Last season was the year of the guards.
The best backcourt in the country, Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., carried their team to the national championship game. You could argue the second-best backcourt ended up winning the national title.
So if you’re trying to predict what will happen in 2014, it’s a good idea to take a look at the backcourts. These are the best 10.
All advanced stats used in this piece come from KenPom.com (subscription needed).
This is the best conditioned backcourt in the country and one of the most unselfish as well. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins combined to play 74.6 minutes per game last season and both averaged 5.5 assists per game.
Help is on the way in McDonald’s All-American Demetrius Jackson, who could keep Grant and Atkins fresh or play alongside the both of them. The Irish will miss the consistency of big man Jack Cooley next season but Mike Brey should be able to rely more on his two senior guards to do the scoring, similar to a role Ben Hansrough played in 2011.
Kevin Pangos’ offensive numbers dipped from his freshman to sophomore year but it wasn’t that Pangos regressed. The point guard realized Gonzaga’s best offense was going through Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. That was their team.
When he wanted to, Pangos could still be a dominant scorer. He had five games last year with 20-plus points and he dropped 31 in a win against Baylor.
Both Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. can score off the dribble or spot up from three. Pangos shot 41.7 percent from distance last season and Bell made 39.2 percent of his threes. Gonzaga still has a talented frontcourt, but the 2013-14 team will be Pangos and Bell’s team.
Duke was one of the best teams in college basketball last season because of the out-of-nowhere improvement of Quinn Cook.
Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will be leaned on heavily next season as the Blue Devils are without a dominant big man.
There are still plenty of scorers around and look for Cook’s assist numbers to go up. Not only will he have a lot of options, but the Devils will be best suited playing a fast pace. That’s a style that should benefit Sulaimon’s game as well.
Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr. have won 94 games, been to a Final Four and never lost in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The Ohio State backcourt, which also includes speedy Shannon Scott, will not overwhelm anyone with their offensive numbers but they will overwhelm opposing guards with their relentless pressure.
Craft is considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the country while Scott ranked eighth in steal percentage last season.
This backcourt is one of the more entertaining tandems to watch in the country. Askia Booker has a clever handle and finds a way to get off his shot even though he looks like he should still be in high school. He’s a streaky shooter and wasn’t the most efficient scorer last season.
Spencer Dinwiddie made up for Booker in the efficiency category. He did a lot of his damage offensively by getting to the line. Dinwiddie shot 240 freebies last season and made 82.5 percent.
Dinwiddie led the Buffs in scoring last season at 15.3 points per game but his most valuable asset to CU could be his defense. At 6’5” with quick feet and a long reach, Dinwiddie can defend multiple positions and usually guards the top opposing perimeter player.
Rick Pitino has a lot of options in his backcourt next season. He could slide Russ Smith to point guard and start Final Four MOP Luke Hancock at the 2 or use Kevin Ware once he’s healthy. The other option is to stick with Smith at shooting guard and start newbies Chris Jones or Terry Rozier at point.
If Jones and Rozier can contribute right away, Pitino will have the deepest backcourt in the country. That’s a nice luxury considering Louisville’s style of play.
The Harrison brothers are expected to be lottery picks after one season—DraftExpress.com has Andrew going sixth and Aaron going 10th.
If the brothers really are that talented, then they should be one of the best backcourts in the country right away. In the little that I’ve watched them play so far, they look the part. Both are strong drivers and should fit in well in John Calipari’s dribble-drive offense.
The fastest backcourt in the country award goes to Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. The best way to guard these two is to sag off and hope their jumpers are off that day.
They both can create for themselves or teammates off the dribble. They combined to average 32.5 points and 9.0 assists last season and at least two or three “did you see that?!” moments per game.
Gary Harris averaged 12.9 points per game last season and had the best season statistically of any freshman 2-guard under Tom Izzo. Better than Jason Richardson, Charlie Bell and Shannon Brown.
Harris is a smooth scorer, while his backcourt mate Keith Appling is more of a bulldog. Both are effective scorers. The Spartans could benefit from Appling becoming a better assist man as a senior. Even if they simply duplicated their production last season, this would be the best backcourt in the Big Ten.
Everyone knows about Marcus Smart. He changed the culture at Oklahoma State last year and he’s a winner. Defensively, there’s not a guard in the country I’d rather have on my side.
Offensively, Markel Brown is just as valuable as Smart to the Cowboys. Brown has a great lift on his jumper, is one of the best dunkers in the country and he can win a game by himself when he gets going. Go back and watch Brown’s first half at Allen Fieldhouse this past season when he lit the Jayhawks up for 22 points in 18 minutes.
In the clutch moments of that game, Smart took the big shots, outmuscled KU on the boards and got a steal to clinch the win.
From start to finish there will not be a better backcourt duo in the country next season.