Night Line: Tu Holloway States Early Case For Nation’s Best Point GuardPosted by EJacoby on November 29th, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
As is the case every year, guard play dominates college basketball. A lead guard’s responsibilities – facilitating offense, team leadership, and defensive execution – are essential to a team’s success. In Monday night’s exciting matchup between Xavier and Vanderbilt, the point guards essentially decided the outcome. In crunch time of a tight game, Vandy’s Brad Tinsley made poor decisions for his team; while Xavier’s Tu Holloway dominated on both ends of the court to lead his team to an overtime road win. He’s already had his name in the conversation since preseason, but tonight Holloway made an early statement for why he — not Kendall Marshall, not Jordan Taylor, not anyone else — is the nation’s best point guard. The senior displayed in Nashville why he’s he capable of leading Xavier to a special season.
Holloway is one of the true do-it-all players in the country, and he makes it look easy with his poised demeanor. He plays the game at his own, controlled speed and knows when to kick it up an extra gear for big moments. Tonight was a clinic in that respect, as Holloway sealed the game with back-to-back three-pointers in overtime, where he poured in 10 of his game-high 24 points. He also totaled five rebounds, four assists, and just one turnover in 42 minutes while hitting nine of his ten free throws. His 6-20 shooting line wasn’t the most efficient offensive output you’ll see from him, thanks in part to a solid defensive effort by Vandy, but his command of the floor and complete contributions ultimately led his team to a road win in Nashville.
What also gets lost in the box score is Holloway’s tremendous defensive effort in this game. He was matched up on John Jenkins for much of the night, and Vandy’s leading scorer and arguably the nation’s most lethal outside shooting threat was relatively held in check. Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 20 points, but most of his four three-point makes were a result of lost assignments when Holloway was not defending him. At the end of regulation, Holloway stuck to Jenkins on a key possession where he stripped him of the ball and immediately got fouled. Those are the kinds of plays that win games in crunch time.
The reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and third team All-America, Holloway averaged 19.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 87% from the free throw line a season ago, and he’s picking up right where he left off this year. A finger injury on his shooting hand has limited his output a slight bit, but he’s still now averaging 17 points, five assists, three rebounds, and two steals per game while shooting 85% from the line and 46% from deep. No. 11 Xavier is fully entrenched in the national spotlight and tonight’s signature non-conference road win will not go unnoticed on Holloway’s resume as a candidate for top point guard in the land.
Holloway certainly has worthy competition for the distinction of best point guard in America. Jordan Taylor was the preseason All-America point guard, and he’s done nothing but produce for his undefeated Wisconsin team, averaging a cool 11/5/6 APG while shooting 42% from the field, as well as anchoring the nation’s most efficient defense. Taylor has a massive road test of his own this week at North Carolina, where he’ll match up with the other lead contender for top point guard, UNC’s Kendall Marshall. Marshall might be the country’s best passer as he averages 10.8 APG to just 2.5 TOPG while running the nation’s fifth-highest scoring offense. However, Marshall was a culprit in UNC’s shocking upset loss to UNLV over the weekend, where his poor on-ball defense was exposed as detailed here. He also averages just five points per game, so Marshall has some weaknesses to work through whereas a player like Holloway is solid all-around. Other names to look out for in the point guard discussion include the familiar names of Aaron Craft (Ohio State), Peyton Siva (Louisville), and Dee Bost (Mississippi State), as well as Iona’s breakout star Scott Machado, who has gained enormous buzz from his early production (18.6 PPG, 12.2 APG) this season. But no point guard has yet looked like more of a complete star than Holloway.
Every great team has a different formula on which it rides to the Final Four, but we’ve seen many teams make memorable NCAA Tournament runs through the leadership of a star lead guard. The starting point guards of the past four National Championship teams were Kemba Walker (UConn), Nolan Smith (Duke), Ty Lawson (UNC), and Mario Chalmers (Kansas). Notice a theme here? All of those players were stars for their programs and early NBA Draft picks. Tu Holloway for this year’s well-built Xavier team just might have that special ability to take his team deep into March. If anything, we have our current leader heading into December for the title of nation’s best point guard.