling Green – Jackson poured in 35, 35, and 28 points, helping lead Akron to a regular season conference title. And Jackson isn’t a one-trick pony, shooting 50% from inside the arc and an astounding 88% from the free-throw line, closing out numerous wins for the Zips at the charity stripe. 

Jackson has been an absolute beast for Akron, and if college basketball returns in full force, look for him to be one of the best guards in the country and leading the Zips to their first NCAA Tournament since 2013.