Spotlight on point guards in the men's tournament


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ST. THOMAS - College basketball teams don't go far in tournaments without stellar play from their point guards. That will likely hold true in the Paradise Jam's eight-team field, which is loaded with savvy ball handlers.

Point guards have to make adjustments - sometimes mid-play - to put their teams in the best position to score. Four of the six players to watch in Paradise Jam play the position and do so for teams with potential to win their conferences.

No. 23 University of Connecticut is the lone ranked team in the tournament, but is ineligible for the Big East and NCAA tournaments at the end of the season because of poor academic performance. UConn junior point guard Shabazz Napier and University of New Mexico junior point guard Kendall Williams may be the class of the field.

New Mexico, Mercer University and Iona College are all led by upperclassmen at point guard who factor into preseason rankings that find each of those teams as serious contenders in their conferences. Wake Forest senior C.J. Harris is more of an off guard, but may have to bring the ball up at times because of the Demon Deacons' young squad.

Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore hopes his team can break out of an offensive funk with some fast-pace action in the tournament. That shouldn't be a problem as the Bobcats face Iona and senior point guard Lamont 'MoMo' Jones in the first round. The Gaels averaged 83 points last season and Jones averaged 15.7. He has the ability to push the pace as a scorer and a facilitator.

"All their guards and perimeter players seem to bring an offense to the game at a high level," Moore said. "Offense has been a bit of a burden for us in the first 80 minutes. I kind of hope that it will force us into playing a little freer."

The last true point guard to win Paradise Jam Most Valuable Player was Baylor University's Curtis Jerrells in 2007.

Here is a strong collection of guards to keep an eye during the Paradise Jam.

Shabazz Napier

School: University of Connecticut

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 13

Height/weight: 6-1/171

Awards: Named preseason second-team All-Big East this season; Named preseason honorable mention All-Big East as a sophomore; Selected as a Bob Cousy Award (top NCAA point guard) candidate as a sophomore; Named to the Big East All-Rookie team.

Notes: Napier was third in assists in the Big East last season, a year after contributing to the program's third national title. A phenomenal passer, Napier will be expected to score more this season. He averaged 10 points last season, but he scored a game-high 25 last week as the then un-ranked Huskies upset No. 14 Michigan State to open the season.

Kendall Williams

School: University of New Mexico

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 10

Height/weight: 6-4/185

Awards: Named preseason first-team All-Mountain West this season; Named second-team All-Mountain West and preseason All-Mountain West as a sophomore; Named a Cousy Award candidate as a sophomore; Named team's most outstanding defender as a freshman.

Notes: Williams is the go-to player for a team receiving Top 25 votes despite losing Drew Gordon, the Mountain West tournament MVP last season. Williams averaged 12 points and 4.4 assists last year. He had 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds in the team's season-opening win over Davidson on Monday.

Lamont 'MoMo' Jones

School: Iona College

Year: Senior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 2

Height/weight: 6-0/196

Awards: Named second-team All-Metro Atlantic last season; Named honorable mention All-Pac 12 as a sophomore at the University of Arizona.

Notes: Jones may be one of the most talented scorers in the country. He slides back to point guard after playing off the ball last year and averaging 15.7 points per game. He started all 33 games for the Gaels in his first campaign with the program and started all 38 games the year before with Arizona. The Wildcats went to the Elite 8, so Jones has plenty of big-game experience. He had 20 points and seven assists in the team's season-opening win over Denver last week.

Langston Hall

School: Mercer University

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 21

Height/weight: 6-4/180

Awards: Named preseason first-team All-Atlantic Sun this season; Named first-team All-Atlantic Sun and second-team all-district by the National Association of Basketball Coaches last season; Named CIT tournament MVP last season; Named to A-Sun All-Freshman team and All-Academic honoree.

Notes: Hall started all 38 games last year as the Bears won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and finished 27-11. Hall led the team in scoring (11.4) and assists (4.2). The Bears are the A-Sun favorite and return four starters, which should make Hall even more comfortable than he was in his first All-Conference season. Hall is recovering from an ankle injury and his status for the tournament is uncertain.

C.J. Harris

School: Wake Forest University

Year: Senior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 11

Height/weight: 6-3/190

Awards: Named third-team All-ACC last season and received the team's Murray Greason award for outstanding athletic achievement; Received team's Assist Leader Award as a sophomore; Named to the ACC All-Freshman team.

Notes: Harris enters his senior season after leading the team in scoring as a junior. The steady guard has an NCAA tournament win under his belt, but that was in his freshman year. The team has struggled the previous two seasons with losing records, but Harris will captain a talented group of 10 freshmen looking to surprise the league. In a 79-67 season-opening win over Radford, Harris led six Demon Deacons in double figures with a game-high 19 points.

Sherrod Wright

School: George Mason University

Year: Junior

Position: Guard

Jersey Number: 10

Height/weight: 6-4/196

Awards: Named preseason second-team All-CAA this season.

Notes: Wright is the Patriots' top scoring threat this year on a young team. He finished third on the team in scoring last season with 9.6 points per game. He led the team with 15 points in a season-opening win over the University of Virginia last week. He will need a big first game against Mercer for Mason to advance.

- Contact Tim Chapman at 714-9102 or tchapman@dailynews.vi.

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