20 Questions: Who is the Best Defensive Player in College Basketball?Posted by dnspewak on November 1st, 2011
Danny Spewak is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference and a Big 12 microsite staffer.
Question: Who is the Best Defensive Player in College Basketball?
Measuring the top defender is a near-impossible task in almost every sport. Offensively, you’re golden once you take a few glances at the right statistics. The top quarterbacks in the NFL throw the most touchdowns and complete the most passes; the top players in college basketball score the most points and make the most shots; and the top hitters in baseball collect the most hits and drive in the most runs. It’s a a very simplistic way to look at the world, of course. But it’s true. Arguing who the best offensive players are in every sport, including college basketball, are easy, straightforward discussions.
But defense? That’s a whole other story. Do you measure the top defenders by blocks? Steals? Or is it deflections, opponent’s field goal percentage or some other hidden statistic only understood by sabermaticians?
The point is, selecting the nation’s top defender is a subjective task based on a variety of criteria. Most of all, it’s based on the individual impressions we form of players as we watch them compete, whether live or on television. For example, the statistics showed that Jimmer Fredette led the NCAA in scoring last season and shot 40 percent from behind the arc. But Old Dominion’s Kent Bazemore won the Defensive Player of the Year award but did not even finish in the top 15 nationally in steals per game.
ODU’s Bazemore is certainly a candidate for this honor again, but we’re going to go in a different direction here. Our choice for the best defensive player in the country is Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor, a 6’7” forward with a multitude of assets on both ends of the floor. In his three years at Vandy, Taylor has gotten the opportunity to shut down players as varied as Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Missouri’s Kim English, and many others. He has proven that he won’t back down from any defensive challenge, and he’s got the strength and versatility to match up with any collegiate position Kevin Stallings needs covered.
Although strong, quick and athletic, it’d be unfair to attribute Taylor’s defensive prowess solely to his natural gifts, though. Plenty of players around the country can run and jump like Taylor can, but not many have his commitment to get after it on the less fun end of the floor. He has a great understanding of the angles and holes of team defense, but make no mistake, Taylor will individually guard your best player and make his life miserable for 32 minutes per game. He won’t amass a lot of steals (35 last season) and he won’t block a lot of shots (19), but like the very best wing defenders of our time — the Bruce Bowens, Ron Artests, etc. — he doesn’t need to fill up the stat sheet to be effective.
Most NBA scouts are smart enough to know this, too. Taylor is considered an elite pro prospect mostly because of his defensive capabilities. With prototypical NBA size and athleticism for the wing position, it’s not his average scoring ability or his decent jumper that excites the talent evaluators — rather, it’s his careful execution of fundamental defensive principles such as getting low in his stance, moving his feet to beat his defender to a spot, and extending his wingspan out to harass and deter passing lanes. Taylor is a solid scorer and rebounder for an SEC wing, but that hardly matters: When you can control a game from the defensive end like Taylor can, you’ll fit in with any NBA team. Consider players like Xavier’s Tu Holloway, Louisville’s Peyton Siva, Florida’s Mike Rosario, Kentucky’s Michael Gilchrist-Kidd, and Ole Miss’ Jelan Kendrick to be put on notice — if Vandy decides to have Taylor cover you later this season, expect a long and frustrating night on the offensive end.