First-year Dayton head coach Archie Miller once said that point guards are the driving force behind a team.
“You can’t do anything without a point guard,” he said. “If you don’t have a point guard, you’re doing things by committee. There’s always different ways to win, and finding a really good point guard is hard to do, but everything starts and stops with him. If you have a really good point guard, you can beat anyone.”
And that’s why the Atlantic 10 Conference this year has been blessed with a surplus of high quality guards.
Nearly every regular season conference game pitted a talented guard against another of similar skill level. Ten of the top 15 scorers in the A-10 this were guards and each is averaging over 14.0 points per game as of games through March 3. This year’s conference tournament was no different as it put on an exhibition of A-10 guards at their finest.
When it comes to guards in the A-10, the conversation must begin with Xavier’s starting backcourt with senior Tu Holloway and junior Mark Lyons.
Holloway, a first team All-Atlantic 10 selection and last year’s conference player of the year, averaged 16.7 points per game while shooting 41 percent from the field. His teammate Lyons, a third team selection, was nearly as good scoring 15.7 points per game and shooting 43 percent from the field.
The duo led Xavier in Saturday’s semifinal matchup against Saint Louis with a 71-64 win.
Holloway had 21 points and Lyons contributed 14. SLU head coach Rick Majerus said after the game that the guards made tough shots when needed and had this short, but sweet line about Holloway:
“Holloway is an outstanding player,” Majerus said. "Their strength comes in late-game situations. The night before, Lyons scored Xavier’s last points in a come-from-behind win against Dayton in the quarterfinals."
Majerus has an impressive lead guard of his own in redshirt junior Kwamain Mitchell. After a year away from the game, Mitchell has been a sparkplug for the Billikens in a resurgent year and earned third-team All Atlantic 10 honors.
Dayton has its own guard sensation in redshirt junior Kevin Dillard. He was the second-leading scorer on the team at 12.9 points a game, but in crunch time was the go-to option for first-year Miller.
In the Xavier game on Friday, Dillard scored eight straight points late in the second half to put Dayton ahead. Only the Flyers were unable to hold on. He finished with a team-high 16 points and eight assists.
Miller has said on numerous occasions that Dillard, a second team All-Atlantic 10 selection, is the most important player on Dayton’s team and maybe in the entire conference.
This season Temple focused its offense on a trio of top guards, leading the Owls to a 13-3 mark in conference play and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
Seniors Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore and junior Khalif Wyatt were all all-conference selections and averaged over 11 points per game for the Owls. Moore and Wyatt led all A-10 guards in scoring at 17.8 points per game and 17.1 points a game, respectively.
Saint Joseph's, largely on the shoulders of guard tandem Langston Galloway and Carl Jones, made it to Atlantic City as the No. 5 seed before bowing out to St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals.
At Massachusetts, 5-foot, 9-inch redshirt sophomore Chaz Williams ran the show for the Minutemen and scored 16.2 points a game and led the A-10 with 193 assists on the season. Williams, who was selected to the first team all-conference, scored 20 in a 77-71 victory over Temple in the first round on Friday.
In total, 11 guards filled out the 15 slots for the three all-conference teams. And most of them were on display in Atlantic City this weekend.
Holloway said after Saturday’s win that the guards in the A-10 are overlooked sometimes and that shouldn’t be the case.
“You know sometimes we’re underrated,” he said. “You see big time guards in other conferences and I know, personally, that every time I go out against another Atlantic 10 guard it’s a challenge.”
Miller, who was an assistant under his older brother, Sean Miller, at Arizona, said the A-10’s guards rank right up with any from a power six conference.
“I’ll be honest with you, I think this league has better players than the Pac-12 does right now,” he said. “There isn’t a game that goes by that I don’t watch film and say, ‘They’re every bit as good as anyone I’ve seen in the last four years.’”