What does it take to win a National Championship? Well if history has taught us anything, it’s the right combination of star power, defense and great role players. The team that has the most physical talent or future NBA players doesn’t always come out on top (2005 UConn and 1993 Michigan are just two examples). What is certain is that championship teams are cohesive groups that mesh well together. Take the 2002 Maryland Terrapins, the first team ever to win a title without having a single McDonald’s All-American player on its roster. The Terps had a fantastic backcourt with Steve Blake and Juan Dixon, interior bangers in Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox, a hustle guy in Byron Mouton, and of course great role players coming off the bench like Drew Nicholas and Tahj Holden.
That is what a basketball team is supposed to look like. Maryland could hurt opponents in a variety of ways. They could play at an up-tempo pace, common amongst ACC teams. But with the size and talent they had inside, the Terps were able to be effective in half court sets as well. Of course let’s not forget the defensive presence this team possessed as well. Dixon was a perimeter presence, swiping nearly three steals per game, while Baxter took care of work inside, blocking over two shots per game. With this blueprint of a solid, cohesive team in mind that is able to win on both ends of the floor, here is a look at what the ultimate team made up of today’s stars would look like.
Point Guard – Drew Neitzel
This was a very difficult pick with the likes of D.J. Augustine, Ty Lawson and Derrick Rose available; there are a few things that separate the Michigan State senior from the pack though. While a point guard’s primary responsibility is to distribute the ball to his teammates, it is also important to protect the basketball as well. So while Neitzel’s 4.5 assists per game may be outdone by Augustine and Lawson, no one comes close to the seniors ridiculous 3.25 assist to turnover ratio. Clearly Neitzel does much more good than bad when the ball is in his hands.
Efficiency is also a staple of great point guards. Neitzel attempts just over ten shots per game which puts him right around the same average as Lawson and Rose, and much less than Augustine who is the Longhorns top scorer. Neitzel is also far and away the best perimeter shooter of the bunch, knocking down better than 41% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Above all else though, Neitzel is a hard nosed competitor with loads of experience, more than can be said for the three underclassmen mentioned in this argument. The four-year Spartan has been an integral part of Tom Izzo’s team since the minute he step foot on campus and has proven to be a big time clutch performer.
Shooting Guard – Eric Gordon
So after going on and on about the value of experience at the point guard spot, we have a freshman running the two-guard. Well sometimes talent is just flat out better than experience. In Gordon you have a player that not only can kill you in transition and in half court sets, but also a great defender who brings length and hard work to the other side of the ball.
If you are looking for a dynamic athlete at the off-guard spot, you really can’t do much better than Gordon. At 6’4” he is a big, strong player, who can elevate with anyone in the country and finish with great ability in the lane. He is a tremendously dynamic finisher when he gets out into the open floor. If you’re stuck playing a team that likes to slow things down though, no need to worry, Gordon is one of the best shooters at the collegiate level. He has legitimate NBA range, and while he is knocking down over 41% of his triple attempts, he can kill defenders by pulling up on them from mid-range too.
Defensively you love to see guys that will get after it and Gordon brings that intensity. He averages nearly 1.5 steals per game and close to a block per game thanks to his tremendous athleticism and great instincts. The only real knock against Gordon is his .71 assist to turnover ratio, but playing along Drew Neitzel should alleviate those problems.
Small Forward – Marcus Dove
This pick will probably leave a lot of you confused. Remember, the best “team” isn’t always comprised of the very best players at every position, it is made up of different components that work well together. This group already possesses a tremendous amount of offensive talent in the backcourt, now it needs some defense. In Dove you are getting the best perimeter defender in college. At 6’9”, having a great wingspan, and solid quickness, the Oklahoma State senior is an absolute nightmare for opposing perimeter players. Every team needs their lock down defender; here is possibly the best one around.
An added bonus is Dove’s developing offensive output. In his previous three years, Dove was all but useless as an offensive player, serving mainly to help move the ball around and screen for teammates. Now though, Dove has become more aggressive taking the ball to the basket, has improved his touch around the rim, and even started to develop somewhat of a post up game to make him more of a versatile scorer.
Power Forward – Michael Beasley
Is there anyway Beasley doesn’t make this team? No. We’re trying to build a versatile and with Beasley you get that. He is a physical specimen that can run the floor very well for a big man. He is equally capable of destroying defenders with his back to the basket, or facing up and breaking them down that way. The numbers speak for themselves: 25.2 points, 12.3 rebounds, and oh yea he can knock down three-pointers at a 43.6% clip.
What adding Beasley to this team does is several things though. First and foremost it brings a tremendous rebounder to the floor. No team is going to be effective if it isn’t winning the battle on the boards, or at least keeping it close. In Beasley you get the best rebounder in the country, an absolute monster who has a motor that won’t quit. You now have a scoring presence inside. Very few teams have been successful over the long run by simply relying on backcourt play, you need some kind of a scoring option in the frontcourt. Last but certainly not least though, Beasley is a fantastic defensive presence in the paint. At nearly two blocks per game and more than a steal per game, he is a force to be reckoned with for opposing offenses.
Center – Jason Thompson
Again, this was a difficult decision and one that will leave some people scratching their heads. I said we wanted a team that could play up-tempo basketball, and in Thompson you get a legitimate center (we’re not just going to insert a power forward here) who can run the floor very well. Some may question how good of a player he actually is since the majority of his competition is the in the MAAC, but in contests this season against Kansas State, NC State and Penn State, the senior posted averages of better than 20 points and 10 rebounds.
Thompson adds another scoring presence inside, a strong rebounder, excellent shot blocker (nearly three per game) and gives you a player who knows how to work well within a team system. Again he is another post player that can be equally effective running the floor as he can be when the offense slows down.
Carroll is an ideal scoring threat to come off the bench for this team. He is one of the best shooters in college basketball and would bring instant offense any time he stepped on the floor.
What isn’t there to like about the junior if you’re a coach? Hansbrough is not only the hardest working player in the game, he possesses and extremely high basketball IQ as well. He plays very well within the parameters of the team, and is the workhorse that every team needs.
If you need a mismatch, this is the player you want. Greene is a freakish athlete with a tremendous amount of upside. At 6’10” but able to play out on the perimeter he creates all kinds of problems for opposing defenses.