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The most integral part of a team is their backcourt. In order to be a threat to win the national championship, a good perimeter group is necessary. Without superior guard play, you can kiss a Final Four appearance goodbye. A team can have the best forwards in the country, but if they don't have a perimeter that can knock down shots and handle the ball, they are ripe for an upset in the early rounds. Who has the best backcourts in the country? Starters in italics
Duke (Sean Dockery, Greg Paulus, DeMarcus Nelson, JJ Redick): The preseason favorite to win the national title has very solid perimeter play. Redick is the premier shooting guard in the country. He can carry the Blue Devils. Dockery is a defensive pest, while Nelson plays bigger than his 6-3 size would indicate. Paulus was the top point guard recruit in the country, and can step in if Dockery fails to pick up some of the scoring slack due to the loss of Daniel Ewing.
Miami (Guillermo Diaz, Robert Hite, Anthony Harris, Eric Wilkins, Denis Clemente): Miami was on the bubble heading into the latter part of the season, but did not win a couple of key games down the stretch. Their backcourt is going to help them get to the Dance this season. Diaz is a high-flying scorer that can do it all on the offensive end. Hite gets somewhat overshadowed by Diaz, but was still fourth in the ACC in scoring. Harris starts at the point and is solid all-around. Clemente was a highly-touted point guard recruit.
Connecticut (Marcus Williams*, AJ Price*, Rashad Anderson, Denham Brown, Craig Austrie, Robert Garrison): The Huskies spot in this group hinges on the eligibility of Williams and Price, the only two Big East starting-caliber point guard on the team. Williams might be the best point guard in the country; he is certainly the best passer. Price sat out last season, but can score well and provide a breather for Williams. Anderson is an excellent, albeit streaky, shooter that can shoot the Huskies in or out of games. Brown split time with Anderson last season, and will do it again. Both averaged over ten points per game. If Williams and/or Price have to sit out, Austrie and Garrison will handle the point guard duties. Neither were highly regarded recruits.
Villanova (Mike Nardi, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry): This is the best backcourt in the country and could remind some of Illinois' group from last season. Ray performed very well on the U-21 team during the summer, and could develop into one of the better scorers in the Big East. Foye is a threat to use his strength to drive to the lane or shoot the three. Nardi is a smart point guard that doesn't make many bad decisions. Lowry saw his minutes rise late in the season due to Nardi's injury and his own play. He averaged almost 14 points and 6 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament.
West Virginia (JD Collins, Mike Gansey, Patrick Beilein, Joe Herber, Darris Nichols): This is a deep group that made some new fans with their surprise run to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Gansey scored in double figures in his last nine games, and is their go-to-guy on the perimeter. Beilein, the coach's son, is a good three point shooter but doesn't do much besides that. Herber isn't a big-time scorer, but he shoots the three well and can do a little bit of everything. Collins doesn't turn the ball over that much, and is a solid point guard that doesn't score very much. Nichols adds depth at the point.
Michigan State (Drew Neitzel, Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager): After last season's extremely deep team, the Spartans are far thinner, but potentially better. Brown and Ager form one of the best wing combinations in the nation. Ager is an underrated player that led the team in scoring a year ago. He also shoots 40 percent from beyond the arc. Brown is an athletic scorer that takes it to the basket well. Neitzel developed as the season went along. He is a good passer that will get the ball where it needs to be.
Iowa (Jeff Horner, Adam Haluska, Mike Henderson, Carlton Reed): If the Hawkeyes are going to be the Top 20 team that everyone expects them to be, the backcourt is going to lead them there. Horner is an excellent player that does well in all aspects of the game, as evidenced by his numbers a year ago (14 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.5 apg). Haluska is a good scorer that teams with Horner for a decent scoring tandem. Henderson doesn't do anything that jumps out at you, but he can score if needed and rebound well for his size. Reed provides depth off the bench.
Iowa State (Curtis Stinson, Will Blalock, Tasheed Carr): The Cyclones made a great run at the end of last season to make the Tournament, and the backcourt was the reason why. Stinson is one of the best all-around players in the country, and can put ISU on his back at the end of games. He and Blalock form the best 2-man backcourt in the country. Blalock is a good passer and takes some of the pressure off Stinson on offense. Carr is a strong wing that works mainly in the mid-range.
Texas Tech (Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno, Terry Martin): With the loss of Ronald Ross, the Red Raiders need to fill his shoes in the backcourt somehow. Jackson is a Wooden Award candidate. Not a pure point guard, he is a great scorer that can shoot the three at an outstanding clip of 46 percent. Zeno is a versatile wing that has a solid mid-range game. He reminds me a little of former Syracuse player Josh Pace. Martin was the best recruit Tech picked up. He will be asked to fill some of the void left by Ross.
Minnesota (Vincent Grier, Adam Boone, Maurice Hargrow, Rico Tucker): After a surprise 10-6 record in the Big Ten a year ago, the Golden Gophers should be better this season. The reason for the optimism is the return of two players that sat out last season, Boone and Hargrow. Boone received another year of eligibility after sitting out last season after surgery. He is a good passer and makes smart decisions with the ball. Hargrow sat out after transferring to Arkansas, then back to Minnesota. He is an explosive athlete and shut-down defender on the wing. Grier is an All-America candidate. He carried the Gophers last season and averaged 18 points per game. Grier is a great defender and an excellent finisher who can get by his defender anytime. The only downside to his game is that he has no long range jumpshot.
Michigan (Daniel Horton, Dion Harris, Lester Abram, Ronald Coleman, Kendric Price): The Wolverines lost 13 of their final 14 games last season, after being on the bubble prior to that. Some of that collapse can be attributed to the suspension of Horton. He only played in 13 games, but was their second leading scorer and leading assist man. Abram only played in six games a year ago, due to injury. He averaged 13 points per game two seasons ago. Dion Harris played the entire season, and was the leading scorer for Michigan. He put up over 19 points per game in the last eight contests last season. Coleman played well in the absence of Abram, scoring in double digits in four of the last five games.
UCLA (Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, Cedric Bozeman, Darren Collison): An all-freshman perimeter last season led the Bruins to an NCAA Tournament berth. Farmar is one of the best point guards in the nation, and should be even better in his sophomore year. He averaged over 13 points and 5 assists per game. Afflalo was an underrated freshman last season, using his mid-range game to put points on the board for UCLA. Shipp is a solid scorer and an excellent rebounder for his size, especially on the offensive end. Bozeman may be the most talented player in this group. He sat out last season because of injury, but was the starter two seasons ago. He should provide excellent depth this year.
Arizona (Mustafa Shakur, Chris Rodgers, Jawann McClellan, JP Prince): This choice may be based more on potential than on actual performance thus far. Shakur hasn't lived up to his expectations, but is still one of the better passers in the Pac-10. He is going have to step his game up this season. Rodgers is a very good defender, and can score at times. He is not much of a creator, though. NBA scouts seem to love McClellan, which is interesting considering he averaged less than 16 minutes per game last season. He is very athletic, and can do virtually everything on the court. He won't be eligible until January because of academics, however. The 6-7 Prince is a very highly-touted PG recruit that will add another dimension when he comes into the game.
Oregon (Aaron Brooks, Malik Hairston, Bryce Taylor): The Ducks were considered a bubble team in January; they then proceeded to lose 10 of their final 13 games. Don't expect the same with this group a year older. Brooks is an underrated point guard that averaged almost 15 points and 5 assists last season. He might be the best PG in the league. Hairston came in with loads of hoopla, and had a decent season. However, he didn't "Carmelo-ize" Oregon as promised. Overall, he is a solid all-around player, though. Taylor gets overshadowed by these two, but still had a good freshman season. If he gets more consistent, he will take the next step to being a very good college player.
Kentucky (Rajon Rondo, Patrick Sparks, Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Ravi Moss): This is a very deep group of perimeter players that have not developed to their full potential yet. Rondo and Sparks are the best 2-man backcourt outside of Iowa State and Texas Tech. Rondo improved by leaps and bounds this summer, and might be the best point guard in the SEC this season. He was already an excellent defender, and has added some offense and shooting to his game. Sparks is a very good shooter and scorer. Bradley, Crawford, and Moss will fight it out for the starting spot on the other wing. Bradley is extremely quick and is more of a PG. Moss is a superb three point shooter and is better suited to come off the bench. That leaves Crawford, who started getting more minutes towards the end of the year. He is a good scorer and defender.
Stanford (Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld, Tim Morris, Jason Haas, Fred Washington): This is a very underrated group of two stars and three extremely solid role players. Hernandez is a Wooden Award candidate. He isn't the most talented player, but he makes everyone else better and is very smart on the court. Hernandez is also an excellent shooter. Grunfeld missed the latter part of the season after getting injured. He was the leading scorer for the Cardinal at almost 18 per game, and is also a Wooden Award candidate. Morris wasn't eligible for the last 19 games of the season because of academics, but he is an explosive athlete that can score. Haas provides a solid backup for Hernandez. Washington is very physical and is a tremendous rebounder for his size.
Other solid backcourts: Vanderbilt, LSU (once Tack Minor becomes eligible), Cincinnati, Arkansas, Memphis, Gonzaga, Virginia Tech
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btw, Allan Ray is a good scorer already. He put down 607 points in the the 2003/04 season. When combined with the 519 he scored last year, I think you would agree his 1100 points over the 2 seasons is not too shabby. He contributed about 24% of the total Wildcat scoring in 2003/04 and became (I believe) the logical focal point of defenses last year. While he was the only regular to start all 33 games last year he saw his playing time decline (over 90% in 03/04, down to 77% in 04/05) to accommodate newcomer Kyle Lowry and allow Coach Jay Wright to experiment with different combinations the of the 3 guards that Villanova likes to play. I believe his untimely slump during the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs left many with the impression that he was not a very good scorer.
His performance in the U21 tournament this past summer is more typical of the offensive contribution he has given to the Villanova Wildcats over the past 3 years.
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