It's almost impossible to have great success in college basketball without offensive balance. Without a guard and a frontcourt player who can score, winning the national title isn't likely.
Connecticut won it all in 2011, but the Huskies are an outlier. They were the only team since Arizona in 1997 to win the national title without having a frontcourt player averaging in double figures. And 11 of the past 13 national titlists have had have had a guard and a frontcourt player or vice versa finish 1-2 on the team in scoring. When Arizona won in 1997, each of the top four scorers was a guard and no frontcourt player averaged in double figures.
Given that offensive balance is a key, the teams we're spotlighting should feel good about their potential success next season because they possess the top 10 outside/inside duos in the nation.
[Related: Eight guards who could become stars]
One thing to mention: Indiana, Kentucky and Louisville seem a certainty to be ranked as the top three going into next season. IU and Louisville are on this list, but Kentucky isn't. That's because UK is counting on new starters coming through at all five positions. The likelihood is high that Kentucky is going to have at least one guard and at least one frontcourt player average in double figures. The problem? We don't know who they'll be.
Teams are listed in reverse order.
The duo: G Anthony Marshall and F Mike Moser
The buzz: While Marshall is a bricklayer from 3-point range (20.6 percent in his career), he does everything else well. He is an excellent athlete who thrives in transition. He can finish at the rim, is a good rebounder and is a premium defender who averaged 12.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists last season. He will be asked to be more of a point guard next season, and that bears watching. While Marshall averaged 4.4 assists in 2011-12, he never has been asked to truly run the offense.
Moser was a revelation in his first season with the Runnin' Rebels. He did nothing in his lone season at UCLA and sat out the 2010-11 season after transferring to Vegas. But he was one of the best players in the Mountain West last season, averaging a double-double (14.0 ppg, 10.5 rpg). He took too many 3-pointers, but more than made up for it with his rebounding and defense. The wiry Moser is stronger than he looks and knows how to get to the line; he shot 163 free throws, second-most in the league.
The duo: G Brandon Triche and F C.J. Fair
The buzz: Triche is coming off a mildly disappointing season, and Fair is going to have to make the jump from reserve to key starter. But both have the talent to have big seasons in 2012-13.
Triche shoots a bit too much and would be better-served to cut back on his attempts. He has good size and is physical, but doesn't always use his size to his advantage. He is good from the line, but attempted the fewest free throws of his career last season.
Fair appears poised for a breakout season. He is a solid offensive player from about 15 feet in and does a nice job getting to the line; he shot the third-most free throws among the Orange players. Syracuse lost three of its top four scorers, and Fair seems a lock to be Syracuse's highest-scoring frontcourt player. He already is a proven rebounder.
The duo: G Joe Jackson and F Tarik Black
The buzz: Both are Memphis natives, but neither has emerged as the star he was expected to be.
Jackson has struggled with his outside shot, but is still a good all-around offensive player. He knows how to get to the line; he also knows how to convert once he gets there (83.7 percent last season). He became a better distributor as a sophomore and also cut way down on his turnovers, though he still plays out of control at times. He will be asked to be more of a scorer next season with the early departure of SG Will Barton.
Black is a physical guy who has been too content to play second fiddle to his teammates. Because of Barton's departure, that needs to change. He is too foul-prone, which cuts down on his minutes. But he uses his strength to carve out space, and he knows how to score in the low post. He also doesn't take many bad shots (68.9 percent from the floor this past season). While he has good shot-blocking skills, he needs to become a better rebounder.
The duo: G Elijah Johnson and C Jeff Withey
The buzz: Johnson finally showed signs of living up to his high school hype (he was a five-star recruit) as a junior last season. He is extremely athletic and increased his scoring average by almost seven points per game over his sophomore season. He'll be asked to do even more with the departure of Tyshawn Taylor. Johnson has the talent to be the Jayhawks' go-to scorer. He can get into the lane against anybody and needs to focus on that aspect of his game and curb his tendency to jack up 3-pointers. He is a good passer and defender.
Withey, who will be one of the few true centers in college basketball, never is going to be a gifted offensive player. But he is a heady guy and doesn't take bad shots. The departure of Thomas Robinson should mean more opportunity for Withey to score, and he should be able to average in the low to mid teens. He is a big-time defensive presence, but needs to become a tougher rebounder.
The duo: G Kenny Boynton and F/C Patric Young
The buzz: Boynton arrived at Florida as a five-star recruit and with a reputation as a big-time scorer. Frankly, though, his offense took a while to come around, but his good defense has been a surprising constant. He led the Gators in scoring this past season as a junior (15.9 ppg) and shot 40.7 percent from 3-point range; he is streaky from beyond the arc, and when he is hot, he can put up points in bunches. Boynton is athletic and thrives in transition. He should become an even bigger part of the offense with the departures of guards Bradley Beal and Erving Walker.
Young is another former five-star prospect, but the light really hasn't come on for him on the offensive end. He should benefit from being a bigger part of the offense with the losses of Beal and Walker. Young is extremely athletic and too quick for most opposing big men, but he hasn't always put his athleticism to good use on offense. While physical, he isn't as good a rebounder as he should be. He definitely will be under pressure to perform at a higher level.
The duo: G Kevin Ferrell and C Cody Zeller
The buzz: Zeller was a freshman All-America selection last season, and Ferrell has the talent to be so honored next season.
Zeller, the younger brother of former North Carolina C Tyler Zeller, had a double-double in his first college game and played well all season. He led the Hoosiers in scoring (15.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg), and his decision to stay for his sophomore season makes IU a legit threat to win its first national title since 1987. Zeller is athletic, has a nice shot and also is an effective defender.
IU needs a new point guard and Ferrell, a five-star recruit, should fit right in. Ferrell is a pass-first point guard who is quick and can get into the lane; he also can knock down mid-range jumpers. With Ferrell, IU now has everything in place for a big 2012-13 season.
4. Notre Dame
The duo: G Jerian Grant and F Jack Cooley
The buzz: Cooley didn't do much in his first two years, then blossomed into an All-Big East selection last season. He averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds (the numbers were 3.7 ppg and 3.1 rpg in 2011-12), and he did almost all his offensive damage from inside 12 feet. He's not that athletic, but he is strong and physical and does a nice job of accentuating his positives. He also averaged 1.6 blocks.
Grant redshirted in his first season, then became a big contributor as a redshirt freshman last season. He has good range but had mixed success from beyond the arc. He has good size (6-5/195) and needs to put that to better use against smaller defenders. Grant is a good passer who takes care of the ball (2.9-to-1 assist to turnover ratio) and can be an effective defender. Grant also is a good free-throw shooter, and if he becomes a bit more consistent with his 3-point shot, he should be able to average in the mid-teens next season. He and Eric Atkins will form one of the better backcourts in the nation.
3. North Carolina State
The duo: G Lorenzo Brown and F C.J. Leslie
The buzz: This is an athletic duo, for sure. Brown made big strides as a sophomore last season playing for new coach Mark Gottfried. His stats improved across the board, especially his assist total, and he played with a lot more confidence. Brown should be the best point guard in the ACC next season, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see his assist average go from 6.3 per game to more than seven.
Leslie hasn't necessarily lived up to his five-star hype out of high school, but he still has been a solid player. He played far more under control last season, becoming a more efficient offensive player and a better all-around defensive player. He knows how to get to the line; alas, he is awful from the stripe (57.3 percent for his career), but if he could nudge that into the mid 60s, he likely could average 16 or 17 points per game.
The duo: G Peyton Siva and F Chane Behanan
The buzz: Siva is jet-quick with the ball and might be the fastest point guard in the nation. His quickness allows him to into the lane – and to the rim – against anyone, but he sometimes has trouble finishing. His poor outside shooting hurts, too, as his 3-point percentage has dropped each season (it was a measly 24.6 percent last season). In addition, Siva too often is out of control, one reason he averaged 3.4 turnovers in 2011-12. Still, for all his faults, he is a good leader who understands what coach Rick Pitino wants. Pitino is tough on his point guards, but Siva can handle it. He also is a big-time defensive pest. If he can improve his outside shot, his forays to the rim become even more dangerous. As it is, opposing guards have become more and more content to let him fire away; if they are forced to guard him on the perimeter, watch him put the ball on the floor and get into the lane.
Behanan certainly wouldn't mind that, as he would be the recipient of even more Siva assists. Behanan is a bit undersized for a true power forward (he's 6 feet 6 but also 245 pounds), and while he had some growing pains last season as a freshman, he hit his stride down the stretch. He is a great low-post scorer and knows how to carve out space for himself, which also helps him on the boards. Behanan put up too many 3-pointers early last season, but that changed as the season progressed; he attempted 36 3-pointers, but just 10 attempts came after mid-January. He must improve his free-throw shooting, but he and center Gorgui Dieng are going to be tough to handle for any opposing frontcourt.
1. Ohio State
The duo: G Aaron Craft and F Deshaun Thomas
The buzz: Craft is an old-school pass-first point man. While he certainly isn't an elite offensive player, he can score and has 3-point range. He's also a good (and aggressive) on-ball defender.
The main recipient of his passes should be Thomas, a former five-star recruit who went from a 14-minute-per-game sub as a freshman in 2010-11 to a burgeoning star last season; he should be one of the top players in the nation. He can score in a variety of ways, including with the 3-pointer. He has a nice mid-range game (indeed, he could stand to hoist up fewer 3-pointers and shoot more 15-footers) and also knows how to score in the lane. He is strong yet also quick, and is effective from the line. He should flirt with averaging 20 points per game.
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