The most integral part of a team is its backcourt. In order to be a threat to win the national championship, a good perimeter group is necessary. Without superior guard play, you can kiss a Final Four appearance goodbye. A team can have the best forwards in the country, but if they don't have a perimeter that can knock down shots and handle the ball, they are ripe for an upset in the early rounds. Who has the best backcourts in the country? Starters in italics
1. North Carolina (Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor, Larry Drew): Two of the best players in the country, regardless of position (Lawson and Ellington); a former starting point guard (Frasor); and one of the top incoming point guards (Drew). Just four reasons UNC is everyone’s preseason number one.
2. UCLA (Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson): Collison, arguably the nation’s top returning point guard, combines with Holiday, arguably the nation’s top incoming guard, to form a dynamite starting combo. Lee and Anderson are also highly-rated recruits.
3. Connecticut (A.J. Price, Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson, Craig Austrie): Walker might just be good enough to move Price to the shooting guard position, which would make for a terrific duo. Dyson is one of the top scorers in the Big East, and Austrie started on an Elite Eight team three years ago.
4. Gonzaga (Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray): Pargo is nearly impossible to stop when driving to the basket, while Bouldin is the consummate all-around guard. He and Gray might be two of the top-25 shooting guards in America.
5. Marquette (Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, David Cubillan): It seems that this group has been a fixture on this list forever. James still has not matched his freshman year campaign, but McNeal is developing into one of the best guards in the country. Matthews does a little of everything.
6. Baylor (Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Henry Dugat, Tweety Carter): If Baylor is going to become a contender in the Big 12 again this season, this group will be the reason why. Jerrells is very difficult to defend, while Dunn, Dugat and Carter can all score and shoot the ball.
7. USC (Daniel Hackett, Dwight Lewis, DeMar DeRozan): The Trojans lose O.J. Mayo from the backcourt, but DeRozan could make the same sort of impact in his freshman year. Hackett is vastly underrated, while Lewis is a very solid player at both ends of the floor.
8. Memphis (Antonio Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Willie Kemp, Doneal Mack, Roburt Sallie): Anderson has been hiding in everyone else’s shadow throughout this career, but he is a terrific player in his own right. Evans is going to make an immediate impact, while Kemp and Mack will get more opportunities to shine.
9. Duke (Jon Scheyer, Elliot Williams, Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith): If I included Gerald Henderson in this group, they would be much higher. Paulus continues to be a solid point guard despite being arguably the most-hated player in college basketball. Scheyer can play both guard spots, while Williams is a five-star recruit. Smith is athletic and can make plays.
10. Notre Dame (Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, Jonathan Peoples): McAlarney and Jackson form one of the top duos in the country despite both standing 6-feet or smaller. McAlarney can shoot, while Jackson is an all-around point guard. Peoples provides depth and solid passing.
11. Syracuse (Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Andy Rautins): This ranking really hinges on the health of Devendorf and Rautins, who both missed all or part of last season with injuries. Flynn is one of the best point guards in the nation, and will only improve in his sophomore season.
12. Texas (A.J. Abrams, Justin Mason, Dogus Balbay): No, it’s not D.J. Augustin leading the way, but the Longhorns will still have a dynamite backcourt. Abrams is a terrific shooter, while Mason is a very good two-way player. Balbay will get time at the point, and may even start.
Others to Watch:
Maryland: Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes will have to carry the Terrapins, as there is little frontcourt help.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have a chance to make some real noise in the ACC, led by a deep perimeter group.
Massachusetts: Corey Lowe and Ricky Harris might form the best backcourt duo you haven’t heard of.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have a very deep perimeter group, with James Anderson looking like a budding star.
Georgetown: The Hoyas don’t have any guards that will jump out at you, but Jessie Sapp and Austin Freeman are both very solid.
Providence: If the Friars are going to make a run at the NCAA Tournament, Sharaud Curry will have to return to his pre-injury form.
UAB: Robert Vaden is one of the best wings in the country, but the return of Paul Delaney III might be even more important.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils started four perimeter players last season, led by All-America candidate James Harden.
Florida: With everyone on the baby Gators one more year experienced, Nick Calathes and co. will return to the NCAA Tournament.
Mississippi: Chris Warren had one of the best freshman campaigns of any point guard in the country last season.
South Carolina: Two former transfers, Devan Downey (from Cincinnati) and Zam Frederick (from Georgia Tech), lead the Gamecocks.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack aim to return to the NCAA Tournament behind Armon Johnson and Brandon Fields.