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Kentucky Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best Defenders in Wildcats History

Bobby ReaganFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

Kentucky Basketball: Ranking the 5 Best Defenders in Wildcats History

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Kentucky basketball has had its fair share of great offensive players through the years. Even currently under head coach John Calipari, the Wildcats are thought of as an offensive-minded team, usually involving numerous dunks.

    However, Kentucky has been an exceptional defensive team throughout the years and has had some of the best defensive players in the country at times. Whether it's been the recent trend of incredible shot-blockers in Anthony Davis, Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel or the suffocating pressure from guards like Rajon Rondo, Dale Brown and John Wall, the Wildcats always compete defensively.

    This slideshow will take a look at the five best defenders in Wildcats history, using stats, awards and the overall effect the player had during the game from the defensive standpoint. As always, leave your list and thoughts in the comments section. 

5. Rajon Rondo

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    RUSTY KENNEDY/Associated Press

    It's almost impossible to have the most steals in a season at Kentucky and not make the list of the five best defenders in the school's history. As a freshman, Rondo tallied 87 steals, an average of 2.55 a game. 

    Using his quickness and the size of his enormous hands, Rondo made a living by jumping the passing lane to get a steal and an easy finish at the other end. He also was an incredible on-ball defender. Whether it was harassing his assignment the entire length of the court to force them into turnovers or just tire them, Rondo was one of the best defensive guards in the country during his time at Kentucky.

    Rondo's stellar defensive play has transcended into the NBA, making him one of the best defensive players at the highest level as well. 

4. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Nobody was asked to do more than Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was asked to do during his one year in Lexington. Whether it was guarding four different positions or being the defensive leader on a young team, Kidd-Gilchrist did it all.

    At 6'7" he had the size to guard numerous positions, which he did. At times, he would be matched up on anyone from the point guard to power forward and defended them successfully. He was voted to the All-SEC Defensive team in 2012 and probably would have won Defensive Player of the Year if it wasn't for one of his teammates.

    Kidd-Gilchrist didn't put up heavy stats in terms of steals per game, averaging just one per game. However, he provided a shutdown defender, one who wouldn't let his opponent touch the ball or at the minimum earn the points he would score.

    Kidd-Gilchrist also came up defensively when needed. What Kentucky fan can forget the block in the national title game against Kansas after it looked like he got beat backdoor? The block would go on to help secure the championship and one of the most memorable plays from the season. 

3. Dale Brown

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    Associated Press

    Before there was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, there was Dale Brown. Brown was similar to the type of player Kidd-Gilchrist is, just in a smaller frame.

    Brown was the epitome of a lockdown defender. Much like Kidd-Gilchrist, he didn't garner a lot of steals or blocked shots, but he was someone opposing coaches would game-plan against. People across the conference took notice as well, considering Brown won SEC Defensive Player of the Year both years he was in Lexington.

    Brown's defense helped the Wildcats make the Final Four in 1993. He was often credited for containing the country's best perimeter players during the tournament run. 

2. Nerlens Noel

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    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    It's tough to call someone underrated when listing them second all time in Kentucky's defensive history. But that's exactly what Nerlens Noel was in his shortened career in Lexington.

    Playing just 27 games due to a gruesome injury, Noel had the third-most blocks in a season at Kentucky and finished his career 19th for blocks. His most impressive performance saw him turn away 12 shots in a must-win game at Ole Miss. 

    On top of his shot-blocking, Noel was excellent at deflecting the ball and making hustle plays to cause turnovers. He led the team with steals, something unheard of as a center. Noel was awarded the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in a race that wasn't close the entire season.

    In addition to his two steals per game, he averaged 4.4 blocks per game, which led the country. 

1. Anthony Davis

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    There hasn't been a defender quite like Anthony Davis in the illustrious history of Kentucky basketball. He changed the game more than anyone, arguably for any team in any year, in 2012 for Kentucky. 

    Davis recorded 186 blocks, easily the most in a season by someone wearing a Kentucky jersey. Those 186 blocks also rank fifth all time in a career at Kentucky. He was more than that, though, considering he recorded 54 steals, which is the 26th most in a season for a Wildcat. 

    In a surprise to no one, he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year and national Defensive Player of the Year. 

    While the numbers he put up were impressive, it was his presence that made him a better defender. Patrolling the paint, opposing players often were looking for him when they attacked the rim, expecting him to turn their shot away. This often resulted in missed shots or travels, something that can't be put into a number.

    Davis' versatility also makes him the best defender in Kentucky's history. He didn't just block shots at the rim. He would often use his length and lateral quickness to contest jumpers, famously blocking Jon Henson's jumper to secure a win over North Carolina.

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