College Basketball’s Best Backcourts

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The most important thing that a college basketball team can have is good guard play.

Look at who has won national titles in recent seasons.

In 2013, Louisville started Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In 2014, UConn’s backcourt consisted of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Quinn Cook joined Tyus Jones for Duke’s 2015 national title while Jalen Brunson teamed with Ryan Arcidiacono in 2016 and Donte DiVincenzo, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth to win the title in 2018.

Hell, even in 2017, when North Carolina won the title on the strength of an imposing frontcourt, they had an All-American in Joel Berry running the show.

I say all that to say this: Elite guards and perimeter players can erase a lot of mistakes.

These are the teams that will have the most talent in those roles this season.

Who did we miss?


R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

1. DUKE BLUE DEVILS

Players: Tre Jones, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, Alex O’Connell, Jordan Goldwire, Joey Baker*

While the Blue Devils did lose a considerable amount of backcourt production from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Grayson Allen having graduated and both Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. turning pro, they’ve managed to reload. The nation’s top recruiting class includes three elite perimeter players in point guard Tre Jones and wings R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, with Barrett considered by some to be the best player in college basketball despite having not played an official game.

While Jones is the lead guard, both Barrett and Reddish have been used in playmaking roles during portions of Duke’s two preseason games. That trio will see plenty of playing time, with sophomores Alex O’Connell and Jordan Goldwire supplying the depth. The status of freshman Joey Baker also bears watching, as the 6-foot-7 wing is a good shooter who can potentially give Duke even more depth on the perimeter. The original plan was for Baker, who reclassified to 2018 when he committed to Duke, to redshirt.

2. KENTUCKY WILDCATS

Players: Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, Ashton Hagans, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson

The Wildcats are young on the perimeter, with just one returnee who played valuable minutes in 2017-18. That would be sophomore Quade Green, who made 13 starts and averaged 9.3 points and 2.7 assists per game last season. Redshirt freshman Jemarl Baker, who was sidelined by a knee injury for all of 2017-18, was considered to be one of the top perimeter shooters in the 2018 class and can be a contributor this season in that area. And as Kentucky has done throughout John Calipari’s tenure, they’ve got a crop of outstanding freshmen who are ready to make an impact.

Ashton Hagans and Immanuel Quickley will compete for minutes at the lead guard position, and the same can be said of Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson on the wings. With all four freshmen being at least 6-foot-3, they’ve got the size to fill a variety of roles on the perimeter for Kentucky. Herro and Johnson both shot better than 44 percent from three during Kentucky’s summer trip to The Bahamas, while Quickley’s 18-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio during that trip was the team’s best. The competition will be better once the regular season begins, but there’s no doubt that this group is capable of doing some special things.

3. KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Players: LaGerald Vick, Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes, Ochai Agbaji

Kansas lost its leader, Devonte’ Graham, and their best three-point shooter in Svi Mhykhailiuk from the perimeter rotation that led the team to the Final Four last season. But even with that being the case, the Jayhawks can boast one of the nation’s top perimeter rotations. Freshmen Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes are ready to be immediate contributors at the point and the two, respectively, and they’ll be competing for minutes with some solid returnees.

LaGerald Vick, who made the decision to enter the NBA draft after averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season, had a change of heart and returned to Lawrence for his senior season. Sophomore point guard Marcus Garrett, who averaged 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in 19.6 minutes per game last season, also returns and Cal transfer Charlie Moore is eligible after sitting out last season. Moore was one of the Pac-12’s best freshmen during his lone season in Berkeley, averaging 12.2 points and 3.5 assists per game in 34 starts, and he’ll give Kansas valuable experience and production at the point.

Jordan Caroline and Caleb Martin (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

4. NEVADA

Players: Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Lindsey Drew, Corey Henson, Jazz Johnson, Nisre Zouzoua, Tre’Shawn Thurman

Eric Musselman’s perimeter rotation is absolutely loaded, with the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline being the headliners. All three are redshirt seniors who had starring roles on last year’s Sweet 16 squad, with Caleb Martin having won Mountain West Player of the Year after averaging 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and Cody being the conference’s best defender. As for Caroline, all he did in 2017-18 was average 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. With Nevada’s loaded front court, Caroline may see more time at the three this season than he did in 2017-18.

Those three aren’t the only seniors either, as Lindsey Drew makes his return after going down with a ruptured Achilles tendon in February and Omaha transfer Tre’Shawn Thurman is eligible after sitting out last season. Thurman averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game as a junior at Omaha, earning honorable mention All-Summit League honors. Also eligible to play after sitting out last season are transfers Nisre Zouzoua (20.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg at Bryant in 2016-17), Corey Henson (two-time second team All-NEC selection at Wagner) and Jazz Johnson (15.8 ppg as a sophomore at Portland). The Wolf Pack won’t lack for talented options on the perimeter, one reason why the expectations for this team are so high.

5. SYRACUSE

Players: Franklin Howard, Tyus Battle, Howard Washington, Elijah Hughes, Oshae Brissett, Jalen Carey, Buddy Boeheim

Despite not having much in the way of depth, Syracuse still managed to reach the Sweet 16 last season thanks in large part to the triumvirate of Battle, Brissett and Howard. While it was Howard who served as Syracuse’s starting point guard, and will once again in his senior season, Battle doesn’t lack for opportunities to make plays within the Syracuse offense himself. As a sophomore the 6-foot-6 Battle averaged 19.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, earning second team All-ACC honors.

Brissett, who led the team in rebounding with an average of 8.8 caroms per game, and Howard were also double-digit scorers for the Orange last season. What will help this trio is the addition of some talented newcomers, most notably jet-quick freshman point guard Jalen Carey and off-guard Buddy Boeheim, the head coach’s son who was one of the leaders on a Brewster Academy team that won 26 games last season. And while Elijah Hughes may not have put up great numbers at East Carolina, the season in residency after his transfer to Syracuse should help in that regard. Rounding out the rotation is Howard Washington, who missed all of last season due to a torn ACL. Health is a bit of a concern early on with Howard, Washington and Carey all banged up at present time, but when whole Syracuse has one of the best backcourt rotations in the country.

Tyus Battle (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

6. MICHIGAN STATE

Players: Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Kyle Ahrens, Foster Loyer, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry

Michigan State does have to account for the departures of leading scorer Miles Bridges and team leader Tum Tum Nairn, but there’s no shortage of perimeter talent at Tom Izzo’s disposal. Junior point guard Cassius Winston, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.9 assists per game last season, returns as do senior Matt McQuaid and junior Joshua Langford. Langford was Michigan State’s fourth-leading scorer in 2017-18, starting all 35 games, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 40.4 percent from three.

As for McQuaid, he’ll be asked to contribute a bit more after averaging 6.0 points in just over 20 minutes per game. Freshmen will supply much of the additional depth on the perimeter, with four-star wings Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry and three-star point guard Foster Loyer joining the program. Also looking to compete for minutes will be redshirt junior Kyle Ahrens, who missed all of the 2017-18 season due to a foot injury.

7. VIRGINIA

Players: Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, Braxton Key, Marco Anthony, Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann, Francesco Badocchi

Despite the loss of Devon Hall, the team’s second-leading scorer, Virginia projects to have a very good perimeter rotation to work with in 2018-19. The tandem of Jerome and Guy will lead the way, with the former being the Cavaliers’ assist leader and the latter back after averaging a team-high 14.1 points per game. And Virginia’s perimeter corps received a significant boost earlier this month when the NCAA granted an immediate eligibility waiver to Alabama transfer Braxton Key.

The 6-foot-8 Key, who averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in an injury-shortened 2017-18 campaign, has the ability to serve as a supplementary playmaker on the wing. In theory that could open things up for Virginia’s other offensive options, making the Cavaliers that much tougher to defend. Freshmen Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Francesco Badocchi will all look to work their way into the rotation, and with regard to Badocchi it’s important to note that Tony Bennett and his staff have had success with redshirts during their time in Charlottesville. Sophomore Marco Anthony will also look to earn minutes after appearing in only 13 games last season.

Markus Howard (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

8. MARQUETTE

Players: Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Sam Houser, Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott, Jamal Cain, Brendan Bailey

Can a backcourt lose its leading scorer, who averaged 20.5 points and 4.8 assists per game, and be better the following season? That could very well be the case for Marquette, which will look to account for the loss of Andrew Rowsey. Markus Howard, who averaged 20.4 points per game and is one of the nation’s best perimeter shooters, returns for his junior season and the versatile Sam Houser (14.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.9 apg) is back as well. Add in Sacar Anim, Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain, and the Golden Eagles don’t lack for experience on the perimeter.

So why can this group potentially be even better in 2018-19? The newcomers, most notably Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny. Last season the 6-foot-3 Chartouny, who led the Rams in rebounds and assists while also averaging 12.2 points per game, led the nation with an average of 3.3 steals per game. Marquette struggled on the defensive end of the floor last season, and Chartouny has the size and skill needed to make an impact in that area immediately. Add in 6-foot-8 freshman Brendan Bailey, a versatile wing who will also factor into the fight for minutes, and this perimeter rotation is a big reason while Marquette is considered by some to be the team most likely to challenge Villanova in the Big East.

9. ST. JOHN’S 

Players: Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon, Marvin Clark II, Mustapha Heron, Mikey Dixon, L.J. Figueroa, Bryan Trimble, Greg Williams Jr.

The Chris Mullin era has yet to produce an NCAA tournament bid, but that could very well change in 2018-19 if his backcourt lives up to the preseason hype. In Shamorie Ponds the Red Storm possess a high-scoring guard who averaged 21.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game, and the preseason Big East Player of the Year is one of three double-digit scoring guards back on campus. Seniors Justin Simon (12.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 5.1 apg), who led the Red Storm in rebounding and assists, and Marvin Clark II (12.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg) both return as well. While that trio is definitely a good starting point, St. John’s also boasts a really good crop of perimeter newcomers.

Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron received a waiver that makes him eligible to play immediately, and in the 6-foot-5 junior the Red Storm add a player who averaged 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game on a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title. Also eligible to play — after sitting out last season — is Quinnipiac transfer Mikey Dixon, who averaged 16.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a freshman. Junior college transfer L.J. Figueroa was a NJCAA All-American at Odessa College who’s already received rave reviews for his work in preseason practices. Freshman Greg Williams Jr., a four-star recruit out of high school, and sophomore Bryan Trimble will also look to earn playing time in what is a stacked backcourt.

10. PURDUE

Players: Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Sasha Stefanovic, Aaron Wheeler, Eric Hunter Jr.

It all starts with Edwards, who in the eyes of many is considered to be the preseason favorite for national Player of the Year honors. As a sophomore, Edwards led Purdue in points with an average of 18.5 points per game while also dishing out 2.8 assists per game. The question heading into 2018-19 for Edwards is how he’ll balance being that attack-minded scoring guard with the need to put his younger teammates in positions where they can be at their best. That wasn’t as much of a concern last season due to the presence of four seniors in the starting lineup. Also back from last season’s perimeter rotation are senior Ryan Cline and sophomore Nojel Eastern, with the latter viewed as a player who could be in line for a breakout season.

Eastern only averaged 2.9 points in 12.6 minutes per game as a freshman, but he has both the size and athleticism needed to join the list of off guards who have experienced success playing for Matt Painter. As for Cline, he was also a reserve and shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc in 2017-18. Redshirt freshmen Sasha Stefanovic and Aaron Weaver will look to turn the lessons learned from last year’s seniors into production in their first season of game action, and true freshman Eric Hunter Jr. is a four-star prospect who averaged 29 points per game as a high school senior. Edwards will be the leader for this group, but Purdue’s perimeter boasts talent beyond the Player of the Year candidate.

Honorable Mention: Clemson, Florida State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Michigan, Mississippi State, N.C. State, Villanova, Virginia Tech, Washington