Ranking the nation's best defenses

Louisville senior guard Russ Smith is arguably the best on-ball defender in the country. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are many ways to define an elite defensive team. Is it points per game? Is it points per 100 possessions? Is it defensive field goal percentage or adjusted field goal percentage? Is it points off of turnovers or the number of transition points allowed?

For me, it's about more than numbers. It's about getting the offense to react to you and about the ability to take away the best opposing player.

Great defensive teams control the pace of the game. They are difficult to prepare for and make it hard for the offense to play in a comfort zone. Not all defenses have the same philosophy; some deny, and others shrink the court.

Let's look at my early picks for the top five defensive teams in the country this season.

1. Louisville Cardinals

Rick Pitino's Cardinals are unique defensively because they have multiple personalities. They can extend their defense and give you different looks out of their press, as well as different looks out of their half-court defense. Sometimes just getting the ball inbounded is a chore. Other times it is a random double-team to an uncontrolled ball handler.

In the half court, Louisville's matchup zone is a difficult riddle to solve, especially when complemented with a stifling man-to-man and an occasional extended 2-3 zone. The matchup and 2-3 zone enable Pitino to hide players who struggle defending the ball. The result is a team that scored 22.2 points per game off turnovers while holding opponents to 87.1 points per 100 possessions.

This year's Louisville team will be void of an elite shot-blocker, but backcourt depth, athleticism and length will enable the Cardinals to press even more effectively. Russ Smith puts great pressure on the ball, and his anticipation off the ball is elite. He, along with juco transfer Chris Jones, will set the tone. If Kevin Ware recovers, this will be as good an on-ball defensive team as there is in the country. Although Louisville will be missing one of the best rim protectors in Gorgui Dieng, it does have powerful and active Chane Behanan and hard-playing, freakishly long Montrezl Harrell.