Top 10 Dynamic Duos in College Basketball
It's always nice to have one star, but two is better.
Not surprisingly, many of the best teams in college basketball just so happen to rely heavily on two players.
From a pair of gifted offensive players like Duke's Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry to Louisville's defensive stars Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, college basketball's best duos come in all shapes, sizes and roles.
Here are the 10 best this season.
All advanced stats come from KenPom.com.
10. San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley
Four-year starter Chase Tapley has become a well-known name for San Diego State.
Jamaal Franklin entered the nation's radar when he threw himself an alley-oop off the backboard against Fresno State. The guy has the game to match his creativity. An undersized power forward at 6'5", Franklin leads the Aztecs in scoring (18.1 points per game), assists (3.3 per game) and rebounding (9.7 per game).
Tapley and Franklin typically dominate the ball when they're on the court together and are the only two Aztecs averaging double figures.
If San Diego State makes the NCAA Tournament this season, which is likely, Tapley will become the first four-year starter in school history to make the tournament all four years. He is averaging 14.8 points per game and knocking down 41.4 percent of his three-pointers.
Tapley's signature moment this season is not a YouTube hit, but it's not to be glossed over either. With the flu and a 101-degree temperature, Tapley played against Colorado State and scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime to help his team get the win.
9. Brigham Young's Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws
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Remember Brandon Davies?
He is the Brigham Young guy who broke the honor code a few years back for acts unbecoming of the Mormon honor code—admitting that he had premarital sex with his girlfriend. Davies is now in his senior year and has become a go-to player for the Cougars now that The Jimmer is gone.
BYU found another Jimmer Fredette in Tyler Haws, who doesn't chuck it as often as Fredette, but his shooting numbers are comparable.
Fredette (2010-11): Took 38.1 percent of his team's shots when he was on the court; made 49.1 percent of his twos and 39.6 percent of his threes; shot 89.4 percent at the free-throw line; averaged 28.9 points per game.
Haws (2012-13): Takes 30.2 percent of his team's shots when he's on the court; makes 51.2 percent of his twos and 39.1 percent of his threes; shoots 91.9 percent at the free-throw line; averages 21.6 points per game.
Davies actually has a higher usage rate than Haws and is averaging a career-best 18 points per game and 7.1 rebounds. It's tough to find another duo in the country that is relied upon more than this one.
8. Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris
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Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris form the best offensive front line in college basketball, and if someone argues for another duo, they have likely not seen Olynyk play lately.
Olynyk, known as The Big Canadian, is averaging 22.4 points per game over Gonzaga's last seven contests, as he's seen his minutes increase. He redshirted last season because Mark Few wanted him to put on more muscle and move his game inside, instead of floating towards the perimeter.
With smooth footwork and the ability to score over either shoulder, Olynyk has transformed into one of the most efficient players from the block in college basketball, shooting 65.7 percent from the field and 80.5 percent at the free-throw line.
Both Gonzaga's bigs get to the line often—they both draw 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
Before this year, Harris was Gonzaga's most well known big man, as he has been a productive player during his four seasons—all as a starter—in Spokane. Even with a star as his sidekick, he is still putting together his most productive season, averaging 14.9 points and a team-best 6.9 rebounds.
Their presence makes it nearly impossible for opponents to double-team one of the two, and that dynamic, more than any other, has led to Gonzaga's offense ranking as the third-most efficient in the country.
7. Butler's Roosevelt Jones and Rotnei Clarke
It's time someone out there puts together a YouTube montage of Butler's game-winners this year, and Bill Raftery shouting "Onions" should narrate it.
Roosevelt Jones and Rotnei Clarke have two of the three game winners, and the duo has returned Butler to its placeholder spot as America's favorite mid-major.
It's appropriate that Jones did a little of everything in his buzzer beater last Saturday night against Gonzaga. He got the steal, had the wherewithal to get to the paint and buried one of his signature push shots. It's not always pretty to watch, but the sophomore's game is incredibly effective. He leads Butler in rebounding (5.7 per game), assists (3.6 per game) and also averages 10.3 points per game.
Jones leaves the pretty part of the game to Clarke, who is one of the nation's best three-point shooters. Clarke averages nearly four threes a game and is knocking down 44.4 percent of his attempts from the perimeter. His talent was much needed, as the Bulldogs were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country last season. Now, they have a threat from deep and are the most dangerous team in the country in late-game situations.
6. Michigan's Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
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The most efficient offense in the country resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where John Beilein has the most talented team he's ever coached.
While Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. were bested by another backcourt duo on this list, they still win the award for "Best Offensive Backcourt."
Burke is the only player in the country averaging better than 18 points and seven assists, and he's deservedly in the conversation for National Player of the Year.
Hardaway might be the answer for why Michigan's offense went from merely a Top 25-efficiency team last season to the most efficient club in the country this year.
In 2011-12, Hardaway struggled from the three-point line, shooting an abysmal 28.3 percent. That mark is up to 39.3 percent this year, and he's averaging 16.4 points. Both players are capable of creating their own offense if they need to, but Michigan is at its best when Burke is creating for Hardaway and others.
5. Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft
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Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft are the only duo that can challenge BYU's in terms of how much their team relies on them to carry the load, although this duo splits responsibilities. Thomas handles the offense, while Craft dominates the defensive end.
Head coach Thad Matta has been unable to find capable replacements in his offense this year for Jared Sullinger and William Bufford, so the answer has been to simply give the ball to Thomas at every opportunity. That is not exactly easy as opponents are building their defenses around stopping Thomas, yet he's still getting up 32.7 percent of his team's shots when he's on the court.
Kansas coach Bill Self, per KUSports.com, called Thomas a "professional scorer at our level," and that is a perfect description, as Thomas can catch and shoot from the perimeter, face up and create his own shot or score out of the post.
On the other end of the court, the Buckeyes have their version of a professional defender in Craft. He is the ultimate nuisance and so adapt at forcing turnovers that Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn has been tracking Craft's forced turnovers the last two years with the "Aaron Craft Turnometer."
Just ask Michigan's Trey Burke, who had his worst performance of the season in a loss at Ohio State, which included four turnovers.
4. Louisville's Russ Smith and Peyton Siva
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Louisville head coach Rick Pitino nicknamed Russ Smith "Russdiculous" last season because of the guard's affection for head-scratching shots.
Russdiculous still has his share of "I can't believe he just did that" moments, but that's not always the worst thing. He is challenging Aaron Craft for the title of "Best Perimeter Defender" in the nation, and his Russdiculous usage rates are still off the charts, but he's justified his love of shooting by making 46.2 percent of his twos as opposed to 37.9 percent a year ago.
Smith's sidekick is also a pesky defender and has also improved his offensive game from last season.
Peyton Siva is knocking down 35.2 percent of his threes (up from the 24.6 percent he shot last year) and 50.5 percent of his twos (44.8 percent last year).
The improvement of both players has made the Cardinals a solid offensive team for a change; they rank 16th in KenPom.com's adjusted offensive efficiency compared to 103rd last season.
Still, the defense is what makes Louisville great and what took this duo to the Final Four last season. That has not changed.
3. Indiana's Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo
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Cody Zeller, by the numbers at least, is meeting expectations this season, and that isn't the easiest chore as expectations for him in the preseason was to win the Player of the Year Award handily.
He's averaging 17.2 points, shooting 62.5 percent and grabbing 8.2 rebounds, yet some jerk writer is throwing out the possibility that there are holes in his game. Whether he has his flaws or not, he's incredibly productive.
The player who probably deserves more publicity is Victor Oladipo. ESPN color man Dan Dakich has mentioned on more than one occasion that Oladipo deserves to be on the Wooden Award midseason watch list. Oladipo fills up the stat sheet (13.2 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals), but it's his endless energy on both ends that makes him special.
Much like Russ Smith and Aaron Craft, Oladipo is one of the most annoying pests in college basketball—and that's said with affection. The dude guards with such effort and tenacity that it's best to keep the ball away from him. He's also one of the most improved shooters in the country, knocking down 51.9 percent of his threes (he shot 20.8 percent last year) and 70 percent of his twos (52.3 percent last year). His 71.5 effective field-goal percentage ranks second nationally.
2. Kansas' Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey
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It's safe to assume that your team has a great duo when it's arguable as to who exactly is the team's MVP.
That's the case at Kansas, where Ben McLemore is the most gifted player Bill Self has coached in his 10 years in Lawrence, and Jeff Withey's defensive season will likely rank among the best in recent memory.
The 7'0" Withey has 78 blocks this season—or put another way, he blocks 15.9 percent of opponents' two-point field goal attempts when he's on the court. Withey is such a defensive force that Big 12 teams are starting to do whatever they can to run offense away from Withey. It's as much as a compliment to a defender as an offensive star who regularly faces a box-and-one.
McLemore provides the Jayhawks with a jumper that is so smooth it gives basketball purists goose bumps, and he's also a blast to watch finish in transition. His talents will likely translate well to the NBA, where he's expected to be a lottery pick this June. The one knock against McLemore is that people think he should shoot more, but his shot selection is one of his best traits.
Withey is serviceable on the offensive end and has improved his post moves this season, but it's his defense and McLemore's ability that make this duo special and make KU one of the nation's top teams.
1. Duke's Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry
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Duke is well served to put Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry on the same side of the court and let them go to work.
If college basketball had a two-on-two contest, this would be the duo to pick.
After three years as a solid, but not great player, Plumlee has improved his game on the block and, at this point, is the favorite for the National Player of the Year Award—especially if that's an award that should be given to the nation's MVP. Plumlee is deserving, as he's asked to do more than any big man in the country. With fellow big man Ryan Kelly out, Plumlee has played 40 minutes in the last two games, and is averaging 34 minutes a game normally.
The Blue Devils would not be where they are without Curry, who is playing with injuries to both legs. Despite the injuries and not practicing regularly, Curry is still producing, knocking down 45.7 percent of his threes and scoring a career best 16.9 points per game.
Duke is better this year without point guard Austin Rivers, who was a high-usage player, and the biggest reason is that now more of the offense is run through Plumlee and Curry, the best duo in college basketball.