Going into next season, I think one thing is about as close to certain as possible: that UK is going to have the strongest and most talented frontcourt in the nation. And that’s all fine and dandy, but without good guard play a team really has no chance of making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Fortunately for the Cats, though, they’ve got some pretty good guards too. Not only will the Cats have more experience at guard than they’ve ever had with Cal, but they are also a deeper unit with five guards that are going to help the Cats win a game at one point or another.
Kentucky isn’t going to be the only team with strong guards, though, as all around the country there are talented ball clubs with fantastic guard play. Let’s look around at some of those teams to see how they stack up to the talent and depth that the Cats possess.
Key Returners: Fred Van Vleet, Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton
Notable Incomers: None
The Shockers may have lost stud forward Cleanthony Early, but the starting backcourt that they return is downright nasty. Van Vleet is one of the smoothest point guards at the college level with his ability to pick apart a defense at will. Meanwhile, Ron Baker has transformed into a borderline NBA prospect with his do-a-little-bit-of-everything type of game. They’re experienced, they can shoot, and they’re incredibly smart. Tekele Cotton also adds some depth to the backcourt and adds an ability to score the ball effectively.
Compared to UK: Honestly, you couldn’t go wrong when deciding between either Van Vleet/Baker or the Harrison twins for a starting backcourt. The thing that separates the two units in my opinion is how deep UK is at guard with strong and talented backups for both twins (Ulis/Booker), and a more-than-capable third combo guard option in Dominique Hawkins. Both backcourts have the pedigree, but the Cats are just a little more talented and deeper at the position.
Key Returners: Nick Moore, Keith Frazier
Notable Incomers: Emmauel Mudiay
A returning tandem of Nick Moore and Keith Frazier is nice and all, but the real gem of this backcourt is incoming freshman Emmanuel Mudiay. Not only is Mudiay regarded by many as the most talented incoming point guard in the class, but I’ve seen Mudiay’s name associated as the top overall player in the class of 2014. Mudiay is a big physical guard that will wonderfully complement the smaller Nic Moore. Also, look for former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier to take a big step up in his game next year. The soon-to-be sophomore was pretty effective in his limited playing time, scoring 5.4 points per game and grabbing 1.8 rebounds per game in just 15 minutes of action.
Compared to UK: Talent wise, this is one of the best backcourts in the country. The trio that they have should help SMU contend for the American Athletic Conference championship, and help them potentially contend for a second weekend berth in the NCAA tournament. Problem is, they aren’t anymore talented than the Cats are, nor are they as deep as Kentucky.
Key Returners: Ryan Boatright
Notable Incomers: Rodney Purvis (transfer), Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassel Jr. (JUCO)
Ryan Boatright is back for seemingly his 10th year, and he’s going to try to do his best Shabazz Napier/Kemba Walker impression for this young Huskie team. The reason UConn’s guard play should be strong, though, is because of the wealth of incoming talent they have. Rodney Purvis is an uber-athletic transfer from NC State who should immediately bring another dynamic to the Huskie offense. Not only he is an elite-athlete, as he can really shoot the ball from deep as well. Daniel Hamilton is another talented guard coming in who can really score the ball in multiple ways, as he can use his 6’6” stature to shoot above most other shooting guards. Finally, hopefully the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree as Sam Cassel Jr. will add depth to an already strong backcourt.
Compared to UK: The reigning national champions will surely miss Shabazz Napier, but the incoming players will somewhat help alleviate the loss. If Ryan Boatright can make smart decisions and work within the system with Purvis then UConn has a chance to boast a top-3 backcourt next season. Again, though, they just don’t have the talent and depth that Kentucky has as UK can go bigger with the twins, smaller with Ulis and Booker, or somewhere in between.
Key Returners: Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Matt Jones
Notable Incomers: Tyus Jones, Grayson Allen
If you are looking for the most complete backcourt in the country, it may be Duke’s. Both Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones are going to be tough floor generals for the Blue Devils, while Rasheed Sulaimon (assuming he doesn’t do the whole disappearing act again) and Grayson Allen spread the floor allowing for easy drives for their point guards. It’ll take about ten minutes for Grayson Allen to become Duke’s most hated player next year, as he has drawn comparisons (albeit bold one’s) to former Duke legend JJ Redick. If he can do any sort of Redick impersonation next year then Duke’s backcourt will be incredibly scary.
Compared to UK: In the entire country, Duke’s backcourt is the only one that can go toe-to-toe with Kentucky’s in all aspects. They have the talent with five McDAA’s, they can shoot the lights out, they can drive and they’re just all around good basketball players. Picking between Duke’s and Kentucky’s backcourt is incredibly tough and you honestly couldn’t go wrong with either of them.
Who else do you think will pose as a tough backcourt next year? UNC? Wisconsin? Florida?