As I was trying to line up which teams have the best backcourts in the country, I started to take some personal inventory. I tried to draw from my experience playing with and coaching some of the best guards in the country. I tried to identify qualities that make those players so great. I thought back to the skills of former teammates Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Mike Bibby and Jason Terry. I thought about some of the best guards that I coached or coached against, such as Chase Budinger, Mustafa Shakur, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Brandon Roy and Aaron Brooks. Having seen so much great guard play up close, it started to become clear what qualities are vital to a great backcourt.
While it's easy to see the skills on tape, I'll also look for stuff that is more difficult to measure. I love toughness and leadership, two qualities that usually go hand-in-hand. I want guards who are willing to mix it up with the other team -- the toughness that you can't teach. You want guys where the tougher the situation, the better they respond. But these players also need to have a certain leadership quality where they lead vocally and by example, commanding the respect of teammates and opponents. They will call out their own mistakes and are not afraid to let their teammates know when it's time to pick up their level of play, which not many players are willing to do in today's game. I often say, "It's tough to be a leader" because you have to be willing to deal with all that comes with it, the good and the bad.
From a physical standpoint, the best guards should be playmakers -- able to create their own opportunities and make others around them better. They must defend consistently. Great defense starts on the perimeter. I love to see high basketball IQ in guards, where they see plays before they happen and consistently make the smart choice.
A combination of all these qualities will get you great guard play, and we know how crucial that is to winning NCAA titles. Keeping those qualities in mind, among others, the following is my list of the top backcourts in the country this season:
1. Missouri Tigers
I love this Tigers backcourt because of its depth and versatility. Coach Frank Haith has five guards who can contribute on a nightly basis and, as we saw last season, he is not afraid to put four guards out there at the same time and make teams adjust. It all starts with Flip Pressey, who I spent some time with at the Nike Skills Academies this summer. He is a tremendously hard worker; he'd ask me to go to the gym early every day to get extra work in. He is a great playmaker and an absolute leader. Michael Dixon Jr. will move into a starting position after averaging 13.5 ppg off the bench last season. Pressey and Dixon give the Tigers a dynamic pair of guards. Add to those two Jabari Brown, a top-30 recruit who transferred from Oregon after a couple of games, and Keion Bell, who averaged 16 ppg in three seasons at Pepperdine and is one of the best athletes in the country (check him out on YouTube). Also in the mix is Earnest Ross, an Auburn transfer and proven scorer in the SEC at 13 ppg. This gives the Tigers a boatload of depth, more total talent than any team in the country.