With over 5,200 players slated to play collegiate basketball in Division I this season, there are talented players from coast to coast. Some of them are household names, while there are plenty of players who people haven’t heard of, but are demanding of your attention.
The majority of fans tend to focus on the power five conferences, turning a blind eye to the smaller programs. When you dig deeper, you’ll see that the non-power five schools have players who could just as easily play for a power conference program.
When it comes to junior guards in the NCAA, there are talented players from coast to coast. With so many players, it was nearly impossible to cut the list down to just 10 players without leaving star-calibre players off the list.
Each will have 10 junior guards who will become household names in 2016-17, along with five others to keep a flag on as the season progresses.
**Note: Jaylen Adams and E.C. Matthews didn’t make the list, as we feel that they are already household names on a much larger scale.**
Cameron Morse – Youngstown State Penguins
2015-16 Stats: 20.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg; 47.1% FG, 81.1% FT, 41.3% 3PT
When a player averages more than 20 points per game, one would assume that they started every game and played significant minutes. That’s not the case for Cameron Morse, who only started 20 of 30 games for the Penguins in 2016-17 as a sophomore.
Still, he showed everyone that he’ one of the top offensive guards in the country. He is as steady as they come with the ball in his hands, as he shot 47.1% from the floor, 81.1% from the free throw line, and 41.3% from three point range.
Morse showed just how steady he is on offense on January 9th against the Green Bay Phoenix. Morse finished the night shooting 13-of-18 from the floor for 44 points.
Morse scored 20 or more points on 17 occasions, and he scored in double figures 27 times over the course of the season. He enters the 2016-17 season just 290 points shy of becoming the 37th player in school history to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
Jahad Thomas – UMass-Lowell River Hawks
2015-16 Stats: 14.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.3 spg; 58.6% FG, 50.4% FT, 25.0% 3PT
Jahad Thomas was listed as a guard by the NCAA, and as a guard/forward on the UMass-Lowell Athletics Website. For the sake of the post, we listed Thomas a guard. Regardless of the position, he is one player that you most definitely will want to get to know over the course of the 2016-17 season.
As a sophomore, Thomas emerged as a budding star in the America East Conference. He led the River Hawks in points (14.2), rebounds (7.4), and assists (3.4) per game, while shooting a team-best 58.6% from the floor. He started all 29 games for the River Hawks, and scored in double-figures 20 times over the course of the season.
Thanks to his breakout season, Thomas earned a spot on the All-America East Second Team. He has the versatility to line up either as a guard or a forward, if the team goes small across the lineup.
Thomas isn’t afraid to crash the boards on both ends of the floor, or dish out an assist if opportunities aren’t there for himself. Plus, he has the scoring touch that completes his total package of basketball skills.
Erick Neal – UT-Arlington Mavericks
2015-16 Stats: 12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.2 apg, 1.6 spg; 38.8% FG, 73.0% FT, 33.0% 3PT
In 2015-16, the UT-Arlington Mavericks looked like they were going to give the Little Rock Trojans a run for their money atop the Sun Belt Conference. When Kevin Hervey went down for the year due to injury, the Mavericks’ chances in the conference went down with him.
Despite the loss of Hervey, guard Erick Neal put together an impressive season in his own right. The second-year guard averaged 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and a team-best 6.2 assists per contest. He is a consistent scorer, as he put together 23 games with double-figure points, but only topped the 20-point mark three times.
Neal recorded a triple-double back on January 28th against the UL-Monroe Warhawks. Neal recorded 27 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds in the Mavericks’ 99-88 loss.
The one knock on Neal’s game is his streaky shooting. He shot 30.0%, or worse, from the floor in 12 games last season. If he can develop a more consistent jump shot, Neal’s game will go to another level and the Mavericks will rise to the top of the conference standings as a result.
Jaaron Simmons – Ohio Bobcats
2015-16 Stats: 15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 7.9 apg; 46.5% FG, 77.9% FT, 41.0% 3PT
With Kay Felder off to the NBA and Jordan Johnson sitting out the 2016-17 season after transferring from Milwaukee, Ohio’s Jaaron Simmons in the top assist man returning from 2015-16.
Simmons finished third in the NCAA last season, averaging 7.9 assists per contest. He dished out a season-high 17 assists on the road at Toledo on January 26th. The game was one of his seven double-doubles on the season.
After transferring from Houston, Simmons averaged 36.5 minutes per contest. He showed that he’s more than a one-trick pony, averaging 15.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game to go along with his assist numbers.
Simmons has excellent court vision and a high basketball IQ that allow for him to make plays that other guards across the country would struggle to make. He has a knack for creating opportunities, both for himself and his teammates, which translates to overall team success.
Ohio has the look of one of the top teams in the MAC this season, with Simmons leading the way alongside star forward Antonio Campbell. If Simmons can put together another strong season, the Bobcats will be a team that nobody wants to face in the post-season.
Ed Stephens – South Carolina State Bulldogs
2015-16 Stats: 13.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.6 apg; 43.7% FG, 84.1% FT, 40.4% 3PT
The 2016-17 season hasn’t started yet, but one could argue that the South Carolina State Bulldogs have the best back court duo in the MEAC, and one of the more underrated duos in the entire country.
Alongside senior guard Eric Eaves, junior Ed Stephens is back to lead the Bulldogs as they look for a bit of redemption. The Bulldogs fell to the Hampton Pirates in the MEAC Tournament Final last season, narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament.
As a sophomore, Stephens showcased his offensive abilities from start to finish. His numbers won’t blow you out of the water, but he’s consistent. He averaged 13.1 points per contest, while shooting 43.7% from the floor and 40.4% from three point range. He put together 11 straight double-figure performances from December 7th to January 16th.
His season-high for points was 24, and he also scored 23 points on three separate occasions.
Kyle Castlin – Columbia Lions
2015-16 Stats: 4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.8 apg; 42.9% FG, 60.0% FT, 29.2% 3PT
Kyle Castlin’s collegiate career started off on a high note in 2014-15. He looked like the next star for the Columbia Lions after averaging 10.3 points per game and starting all 29 games as a freshman.
As players became healthy in 2016-17, Castlin’s minutes dropped to 17.3 per game, and his point per game production dipped to 4.8, which was good for the 6th-best mark on the team. With such a drop off in production and minutes from one year to the next, some would find it hard to assume a player would bounce back.
With Maodo Lo gone from the Lions’ back court, Castlin is in position to regain his freshman form. The opportunities will be there, as the Lions will look to Castlin, among others, to fill the void left by Lo.
While he’s a strong shooter, his jump shot from distance needs some work. Castlin shot 29.2% from three point range in 2015-16. If he can become more reliable from beyond the arc, Castlin will become a top-tier player in the Ivy League as a junior.
Deyshonee Much – Iona Gaels
2015-16 Stats: 13.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.1 spg; 47.4% FG, 80.6% FT, 44.7% 3PT
With A.J. English having moved on to the professional ranks after a stellar career with the Gaels, opportunities will be aplenty for others to step up in 2016-17. One of the top candidates for a big year is Deyshonee Much.
The transfer from Buffalo made 27 starts as a sophomore, and saw his minutes jump by over 22 per game in comparison to his freshman year with the Bulls. Much made the most of his opportunity, averaging 13.0 points per game while establishing himself as one of the premier three-point shooters in the country.
Much finished the year by shooting 44.7% from three point range, which was good for the best percentage in the MAAC. He also finished 10th in the country in terms of three point percentage.
Against the Canisius Golden Griffins on February 5th, he showed what he was capable of on the offensive end when he scored a season-high 30 points.
As a sophomore, Much made at least one three-pointer in all but one game. He went 0-for-4 against Canisius back on March 4th.
Divine Myles – Stetson Hatters
2015-16 Stats: 13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.3 spg; 51.0% FG, 66.2% FT, 38.2% 3PT
Over the course of his career, Divine Myles has quietly developed into one of the nation’s best point guards. Playing for a smaller program like Stetson doesn’t always get him the attention he deserves, but that will all change this season.
From his freshman year to his sophomore season, Myles improved in nearly every major statistical category. His points per game rose to 13.8, his rebounds to 4.5, and his assists to 4.2. Against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, Myles dished out a career-high 11 assists, which were the most by a Stetson player in 13 years.
Myles topped five assists in a game 13 times.
He scored in double-figures in 17 straight games from January 6th to March 1st, showing that he’s much more than a strong ball distributor. In conference games, he upped his production even more, averaging 14.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.
After last season’s trip to the Atlantic Sun finals, Myles is ready to lead the Hatters in 2016-17, and all eyes are focused on earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament
Joshua Braun – Grand Canyon Antelopes
2015-16 Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 apg; 43.6% FG, 86.8% FT, 39.2% 3PT
In 2015-16, Joshua Braun and company finished the regular season with a 25-6 record, and went onto advance to the quarter-finals of the 2016 CIT. The Antelopes finished the year with a record of 27-7 overall, and asserted themselves as one of the top non-power five programs in the process.
On a team loaded with talent, Braun stood out amongst them all. He led the team in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game to go along with 5.2 rebounds. His free throw percentage was tops in the WAC.
As a result of his impressive season, Braun was awarded with a spot on the All-WAC First Team.
Standing at 6’4”, Braun brings some size to the back court for the Antelopes. He has the versatility to line up at either guard spot, although he’s much better suited to be a scoring guard.
With Braun and DeWayne Russell leading the way, the Antelopes are poised for another big year in 2016-17.
Jorge Rosa – New Orleans Privateers
2014-15 Stats (with Florida A&M): 11.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.7 apg
Jorge Rosa is a bit of a question mark for the New Orleans Privateers heading into the 2016-17. It’s not whether or not he will play, but rather how well he can produce.
As a freshman, Rosa put up solid numbers at Florida A&M, averaging 11.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, en route to being voted the College Court Report Mid-Major Freshman of the Year. Then, he transferred to Indian Hills C.C., where he averaged just 5.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per contest in 2015-16.
With the Rattlers, Rosa put together 14 games where he scored in double figures, and he topped the 20-point mark on four occasions. He is a strong shooter from all over the floor, and he gives the Privateers more depth in the back court.
If he can get accustomed to the Division I level again, and make the most of his minutes, Jorge Rosa is a name we could be hearing a lot about as the season progresses.
Five More to Keep an Eye On:
Josh Robinson – Austin Peay Governors
Sam Hunt – North Carolina A&T Aggies
Trey Kell – San Diego State Aztecs
Jordon Talley – UNC-Wilmington Seahawks
Tevonn Walker – Valparaiso Crusaders
– T. Bennett