This season could be the Year of the Veteran Guard in college basketball. From North Carolina's Marcus Paige to Wichita State's duo of Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker to Michigan State's Denzel Valentine, seniors will be the backcourt stars. Here's SI.com's list of the top 20 guards from across college basketball, presented in alphabetical order.
Height: 6'5"Weight: 205Class: SophomoreAfter averaging 4.4 points in 9.2 minutes per game during the regular season, and then scoring a combined 18 points in the first five NCAA tournament games, Allen became Duke’s hero in final against Wisconsin. While his more-heralded classmates Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow struggled with foul trouble, Allen starred. His 16 points off the bench were more than the Badgers' entire bench combined. And the game was the perfect confidence-booster to get Allen ready to be the focal point of the Blue Devils’ offense as a sophomore. There’s reason to believe that Allen is ready: Although his point total was low last season, his usage rate (22.0%) and efficiency (118.3) were star-caliber, suggesting he simply needs more minutes to become Duke’s next star.
Height: 6'3"Weight: 195Class: SeniorArcidiacono enters his senior season at Villanova having started every game but one in his career as a Wildcat. He’s also coming off a junior season in which he averaged 10.1 points per game, had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7-to-1 and was named co-Big East Player of the Year with Providence’s Kris Dunn, another player on this list. With Villanova losing three of its most efficient offensive players from last season—Dylan Ennis transferred to Oregon and Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston graduated—it will lean on Arcidiacono not just as a facilitator but as a go-to scorer this season.
. Ron Baker
Height: 6'4"Weight: 220Class: SeniorIn his last three seasons at Wichita State—he redshirted as a freshman—Baker has started 87 games, and his Wichita State Shockers have won 79 of them. He’s been to a Final Four, helped to lead an undefeated regular-season team and been named a Wooden All-America. Not bad for a former walk-on. This year, he isn’t only chasing a return trip to the Final Four but also some spots in the Shockers’ record books: He’s 29th in career points, sixth in three-point attempts and 13th in steals
Height: 6'5"Weight: 215Class: SeniorIn April, Brogdon faced a difficult decision: Enter the NBA draft (where he could have been a second-round pick) or get a graduate degree. He opted to return to Virginia for a final season and is balancing his work in the school of public policy with another season of ACC basketball. Since recovering from major foot surgery in 2012, Brogdon has been a consistent offensive weapon for coach Tony Bennett, and last season he averaged 14 points and 2.7 assists per game. A master of the pack-line defense, Brogdon is perhaps the best two-way player on this list.
. Kyle Collinsworth
Height: 6'6"Weight: 210Class: JuniorWhen people describe Collinsworth as a do-everything guard, they aren’t exaggerating: In 2014-15, he set the NCAA single-season record with six triple-doubles. He finished second in the West Coast Conference in rebounding, second in assists, second in steals, fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio and 12th in scoring. With former scoring star Tyler Haws now playing pro basketball in Spain, the Cougars will count on Collinsworth to do everything for them again, including leading them back to the NCAA tournament.
Height: 6'4"Weight: 220Class: JuniorYou can certainly be forgiven if you’ve had trouble keeping track of Kris Dunn’s career. He missed the first nine games of his freshman season in 2012-13 with an injured shoulder before an unremarkable season. Then he missed the first three games of his sophomore season with the same shoulder injury before shutting down for the year in December. Finally, he took the court healthy fo the 2014-15 campaign. And he was sensational. Dunn started all 33 games and averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. If he can cut down on his turnovers (4.2 per game) and lead Providence back to the NCAA tournament, Dunn should be a player of the year candidate.
Height: 6-footWeight: 178Class: SeniorAfter flirting with the NBA draft in April, Ferrell decided to return to Indiana to “leave a legacy,” as he said in a statement. Already his career has been remarkable. He is only one of five Hoosiers with 1,000 career points, 400 career assists and 300 career rebounds—and he’s only 6-foot (with two pairs of high-tops on). He was the 37th-most efficient payer in college basketball a year ago, with a 124.3 offensive rating. With James Blackmon and Troy Williams back and five-star big man Thomas Bryant arriving in Bloomington, Ferrell has a chance to leave on a better note than the second-round NCAA tournament exit Indiana endured last March.
Height: 6'4"Weight: 214Class: SeniorFollowing a breakout sophomore season in in 2013-14 which he jumped to 16.5 points a game from 7.8 as a freshman, Hield made a more modest leap to 17.4 points a game as a junior last year. His Sooners, however, made a much bigger leap, going from a round of 64 exit at the hands of North Dakota State in 2014 to a Sweet 16 run last March. Hield’s ability to assume a high volume of possessions while maintaining his efficient play was a big reason why. With Isaiah Cousins, Khadeem Lattin, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler all returning, expect to be seeing Hield and the Sooners competing with Kansas and Iowa State for the Big 12 title.
. Demetrius Jackson
Height: 6'1"Weight: 198Class: JuniorLast season, Notre Dame’s offense revolved around one guard: Jerian Grant. And while no one expects Jackson to do everything Grant did, there is good reason to expect that he’s ready for more this season. Last year, he was excellent (122.0 offensive rating, 12.4 points a game) despite using less than 19% of available possessions. Returners Bonzi Colson, Zach Auguste and Steve Vasturia will help ease some of the scoring load, but Notre Dame will primarily look to Jackson and his explosive playmaking to keep up its offensive pace
Height: 6'7"Weight: 205Class: SeniorThe last time we saw LeVert was in January, when he left the court against Northwestern with a broken left foot. After undergoing surgery, he missed the final 14 games of the season, yet still finished second on the team in total scoring, assists and steals. Levert’s versatility—he can handle the ball well enough to play all three backcourt positions—has intrigued NBA scouts, but he decided to return for a final season at Michigan. He comes back to a more experienced team, which lost only forward Max Bielfeldt (who transferred to Indiana) this off-season.
Height: 6'2"Weight: 170Class: JuniorMorris is perhaps the best pass-first point guard on this list. As a sophomore last season, he led the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio and was third in Pure Point Rating (PPR). And he did all that while increasing his usage rate from 12.7% to 17.7%. In the wide-open offense of Fred Hoiberg, the consistent Morris was always in control. Given new coach Steve Prohm’s track record with developing point guards—he coached Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne at Murray State—don’t be surprised to see an even stronger season from Morris.
Height: 6'5"Weight: 207Class: FreshmanMurray reclassified from the Class of 2016 to 2015 to join Kentucky this fall. But he is by no means inexperienced. He was the star of April's Nike Hoop Summit, where he scored a game-high 30, and he averaged 24.7 points per 40 minutes for Team Canada in the Pan-American Games during the summer. While he could also play the point as a pro, expect him to settle in as the two-guard with Tyler Ulis beside him in Kentucky’s backcourt. With Kentucky having lost seven players to the NBA draft, Murray should step in and assume a big offensive role from Day 1.
Height: 6'3"Weight: 178Class: FreshmanOutside of LSU forward Ben Simmons, there may not be a freshman in the country set to inherit a bigger scoring opportunity than Malik Newman. Mississippi State was 255th in offensive efficiency a season ago, and there isn’t a returning player on the roster who had an offensive rating better than 106. Rising senior Craig Sword used 27.1% of the Bulldogs’ possessions last year but posted a sub-100 offensive rating. Newman, who averaged nearly 30 points a game as a high school senior and is perfectly suited for Ben Howland’s uptempo system, is poised to put up a huge statistical year. He may not be able to take the Bulldogs to the Big Dance, but he’ll be fun to watch in what will likely be his only season playing college basketball.
. Marcus Paige
Height: 6'1"Weight: 175Class: SeniorAfter being named an All-America as a sophomore, Paige was a popular pick to repeat that honor as a junior, and although he fell short—he only made third-team in his own conference—that doesn’t mean his season was a disappointment. In fact, he was excellent, especially when considering that he struggled with multiple injuries throughout the season, most notably plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Paige made just under 40% of his three-point tries and 4.5 assists against a career-low 1.9 turnovers. With perhaps the best starting five in the country, North Carolina will not ask Paige to do everything, and fans shouldn’t expect his stats to skyrocket, though he should be closer to his scoring average from two years ago (17.5) instead of last season's mark (14.1). If he's healthy, Paige will not disappoint, and he should wind up back in the discussion for All-America and national player of the year honors.
. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
Height: 6'3"Weight: 215Class: SeniorLast season, the Hoyas featured the closest thing to a thunder-and-lightning combo in basketball, with 350-pound big man Joshua Smith anchoring the frontcourt and the speedy Smith-Rivera in the backcourt. Smith graduated, leaving Smith-Rivera, a senior, in charge of building on Georgetown’s top-50 finish in offensive and defensive efficiency. If he can maintain his 120-plus offensive rating while increasing his usage, he may prove to be more than just a fringe NBA prospect, which is the reason he returned for his senior season in the first place.
. Isaiah Taylor
Height: 6'1"Weight: 170Class: JuniorAfter a surprisingly effective freshman season in 2013-14, many observers expected Taylor to fully breakout as a sophomore. Instead, his game flat-lined, primarily because of his mediocre shooting (28.2% from 3-point rage, 40.1% overall from the field). Still, Taylor’s quickness and his understanding of the pick-and-roll have made him one the most valuable playmaking point guards in the country. If he can find his stroke from 15 feet and out, he’ll become one of the most coveted floor generals in the nation.
. Melo Trimble
Height: 6'3"Weight: 185Class: SophomoreLast year, Trimble and the Terps took opponents by surprise. This season, they’re likely to be a top-five team in the first AP poll, and Trimble will be an All-America candidate. Trimble’s comfort level as a freshman floor general was surpassed only by Duke’s Tyus Jones, who is now in the NBA. The Arlington, Va.-product is an outstanding shooter (86.3% from the free-throw line, 41.2% from the three) who is comfortable getting into the lane and even grabbing rebounds. Playing more consistently and increasing his assist rate—he averaged just 3.0 per game last year—will be the key to his season. Fortunately for him, he'll have plenty of talented teammates to look for.
. Tyler Ulis
Height: 5'9"Weight: 160Class: SophomoreKentucky’s captain-by-default this year is apparently off to a great start. While coach John Calipari says his Wildcats “stink” right now, he has been heaping high praise on Ulis, recently saying that he had 25 assists and three turnovers in their first few practices. Undersized even for a college guard, Ulis has a well-earned reputation for being a pass-first point guard who still has a nice stroke (42.9% from three). He isn’t the 6’5” slashing Kentucky guard you’re used to seeing, but that may be a good thing for the Wildcats who still have plenty of players who “need to eat” (i.e. get touches), as Cal would say.
Height: 6'5"Weight: 220Class: SeniorDespite coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14.5 points and 6.3 boards a game, Valentine is not getting a ton of attention. But with Travis Trice and Branden Dawson having graduated, Valentine will the focal point of Tom Izzo’s attack in East Lansing this year. Valentine has excellent court vision and will transition seamlessly into handling the ball fulltime for the Spartans. With scoring opportunities up for grabs, his excellent stats from a season ago (14.5 points per game. 6.3 rebounds, 41.6% from outside) are bound to increase.
Height: 6'0"Weight: 195Class: SeniorThe other half of the vaunted and ultra-successful Wichita State backcourt, Fred VanVleet is the prototypical college point guard. He’s slightly undersized at 6-foot, but he has averaged more than 11 points and five assists per game since taking over as the starter before the 2013-14 season. And no senior in the country has taken part in more victories than the 95 VanVleet has played in for the Shockers. Like his teammate Ron Baker, VanVleet is also chasing some notable school records—he’s already its all-time leader in assists, is third in steals and only needs 16 wins to surpass Tekele Cotton as the winningest Shocker ever.