They don't always score a lot and they rarely get the glory after a big win. But college basketball coaches – and diehard fans – know that blocks and steals are often as important as dunks and 3-pointers.
The presence of an imposing defender will often steer an opponent away from the paint, and a pesky perimeter player can rattle a guard and force him into a turnover that could change the game.
Standout defensive players are strewn across the college basketball landscape. Here are a few to watch in 2011-12.
C.J. Aiken, St. Joseph's, sophomore – Aiken had nine blocks last season against La Salle and George Washington and seven against Villanova, Rhode Island and Fordham – and he was only a freshman. Look for the 6-foot-9 Aiken to be force one season after ranking third in the country in blocks (3.5) in 2010-11.
Kent Bazemore, Old Dominion, senior – Bazemore is a key reason the Monarchs have been to the NCAA tournament the last two seasons. The menacing defender averaged 1.9 steals as a sophomore and 2.2 as a junior against some high-quality competition in the CAA.
Reginald Buckner, Ole Miss, junior – The 6-foot-8 Buckner was one of the lone bright spots for a Rebels squad that missed the NCAA tournament yet again last season. He averaged 2.9 blocks and stuffed a combined 15 shots in two games against Arkansas. Bucker averaged two blocks the previous season.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State, sophomore – Although he was often overshadowed by teammate David Lighty, Craft, a point guard, was regarded as one of the top defenders in the Big Ten as a freshman last season. He made the league's all-defensive team after averaging two steals per contest and should do even better this season.
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State, junior – A few thunderous slam dunks earned Cunningham a spot on national highlight reels last season. But his calling card has always been defense. Cunningham averaged 2.8 steals per game last season. No other player from a Big Six conference averaged more.
David Foster, Utah, senior – At 7 feet 3 and 255 pounds, Foster is one of the biggest players in all of college basketball. He doesn't score much, as evidenced by his 2.9-point average last season. But he blocked 3.2 shots and grabbed 5.2 rebounds per game despite playing an average of just 20.3 minutes.
John Henson, North Carolina, junior – Several media outlets tabbed Henson as the national defensive player of the year following a sophomore season in which he blocked 3.1 shots per game. The long, lanky junior likely would've been a high first-round pick had he entered the NBA draft.
T.J. McConnell, Duquesne, sophomore – The Dukes made huge strides last season by finishing 19-13 overall and 10-6 in the Atlantic 10. McConnell was one of the main reasons. He averaged 2.8 steals and had five against West Virginia and Pittsburgh. The well-rounded McConnell also averaged 4.4 assists.
William Mosley, Northwestern State, senior – It'd be tough not to include last season's NCAA blocks leader on this list. The 6-foot-7 Mosley swatted 4.9 shots per game for the Demons and had double-digit blocks on three occasions. Mosley averaged 3.4 blocks the previous season.
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga, senior – Not many players in college basketball are as physically imposing as the 7-foot, 260-pound Sacre. He's averaged nearly two blocks per game the last two seasons. His presence alone is enough to make an opponent think twice before entering the paint.