Top Lock-Down Defenders in College Basketball

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIJanuary 5, 2012

Top Lock-Down Defenders in College Basketball

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    Defending in basketball isn't so much a skill, like shooting, or an art form, like ball handling.  Defense is a combination of effort and instinct.

    Some athleticism is involved, but more than anything, to play defense well requires a great deal of effort.

    Instinct is the other part: Just being in the right place at the right time, getting a hand in a shooter's face and keeping a ball handler in front of you.

    Great defenders come in all shapes and sizes.  Small, quick, point guards who pester an opponent in the backcourt.  Mammoth men who shut down anything around the basket.  Long, athletic wing players who hassle everything on the perimeter.

    Here are the 12 best defenders in college basketball in 2012.

No. 12: Rhamel Brown, Manhattan

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    At just 6'6", Brown is one of the hardest working post defenders in the nation.

    Brown averages just 18.3 minutes per game, but still manages to block 2.53 shots.  He is among the nation's leaders with 5.53 blocks per 40 minutes.

    He is first in the nation in blocked shot percentage—blocking 16.4 percent of opponent's two-point field goals.  Brown is averaging 2.3 blocks per game for his career.

No. 11: Casper Ware, Long Beach State

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    Casper Ware would have to be described as the unfriendly ghost.

    Ware doesn't post gaudy steals numbers, but he is a tough defensive point guard.  He never stops working or hounding his opponents.

    He has averaged 1.6 steals per game for his career.

    In an 88-80 loss to Kansas earlier in the season, he recorded four steals and helped force Kansas' guards into 14 turnovers against 11 assists.

    Ware is the reigning Big West Defensive Player of the Year.

No. 10: D.J. Cooper, Ohio

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    Cooper is probably best-known for his 23-point performance in an NCAA Tournament victory over Georgetown as a freshman.  He also had three steals in that game.

    He is 13th in the nation with 2.6 steals per game this season, and he has averaged 2.4 steals per game over his career.

    At just 5'11" and 165 pounds, Cooper doesn't seem too imposing, but he is a truly intimidating presence on the defensive end of the floor.

No. 9: Jared Cunningham, Oregon State

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    Cunningham is to defense in college basketball what Deion Sanders was to the NFL.

    Passers must always be aware of Cunningham's position on the floor.  If they aren't, he will step in the passing lane and go the other way for an easy two points.

    Cunningham is averaging 2.9 steals per game—fourth in the nation. 

    He is one of the most athletic players in all of college basketball and he puts it to incredible use on defense.

No. 8: Jeff Withey, Kansas

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    Withey is a rare breed.  He is a legitimately 7' with good athletic ability.  He uses those attributes to be absolutely dominating on the defensive end.

    In just 21.1 minutes per game, he is averaging 2.7 blocks.  He is blocking an astounding 5.11 shots per 40 minutes.  Withey also uses his length to disrupt inside passing lanes. 

    He may not be a superstar, but Withey makes a huge difference defensively.

No. 7, T.J. McConnell, Duquesne

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    T.J. McConnell is one of the peskiest players in college basketball.  A truly well-rounded player, he is scoring 11.9 points per game with 6.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds.  He is also shooting 49 percent from the three-point range.

    Even more impressive are his 3.1 steals per game—tops in the nation.

    For his career so far, he is averaging 2.8 steals per game.  McConnell is the preeminent thief in college basketball right now, and he may be making a run at the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year.

No. 6: Aaron Craft, Ohio State

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    As the point guard on one of the best teams in the country, Craft is not known as a scorer.  He distributes the ball to his talented teammates and he leads with hard-nosed defense.

    He is ninth in the nation with 2.7 steals per game, but beyond the numbers, he plays a physical brand of defense that sets the tone for his team.

    Craft can keep opposing players in front of him, and few players go harder than him.

No. 5: Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion

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    Bazemore is the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year, and he has racked up 108 steals in his last 48 games. 

    This year, he is averaging 2.3 steals per game and 1.7 for his career.

    He has great length and quickness and is very disruptive in the passing lanes.  His length and athleticism have also allowed him to block 61 shots in his career at 6'5".

No. 4: C.J. Aiken, St. Joe's

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    Aiken is the one thing standing in T.J. McConnell's way for the Atlantic 10 Defensive Player of the Year.

    The sophomore has completely changed the complexion of the St. Joe's Hawks.

    Aiken is second in the nation with 4.2 blocks per game.  He can alter a game with his shot-blocking prowess.

    In a December game against arch-rival Villanova, Aiken swatted four shots in the final 10 minutes, helping the Hawks pull away for a 16-point victory.

No. 3: John Henson, North Carolina

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    Henson would probably be in the top spot on a lot of lists, and he deserves to be mentioned there.  It just happens that there is a better low post defender—plus the top perimeter defender—ahead of him.

    He is blocking 4.7 shots per 40 minutes this season, and is going on his second straight season averaging over three blocks per game.

    His presence around the rim will play a big part in any success the Tar Heels have this season.

    Henson is the defending ACC Defensive Player of the Year and looks to repeat in 2012.

No. 2: Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt

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    Taylor is still playing college basketball because NBA teams question his ability to score, but defensively he has teams salivating.

    At 6'7" and 225 pounds, he has the length and athleticism to shut down the wing, as well as the size and strength to defend in the post.

    Taylor doesn't put up eye-popping steals or blocked shot numbers, but he is arguably the best on-ball defender in the country.

    Taylor is averaging a career-high 1.6 steals per game this season, and was named to the SEC All-Defensive Team.  He could walk away with Defensive Player of the Year award this year.

No. 1: Anthony Davis, Kentucky

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    It's hard to pick a freshman as the best in the nation in any category, but Davis has no peer so far this season.

    He is freakishly long and quick with amazing leaping ability.  It would be hard to find a single player in college basketball that can get higher.

    He is leading the nation with 4.5 blocks per game and 6.18 blocks per 40 minutes. He is also averaging 1.4 steals per game—an astonishing total for a big man.

    Davis has a passion and a penchant for defense beyond his years.  He is a menace in all aspects on that end of the floor, and he will make Kentucky hard to beat in March.