The most integral part of a team is its 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
1. Kansas (Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins): This might be the most talented group in the country, although much of it depends on Rush’s return from his ACL injury. He is expected to be back in November, but it remains to be seen how effective he will be once he returns. When healthy, Rush is a versatile offensive player, with the ability to take the ball to the basket as well as shoot a jumper with equal efficiency. Bill Self has also called Rush his best defender. Chalmers would likely dispute that last comment. He has led the Big 12 in steals the past two seasons, and is also a good scorer and passer. Robinson is a solid point guard who does not turn the ball over and, like Rush and Chalmers, is one of the best defensive guards in the country. Collins might be the most important player on the team. He is the most aggressive offensive player for Kansas, and is in the game in crunch time.
2. Washington State (Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver, Taylor Rochestie, Nikola Koprivica, Thomas Abercrombie): Even though it doesn’t look right, Washington State basketball is a national player and owns the nation’s best backcourt duo heading into the season. Both starters, Low and Weaver, are essentially interchangeable and will play both guard spots throughout the course of a game. Low has been compared by some to Steve Nash, and he is a high-energy player that always seems to be around the ball. He can create his own shot, and is also adept at finding his teammates. Weaver is one of the best all-around players in the country. He is not much of a shooter, but he does everything else very well. He is a terrific defender and is a tough match-up on the offensive end. Rochestie is a good shooter who is usually in the game down the stretch.
3. North Carolina (Tywon Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor, Quentin Thomas): With one year under their respective belts, Lawson and Ellington are primed to develop into one of the best combos in the country. Lawson is an absolute blur with the ball, making him perfect for North Carolina’s up-tempo offense. He is terrific at finding teammates for easy baskets and improved greatly as the season went on. Ellington was inconsistent at times last season, but is one of the best pure shooters in the country. Now that he is no longer a freshman, expect his confidence and shot numbers to increase. He has the talent to become one of the best at his position. Frasor started two years ago and early last year before a foot injury forced him to the bench. He provides good depth at both guard spots.
4. Marquette (Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, David Cubillan, Maurice Acker): The Golden Eagles have plenty of depth and talent to go around in their backcourt. James struggled last season with his shot, but will look to return to his freshman-season form, in which he became one of the best point guards in the country. He is fearless when driving to the basket, and is also solid at finding his teammates. McNeal is one of the best two-way players in the country. He can lock down opponents on the defensive end, and is also a good offensive player. However, he turns the ball over too often, and needs to improve that to reach his true potential. Matthews does everything well, but is not much of a shooter from long-range. He is a solid rebounder and passer. Cubillan is a terrific outside shooter, while Acker is very quick.
5. Memphis (Derrick Rose, Antonio Anderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Andre Allen, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack): With arguably the deepest perimeter group in the country, the Tigers have plenty of options and line-up manipulations they could try out due to the talent and versatility of this sextet. Rose, a freshman, immediately becomes one of the best point guards in the country, and will make an instant impact. Douglas-Roberts has developed into one of the best offensive players around, and has reportedly improved his jumpshot in the offseason. Anderson can do a little of everything, while Allen and Kemp are quick point guards who will take a back seat to Rose in the line-up. Mack could take Jeremy Hunt’s place as the smooth-shooting sixth man.
6. UCLA (Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Russell Westbrook, Michael Roll): Last year, the Bruins had the best backcourt duo in the country in Collison and departed All-American Arron Afflalo. Without Afflalo, though, Shipp will have to step into his shoes and provide terrific production at both ends of the floor. He is capable of it. Hampered by injuries throughout his career, Shipp could have a break-out campaign this season. Collison is the best point guard in the country heading into the season. He is a very good passer and shooter who is also a dynamite defender. Westbrook has shown flashes of his potential, while Roll is a very good shooter.
7. Texas (D.J. Augustin, A.J. Abrams, Justin Mason): It will be interesting to see how this group plays now that Kevin Durant is in the NBA and no longer taking the attention from defenses away from the guards. Augustin and Abrams are a smallish but productive duo, and will be the key to the Longhorns’ season. Augustin is one of the best point guards in the country, and will have to take on more of a scoring responsibility this season. He can shoot the ball well from long-range, and is extremely quick at getting into the lane. Abrams is a great three-point shooter, but needs to develop a more well-rounded offensive game. He has improved as a defender as well. Mason is a good all-around player who was unheralded last season. He is a very solid defender and three-point shooter who might come off the bench this season.
8. Tennessee (Ramar Smith, Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Josh Tabb, Jordan Howell, J.P. Prince): If Tennessee is to live up to its lofty expectations, this group will be the catalyst. Lofton leads the way. One of the best guards in the country, Lofton is nearly unstoppable when his shot is falling. He has also improved his all-around offensive game, as well as his passing and defending. JaJuan Smith gets overshadowed by Lofton on the wing, but is also a very good scorer and defender who is usually matched up with bigger players. Ramar Smith struggled early last season, but improved dramatically as the season wore on. Tabb can shoot, while Howell performed admirably off the bench.
9. Davidson (Jason Richards, Stephen Curry): Led by one of the most underrated guard duos in the country, the Wildcats are poised to return to the NCAA Tournament—but last longer than one game this time. Curry did his best to make that happen last season, scoring 30 in Davidson’s opener against Maryland, and will look to continue that type of performance this season. He is a terrific shooter and played his best in the postseason. Playing in the shadow of the more well-known Curry, Richards ranked second in the country last season in assists, and is also a very good scorer and passer. Furthermore, he is adept on the defensive end. Look for these two to make a name on the national scene early and often this season.
10. Oregon (Tajuan Porter, Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston, Kammyron Taylor): Depending on how Porter handles the point guard spot, this group could be too low right now. He was a very good shooter last season, but will need to replace Aaron Brooks at the lead guard position. Taylor became a better scorer and all-around player as the year went on, and should improve this season. Hairston will move back to his more natural position on the wing, and could become a star. K. Taylor will provide depth and point guard play if Porter does not step up.
Duke (Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, DeMarcus Nelson, Gerald Henderson, Nolan Smith, Martynas Pocius): If the Blue Devils are going to overcome their lack of consistent post play, this deep and talented perimeter group is going to be the reason. Paulus was a very solid performer down the stretch, while Nelson showed the ability to do a little of everything last year. Scheyer is a very good shooter, and Henderson is a strong wing capable of muscling up inside the arc. Smith will see time at both guard spots.
Butler (A.J. Graves, Mike Green): Everyone’s early-season darling last season, the Bulldogs will hope to repeat their Sweet Sixteen run on the backs of these two. Graves is a very good shooter and all-around player who makes this team go. He is the best free-throw shooter in the country, and is also solid at getting steals and assists. Green provides production in every category, and is tough to stop when driving to the basket. He can also shoot, and is one of the best rebounders in the conference.
Kentucky (Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Jodie Meeks, Derrick Jasper, Alex Legion): Billy Gillispie gets the luxury of having five very good perimeter players at his disposal in his first year on the job. The only question is how many will start. Bradley and Crawford have been much-maligned throughout their careers in Lexington, but both are solid guards who provide senior leadership on the court. Meeks is a very good all-around player who is an explosive athlete and efficient scorer. Starting PG Jasper had offseason knee injury, but should be able to return. Legion is another good scorer on the wing.
Georgetown (Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman): The starters don’t jump out at you with stats, but Wallace and Sapp do a little of everything and are key cogs in the Hoyas’ attack. Wallace can shoot the ball well, while Sapp produces in every category and can play multiple positions. Freeman is a highly-touted wing who can shoot the ball very well and should make an immediate impact. Wright will see plenty of time at the point, but a broken right foot will keep him out for now.
Villanova (Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Malcolm Grant, Reggie Redding): Is Jay Wright ready to return to his four-guard days? Probably not, but this group is capable of that. Reynolds was one of the best guards in the country late in the season, and should improve his efficiency this year. Fisher and Stokes were both highly-regarded recruits who could start immediately. Grant is another newcomer, while Redding showed the ability to defend well last season.
Others to Watch
Saint Louis: Tommie Liddell and Kevin Lisch will make Rick Majerus’ first season with the Billikens easier.
Pittsburgh: If Levance Fields returns, Pitt will be tough. Mike Cook can score, and Ronald Ramon is always solid.
Providence: Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku return, but Manhattan transfer Jeff Xavier will push them.
Seton Hall: Eugene Harvey and Brian Laing lead a deep group that is hoping to make a move in the Big East.
Syracuse: Jonny Flynn might be the most important freshman in the country, while Eric Devendorf is talented.
Michigan State: Drew Neitzel is an All-American, with Travis Walton being his sidekick. The freshmen provide depth.
Indiana: Eric Gordon will start immediately, while Armon Bassett hopes to improve off a solid first year.
Baylor: Deep but underrated group. Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells lead a very talented quintet of guards.
Southern Mississippi: Jeremy Wise was a terrific freshman last season; lots of depth returns for Golden Eagles.
Bradley: Daniel Ruffin and Jeremy Crouch hope to lead the Braves to the Big Dance in a depleted MVC.
Wyoming: Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones combined to average 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists last season.
Gonzaga: Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, and Micah Downs form a very talented trio for Mark Few and the Zags.
Xavier: Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell have ample experience, and will lead the Musketeers to the Dance.