Commentary

Top backcourts in college hoops

Updated: October 17, 2013, 3:46 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

To win in college basketball today, you must be strong on the perimeter. Guard play is so vital to the success of teams.

Offensive efficiency is dictated by the perimeter players. Ballhandling and passing skills are so crucial. Defenses are keyed by on-ball performance; for example, just look at Aaron Craft at Ohio State.

That said, I sat down recently at The Broken Egg in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., and put together my best backcourts in America. It was very difficult to differentiate them as there are so many talented groups. Also, when considering this list, several players could be classified as playing swing positions, big enough to be a forward but talented enough to perform at guard.

I am sure that this will spark some debate on Twitter and social media. We will see as the season progresses how this list holds up.

1. MICHIGAN STATE

When you start with a healthy Gary Harris, one of the premier guards in America, and add Keith Appling, you have a dynamic duo. Tom Izzo also has depth as Branden Dawson can swing in the backcourt. He also has Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine among guards at his disposal.

2. MEMPHIS

Josh Pastner has last season's Conference USA Player of the Year in Joe Jackson, plus Chris Crawford and talented defender Geron Johnson. If transfer Michael Dixon Jr. can return to his form from Missouri, watch out.

3. LOUISVILLE

Rick Pitino had to be thrilled when Russ Smith passed on the NBA and returned for another season. Smith is instant offense. While Peyton Siva is gone, the Cardinals expect to have Kevin Ware back. Remember these newcomers -- Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.

4. DUKE

Quinn Cook is the best point guard in the loaded ACC. Rasheed Sulaimon is a super soph who should post big numbers. Tyler Thornton brings experience and leadership. The return of Andre Dawkins gives Coach K another outstanding outside shooter. Matt Jones is a diaper dandy who could contribute, as well.

5. OKLAHOMA STATE

Travis Ford may have the top guard in America in Marcus Smart. Markel Brown is an underrated and competent scorer. Several players can also swing into the backcourt, giving Ford serious versatility.

6. KENTUCKY

Yes, a lot of this is based on potential, but the Harrison twins are among the top 10 recruits in America. Jarrod Polson brings experience and stability.

7. OREGON

Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson were dynamite diaper dandies. They should be special as super sophs. Then throw transfer Joseph Young in the mix and Dana Altman has reason to smile.

8. FLORIDA

Scottie Wilbekin was recently reinstated and that helps the Gators. Michael Frazier II showed flashes at times last season. There are great expectations from diaper dandy Kasey Hill. This unit would get a boost when Rutgers transfer Eli Carter is healthy, though that may take some time as he is coming off a major knee injury.

9. KANSAS

Because of Andrew Wiggins' versatility, I am putting the Jayhawks in the top 10. Naadir Tharpe will log more minutes and should excel with greater responsibility. Wayne Selden Jr. and Conner Frankamp are other diaper dandies to watch.

10. OHIO STATE

Experience is a key for Thad Matta's backcourt. Craft is joined by Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Shannon Scott.

11. GONZAGA

I love what Mark Few has back. Kevin Pangos can shoot from long distance. Gary Bell Jr. and David Stockton have experience providing continuity on the court. Gerard Coleman, a transfer from Providence, could be an X factor for the Zags.

12. CONNECTICUT

Kevin Ollie will rely heavily on Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun.

13. NOTRE DAME

Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins form a dynamic duo, and Mike Brey has some other guards to watch. I could have had several other teams on this list. St. John's has D'Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV, Jamal Branch and newcomer Rysheed Jordan. Colorado, Boise State, Virginia, BYU ... I could keep going on and on. I left North Carolina off because of P.J. Hairston's status; he is expected to play, but since I do not know when, the group (which also features Marcus Paige) is off my baker's dozen.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.

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