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Men's College Basketball
 

Full-Court Press: The top quarterbacks of the hardwood

By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With Trey Burke moving on to the next level, the 2013-14 Bob Cousy Award, which goes to the nation's top point guard, is up for grabs.

"It's an honor to have Trey Burke selected as the recipient of the Bob Cousy Award," Michigan coach John Beilein said in a statement. "Trey has been the floor leader of our program, a terrific teammate and critical to our success. He epitomizes the selection criteria for this award and will represent the Cousy family with great pride and honor."

Burke certainly had to earn the honor last season as he contended with the likes of Shane Larkin, Matthew Dellavedova and Michael Carter-Williams to be distinguished as the best floor general in the nation.

The following is an early list of the top contenders to take home the award:

MARCUS SMART - Although Kansas landed the top high school recruit and Iowa State has shown steady improvement each season since Fred Hoiberg took over the helm of his alma mater, Oklahoma State should be the favorite to win the Big 12 due to its Smart-led backcourt. He very well could have been selected ahead of Burke in the upcoming NBA Draft had the 6-foot-4, 225-pound guard elected to make the jump after one season. Smart used his tremendous size to produce 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game in his inaugural season wearing black and orange. The Cowboys' star player is going to be on many preseason watch lists, but will need to improve his 29 percent 3-point shooting to truly become unguardable.

AARON CRAFT - Ohio State will have a whole lot to replace on the offensive end due to the graduation of star forward Deshaun Thomas. Coach Thad Matta's Buckeyes will still be a contender in the highly competitive Big Ten due to their star point guard. Craft's numbers were not overly impressive as a junior last season as he netted only 10 points, 4.6 assists and 2.1 steals per outing. However, his nightly impact on the defensive end that does not show up on the stat sheet is what makes him one of the elite floor generals in the NCAA. Craft scored 10 or more points on 17 occasions last season and OSU won 13 of those games, including a three-point victory over Iowa State in the Big Dance thanks to his 3-pointer in the closing seconds. He will need to shoulder more of the load offensively next season, which will lead to a career year statistically.

CHAZ WILLIAMS - In the best season in the history of the Atlantic 10 Conference, the speedy 5-foot-9 Williams finished fifth in the league in scoring at 15.5 points per game, while also registering the most assists by far with 7.1 per game. Massachusetts rode the coat tails of its shifty guard as it took down some impressive programs such as Harvard, Providence, Ohio, Saint Joseph's, Xavier and Temple. The A-10 may have lost some of its firepower as the Musketeers, Temple and Butler moved to the Big East along with Charlotte to the Conference USA, but it will still be one of the top mid-major conferences thanks to the additions of George Mason and Davidson. With Williams back in the fold, the Minutemen are set for a very big season which could include some net snipping.

JAHII CARSON - Arizona State was not expected to be relevant in 2012-13 after recording only 10 wins just one season prior. However, it had its best season since James Harden was a Sun Devil last season thanks in large part to the efforts of a remarkable rookie campaign by Carson, who tallied 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per outing. ASU could struggle repeating the same type of success next season after losing a pair of important pieces in Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon, but coach Herb Sendek has to like his chances with the lightning quick Carson spearheading the charge. If he can figure out a way to overcome being the focal point of every defensive game plan he faces again next season, the Co-Pac 12 Freshman of the Year will receive even more prestigious accolades and face a tough decision on whether to test the NBA waters.

JOE JACKSON - It has been some time since Memphis was considered an underdog to win its own conference as it has been the powerhouse of Conference USA since Marquette and Louisville departed for the Big East in the mid-2000s. The Tigers, who will host the inaugural American Athletic Conference championship, are going to be in contention to win the first-ever league title with the reigning C-USA Player of the Year leading the way. Jackson averaged 13.6 points, 4.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals for a Memphis as it went undefeated in conference play, qualified for the NCAA Tournament as a No. 6 seed and finished with an overall record of 31-5. He surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career, was an all-conference first-team selection and became the first player in history to earn back-to-back C-USA tournament MVP awards. The Tigers play a very uptempo style, which is only possible with a solid player running the show. It will be interesting to see how Memphis fairs on a grander stage.

SHABAZZ NAPIER - One team Jackson and Memphis will have to go through to achieve its goal will be Kevin Ollie's Connecticut Huskies, who have an exceptional point guard of their own. Napier was outstanding last season with marks of 17.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game, but he flew under the radar because UConn was banned from postseason play. He was a contributor on the Huskies team that won it all in 2010-11 and has done his best to fill any role needed for success. After a long professional career, Ollie showed he is one of the game's most promising young coaches in UConn's suspension year. His mentorship could help Napier elevate his game to the next level, which could turn the 6-1 guard into a household name by the season's end.

ELFRID PAYTON - Nate Wolters and Isaiah Canaan were unknown names in the initial stages of their careers not because they lacked talent, but rather because they chose to play at South Dakota State and Murray State, respectively. Payton is going to be the next superstar guard to emerge from the lower ranks and will make Louisiana a team that no one wants to face. The Ragin' Cajuns finished seven games below the .500 mark in 2012-13, but their poor record included a six-point loss at Boise State and also a three-point setback to Michigan State in East Lansing. Payton, who is very young for his class, netted 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game as a sophomore. He also showed dramatic improvement on his outside shooting ability after missing all eight of his attempts from 3-point distance as a rookie by draining 16-of-50 attempts in his second season. Payton recently earned a spot on the U.S. U-19 national team thanks to his coach Bob Marlin, but Louisiana may need to find a way to win more games before its point guard receives the recognition he deserves.

TIM FRAZIER - Penn State's quest to be a factor on the hardwood is going to be a little easier next season when Frazier makes his return. The Nittany Lions only had him for 130 minutes before he suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear. Frazier received a medical hardship waiver from the NCAA for a fifth season of eligibility, which will give him a chance to remind college basketball fans why he was selected to the All-Big Ten first team in 2011-12. If he can return to full strength, the 6-1 guard has very few holes in his game and the intangibles that every coach admires. The Nittany Lions won only two Big Ten games without Frazier last season, a number that will go up if he can remain healthy.

ANDREW HARRISON - John Calipari continued to rope in top-tier talent this offseason and Harrison is the most intriguing player set to suit up for Kentucky next season. Harrison combines his 6-5, 207-pound frame with a well- rounded skill set that has many thinking he is NBA-ready already. Harrison still has plenty to prove before he can be added to the growing list of great point guards from UK, and it could be difficult for the young floor general playing alongside mostly inexperienced teammates. However, Calipari has been able to excel with a freshman point guard steering the ship in the past and there is little doubt he will be able to do so again.

HONORABLE MENTION - Jake Odum (Indiana State), Chris Jones (Louisville), Semaj Christon (Xavier), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Siyani Chambers (Harvard), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova)

06/19 10:23:29 ET

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