Michigan's elite backcourt

Why Wolverines' guard play is nation's best, and what it means for title hopes

Updated: January 24, 2013, 10:00 AM ET
By Miles Simon | ESPN Insider
Nik StauskasBrad Penner-USA TODAY SportsMichigan guard Nik Stauskas, a 3-point specialist, is just one part of a loaded backcourt.

In evaluating national championship contenders every season, I always start by looking at how good a team's backcourt is. A team needs to have great guard play in order to make a run in the tournament, because truly great big men -- ones who are effective playing with their backs to the basket -- are hard to find in today's game.

Guards are controlling the game now more than they ever have. Teams are utilizing dribble-drive offenses, allowing guards to break defenders down playing one-on-one, and there is a ball screen nearly every time down the floor. An elite-level guard can carry a team on his back for two, three or four games in a one-and-done setting (see: Kemba Walker) because they have so much control over the basketball.

So it should come as no surprise that the team with the best backcourt in the nation -- the Michigan Wolverines -- is on my short list of title contenders. Let's take a look at what makes their guard play so good, both individually and collectively, ahead of their Thursday night home matchup against Purdue (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).