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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. Duke (Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins): When you lose Jon Scheyer and still have the best backcourt in the country, that’s quite an honor. Smith is an All-American, while Irving is destined to be one of the great Blue Devil point guards. Curry can score in bunches, while Dawkins is a deadeye shooter.
2. Michigan State (Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Korie Lucious, Keith Appling): Although Chris Allen was kicked off the team in the summer, the Spartans still return a dynamite duo in Lucas and Summers. Lucas needs to stay healthy, while Summers needs to be more consistent. Lucious is a terrific backup guard.
3. Georgetown (Chris Wright, Jason Clark, Austin Freeman, Markel Starks): The Hoyas’ three-headed perimeter group will be the focus of the team this year. When Wright is scoring, Georgetown is tough to beat. Freeman is an absolute assassin from the perimeter, while Clark is solid at both ends. Starks is a future star.
4. Butler (Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant): Mack and Nored are not known names to the casual fan, but they are intimidating to opponents. Mack is a bulldog offensively, overpowering defenders and scoring at will from the perimeter. Nored is one of the best defenders in the country. Hahn can get hot in a hurry.
5. Pittsburgh (Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, Travon Woodall, Isaiah Epps): Gibbs and Wanamaker are simply playmakers. Both are all-around producers, with Gibbs handling the ball and knocking down three-pointers and Wanamaker racking up assists and getting to the rim. Woodall is very quick and provides pure point guard ability.
6. Villanova (Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek): Without Scottie Reynolds, will the Wildcats be the same on the perimeter? Fisher is tough to stop going to the rim, while Stokes can shoot. Sophomores Wayns and Cheek will push for starting jobs, and could make major impacts with more minutes.
7. Ohio State (William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler, Lenzelle Smith, Aaron Craft): The only two point guards in the group are freshmen Smith and Craft, but the wing trio of Buford, Lighty and Diebler is second-to-none. Buford is a future pro; Diebler is one of the best shooters around; and Lighty can do a little of everything.
8. Washington (Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton, Abdul Gaddy, Terrence Ross): If Gaddy develops and makes the impact that was expected of him last year, this ranking is too low. Thomas is a dynamic scorer despite his diminutive size, and Overton is a ferocious defender. Ross really came on strong during his senior year in high school.
9. BYU (Jackson Emery, Jimmer Fredette, Kyle Collinsworth): Fredette might be the best scorer in the country, in terms of versatility and volume. He can explode for 40 on any given night. Emery is underrated and is a very good defender at the other guard spot. Freshman Collinsworth is one of the better recruits in the Mountain West.
10. Saint Mary’s (Mickey McConnell, Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Jordan Page): Both McConnell and Dellavedova can stroke the three with extreme efficiency, and both also take excellent care of the ball and distribute it well. Page played well off the bench last year, and Holt is an under-the-radar freshman.
11. Memphis (Joe Jackson, Will Barton, Chris Crawford, Jelan Kendrick, Charles Carmouche): Not one of these five players was on the team last year, but that won’t matter. Jackson is an immediate impact player at the point, and Barton is a born scorer. Kendrick and Crawford will get time on the wing, and New Orleans transfer Carmouche will also get a chance to contribute.
12. Kansas (Josh Selby, Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Elijah Johnson): This ranking hinders on Selby being cleared to play. As of now, he is not. If he does indeed get cleared as expected, he is immediately one of the best scoring guards in the nation. Taylor can play both guard spots and will get a chance to increase his production. Morningstar is a former starter and can do a variety of things.
Others to Watch:
Xavier: Tu Holloway returns for one last go-round, but Dante Jackson will need to become more consistent to replace Jordan Crawford.
Syracuse: The Orange’s two-headed point guard of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche is highly effective, and Dion Waiters is a scoring machine.
Kentucky: Freshmen Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb will have to make an impact right away, while Darius Miller returns to start on the wing.
Illinois: Demetri McCamey is an all-around producer at the point, and D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul are very good sophomore wings.
Missouri: Kimmie English and Marcus Denmon are the main scorers for the Tigers, and Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon provide two options at the point.
Purdue: E’Twaun Moore is one of the better shooting guards in the nation, and Lewis Jackson should be fully healthy. Look out for Terone Johnson.
North Carolina State: Another freshmen duo looking to make an immediate impact. Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown are both explosive and crafty.
Murray State: The Racers have a balanced and deep backcourt, with B.J. Jenkins, Isacc Miles and sixth man extraordinaire Isaiah Canaan likely moving into the lineup.
Virginia Tech: Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson form a potent scoring duo, with Delaney returning as one of the best scorers in the country.
Colorado: The Buffaloes have an underrated and explosive wing duo in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and Shannon Sharpe is athletic at the point.
UTEP: Randy Culpepper is one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, and 6-6 Julyan Stone is a lockdown defender at the point guard spot.
Florida: Neither Kenny Boynton or Erving Walker is a pure point guard, but they make it work in the backcourt. They need more consistency, though.
Mississippi State: With Dee Bost being reinstated recently, he and Ravern Johnson suddenly form one of the best perimeter duos in the SEC.