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November 6, 2009

Ranking the nation's top 10 backcourts

While it's nice to have talented big men, every coach will tell you that to go a long way in March, it's imperative that a team have a big-time backcourt.

To that end, here are the nation's 10 best backcourts this season, along with five others to watch and a look at the three best low-major groups.

Three of last season's four Final Four teams are on our list. As for the top team, well, if you've paid any attention to the preseason polls, the team atop our list won't be a surprise.

(Projected starters denoted by asterisks)

1. Kansas
KEY PLAYERS: Sherron Collins*, Xavier Henry*, Mario Little, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor[/db]*
THE BUZZ: Collins thrived last season, his first as the Jayhawks' starting point guard. He has the quickness to blow by most defenders and also the strength to finish at the rim. He's a solid outside shooter, as well. Henry, a freshman, should be a key perimeter player for KU. Taylor has the offensive skills to average in the low teens, but on a loaded KU team, he won't need to score that much. Little, Morningstar and Reed provide solid depth. Little will be expected to provide instant offense off the bench. Morningstar and Reed can shoot the 3-pointer and also do a lot of the little things.
2. Villanova
KEY PLAYERS: Dominic Cheek, Corey Fisher*, Reggie Redding*, Scottie Reynolds*, Corey Stokes*, Maalik Wayns
THE BUZZ: Reynolds is one of the best point guards in the nation, and he makes the Wildcats go. He's a solid distributor and again will average in the mid-teens in scoring. Redding is a swingman who adds toughness and defense, but he can score when he's asked. Fisher was the Big East's sixth man of the year last season and provided an offensive boost. He might come off the bench again, but he for sure will get starter's minutes. Stokes has all sorts of offensive skills, including great range. But his defense has been lacking. Cheek and Wayns were two of the nation's best high school guards last season, and despite the veteran players in front of them, they will get important minutes off the bench.
3. Michigan State
KEY PLAYERS: Chris Allen, Korie Lucious, Kalin Lucas*, Durrell Summers*
THE BUZZ: Lucas is the Spartans' leader; he became one of the nation's best point guards last season and was the biggest reason for the Spartans' long NCAA tournament run. Summers has the skills and physicality to be a star. He has good range but has lacked consistency on both ends of the court. If he has a breakout season, he and Lucas could form the best backcourt duo in the nation. Allen struggled with his shot last season, but his defense has improved. Lucious is jet-quick and should provide important backup minutes at the point.
4. Ole Miss
KEY PLAYERS: Trevor Gaskins, Zach Graham, Eniel Polynice*, Chris Warren*, Terrico White*
THE BUZZ: This group was decimated by injuries last season, with all but White and Graham missing a lot of time. Graham had surgery after the season. The flipside: The injuries enabled White to blossom into one of the best freshman guards in the nation. Coach Andy Kennedy can use a multitude of lineups with this group. Warren is super-quick and has good range. Polynice is a tough defender and rebounder. Gaskins is a threat on offense and can fill it up when he's hot.
5. California
KEY PLAYERS: Patrick Christopher*, Jorge Gutierrez, Jerome Randle*, D.J. Seeley, Brandon Smith.
THE BUZZ: Randle was a revelation last season in coach Mike Montgomery's first year at Cal. Montgomery can be demanding of his point guards, but Randle handled the role with aplomb. He can be a big-time scorer, but also did a nice job as a distributor. He has great range, and he shot better than 50 percent from the field last season, staggering considering how much he was asked to do. Christopher is an able running mate; he's a good shooter with excellent range. Gutierrez had a great freshman season and should again provide a huge spark off the bench. Seeley struggled a bit as a freshman last season, but he can shoot it.
6. Purdue
KEY PLAYERS: D.J. Byrd, Keaton Grant, Lewis Jackson*, Chris Kramer*, E'Twaun Moore*
THE BUZZ: Jackson did a superb job at the point as a freshman last season and should be even steadier this season. Moore is a talented all-around player who doesn't do anything great but does a lot of things well. Kramer is a tenacious defender. Grant has good range but his shot was off last season.
7. Oklahoma
KEY PLAYERS: Tony Crocker*, Cade Davis, Tommy Mason-Griffin*, Willie Warren*, Ray Willis
THE BUZZ: Last season, Warren deferred to Sooners big man Blake Griffin. This season, the Sooners are Warren's team. Warren should put up solid numbers and contend for Big 12 - and national - player of the year honors. Mason-Griffin is a touted freshman who will be asked to run the point. Crocker is a glue guy who should up his scoring average to more than 10 points per game this season. Davis is a solid 3-point shooter.
8. Maryland
KEY PLAYERS: Adrian Bowie*, Eric Hayes, Sean Mosley*, Greivis Vasquez*
THE BUZZ: Vasquez is one of the nation's best guards, but he has taken on too heavy a workload the past two seasons. Bowie came on late last season. A lot is expected of Mosley, a swingman, this season. Hayes can play both backcourt positions off the bench.
9. Michigan
KEY PLAYERS: Stu Douglass*, Manny Harris*, Laval Lucas-Perry*, Darius Morris, Zack Novak*, Matt Vogrich
THE BUZZ: Harris is the headliner. He is one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten, and he'll put up good numbers across the board - points, rebounds, assists, steals. There's no other standout, but there are a lot of interchangeable parts for coach John Beilein. Morris and Vogrich are freshmen who should see important minutes.
10. Connecticut
KEY PLAYERS: Donnell Beverly, Jerome Dyson*, Darius Smith, Kemba Walker*
THE BUZZ: The starting duo of Dyson and Walker is an excellent one, but depth is a question. Walker, a sophomore, has a chance to be a breakout star. Smith, a freshman, is ultra-quick and should be a defensive pest.
THREE BEST LOW-MAJOR BACKCOURTS Long Beach State/Big West (Larry Anderson*, Stephan Gilling, Greg Plater, Casper Ware*, Jesse Woodard); Oakland/Summit Conference (Blake Cushingberry, Ledrick Eackles, Johnathon Jones*, Drew Maynard, Larry Wright*); Sam Houston State/Southland Conference (Corey Allmond*, Ashton Mitchell*, Drae Murray, Lance Pevehouse).

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

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