The old adage that defense wins championships doesn’t always play out, but it certainly did in college basketball last season.
In a national championship game that featured Ken Pomeroy’s No. 1 rated pace-adjusted offensive team (Michigan) against his No. 1 rated pace-adjusted defense team (Louisville), the defense juggernaut came out on top of one of the more entertaining contests in years.
Those same Cardinals return enough talent to once again be considered among the sport’s elite on the less glamorous side of the ball. Read on to see how they and four other squads will become defensive juggernauts in the 2013-14 season.
*Remember, just because a team it not on this list does not mean it will not be a good defensive unit. All it means is that five isn’t a very big number.
All the information used in this slideshow courtesy of Ken Pomeroyick.
Louisville was a very talented offensive team that often rode the hot hands of players such as Russ Smith and Peyton Siva to victory, but it wouldn’t get to enjoy a summer of being called national champions without its defense.
The Cardinals lost a handful of key pieces (Siva and Gorgui Dieng in particular), but they still have plenty of talent coming back and the defensive mastermind that is Rick Pitino at the helm. Smith’s decision to ultimately come back to college was the first critical step in shoring up a speedy and athletic backcourt that will make life difficult on any opposing guards.
Wayne Blackshear and Chase Behanan will anchor the defense and rebounding efforts down low, and newcomers Terry Rozier and Chris Jones will help pick up the slack for the departed Siva. If they don’t bring it on the defensive end, they won’t see the court nearly as much as they would like.
Final Four darling Luke Hancock also returns. It may be too much to ask for Louisville to repeat as the top defensive team in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, but it will undoubtedly be a defensive juggernaut once again in 2013-14.
Florida, perhaps the best team in college basketball that never gets any headlines since the days of Joakim Noah, ranked third in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defense last season. That being said, three of its best players (Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy and Kenny Boynton) are no longer on campus.
The Gators still have one of the strongest front lines in the country thanks to the return of Patric Young in the paint. He will combine with incoming freshman Chris Walker, who is the prototypical stretch-4 with his athleticism and length. Walker can play on the high post or bang around down low, and he'll block plenty of shots and help Young in the rebounding department.
The backcourt and the defense that will come from it is still a question mark, but Kasey Hill should help make up for some of the lost production from Boynton and Rosario. Hill is quick and shifty, which will help him stay in front of opposing guards in the SEC.
But even if Hill ends up being great, Florida will be a defensive juggernaut in the SEC next year because few teams, if any, will be able to get anything consistent going in the paint.
A good place to start when building a defensive juggernaut is to feature the nation’s best returning on-ball defender.
Aaron Craft is back in Columbus for what must seem like the 50th year for opposing Big Ten guards. He will once again use his lateral quickness, lightning quick hands, unmatched ability to draw charges and overall defensive toughness to anchor the Buckeyes’ hard-nosed defense.
Craft isn’t the only defensive aficionado that will lace it up for Ohio State this season. He will be joined in the backcourt by Shannon Scott, who was a critical piece in the Buckeyes’ late charge in 2012-13, in what is arguably the best defensive backcourt in the country. Throw in the length and athleticism of pieces like Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Sam Thompson, and open shots will come at a premium against Thad Matta’s squad.
The departure of Deshaun Thomas will be difficult to replace on the offensive side, but it may actually help the Buckeyes on defense. Thomas often got lost on that side of the ball and struggled to match up with some of the bigger power forwards in the conference.
Look for the Scarlet and Gray to once again compete for a Big Ten crown thanks to the defensive efforts they will bring every night.
Michigan State may be the most talented team in the country heading into next season that didn’t lose to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.
The Spartans were a defensive force last year with their typical bruising style and Tom Izzo-driven intensity (they ended up seventh in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive rankings) and were rarely out-rebounded or outmuscled. Expect more of the same this year with basically every key contributor returning except Derrick Nix.
Adreian Payne will anchor the middle with his athleticism and length, which will make life very difficult for opposing big men in the lane. The perimeter will once again belong to Keith Appling and Gary Harris, and Branden Dawson is poised to finally have that breakout season that Michigan State fans have been anticipating for so long on the wing.
Even at just a cursory glance, it is clear the Spartans are lining up a defensive weapon at every spot on the floor (and that’s not even getting into discussion of their depth). The Big Ten is a bruising league, but it will be Izzo’s squad that is dishing out the most black and blue marks thanks to its defense.
Syracuse is almost always a defensive force thanks to the bafflingly consistent 2-3 zone that Jim Boeheim throws at opponents every year.
Last season, the Orange ranked fifth in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive rankings, but they lost two key seniors from their Final Four group. James Southerland and Brandon Triche will no longer be suiting up for Boeheim, which will be difficult to replace on the defensive end.
Throw in the fact that star Michael Carter-Williams declared early for the NBA, and Syracuse is going to have its work cut out for it if it hopes to be a top 10 defensive squad yet again. C.J. Fair, who led the squad in rebounding and isn’t afraid to mix it up with anyone, will be critical in that effort.
The combination of size, speed and athleticism that Jerami Grant, Rakeem Christmas, DaJuan Coleman and Baye Keita will provide on defense will also help. Look for freshmen Tyler Ennis and Tyler Roberson to also contribute and play a role in that zone.
For as many great players that have come through Syracuse, the system continues to pump out great defensive units. The 2013-14 group will be no different.