Mateen Cleaves guides Michigan State, Scoonie Penn carries Ohio State, Khalid El-Amin leads Connecticut and Duke dominates with William Avery implementing Mike Krzyzewski's game plan.
"This tournament has as good a four point guards as I've seen in a long time. They all may do different things, but the common ground for them is they all run their teams and have the respect of the other players," Michigan State's Tom Izzo said Wednesday during a conference of the coaches bringing teams to Tropicana Field.
Cleaves and Penn shared Big Ten player of the year honors. El-Amin does whatever is necessary to help Connecticut win, and Krzyzewski says Avery has improved in his first year as a starter as much as any point guard he's ever had.
"As much as us coaches think we feel on the sidelines, somebody out on the court can feel the pulse of a team and the other team and react instinctively to that feel," Krzyzewski said of the role of the point guard. "If you have a good one, it makes you look great."
None of the floor leaders among the finalists leads his team in scoring, but there's no question where the Blue Devils, Buckeyes, Huskies and Spartans look for guidance in tight situations.
"Very simply, the people who have the ball in their hands the most time end up controlling the game. That's kind of a simple explanation of why all four of us, I'm sure, are here," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun.
"Clearly in our case, Khalid has been our energizer. He was 0-for-12 against Gonzaga and yet down the stretch still was the guy who made the difference ... He makes us go, not only physically but psychologically. He really truly is the guy the kids turn to for energy, for direction, and sometimes for courage. He's that type of player."
So, too, is Penn.
The 5-foot-10 junior accompanied coach Jim O'Brien to Ohio State from Boston College two years ago and averaged just over 17 points and four assists for the Buckeyes after sitting out last season.
"It's a coaching cliche, but he really is somebody who's coaching the guys," O'Brien said. "If I just sat there and kept my mouth shut, you know things would get done the way you want them to be done because of Scoonie's knowledge of what should get done."
Calhoun looks at Penn, who the Huskies are familiar with from his days in the Big East, and sees a lot of El-Amin, and vice versa. He said both players have a rare ability to make everyone around them better.
"You call it charisma, you call it energy, you call it leadership, you call it competitiveness. Those are attributes they both have and are able to impart to their teammates. That's a very, very unusual characteristic to have, not only in sport but in life," Calhoun said.
Cleaves average11.7 points and 7.1 assists to help Michigan State with the Big Ten title. An erratic shooter, he makes up for it by getting others involved offensively and by spearheading the team's defense.
Izzo can't imagine where the Spartans would be without him.
"There's no secret his shot is missing in action one in a while, but the rest of his game," Izzo said without completing the sentence. "When he turns up the defense, it seems like the rest of the players react."
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