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Top 10 Guards in Big Ten Basketball history: Who is the GOAT?

Publish Date: 02/09/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

The Big Ten has seen some incredible guards in the conference’s history. Maybe the two greatest point guards of all time in Magic and Isiah, and shooters like Rick Mount, who could hit from anywhere inside the gym. Check out our list of the Greatest Point Guards in College Basketball history!


Leadership is big at the guard spot, especially with point guards. Does the player make his team better? That separates the most significant players. All of the players on this team were leaders, hard-nosed and tough. The team was the most important thing, and all ten of the guys on this list improved everybody around them.

10) John Wooden, Purdue

Wooden may be best remembered as a coach, but he was an exceptional player too, helping lead Purdue to its first national championship and being honored as player-of-the-year; three All-American selections followed as well.

Wooden was an all time great Indiana High School Basketball player also and would go on to be one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time at Indiana State and UCLA.

Video: Purdue Profiles: John Wooden

Purdue Profiles: John Wooden

9) Kendall Gill, Illinois

Gill was a great athlete who could do it all on both sides of the court.  As a senior, Gill led the Big Ten in scoring and was named a first-team All-American (UPI). He left Illinois as the seventh-leading scorer in school history. Gill helped lead the Illini to a tournament berth each year he played including the 1989 Final Four.

The 1989 Illini may have been the best team in the country that year, but Michigan got hot and won it all that season. 1989 was the Illini’s year, but they still came up short.

Video: Kendall Gill 89 vs Iowa

Kendall Gill 89 vs Iowa


8) Nick Anderson, Illinois

Anderson was one of the best shooters in Big Ten history, and the range on his shot was amazing. He was dangerous once he passed half-court. Anderson teamed up with Kendall Gill to form one of the best backcourts in Big Ten history.

The pair would lead the Illini to the Final Four in 1989, coming up short in an overtime loss to Michigan.

Video: Nick Anderson Buzzer Beater Illinois at Indiana | 3/5/89

Nick Anderson Buzzer Beater Illinois at Indiana | 3/5/89


7) Derron Williams, Illinois

The Illini have had some great guards, and Williams is at the top of that list. Williams could do it all and helped lead the Illini all the way to the 2005 National Championship game.

As a sophomore, Williams improved his scoring average from 6.3 to 14.0 points per game and assists per game from the prior year to 6.17. Williams was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media.

Video: Deron Williams Illinois Highlights

Deron Williams Illinois Highlights

6) Mateen Cleaves, Michigan State

Cleaves was a three-time All-American for Michigan State Spartans and best known for introducing the world to Tom Izzo and helping give him his only national championship win.

Cleaves was an unparalleled representative of Big Ten basketball, serving three times as team captain. Cleave’s Michigan State squad was the last team to win a National Championship, and he displayed exactly why guard play is so important in college basketball.

Video: The Flint-Stones (Full Feature HD)

The Flint-Stones (Full Feature HD)

5) Ronnie Lester, Iowa

Lester made his presence felt immediately after arriving on campus in Iowa City, Iowa. He started as a freshman and played a crucial role in Iowa’s successes over his four seasons. At Iowa, Lester would earn All-American honors in 1979, First Team All-Big Ten honors in 1978 and 1979, and lead the Iowa Hawkeyes to a share of the 1979 Big Ten title and the Final Four of the 1980 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

An injury in 1980 severely limited him, and without that injury, he may have led Iowa to a National Championship. Lester is often forgotten outside of Iowa, but he was a true legend.

Video: Hawkeye Basketball Legend Ronnie Lester #12 Jersey Retirement Ceremony @ Fieldhouse on March 1, 1980

Hawkeye Basketball Legend Ronnie Lester #12 Jersey Retirement Ceremony @ Fieldhouse on March 1, 1980

4) Steve Alford, Indiana

Alford was a flat-out pure shooter who could hit from anywhere. He was an average-at-best defender and needed screens to get his shot off, but he was as accurate a field goal and free throw shooter as you will ever see, and he helped the Hoosiers win it all in 1987.

Alford hit seven three-point shots in the 1987 National Championship game and was one of the greatest free throw shooters in College basketball history. Alford was an immediate impact player when he stepped on the floor at Indiana and is still one of the all-time fan favorites in Hoosier history.

Video: Steve Alford- 1987 NCAA Tourney Scoring Highlights

Steve Alford- 1987 NCAA Tourney Scoring Highlights

3) Isiah Thomas, Indiana

Thomas was only a Hoosier for two years, but those two years were special as Thomas led the Hoosiers to back-to-back Big Ten championships and the 1981 National Championship. Thomas was a great leader with an innate ability to take a game over.

Thomas was the greatest Hoosier to play the game and accomplished that in just two seasons. Thomas also helped the Hoosiers win two Big Ten Championships, which is not a bad resume for two years. Thomas would establish himself as one of the top 5 point guards in NBA history!

Video: Isaiah Thomas (Basketball Documentary)

Isaiah Thomas (Basketball Documentary)

2) Rick Mount, Purdue

Mount was maybe the greatest shooter in College Basketball history. He averaged more than 30 points per game for the three seasons he played, and that was without a three-point shot. He shot over 50 per cent from the field while sharpshooters like Pete Maravich were shooting in the mid-40s. Mount helped lead the Boilermakers to the National Championship game.

Mount was the main reason why the Boilers made it to the 1969 National Championship, and to this day, it is the only time Purdue has made it that far. Mount is still a schoolboy legend in the state of Indiana.

Video: Rick Mount | Big Ten Icons

Rick Mount | Big Ten Icons


1) Magic Johnson, Michigan State

Much like Thomas Magic only played two seasons, but those two seasons ended with a 1978 loss in the regional finals to Kentucky and a 1979 National Championship win over Indiana State. Magic is the greatest point guard to ever play at any level of basketball.

The Spartans were not a serious title contender when Magic arrived on campus. In his first year, the Spartans almost won it all, and they ended up running away with it in his second season. Magic did not just turn it around for Michigan State; he, with the help of Larry Bird, changed the game of basketball forever.

Video: Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson COLLEGE DUEL Highlights (1979.03.26) Indiana St vs Michigan St (EPIC!!)

Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson COLLEGE DUEL Highlights (1979.03.26) Indiana St vs Michigan St (EPIC!!)


Honorable mentions

Jalen Rose, Michigan

One of the Fab 5 from Michigan, Rose helped lead the swagger of the Wolverines and his “Fab” teammates to a couple NCAA Final Fours. The Fab Five would come up short in both final fours against Duke in 1992 and North Carolina in 1993.

Mike Conley, Ohio State

Conley was a great scorer who could beat you with his outside shooting, slashing, and driving to the basket. Conley was also a solid defender and a great leader—one of the greatest Buckeyes of all time.

Rickey Green, Michigan

After being chosen to two consecutive Juco All-American teams at Vincennes(JUCO), he quickly rose to the All-Star point guard ranks.

Green was honored twice with selection to the NCAA All-Tournament team and earned All-Big Ten accolades during both of his years at Michigan.

He received honorable mention All-American honors in 1976 and consensus First Team selection for 1977.

At that time, he finished second for national collegiate player of the year honors.

Scott Skiles, Michigan State

Skiles was a tough, gritty, hard-nosed player who helped get Michigan State to the Sweet 16 in 1986, where they would lose a controversial game to the Kansas Jayhawks. Skiles was a tremendous passer and shooter and was a high school legend in the state of Indiana, where he led Plymouth to the upset win over Gary Roosevelt in the 1982 IHSAA State Championship game.

D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State

Russell is maybe the best defensive guard in Big Ten history, and he would go on to be considered one of the best defenders in the NBA. Russell was also an offensive weapon and one of the greatest Buckeye basketball players of all time.

Russell was a complete player, but the defensive end as what got him on this top 10 list.

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