October 20, 2010

Title hopes of many rest on talented backcourts

In an era when most of the top big men turn pro after one or two seasons in school, college basketball has developed into more and more of a perimeter-oriented game.

That much is evident from a look at our list of the nation's top backcourts. The top team on our list just won a national title. The second-ranked backcourt comes from a school that has made back-to-back Final Four appearances.

We tried to reward balance as much as possible when putting together these rankings. Backcourts that featured one star performer couldn't crack our list unless he also was getting plenty of help. We love Kansas State's Jacob Pullen and Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, but we're not sure about the guys who will join them in their respective backcourts.

We also left out Kansas because of the uncertainty surrounding true freshman Josh Selby, the nation's No. 1 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. With Selby in the lineup, Kansas has one of the nation's best backcourts. Without him, Kansas' guard situation isn't nearly as favorable.

Here are the "dandy dozen" backcourts.

Key performers: Seth Curry (6-2/180, Soph.), Kyrie Irving (6-2/180, Fr.), Nolan Smith (6-2/185, Sr.), Andre Dawkins (6-4/205, Soph.)
The buzz: How can the defending national champions lose first-team All-ACC selection Jon Scheyer and still end up with the top backcourt in the land? Well, it helps when you add Curry and Irving to the mix. Curry led all freshmen across the nation with 20.2 points per game for Liberty in 2008-09 before transferring to Duke. Irving was the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. They will team with Nolan Smith, who averaged 17.4 points per game as one of the nation's most improved players last season. All three guys have the ability to play point guard and shooting guard. Dawkins is a former five-star prospect who averaged 4.4 points and 12.6 minutes as a freshman last season.
Key performers: Keith Appling (6-1/180, Fr.), Kalin Lucas (6-1/195, Sr.), Korie Lucious (5-11/170, Jr.), Durrell Summers (6-5/205, Sr.)
The buzz: The Spartans displayed their backcourt depth last season by advancing to the Final Four even after Lucas - one of the nation's top point guards - tore his Achilles' tendon in a second-round victory over Maryland. Lucas is back. So is Lucious, who performed well in relief of Lucas last March. Lucious has made a successful recovery from arthroscopic surgery in September. The guard with the best upside may be Summers, an inconsistent performer who had an outstanding NCAA tournament performance. Michigan State also is adding Appling, a former McDonald's All-American and Michigan Mr. Basketball selection.
Key performers: Jason Clark (6-2/170, Jr.), Austin Freeman (6-3/235, Sr.), Chris Wright (6-1/209, Sr.)
The buzz: The senior tandem of Freeman and Wright combined to average 31.7 points and 6.5 assists last season. Freeman, a second-team All-Big East pick last year, scored 16.5 points per game while making 52.5 percent of his shots, including 44.4 percent from 3-point range. Wright contributed 15.2 points and 4.1 assists per game and ranked fifth in the Big East with 1.5 steals per game. This duo also heads into the season with something to prove after getting outplayed by Ohio's Armon Bassett and D.J. Cooper in a stunning NCAA tournament first-round loss.
Key performers: Ashton Gibbs (6-2/190, Jr.), Brad Wanamaker (6-4/210, Sr.), Travon Woodall (5-11/190, Soph.)
The buzz: Gibbs, one of the nation's most improved players last season, heads into his junior season as a legitimate All-America candidate. He averaged 15.7 points per game and showed a flair for the dramatic while making clutch 3-pointers against Providence and West Virginia. He also is an outstanding free-throw shooter. The versatile Wanamaker last season became one of only six players in school history to average more than 10.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The Panthers also return Woodall, who collected nearly twice as many assists as turnovers in a reserve role last season.
Key performers: Dominic Cheek (6-6/185, Soph.), Corey Fisher (6-1/200, Sr.), Corey Stokes (6-5/220, Sr.), Maalik Wayns (6-2/185, Soph.)
The buzz: Fisher earned third-team All-Big East honors last season while playing a complementary role to former Villanova star Scottie Reynolds. Now that Reynolds has completed his college career, look for Fisher to make the leap to stardom. Stokes averaged 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds while delivering some of his best performances late in the season. Wayns averaged 6.8 points in 15 minutes last season to make the Big East's all-rookie team, while Cheek played 13.5 minutes per game in his freshman season.
Key performers: Demetri McCamey (6-3/200, Sr.), Brandon Paul (6-4/200, Soph.), D.J. Richardson (6-3/195, Soph.)
The buzz: McCamey ranked second in the nation in assists last season with a school-record average of 7.1 per game. He also ranked 10th in the Big Ten in scoring (15.1) and eighth in steals (1.5). He's the only player in school history to collect more than 1,200 points and 500 assists in three seasons. Richardson was named the Big Ten freshman of the year by the league's coaches after averaging 10.5 points and 2.7 rebounds while making 35 starts. Paul tailed off a bit after a fast start last season, but still averaged 7.8 points and 3.1 rebounds. The Illini should get a boost this year from the arrival of Head, a 6-4 freshman and the No. 84 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Head is the younger brother of former Illinois guard Luther Head, now a member of the NBA's Sacramento Kings.
Key performers: William Buford (6-5/205, Jr.), Jon Diebler (6-6/205, Sr.), David Lighty (6-5/220, Sr.), Jordan Sibert (6-4/180, Fr.)
The buzz: Ohio State lacks a pure point guard as it attempts to replace Naismith and Wooden Award winner Evan Turner, who starred in a "point forward" role last season. But the Buckeyes make up for that deficiency with size and depth. Buford averaged 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds to earn third-team All-Big Ten honors. Diebler, another third-team All-Big Ten pick, already owns the school records for 3-pointers in a season (116) and career (260). The versatile Lighty averaged 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals last season. All three guys have enough size to cause plenty of matchup problems. Ohio State also adds Sibert, the No. 39 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.
Key performers: Alec Burks (6-6/195, Soph.), Cory Higgins (6-5/180, Sr.), Shannon Sharpe (6-1/200, R-Fr.), Nate Tomlinson (6-3/190, Jr.)
The buzz: Burks was named the Big 12's freshman of the year after he averaged 17.1 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 53.8 percent. Higgins is a fourth-year starter who has earned third-team All-Big 12 honors in each of the past two seasons. He ranked fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (18.9) last season. He has averaged more steals in Big 12 competition than any player in the league in each of the past two seasons. Burks and Higgins are both shooting guards. Colorado isn't as strong at point guard, but Tomlinson is a returning starter who had twice as many assists as turnovers last season. He should get some help this year from Sharpe, who missed the 2009-10 season with an injured left knee.
Key performers: Will Barton (6-6/175, Fr.), Charles Carmouche (6-3/185, Jr.), Chris Crawford (6-4/205, Fr.), Joe Jackson (6-0/170, Fr.), Jelan Kendrick (6-6/190, Fr.)
The buzz: This undoubtedly is a leap of faith, but we believe Memphis' overflow of talent at this position makes up for its inexperience. This backcourt features three of the top 18 players in the 2010 recruiting class: Barton (No. 11), Kendrick (No. 15) and Jackson (No. 18). Crawford was the No. 72 overall recruit in the 2010 class. And that doesn't even include three-star prospect Antonio Barton, Will's brother. Carmouche averaged 12.6 points and a team-high 4.8 rebounds for New Orleans last season; he was allowed to transfer and gain immediate eligibility because New Orleans is becoming a non-scholarship Division III program. The Tigers are even more loaded in the backcourt if you include Wesley Witherspoon, but we consider the 6-9 swingman as more of a frontcourt player.
Key performers: Abdul Gaddy (6-3/190, Soph.), Venoy Overton (6-0/185, Sr.), Terrence Ross (6-6/190, Fr.), Scott Suggs (6-6/195, Jr.), Isaiah Thomas (5-9/185, Jr.)
The buzz: Thomas ranked fifth in the Pac-10 in scoring (16.9), eighth in 3-pointers per game (1.9) and ninth in assists (3.2) last season while helping the Huskies win the Pac-10 tournament and advance to the Sweet 16. Overton averaged 8.8 points and made the Pac-10's all-defensive team. Suggs hasn't earned a whole lot of playing time, but he has gone 40-of-61 from 3-point range in his career. Gaddy is a former five-star prospect coming off a disappointing freshman season, but we expect him to play better now that he's had a year to adjust to the college game. The Huskies also could get an instant impact from Ross, the No. 48 prospect in the 2010 recruiting class.
Key performers: Malcolm Delaney (6-3/190, Sr.), Erick Green (6-4/185, Soph.), Dorenzo Hudson (6-5/220, Sr.)
The buzz: Delaney's star power helps make up for the Hokies' relative lack of depth. Delaney led the ACC in scoring (20.2) and ranked fourth in minutes (35.8), third in free-throw percentage (.842) and sixth in assists (4.5) as a first-team all-conference selection last season. Hudson ranked 10th in the ACC in scoring (15.2) last year. The Hokies' top reserve guard likely will be Green, who averaged 12.4 minutes per game last season.
12. BYU
Key performers: Kyle Collinsworth (6-6/210, Fr.), Jackson Emery (6-3/190, Sr.), Jimmer Fredette (6-2/195, Sr.), Anson Winder (6-3/195, Fr.)
The buzz: Michael Loyd Jr.'s transfer has significantly reduced BYU's backcourt depth, but Emery and Fredette form one of the nation's top starting duos. Fredette ranked seventh in the nation in scoring at 22.1 points per game and also handed out 4.7 assists per game. He scored 37 points in BYU's overtime victory over Florida in the NCAA tournament. Emery is an outstanding defender who ranked second on the Cougars in scoring (12.5), rebounds (4.5) and assists (2.7) last season on his way to earning second-team All-Mountain West honors.
SAINT MARY'S: Matthew Dellavedova (6-4/190, Soph.), Stephen Holt (6-4/195, Fr.), Mickey McConnell (6-0/190, Sr.), Jorden Page (6-1/180, Soph.).
BUZZ: Dellavedova, part of the Gaels' Australian connection, and McConnell form a heady starting duo. Holt is a touted freshman who will have to play important minutes.

TEMPLE: Aaron Brown (6-5/210, Fr.), T.J. DiLeo (6-3/195, Soph.), Juan Fernandez (6-4/180, Jr.), Rahlir Jefferson (6-6/200, Soph.), Ramone Moore (6-4/180, Jr.).
BUZZ: Fernandez, from Argentina, is an exciting offensive player. Moore was a spark off the bench last season, and he'll be one of the Owls' top scorers this season. Jefferson is a swingman who plays good defense. Brown is a touted freshman, but coach Fran Dunphy doesn't like to rely on first-year players.

WASHINGTON STATE: Faisal Aden (6-4/185, Jr.), Marcus Capers (6-4/185, Jr.), Abe Lodwick (6-7/208, Jr.), Klay Thompson (6-6/202, Jr.), Reggie Moore (6-1/180, Soph.).
BUZZ: On a good night, the Moore-Thompson combo is as good as any on the West Coast. But consistency is a problem. Thompson is a gifted scorer, but he must become tougher physically and mentally. Moore was a freshman surprise and is a steady point man. Aden, a native of Somalia, is a JC transfer expected to provide a scoring boost. Capers is a solid all-around athlete
The one guard to watch from each of these teams is in bold type.

LEHIGH: Rob Keefer (6-3/180, Sr.), C.J. McCollum (6-3/170, Soph.), Mackey McKnight (6-0/165, Fr.), Michael Ojo (6-5/195, Sr.), Prentice Small (5-9/190, Sr.)

MURRAY STATE: Isaiah Canaan (6-0/175, Soph.), B.J. Jenkins (6-0/180, Sr.), Jewuan Long (6-1/180, Jr.), Isacc Miles (6-2/205, Sr.),

UC SANTA BARBARA: Will Brew (6-3/175, Jr.), Orlando Johnson (6-5/205, Jr.), Justin Joyner (6-0/177, Sr.), Troy Leaf (6-2/180, Fr.), Jordan Weiner (6-0/173, Sr.)

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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