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Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Roundtable: 2014 defensive standouts

By staff

There are a lot of different ways to win in college basketball, but one of the few staples of virtually all good teams is a commitment to defense.

Ironically, good individual defenders never seem to get the credit they deserve, and that can even be true with the recruiting process. Standouts on offense are not only easier to recognize, they’re also easier to quantify with basic statistics. There’s also a popular sentiment among college coaches that they can teach a player to defend if they have the proper physical tools.

The reality though is that college-ready defenders are perhaps even harder to find than college-ready scorers or playmakers, which should in turn make them that much more valuable. With that in mind, we went back to our team of RecruitingNation experts and asked them to pinpoint the defensive game-changers in this year’s ESPN 100:

Paul Biancardi: We talk about Theo Pinson's high level of versatility and athletic ability, but mostly on the offensive end. He will be able to utilize those talents sooner on the defensive end, as he did when he first entered high school. I have witnessed Pinson defending smaller, quicker players, keeping them out of the paint with his lateral foot speed and length. The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Pinson can chase shooters off of screens with his speed and agility while contesting shots with his wing span. If he is involved in any screening actions, point guard through through power forward, he easily can switch. The final part of a defensive possession is rebounding, which he does with alertness and an impressive vertical jump. North Carolina is winning games this season because of its defense, perhaps more so than its offense. The addition of Pinson gives the Tar Heels a wild-card defender who will make individual defensive plays such as steals and blocks, and he will be a good team defender in time. The Tar Heels convert from defense to offense as well as any team in the nation, and Pinson fits perfectly in their system.

Joel Berry
North Carolina signee Joel Berry is great at forcing driving opponents away from the paint.
Adam Finkelstein: A good point guard is critical to a team’s defensive efficiency, and North Carolina signee Joel Berry is as good an example as there is in the ESPN 100. There is nothing that breaks down a defense better than penetration to the middle of the floor, especially when it comes from above the free-throw line extended, and Berry will be able to guard against that in transition, isolations and ball-screen action alike. Instead, he’ll be able to “level off” the dribble, influencing it toward the sidelines and baseline, where the weak-side defenders have more defined rotations. Big men are going to love playing with Berry on that side of the ball because his ability to funnel the ball away from the middle of the floor will both protect his bigs against foul trouble and defensive rebounding challenges, while simultaneously making it easier for them to block shots and take charges when penetration comes along the baseline.

Joel Francisco: In this day and age when the bigs are becoming obsolete or are eager to exhibit their perimeter game, having an elite shot-blocker can take your team to the next level. In the NBA, the Indiana Pacers are arguably the best defensive team and are anchored by their shot-blocking big man, Roy Hibbert. This is where Myles Turner enters the picture. He hasn't made a decision on his college choice, but the team that is able to corral his defensive prowess will be getting one of the elite rim-protectors in the country. The 6-11 Turner has exceptional length, and when you add his tremendous timing and high IQ for the game, that lethal combination should provide a immediate boost to any team's defense. The game slows down (fewer transition baskets) in college, and having a rim protector like Turner can improve a defense exponentially upon arrival.

Justise Winslow
Justise Winslow could become one of the country's most versatile defenders at Duke.
Reggie Rankin: My defensive game-changer is and five-star small forward Justise Winslow, who at 6-6 and 218 pounds is a tough, physical presence on the defensive end. Winslow, the No. 15 player in the ESPN 100, has a college-ready body, basketball IQ, strength, athletic ability, lateral foot speed, determination, heart and most importantly, I have seen him take being scored on personally. Winslow can defend all three perimeter positions and even some power forwards and small centers on the high school level. Winslow can contain a point guard, deny and stay eye-to-eye with a great wing scorer and be physical in the low post with his ability to deny the entry pass, move the offensive player off his sweet spot in the low post, and can switch and help his team get a big stop at end-of-clock situations in the guts of the game. Expect Coach K to give Winslow an opportunity to prove he can be a lockdown perimeter defender for Duke next season as a freshman.

John Stovall: In my opinion, the best perimeter defender in the class is Winslow, but he was "stolen" by one of my colleagues. He is strong, athletic, versatile (can guard multiple positions) and takes pride in shutting down his opponent. The next phase of defense is guarding the rim, and the best person in the class at doing that is probably Trayvon Reed. Cliff Alexander gets strong consideration with his ability to cover so much ground defensively, but Reed is the best at pure rim protection. Reed is 7-1 with a 7-2 wing span. He is also a good athlete and has great timing. He was the most feared defender in the Nike EYBL last summer and should make an immediate impact defensively for Maryland.