College Basketball Predictions: Top 12 Backcourts in the Country for 2012-13
With college hoops featuring more three and four-guard lineups than ever before, a strong backcourt is a vital element for a successful team. Missouri’s 30-win campaign in 2011-12 was just one demonstration of how devastating a squad built around elite guard play can be.
One of the most dangerous guard pairings in the country for next season will be found at North Carolina State. Lorenzo Brown, one of the country’s top floor generals, will be paired with one of the best scoring prospects in the ACC in stud freshman Rodney Purvis.
Herein, a closer look at the Wolfpack and the rest of the dozen best collections of guards in the college game for 2012-13.
12. Notre Dame
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When Tim Abromaitis’ knee injury ended his Notre Dame career early last season, the Irish needed other players to step up and carry the offense.
While Jack Cooley did his part down low, the tandem of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins was taking care of business on the perimeter.
Between them, the pair of sophomores averaged 24.4 points and 9.1 assists a night. They also gave coach Mike Brey a formidable outside shooting game, draining 102 three-pointers on .363 shooting.
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Vincent Council is, hands down, the best point guard you’ve probably never heard of.
The rising Providence senior averaged 15.9 points and 7.5 assists per game (with the latter total placing him fourth nationally), but his team’s 4-14 conference record ensured that he got minimal recognition for his efforts.
Now, though, Council will be joined by one of the premier freshman shooting guards in the country in local product Ricardo Ledo.
Rivals.com calls the sharpshooting Ledo the sixth-best recruit in the nation, and he and Council should be enough to make even Big East foes sit up and take notice next year.
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It’s easy to overlook the returning talent in the Pac-12 after last season’s conference-wide debacle, but the Golden Bears are bringing back a dangerous team.
The core of next year’s roster will be rising juniors Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs—both of whom, unlike the promising new backcourts at UCLA and Arizona, will be playing their natural positions as a shooting guard and point guard, respectively.
The 6’6” Crabbe is one of the top returning scorers in the conference after pouring in 15.2 points per game (and hauling in 5.7 rebounds a night) last year.
Minnesota transfer Cobbs made a splash in his Cal debut, dishing out five assists per contest despite sharing the ball-handling duties with now-graduated Jorge Gutierrez.
9. Michigan State
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One of the keys to Michigan State’s 2011-12 success was the emergence of PG Keith Appling. The cat-quick sophomore dished out 3.9 assists per game for the Big Ten champs while also contributing 11.4 points and 1.2 steals a night.
Now, Appling will get a big-time backcourt mate in 5-star freshman Gary Harris. Indiana’s Mr. Basketball last season and ESPNU’s No. 2 SG in the freshman class, Harris instantly becomes the best scorer and most dangerous long-range shooter on the roster.
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The Wolverines’ high hopes for 2012-13 have a lot to do with a magnificent freshman class, but don’t overlook the top-flight pair of guards coming back to run John Beilein’s offense.
Tim Hardaway Jr. may not have shown star power on a par with his famous father’s, but he’s still a physical 6’6” SG and a 14.6 point-per-game scorer.
Even more crucial to Michigan’s success will be Trey Burke, who’s looking to build on a brilliant freshman year in which he averaged 14.8 points and 4.6 assists a night.
Look for Burke to be playing with a chip on his shoulder after getting outplayed by Ohio’s D.J. Cooper in last March’s NCAA Tournament disaster.
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If Will Barton had stayed for his junior year, the Tigers might be at the very top of this list. Even without Barton, coach Josh Pastner has one of the deepest and best collections of guards in the country.
Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford will presumably share the point guard role again, with Jackson the better scorer and passer (11 points and 3.9 assists per game) and Crawford taking the lead on defense (1.8 steals a night) and long-range shooting (.392).
The best of the group, though, might be high-flying Adonis Thomas, back from a foot injury after averaging 8.8 points and 3.2 boards a night in a limited role last season.
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On returning talent alone, Indiana stacks up perfectly well at the guard positions.
Physical 6’5” Victor Oladipo averaged 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals (tied for the team high) per game, while Jordan Hulls was one of the nation’s premier snipers with .493 long-range shooting.
Of course, the gem of the Hoosier backcourt will be making his college debut next season, as star recruit Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell arrives to take over the point.
The second-best point guard in the freshman class (per Rivals.com), Ferrell has the ball-handling, defense and passing skills to be a star even in a Big Ten conference that’s loaded with top-tier PG talent.
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After riding a four-guard lineup to last season’s Sweet 16, the Bearcats return three of their top perimeter stars.
Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright will make Cincy one of the Big East’s most dangerous long-range shooting teams after draining a combined 155 treys last season.
Wright is the biggest factor here, a rising senior PG who also averaged 4.6 assists and two steals per contest.
Add in Kilpatrick’s team-high 14.3 points per game and the versatility of 6’3” Jaquon Parker (9.4 points and 5.6 boards a night) and the Bearcats will be loaded once again in 2012-13.
4. Virginia Commonwealth
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Shaka Smart’s frenetic press always requires a deep pool of guards to keep the tempo high.
Fortunately for Smart and the Rams, even VCU’s continued graduation losses haven’t kept the team from restocking with one of the most dangerous collections of ball hawks in the nation.
Rising sophomore Briante Weber leads four returning guards with averages of at least 1.2 steals per game, and Weber himself piled up 2.1 thefts in just 18.7 minutes a night.
Other standouts include three-point gunner Troy Daniels (94 treys on .381 shooting), point guard Darius Theus (4.7 assists per game) and another of last year’s high-powered freshmen, Treveon Graham.
3. North Carolina State
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The biggest hole in NC State’s lineup last season was the lack of a first-class shooting guard to pair with breakout star Lorenzo Brown at the point.
Brown still turned in the Wolfpack’s most impressive season—12.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game—and now he’ll get a running mate worthy of his talents.
Rodney Purvis is a 6’4” pure scorer who ranks as high as the 12th-best recruit in the country (according to Rivals.com).
With his finishing ability added to a roster that already includes Brown and high-scoring SF C.J. Leslie, NC State has a serious shot to win the ACC next season.
2. San Diego State
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When it comes to proven productivity, there isn’t a team in the country that can match the perimeter firepower of San Diego State.
The Aztecs’ trio of Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thames will make them a Top 25-caliber team in spite of the team’s glaring lack of size.
Thames is a quality point guard who dished out 4.1 assists a game and still scored in double figures, while Tapley led the team in steals (1.8 per game) and three-point shooting (.433 on 178 attempts).
At 6’5”, Franklin’s 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game were the best for any Aztec, and behind his leadership the backcourt trio combined for a dazzling 43.5 points a night.
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Intuitively, a team that’s had as much trouble with its outside shooting as Louisville wouldn’t seem like the pick for the nation’s top group of guards.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals’ depth and defense give them the edge, led by game-changing PG Peyton Siva.
Siva’s 5.5 assists per game keep the offense going, and his 1.7 steals a night (combined with 2.2 from ex-sixth man Russ Smith) fuel the fast break that provides most of the Cardinals’ points.
Also in the mix are one of the nation’s top backups at the point, 4-star freshman Terry Rozier, and a healthy Wayne Blackshear—an explosive 6'5" athlete best known for dunking on Anthony Davis in last year’s Final Four. Blackshear will probably take over Kyle Kuric’s vacant starting job.