Tough defenses put their teams into great positions to succeed on a nightly basis.
Shooting accuracy goes cold. Turnovers happen, but a college basketball team that gets after it on the defensive end will be close or in just about every game on its schedule.
Her are the 10 best lockdown defenders for the 2013-14 NCAA basketball season.
LSU’s rising junior Anthony Hickey is a pest.
His motor runs non-stop, he doesn’t take possessions off and he has the distinctive ability to get up in opponents’ faces.
It’s no surprise that Hickey is one of the nation’s steals leaders, averaging 2.9 SPG (No. 2 overall) in the 2012-13 season. He was also No. 7 in Ken Pomeroy’s steals percentage rating (5.1), which measures “the percentage of offensive possessions that end with a steal by a particular defensive player when that player is on the court.” (h/t sportingcharts.com).
Hickey’s stealing skills are only one aspect of his overall defensive arsenal. He applies constant pressure when his opponents are trying to run their offense or put a shot in the air.
T.J. McConnell must be chomping at the bit as he waits to get going this fall. Following his sophomore season in 2011-12, McConnell left Duquesne and transferred to Arizona to play his final two seasons under Wildcat head coach Sean Miller.
McConnell averaged 2.8 steals per game in each of his collegiate hoops seasons. This put him in the top 10 nationally both years.
It will be exciting to watch McConnell play alongside U of A’s talented shooting guard Nick Johnson during the upcoming season. They could create one of the most defensively lethal backcourts in the country.
In the 2013 NCAA tournament, we were introduced to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. In the middle of all of the "Dunk City" mania was one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball, Bernard Thompson.
The 6’3” rising junior uses his length and impressive anticipation to cause mayhem in the passing lanes. His 88 steals were a FGCU school record. He was No. 5 in the nation in steals (2.76 SPG) and No. 6 in Ken Pomeroy’s steals percentage (5.3).
As a sophomore, Thompson was selected as the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Alabama’s Trevor Releford is a perfect example of a player who did not have eye-popping steal stats (2.1 SPG; No. 39 in the nation), but he is still a tough-as-nails defender.
Releford was selected to the 2013 Lefty Driesell Defensive All-American team and the SEC All-Defensive team. Though he came to Tuscaloosa with a ton of talent and athleticism, Releford has benefited from playing under Bama head coach, Anthony Grant, who is one of the nation’s top defensive coaches.
Look for Releford to take additional strides forward as a senior.
Oakland’s Duke Mondy was the nation’s leader with 3.03 SPG. He was one of three NCAA players who nabbed at least 100 steals. The two others were Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams (111) and Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson (102).
Mondy has had six six-steal games. The 6’4”, 208-pound rising senior uses his size and length at the point to impose his will on opponents.
Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin is one of the best-kept secrets in the Big East. Last year as a junior, Edwin averaged 16.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game (No. 13 in the country). As a sophomore, he led the nation in steals with three SPG.
His SHU bio states that “he was the first player in Big East history to lead the nation in steals per game.”
Edwin has the size and length (6’6”, 205 pounds) to become one of the best small forward defenders in the country.
CBSSports.com’s "Best Defenders" article had this to say about Edwin: "His hands are lethal—and his ability to read the passing lanes is uncanny. That's a scary combination."
He is one of the most physically frightening point guards in the country. At 6’4”, 225 pounds, Smart has a distinct size advantage over most of the other floor generals he faces.
As a freshman, Smart averaged three steals per game (good for No. 2 in the nation) to go along with his 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.
He plays just as aggressively on the defensive end of the court as he does on offense. That is not the case with most elite-level college basketball players.
When I think of college basketball’s defensive specialists, Florida’s Will Yeguete is one of the most imposing figures going. The 6’7”, 240-pound rising senior PF is so athletic he can guard almost any position on the court.
Though Yeguete only played 21 minutes per game and usually came off the bench, he regularly made his mark on the game within moments of checking in.
ESPN.com’s Michael DiRocco says that Yequete is “a dirty-work player.” When the Gators go to their full-court press, he is their point man.
Though he nabbed only 36 steals this past season, he also had dozens of deflections and forced loads of turnovers by the stress he created.
Virginia Commonwealth’s Briante Weber is a rare and distinctive player on Shaka Smart’s Rams squad.
Though the 6’3” guard only played 21 minutes per game last season, he was No. 1 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s steals percentage leaders for the second year in a row. Could he do it four consecutive seasons?
Weber averaged 2.72 steals per game and was one of the catalysts on Smart’s “Havoc” defense.
He was named to Lefty Driesell’s 2013 Defensive All-American team.
As a freshman, Weber was selected as a Colonial Athletic Association’s All-Defensive Team member. This past season, he was named the Atlantic 10 conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Ohio State’s Aaron Craft is the best lockdown defender in college basketball.
While he is a skilled PG on the offensive end, the place where Craft really excels is on defense. He averaged a decent 2.1 SPG, but his contribution to the Buckeyes' success far exceeds last year’s count of steals.
He does more on defense to influence the outcome of Ohio State’s games than most players even imagine is possible. He beats opponents to the spots they are trying to get to, frustrating the other team’s best players.
Craft is so fundamentally sound that he rarely makes a defensive mistake.
Craft is one of the biggest reasons why Ohio State is still in the top-tier of college basketball’s preseason periodicals despite losing Deshaun Thomas.