They are the pests, the stoppers, the gamblers, the glass eaters and the rim protectors. Here are my top defensive players for the 2011-12 season in college basketball.
Jorge Gutierrez, California
My defensive pests aren't usually 6-foot-4, but Gutierrez is an unusual player. Even if he didn't score a point for coach Mike Montgomery, he would still impact games because he is all over place in the Golden Bears' half-court defense. His hustle, high-voltage energy and defensive IQ stand out -- especially versus Pac-12 opponents.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft has an amazing ability to stay in front of seemingly quicker point guards and harass them to a point where they are far more worried about losing the ball than running their team's offense. While he's got quick feet, a key part of Craft's ability to disrupt opponents are those ultra-quick hands. Add in his high school football player's strength and toughness, and you have a player that other Big Ten teams already love to hate.
Casper Ware, Long Beach State
Ware is one of the best points guards in the country. Period. At 5-foot-10, he has excellent quickness and great court vision, and he is an improved shooter who is an extension of coach Dan Monson on the court. But it's at the defensive end of the floor where I have fallen in love with his game. He rarely takes a play off on that end of the court, and that type of energy from your on-court leader is rare. It makes Monson a very lucky man.
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
A native of Boston's Roxbury section, Napier has the perfect bulldog mentality for Jim Calhoun. He defends on the ball with the toughness of a guy who grew up in Roxbury. And, like Craft, he's got lightning-quick hands that manifest themselves in a very solid 4.1 percent steal percentage. Only a sophomore, Napier's defense will get better with experience.
Ronald Nored, Butler
I've watched enough tape to say that Nored might be the best all-around defensive player in the country. He is a very good on-the-ball defender and even better away from the ball, and has the defensive IQ of a 20-year coaching veteran. He's hard to screen because he has physical toughness and plays with courage. ESPN analyst Dan Dakich, who sees him all the time in Indianapolis, agrees.
Michael Snaer, Florida State
It's no surprise that a Seminole makes this list. FSU isn't always pretty on the offensive end, but you can always count on Leonard Hamilton's teams to defend like junkyard dogs. With Chris Singleton off to the NBA, Snaer will inherit the role of defensive stopper, especially on the perimeter. The muscular 6-3 junior guard is versatile enough to defend the point.
Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
I love Taylor's all-around game, although I am not as high on his NBA potential as others are. But there is no denying that he is an All-American candidate at the small forward position. At 6-6, he is quick enough to guard perimeter players and strong enough to defend post players. With that type of versatility, he will anchor the Commodores' defense this season.
Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion
The high-flying Bazemore will miss the first part of the season recovering from a broken bone in his left foot. But when he returns, he will be one of the best wing defenders in the country. While he has dramatically improved his offense over the course of his ODU career, it's his energy and passion that make him one of the CAA's best players.
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
If you are looking for a terrific zone or press defender, Cunningham is your guy. The 6-4 junior is as good as there is in the country at running through passing lanes en route to an explosive dunk. Besides his outstanding athleticism, his cat-quick anticipation is a nuisance for Pac-12 opponents as they try to attack the Beavers' various zone looks.
The Glass Eaters
Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
Most missed shots should end with a defensive rebound, so a player who is willing to go into the lane and mix it up is a commodity. Coach Tubby Smith has that type of guy in Mbakwe. In addition to having a body that can dish out punishment, Mbakwe is a quick jumper, has a 7-3 wing span and -- like most good rebounders -- has a nose for missed shots.