The Best Backcourts of the 21st Century (College Basketball Edition)
All of us should know by now that guards win games in March. Crunch time demands superb guard play whether it be through late game pressing, perimeter defense, three point field goals, controlling tempo, extending the coach, etc… It doesn’t matter if your best player is Greg Oden, because to win 4+ games in the Madness you need guys like Mike Conley and Daequan Cook to shoot the ball and set the pace.
Here, I take a look at the greatest backcourts of the modern college basketball era. Considering it is the end of our first decade in the 2000′s, it will be a list of the best backcourts of the 21st century thus far. I will make claims on this list, back them up with relevant statistics, and then display how many wins the backcourt managed in the tournament.
TOP TEN BACKCOURTS OF 21ST CENTURY
1. 2004-2005 Illinois Fighting Illini (5 wins)
This might be the best trio of guards in college basketball history. Going 37-2 but falling just short to one of the most potent starting fives of the modern era (UNC), the Illini’s legacy is a bit slighted. Still, it was Dee Brown, not Deron Williams, who was voted Sporting News’ National Player of the Year.
Deron Williams: 12.5 ppg, 6.8 apg
Dee Brown: 13.3 ppg, 4.5 apg, 1.8 spg (led NCAA in 3 point field goal %)
Luther Head: 15.9 ppg, 3.8 apg
2. 1999-2000 Michigan State Spartans (6 wins)
While Mateen Cleaves and Mo Pete ran the show (both were first team All-America and Big Ten Players of the Year), a freshman J-Rich and a future NBA’er Charlie Bell complemented them perfectly. And considering they all had to share minutes, this might be the deepest backcourt of all-time.
Mateen Cleaves: 12.1 ppg, 6.9 apg, 1.4 spg (all-time Big Ten assists leader)
Morris Peterson: 16.8 ppg, 6 rpg
Charlie Bell: 11.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 spg
Jason Richardson: 5.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg
3. 2000-2001 Duke Blue Devils (6 wins)
Many would say these guys were in fact #1 based on Jay Williams being the best point guard of the modern era (an undeniable fact). However, with the help of Boozer and Battier, I’ve always wondered how they managed to lose 4 regular season games. And also, I considered that Duhon as a freshman would not be able to compete with any of the guards above and that Dunleavy was never a true guard.
Jay Williams: 21.6 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2 spg
Chris Duhon: 7.2 ppg, 4.5 apg
Mike Dunleavy: 12.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg
4. 2001-2002 Maryland Terrapins (6 wins)
This backcourt duo dominated the NCAA tournament unlike any before them (their narrowest margin of victory came over UConn in the Elite 8 when they won by 8). One of the best defensive guards ever, Juan Dixon averaged 26 ppg in the tournament and was unstoppable when it mattered most. Steve Blake might have been the best pure passer of anyone on this list.
Juan Dixon: 20.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 spg
Steve Blake: 7.9 ppg, 8 apg, 1.6 spg
5. 2003-2004 St. Joseph’s Hawks (3 wins)
While their record is a little less telling considering the Atlantic 10 competition, they are the last team to go undefeated in the regular season. They were a last second John Lucas shot away from beating OSU, and considering history, this would have been unprecedented. This was before George Mason, and this was a team that had been good all season long. With no size and very little help otherwise (forgive me Pat Carroll), Nelson and West were the best small man duo of my lifetime.
Jameer Nelson: 20.6 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.7 rpg, 3 spg
Delonte West: 18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.7 apg, 51 FG%
6. 2002-2003 Marquette Golden Eagles (4 wins)
The reason they’re behind St. Joes is because of their embarrassing Final Four appearance and comparably lackluster regular season. Dwayne Wade was completely shut down by Kirk Hinrich in the Final Four and the KU backcourt of Miles, Langford, and Hinrich slaughtered the Eagles by 33 points. So one could even make a legitimate case that they weren’t the best backcourt in 2003 (I’d disagree through the sum of their parts argument)
Travis Diener: 11.8 ppg, 5.6 apg
Dwayne Wade: 21.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.2 spg
7. 2005-2006 Villanova Wildcats (3 wins)
In my humble opinion, the only guard trio that is at all comparable to the ’05 Illini. Sadly, their thus far irrelevance in the NBA overshadows their incredible body of work in college. They were knocked out of the tourney in the Elite 8 simply because of their undersized front court’s inability to slow down Florida’s Horford, Noah, and Richard (they had nobody taller than 6’7″)
Randy Foye: 20.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg
Allan Ray: 18.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg
Kyle Lowry: 11 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.3 spg
8. 2007-2008 Memphis Tigers (5 wins)
Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony are the best one-and-done’s in history. I’ve never seen a point guard control the tempo and heartbeat of a game like D-Rose. He took the Tigers to a National Championship and dismantled the stellar backcourts of Texas’ Augustin-Abrams tandem and UCLA’s Collison-Westbrook tandem in the process.
Derrick Rose: 14 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.2 rpg, 1.2 spg
Chris Douglas-Roberts: 17.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 55.4 FG%
9. 2000-2001 Arizona Wildcats (5 wins)
If they hadn’t ran into Duke in the ’01 National Championship, they would have had the most dominating tournament run of any I’ve ever seen. They cruised through their regional and won by no less than 10 points in every game except a nail-biter against the Frank Williams, Corey Bradford, Brian Cook-led Illini in the Elite 8. They had a great front court as well which hurts their legacy (Michael Wright, Loren Woods, Luke Walton)
Jason Gardner: 11.0 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg
Gilbert Arenas: 16.2 ppg, 1.9 spg
Richard Jefferson: 11.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg
10. 1999-2000 Ohio State Buckeyes (1 win)
The reason Scoonie and Redd are included here is because the year prior (’98-’99) they went to the Final Four. They choked hard against Miami (FL) in the first year of the decade but still remained the most formidable Big Ten backcourt in history (statistically). The most impressive thing about these two was that Ohio State had 5 losing seasons before Redd and Penn came in and took them to that Final Four. The program hasn’t looked back since.
Scoonie Penn: 15.6 ppg, 4.4 apg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 spg
Michael Redd: 17.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg
2001-2002 Kansas (5 wins)
Kirk Hinrich- Keith Langford- Aaron Miles
2001-2002 Oregon (3 wins)
Luke Ridnour- Freddie Jones- Luke Jackson
2004-2005 Wake Forest (1 win)
Chris Paul- Justin Grey
2001-2002 Texas (4 wins)
T.J. Ford- Royal Ivey- Brandon Mouton
2004-2005 North Carolina (6 wins)
Raymond Felton- Rashad McCants- Jackie Manuel
2004-2005 Washington (2 wins)
Nate Robinson- Will Conroy- Brandon Roy
BACKCOURTS THAT SHOULD’VE BEEN BETTER:
2004-2005 Georgia Tech (1 win)
Will Bynum- Jarrett Jack- Mario West
*They had their entire National Championship runner-up team returning and couldn’t make any noise come tournament time.
2000-2001 Arkansas (0 wins)
Jannero Pargo- Joe Johnson
1998-1999 UCLA (0 wins)
Earl Watson- Baron Davis
*If only they had stayed for their junior seasons. And if only Baron didn’t tear his ACL his freshman year.
2003-2004 Wisconsin (1 win)
Devin Harris- Freddie Owens- Alando Tucker
*If only Bo Ryan played freshman (Tucker)…
The verdict is still out.. Share your opinion!