Whether it’s Dick Vitale‘s hoarse screaming or Bruiser Flint reading it off some intern’s notes, every college basketball analyst will tell you that backcourt play is beyond critical in the Tournament; especially point guard play. Like I said in picking Louisville senior PG Andre McGee (and backup Edgar Sosa) to lead the Cardinals to a national ‘chip, each of this decade’s title-winning teams had, without exception, good to great point guards.
No one is picking 6-seed UCLA or 11-seed Virginia Commonwealth to win it all in ’09, but if either team were to make a deep tourney run, it’s because they have two of the best point guards in the country: UCLA’s Darren Collison and VCU’s Eric Maynor. Since they’re going head-to-head in the first round of the East region, however, one is going home early.
Collison (14.5 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.6 spg) and Maynor (22.4 ppg, 6.2 apg, 1.7 spg) have a lot in common. Both are seniors and three-years starters. Both are the undisputed leaders of their teams. Both can seamlessly transition from being distributors to primary scorers. Both can get in your shirt defensively and stay there like pit stains. And both have a track record of NCAA Tournament success — Maynor famously led VCU to a first-round upset of Duke in ’07, and Collison has played in three Final Fours.
Oddly enough, Collison wasn’t even really supposed to be here. He was expected to go pro last year, but his Final Four run-in with Derrick Rose was such a disaster, he was smart to come back to school. Unfortunately, just as Rose showed that Collison probably wasn’t ready for the League, Maynor could leave scouts with another bad lasting impression. At 6-3, 175 pounds, Maynor has the same size and strength advantages over Collison (6-0, 160) that Rose had, plus he’ll also be hell to keep out of the lane, where he finishes strong at the cup.
Where Collison does have one advantage is with his speed, and his Tony Parker-esque game is more efficient than Maynor, who tends to jack threes; he took 180 of them this season, and eight times he took seven or more triples in a game.
Four years of playing Pac-10 ball and making deep Tournament runs have also given Collison an intangible experience nod over Maynor. Whereas Maynor (the Colonial conference POY) is usually significantly better than whoever he’s lined up against, Collison has faced a multitude of elite college point guards in his career.
He’s got one more in front of him this Thursday.