As college basketball fans we love fast-break dunks, sharp shooting from behind the three-point line and Cinderella upsets. The plays that make the cut on nightly highlight shows can attest to this during the season.
However, defense is still critical if the Final Four (or beyond) is the goal for your team in the 2013-14 season.
Every coach wants a defensive ace that can single-handedly destroy an opponent’s game plan. Few are lucky enough to have such an asset, but those that coach the following players certainly do.
This is of course not meant to be a comprehensive list of every great defender in college basketball, so feel free to add who you think is missing in the comments below.
It is well-established in the college basketball world that Aaron Craft is one of the best defenders in the nation, but his partner in crime Shannon Scott deserves some recognition for his defense as well.
The Buckeyes took off in the second half of the 2012-13 season when Craft and Scott started playing more together in the backcourt. They harassed opposing ball handlers, created turnovers that led to easy transition looks and generally wrecked opposing game plans in the process.
Craft finished last year with better than two steals a game, while Scott trailed slightly behind with 1.7 a night. However, steal totals don't even begin to completely explain how Scott, or Craft especially, impacts the game as a defender. From tipped passes to drawn charges, each is one of the most active defenders in the nation.
And for as great as each is as an individual defender, when they are paired together it is truly scary for Big Ten offenses.
Michigan State is on the short list of national-title contenders heading into the 2013-14 season, and a primary reason why is the jump that Adreian Payne is expected to make as a senior.
Payne was already one of the best players in the Big Ten last year, but with no more Derrick Nix in the paint, look for Payne to become a complete enforcer down low for the Spartans. He could average nearly two swats a night and will be a monster on the glass (on both ends).
Part of what makes Michigan State so difficult to beat is the level of physicality Tom Izzo’s team always brings. Payne will be an embodiment of that football-like mentality this year, especially on the defensive side.
LSU doesn’t get the type of recognition on the basketball floor that it does on the gridiron, but opposing ball-handlers in the SEC know about Anthony Hickey.
Hickey plays harassing defense better than almost anyone in the country and is never afraid to challenge the ball. His quick hands allow him to rack up plenty of steals while his explosive speed helps him stay in front of penetrators.
Incredibly, Hickey averaged nearly three steals a night in 2012-13, and as he enters the realm of the upperclassmen this season could put up even better numbers. The rest of the SEC is officially on notice.
No player in the country averaged more steals a game than Oakland’s Duke Mondy in the 2012-13 season.
That’s right, players such as Aaron Craft, Michael Carter-Williams and every other power conference defender were looking up at the Golden Grizzlies’ defensive weapon. In fact, only Carter-Williams and Florida Gulf Coast’s Bernard Thompson totaled more overall steals than Mondy, and both of them played more games last year than Oakland.
Mondy used to play for Providence before taking his talents to the Summit League. He still needs to cut down his own turnovers and improve his field-goal percentage to be an overall superstar, but on the defensive end few change the game more dramatically.
Chris Obekpa swatted 133 total shots in the 2012-13 season, which was more than any player in the country except Kansas’ Jeff Withey. What’s more, Obekpa led the nation in blocks per game at an astounding four per night.
The St. John’s big man is the exact type of enforcer coaches love to have in the paint anchoring the defense. He provides impressive help defense for perimeter players (as the four blocks a game can attest to), crashes the boards effectively and can muscle up on his own man in the paint.
Perhaps most impressive was the fact that last year was Obekpa’s first of collegiate basketball. That means he will likely become an even better defender as his career progresses. Look for even more swats in 2013-14.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.