HOUSTON – This NCAA tournament has been a story of upsets, and the main authors have been four point guards who have provided winning plot twists for their teams time after time.
There’s Kemba Walker, Connecticut’s 6-foot-1 junior All-American who’s been the Huskies’ alpha dog.
There’s Shelvin Mack, Butler’s 6-3 junior who lit up Pittsburgh for 30 points and Florida for 27.
There’s Joey Rodriguez, VCU’s 5-foot-10 (on tip-toes) senior who’s orchestrated the Rams’ improbable run, including a toppling of Kansas.
Then there’s the new kid, Kentucky’s 6-3 freshman Brandon Knight, who had winning shots against Princeton and Ohio State.
Will one of them write a final chapter about victory in this weekend’s Final Four?
Walker, who won the Cousy Award as the nation’s best point guard, is considered the one guy most capable of carrying his team to the championship.
Walker has Final Four experience. He played 20 minutes and scored four points in UConn’s loss to Michigan State in the 2009 semifinals. A role player then, Walker’s a star now. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun flatly calls him “the most valuable player in the United States.”
Calhoun said when he recruited Walker out of the Bronx, “I thought I was getting a quick New York City point push guard, defender, all that type of thing.
“He’s evolved into even more than that.”
But Calhoun can appreciate Knight, too, as “one of the most cerebral” freshman in the nation. “Not just the fact that he’s intellectually gifted, but he’s cerebral in the sense of focus.
“He’s not the best athlete point guard here, but he’s tough, focused and he has found what he does really well – his 3-point shooting particularly.”
UK coach John Calipari said Knight has matured from a quiet high school kid into a take-charge leader.
Mack has developed in much the same way. The former Bryan Station High School (Lexington, Ky.) star is quiet by nature, but he’s opened up more in three years at Butler, especially on the court. He was an integral part of Butler’s national runner-up team last year, but when Gordon Hayward jumped to the NBA, Mack became more of a leader.
Butler coach Brad Stevens is Mack’s biggest fan. “I think he tries to play well, be a good person and student,” Stevens said. “He’s 3 for 3.”
If there is an overlooked star in this quartet of Final Four point guards, it’s Rodriguez.
VCU coach Shaka Smart thinks people don’t give Rodriguez the respect and recognition he deserves.
When Rodriguez said he’s the Rams’ go-to-guy late in games, Smart wasn’t surprised.
“Joey always says it’s him, and that’s the best thing about him. That’s why he’s here. He has a terrific belief in himself.”