Basketball IQ is one of those terms that we hear commentators and coaches throw around liberally when criticizing or praising a college basketball player, but actually defining it is a difficult task.
Essentially, it is used to describe a player’s overall understanding of the game and what plays need to be made. Is he in the right spot, making the right pass and passing up a good shot for a great shot down the road?
As entertaining as a monster dunk or block is, knowing how to effectively attack certain defenses or how to neutralize an opposing star by attacking his weakness is more important in the quest for a victory.
With that in mind, read on to see some of the college hoops stars with the highest basketball IQs.
In a Yahoo! article that recently tried to conceptualize basketball IQ as something with actual meaning beyond coach speak, Aaron Craft was used as an example of someone with an innate understanding of the game.
As the Buckeye point guard, Craft serves as an extension of Thad Matta on the floor. He knows when to slow the pace when Ohio State has a lead and needs to bleed the clock but also when to push the tempo and attack weaknesses in opposing defenses.
Craft also utilizes his high basketball IQ on the defensive end, where he is almost always in the right spot and seemingly knows where the ball handler is going to be before even the offensive player does. That leads to drawn charges, tipped passes and steals, which is a big reason why the Buckeyes have been Final Four contenders every one of Craft’s seasons thus far.
Throw in the fact that Craft has a high IQ off the court (he is a defending Academic All-American), and the Scarlet and Gray have one of the smartest players in the country in their corner.
Marcus Smart is one of the best basketball players in the country and has a chance to win National Player of the Year honors in his sophomore campaign.
However, his impact on the floor goes beyond his mere athleticism and scoring ability. His instincts and leadership, even as a freshman last season, combine to give Smart one of the highest basketball IQs in the nation.
Smart is not afraid to motivate his teammates and challenge them in ways that will improve their team’s chance at victory. He sets the tone with his own play as any effective leader does. After all, how many point guards average six rebounds a night because they understand angles and aren’t afraid to mix it up down low?
Smart’s overall basketball IQ also shined through with his assist and steal numbers. He averaged better than four assists and three steals a night as a freshman and was always ready to do the little things to help his team win regardless of his superstar status.
It may sound cliché to say the son of a basketball coach has a high basketball IQ, but it certainly applies in Doug McDermott’s case.
The Creighton superstar, who plays for his father and somehow still has another year of collegiate eligibility remaining, scores at such an efficient rate because he knows how to use angles to create high-percentage shots.
Rarely does McDermott ever take an ill-advised attempt at the basket, which is why he shot an incredible 55 percent from the field and 49 percent from downtown even as the clear No. 1 scoring threat. That field-goal percentage was actually down compared to his 60 percent as a sophomore.
McDermott will challenge for the scoring title as a senior because he understands where to be to maximize his scoring chances. He rarely makes the wrong play, and there is no reason to expect that to change in his senior year.
Casual college basketball fans probably won’t recognize the name Jason Brickman immediately, but the Long Island University point guard led the nation in assists per game last year and is back to do so again in 2013-14.
A primary reason why the Blackbirds’ leader dished out so many dimes last year was his high basketball IQ. He averaged nearly nine assists a night during the regular season and led his squad to the NCAA tournament. In LIU-Brooklyn’s lone postseason game Brickman doled out nine assists.
A sign of a high basketball IQ from a point guard is his assist-to-turnover ratio, and Brickman had a better than 2-1 total in 2012-13. That is impressive considering how often he handled the ball, meaning he often made the right decisions.
Look for Brickman to possibly defend his assists crown as a senior.
High basketball IQs are often prescribed to point guards, but big men can have them as well.
St. John's Chris Obekpa is a shining example. He swatted a total of 133 shots in the 2012-13 season, which was more than any other player in the country except for Kansas' walking block machine Jeff Withey. What's more, Obekpa led the nation in blocks per game at an impressive four per night.
Obekpa was able to rack up such astounding block totals because of his high basketball IQ. He was almost always in the right spot on defense, provided help for perimeter players that were beat off the dribble and anchored the paint effectively. He posted solid rebounding numbers as well.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Obekpa’s 2012-13 season was that it was his first in collegiate basketball. That means his basketball IQ should only grow with more experience as he anchors St. John’s defense in 2013-14.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.