Jitterbug Juggernauts: Ten guards that could take over March

The majority of NCAA Tournament crunch time moments are utter chaos… hence the name March Madness. The unparalleled parody that a one-off tournament in a neutral setting creates is unmatched… and that parody is what makes the tournament the best postseason in all of sports. One missed free throw.. one foul.. one deflection out of bounds or one loose ball makes the difference. As a team you could win 30 games, but if you don’t come to play in March, you could be agonizingly watching from the sidelines as the zebras decide your season in a late-game monitor review situation.

The tournament doesn’t care how many games you won.. or if you won your league.. or if you won your conference tournament. Any given March weekend, the tournament will come for you if you shoot 4-25 from distance or if your vaunted big can’t stay out of foul trouble. All of these realities would lead one to believe that tournament results are basically random. To that I would say yes.. yes.. when two somewhat even (or not so even) teams meet in a neutral-site tournament game, a lot of the time the results are that of a coin flip. With that being said, there are several consistencies about the tournament that have developed into longstanding truths.

One of the ultimate realities of March is that small, quick-twitch guards often rule the day and make the difference between a team winning or going home. We’ve seen it time and time again… whether it be with Kemba Walker, Carsen Edwards, Shabazz Napier or Jared Harper. Having a lightning quick scoring guard is vital when it comes to making something out of nothing. A shifty guard can help to get a bucket on a broken possession.. at a crucial time.. with the shot clock running down. In a game where chaos is prevailing, the offense isn’t flowing, and you absolutely have to have a score, it’s best to have the ball in the hands of a dynamo you trust.

These ten guards 6’2 and under could be the story this March. Sometimes the smallest man on the floor can loom the largest.. and that statement rings true for these jitterbug juggernauts.

Tim Jones, USA Today Sports

Nijel Pack, Miami (FL)

Miami’s 400,000-dollar man makes up a trio of excellent guards for the Canes alongside Isaiah Wong and Jordan Miller. Jim Larranaga’s squad has reached their highest offensive efficiency via KenPom under his tenure at 13.. and the three-headed snake handling the basketball is mostly to thank. Any of the three could take the big shot or make the big play that propels the Canes in the tournament… Pack simply cracks this list because of his 6’0 stature.

Jamal Shead, Houston

Ask Memphis how familiar they are with Jamal Shead’s late game shot-making ability… Shead is a straight-up gamer and will be a major factor if Houston is going to make it back around to their hometown for the final four later this month.

Kendric Davis, Memphis

On the other side of that Jamal Shead buzzer beater was senior SMU transfer Kendric Davis. Davis has been playing his best ball down the stretch this season, averaging 22.5 PPG in his last four outings. Don’t look now, but similar to last season, Penny Hardaway’s Tigers are rounding into form in March. This time around, they have King Kendric to help carry the load offensively from the point guard position. Memphis is on my shortlist of darkhorse second weekend teams rolling into the tournament.

Tyson Walker, Michigan State

Senior Northeastern transfer Tyson Walker has catapulted the Spartans into the March conversation (and a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament) with his blistering long-distance shooting as of late. Shooting 52-percent from beyond the arc in his last five outings, Walker has accounted for some massive late-game shots like the one seen above. This is an unconventional Tom Izzo squad heading into March because of their lack of a post presence, but their shooting will give them a puncher’s chance to reach the second weekend for the first time since 2019.

Steve Williams, USA Today Sports

LJ Cryer, Baylor

Similar to Miami, the Bears are one of the top offensive units in the country thanks to a three-headed dragon at the guard position with LJ Cryer, Adam Flagler and Keyonte George. Cryer, a junior native of Katy, Texas is an absolute knockdown sharpshooter that is a threat to deliver a dagger from anywhere on the floor. He’s shooting just a touch over 42-percent from deep on the season, as well as over 90-percent from the line. If the Bears go down early in March, it’s more likely to be in a shootout than in a rock fight.

James Marshall, Sports Illustrated

Mike Miles Jr., TCU

The off-court splits for Mike Miles suggest that he may be the most important individual player to his own team in the country. The junior from Highlands, Texas is averaging 17.2 PPG this season and recently became the first ever Horned Frog to be a three-time All-Big 12 selection. TCU will need a heroic effort from their star guard to make a deep run in March.. especially after the news that center Eddie Lampkin will be away from the team due to personal reasons for the foreseeable future.

Mark Sears, Alabama

Mark Sears is an important cog in the product of absolute efficiency that is the Alabama Crimson Tide offense. Shooting 37-percent from deep and 83-percent from the line, Sears is a threat to hit from thirty feet at any given time.

Wade Taylor IV, Texas A&M

First team All-SEC guard Wade Taylor IV is the engine that makes Buzz Williams’ Aggies hum. The 28-piece he hung on the Tide this past weekend was mighty impressive, and with him at the helm and Buzz cooking up the defensive schemes, this Texas A&M team is poised to make a second weekend run this March.

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

Max Abmas should be a familiar name… even for those who only watch college basketball in March. The senior jitterbug, most famous for a sweet 16 run two dances ago, is back for redemption. I’m here to inform anyone that hasn’t been paying attention that this team is BETTER than the Golden Eagles team from two seasons ago. That’s right, a more experienced Abmas averaging 22 PPG will captain a likely 12-seed against a likely very nervous 5-seed in the opening round of the tournament. Oral Roberts is a top-40 offense and is top-30 in 3-point percentage and 3-point attempts as a team. Beware to all… ORU is back and is a massive threat to do damage this March.

Markquis Nowell, Kansas State

Cousy award finalist Markquis Nowell concludes this list in explosive fashion. Standing 5’8, Nowell is the shortest, but potentially most electric, member of this list. K-State’s offense rests on the shoulders of both Markquis Nowell and Keyontae Johnson, but Nowell is the one that makes the transition game come to life for the Purple Kittens. Kansas State’s key to easy offense is getting out in transition, and their key to getting out in transition is the shifty, crafty Markquis Nowell.

Any player can be a hero this month. The ninth man off the bench for a 14-seed could write the biggest storyline of the tournament for all I know. But for my money, at least a few of these guards will have their March moment in the sun before a champion is crowned.

Alex Wilcox