When Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wes Matthews came on the Marquette scene 4 years ago, everyone knew they were 3 pretty good players, but who knew they’d blow up this large. To say the least, Marquette’s backcourt has been impressive this year. Drawing comparisons to great back courts of the past few years in Villanova and Illinois, they have Marquette undefeated in the Big East looking down on everyone but the dreaded Louisville Cardinals. (Are they just destined to haunt Marquette forever?) After pouring over the numbers Marquette has the look of a top 5 back court of the past 15 years. In fact, they probably would have the look of a National Championship contender also, if they had a player over 6’6 (or however tall Lazar Hayward actually is). To be clear I’ve only included teams with at least 3 guards featured heavily, mainly because I feel like that is a more effective strategy in college. When pressing works so effectively and three pointers so important, it seems like the more guards on the court the better. I can’t in good conscience rank Marquette any higher than 5th though, considering the season is not over and they haven’t played the meat of their schedule yet, so I’ll take another look after the season. It’s the only fair way to do it. So with no further ado, here are the best 3 man (or more) college backcourts of the past 15 years.
5. 2008-2009 Marquette
Everyone knows the stats by now. They average a ton of points, they’re all closing in on George Thompson (Except Matthews, damn you Tom Crean!!). These guys are serous, but the story goes on for this Marquette team. As great as their backcourt is, they could run into some serious trouble when the schedule picks up. These other back courts all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen or better, and 2 won national titles, but with at least some kind of help from the front line. Matthews McNeal, and James are all doing incredible things this year, but they cannot do it alone. If history tells us anything, Dwight Burke or Joe Fulce will need to provide something in the front and if they do this could be a very special year for Marquette. More importantly are we sure Scott Merritt doesn’t have any eligibility left? Maybe like 5 games in March?
4. 2005-2006 Villanova
Ahh yes Villanova. Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Randy Foye and…and…that white kid. About a month ago a friend of mine called me looking for the name of the white guy, the first thing that came to my mind was Steve Blake. I thought he looked like Blake, but I knew Blake was from Maryland and a lot better. I had to call someone else, the Internet got involved and we all remembered, oh yeah Mike Nardi. He’s not all that memorable, but Nardi could fill it up, he shot 40% on threes in this season. Post man Curtis Sumpter injured himself either in the end of the previous season or at the start of this one and was unavailable, making for a unique 4 guard look. Of course the real stars were the other three, with Foye emerging as leading man. Foye averaged a healthy 20.5 with Allan Ray chipping in to the tune of 18.5 per game. Lowry (who I always call Mike, then remember that is Will Smith from Bad Boys) ran the point and played the same stingy defense that has earned him playing time in the NBA. They lost in the Sweet Sixteen to eventual champion Florida, but may have done better had Allan Ray’s eye not popped out of the socket just a week before the tournament began. Yikes.
3. 1999-2000 Michigan State
Meet the Flintstones. Mateen Cleaves, Charlie Bell, and Morris Peterson will always be remembered for their name and no one will forget where they are from. They put Flint on the map during their championship run in 2000. A memorable game against Florida in the National Championship painted Mateen Cleaves as an incredibly gritty, determined leader and probably put him in the first round of the draft later that year. He took a backseat as a scorer to Morris Peterson but handed out a hefty 6.9 assists per game. Cleaves would go on to be a hall of fame towel waver in Sacramento. Peterson was money from downtown, shooting 42.5% and averaging 16.8 points per game. Bell was the same steady player he is now, playing in every game and hitting free throws and threes, while providing perimeter defense. The numbers for these guys aren’t as flashy, but National Titles never lie, they were tough. Jason Richardson was a freshman who didn’t contribute a ton, but would later be leaps and bounds better than all of the Flintstones.
2. 2004-2005 Illinois
The closest to an undefeated team many have seen in their lifetime Illinois was a Matt Sylvester miracle away from being undefeated heading into the National Championship. Alas they’d end their season with 2 losses. Most teams would be fine with 2 losses, I feel like these guys would have preferred one come at a different time though. Deron Williams, Dee Brown, and Luther Head, led a very versatile Illinois team into the National Championship game with one loss, but ran into an all time great powerhouse in North Carolina. Carolina would go on to have 4 first round picks off that team, while Illinois barely got 4 into the NBA. But rest assured 3 came from that backcourt. Williams took over in the NCAA tournament, showing serious range and clutch shooting ability, and defense. Brown was a one man show on the fastbreak, leaving everyone in the dust and Head provided lethal outside shooting.
1. 1996-1997 Arizona
Without question, THE backcourt to which all others are compared to. Marquette can look to these guys for inspiration. Arizona had a 4 man big rotation, with Eugene Edgerson being the 4th at 6’6 and full of scrap. He’d later have a hellvuan afro. Jason Terry has probably had as much practice as anyone at the role of 6th man and it started here when Mike Bibby came aboard as a freshman starter. Not that Terry could complain, as Bibby averaged 13 and 5 and made life easier for everyone else. Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon were the main scoring threats on this team at 18.9 and 18.4 points per game. Simon missed the early part of the season with an academic suspension and the ‘Cats went only 6-4 in their final 10 games. But this team just found ways to win. Even though they did not win a tournament game by more than 8, they won the National Championship. When you have great guards it gets a little easier to squeak out games at the line. Everyone but Simon later did serious damage in the NBA. On the plus side for Simon he is an all time great CBA player, and great free throw shooter.
I’d like to give a shoutout to statsheet.com. What a site. If you love college basketball or refs, go here now.