Chuck McGill: Floor generals take center stage in Capital Classic
CHARLESTON, W.Va -- Let's get straight to the point ... as in floor generals.
The point guard position is the most compelling aspect of Saturday's Capital Classic, the 42nd matchup between the men's basketball programs at West Virginia and Marshall (7:30 p.m., WOWK).
Juwan Staten, a 6-foot-1 junior for the Mountaineers, and Kareem Canty, a 6-1 freshman for the Thundering Herd, have been two of the country's most dynamic at their position this season.
Both players are in the top 10 nationally in assists, but they're also bona fide scorers. Only four Division I players are averaging at least 16.0 points and 6.5 assists, and half of them - Staten and Canty - will be on the Charleston Civic Center court Saturday night.
"It is a good matchup," fourth-year Marshall Coach Tom Herrion said.
"We've got a lot of good matchups at a lot of positions, but usually point guard play is paramount for any team."
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Steady Staten is averaging 16.4 points, 6.8 assists and 6.4 rebounds. Last season, his first at WVU, he had 101 assists against 48 turnovers, slightly better than a 2-to-1 ratio. This season Staten ranks No. 5 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.64) with 65 assists against 14 turnovers. Five of those turnovers came in WVU's 80-71 loss at Missouri, so Staten has nine turnovers in the other nine games combined.
He is the only player in the top 15 of assist-to-turnover ratio with more than 50 assists and he leads WVU in minutes per game (35.8), so the opportunities have been plenty for him to be careless.
"Juwan is playing really, really well," Herrion said of Staten. "He's having a breakout year, as you'd expect after being in that system for a year."
Canty, a highly touted recruit, might be exceeding lofty expectations. He is averaging 18.3 points and 6.7 assists, and is coming off a career-high 28 points in a 90-77 loss at Penn State last Saturday.
Among all freshman in college basketball, Canty is sixth in scoring, first in assists and 13th in 3-pointers made. Canty averages 35.2 minutes per game. With leading-scorer Elijah Pittman suspended indefinitely, Canty averages 10.5 more minutes per game than any of his teammates.
Staten and Canty seldom leave the floor - and for good reason. They're also throwbacks, of sorts, even down to the players they watch and emulate.
Staten said he pops in old game tapes of Isiah Thomas and studies the professional hoops Hall of Famer.
"I liked his game, I liked his demeanor, I liked his competitiveness and drive and the way he fights for everything," said Staten, who is from Dayton, Ohio.
"I like his style of play and that's who I try to model my game after."
Canty comes from the New York City area, a hotbed for point guards. Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Bob Cousy, Nate Archibald and Mark Jackson are names from another era, but Canty fixates on current NBA star with an old-school style: Chris Paul.
"That's my favorite player," Canty said of the Los Angeles Clippers point guard. "I study him, I see how he acts when they lose, when they win, how he carries himself."
Staten's last game came against Gonzaga, and he occasionally crossed paths with David Stockton, son of NBA legend John Stockton. He crossed up Stockton to set up a mid-range jump shot in the first half, and moments later showed the all-around play that is so vital to the Mountaineers' success.
Staten, who is one of only two players in Division I averaging 16 points, six rebounds and six assists, snuck under the basket, snared an offensive rebound and found Gary Browne, who finished the possession with a jumper.
Canty is coming off a game against one of the nation's top point guards, Penn State's Tim Lindsay (17.9 points, 7.7 assists). Against Lindsay, Canty played 39 of 40 minutes and established career-highs in field goals (10-19), 3-pointers (5-8) and points (28).
It's the big matchups the hardwood's littlest guys embrace.
"The better the competition, the better I play," said Canty, who watched last season's Classic from the stands. "I studied (Staten) to see the things I could've done last year. Every time they play, I watch him and I'm ready for the battle on Saturday."
Staten hasn't had the benefit of seeing Canty's game, but he'll relish the challenge.
"As a basketball player who loves to compete, you have to love those games," Staten said. "I look forward to competing against other good point guards."
Staten and Canty are, clearly, two of the good ones.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill.