Montgomery vs. Toliver: Who is the nation's top point guard?

Originally Published: November 11, 2008
ESPN.com

Our experts had 20-20 vision when it came time to determine the best point guard in the country.

Maryland's Kristi Toliver and Connecticut's Renee Montgomery -- a couple of 5-foot-7 senior guards who both sport No. 20 on their uniforms -- garnered all of the support from ESPN.com's contributors as we prepared to name the nation's top point guard as part of our season preview.

So did Toliver or Montgomery emerge as our ultimate pick in ESPN.com's top five players per position? And which one would you cast your vote for? (See poll at right.)

Take a side-by-side look below at the players' stats and accolades, then check out what ESPN.com columnists Graham Hays and Mechelle Voepel had to say about Toliver, who helped lead Maryland to the 2006 NCAA title, and Montgomery, whose Huskies open this season as the unanimous No. 1 team in the country.

Who is the nation's top point guard?


Kristi Toliver, Maryland, G, 5-7, senior


Renee Montgomery, Connecticut, G, 5-7, senior
2007-08 stats: 17.1 ppg, 7.4 apg, 3.4 rpg, 1.5 spg, 1.70 assist-turnover ratio, 44 percent from field, 37 percent (78-of-210) from 3-point range and 86 percent on free throws. 2007-08 stats: 14.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.6 rpg, 1.9 spg, 1.96 assist-turnover ratio, 38 percent from field, 31 percent (70-of-225) from 3-point range and 79 percent on free throws.
Career stats entering season: 1,433 points (11th in Maryland annals), 581 assists (two shy of first place; Debbie Lytle had 583 from 1980-83), 115 steals, 293 rebounds; also first in free-throw percentage (.870) and 3-pointers made (209); started 93 of 104 games, 37 straight starts. Career stats entering season: 1,346 points (23rd in UConn annals), 433 assists (23 behind Shea Ralph for ninth place), 205 steals (10th); scored double-figure points in 73 games; started 109 of 111 games, including an NCAA-leading 99 straight.
Awards/accolades: 2008 State Farm (formerly Kodak) All-American; Nancy Lieberman Award winner as the nation's top point guard; 2008 AP second-team All-American. Awards/accolades: 2008 State Farm (formerly Kodak) All-American; 2008 AP third-team All-American; All-Big East first team (2007-08, 2006-07); two-time Nancy Lieberman Award finalist.
Other 2007-08 notables: Broke the 30-year-old ACC single-season assists mark with 275; set single-season school records with 3-pointers made (78) and career 3-pointers made (209); led the ACC with 86 percent accuracy on free throws. Other 2007-08 notables: Dished a single-game career best 10 assists on Feb. 2 win vs. Providence; hit seven 3-pointers (tied for the second-best single-game effort in UConn history) on Jan. 19; her 109 starts are 10 more than the next closest D-I player (Courtney Paris).
Why she's the best: The most important truth here is the strong consensus that Toliver and Montgomery are the two best point guards in the nation. That reality is far more noteworthy than whichever one a slim majority or a sizable minority ranks infinitesimally ahead of the other.

That said, the biggest knock on the Maryland senior seems to be that she's not a pure point guard -- she's a scorer who happens to handle the ball a lot. And as someone who loves point guards cut in the traditional mold, like former Texas A&M point A'Quonesia Franklin or former Marist floor general Alisa Kresge, that's difficult for me to reconcile.

Pass first, defend second, shoot third and turn it over last, right?

Those criticisms might have been fair as a freshman, when Toliver averaged 6.1 assists and 4.1 turnovers, but it was an unfair label by her junior year, when she averaged 8.6 assists and 5.1 turnovers. That's still a lot of giveaways, but Steve Nash and Deron Williams have a lot of turnovers, and it doesn't make them bad point guards. Turnovers have to be weighed against the chances created (indeed, that's one of Montgomery's strongest assets). But no point guard in the country created more offense last season than Toliver did, with 631 points and 275 assists.

Toliver is one of the best scorers in the country, and is able to get her shot off anywhere. She arguably had a down shooting effort last season and still shot 37 percent from behind the arc. But that skill shouldn't be used as evidence against her progress as a point guard.

Nobody beats Montgomery in leadership qualities. And yet leadership comes in tangible forms as well, like shooting 14-of-21 with five assists and three turnovers in an epic regional final against Stanford. Can Montgomery make a bigger impact on a game without scoring than Toliver in the same scenario? Almost certainly. But separating Toliver from her strengths misses the point. -- Graham Hays

Why she's the best: Each year we've picked the top five players at each position, we've run into snags. Typically, it has to do with what position a player best fits into, especially if she's a guard.

Many perimeter players, of course, are combo guards, with their position on the floor at any given time depending on the personnel with them, the opponent and the game situation.

UConn's Renee Montgomery is such a player. Huskies coach Geno Auriemma says that fellow guard Lorin Dixon has made big strides, and so we'll have to see how much Montgomery plays the point position this season. But when it's crunch time, there's a good chance the ball typically will be in Montgomery's hands. And that's a good place for it to be.

Looking at stats alone, Toliver had an edge last season, and she's a great choice as the nation's top point guard. She can distribute and score at the highest level, and she already has a national championship.

So why pick Montgomery? When it comes to the Huskies, you have to allow a bit for the "UConn effect" in terms of individual stats. The Huskies often don't have players whose numbers are overwhelming, because the team typically shares the ball and the point production so well.

Montgomery is really the consummate leader, a player who others instinctively follow. She has Auriemma's trust and respect. She plays on the biggest stage in women's college hoops but doesn't get rattled. Her decisions and instincts are always good.

Her 4-of-18 shooting performance against Stanford in the national semifinals last year (1-of-9 from behind the arc) is still eating at her. But that will be part of what pushes her to have the best season of her career this year.
-- Mechelle Voepel