Offense wins games, defense wins championships – and the numbers back it up.
Houston, which is expected to be the newly-minted No. 1 team in the nation if the Cougars (23-2) can get by Memphis this weekend, is the top-ranked defensive team in the country, holding opponents to just 55 points per game this season.
Last year’s Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, Walker Kessler, helped lead Auburn to an outright SEC title. The year before that, Davion Mitchell earned the award, guiding Baylor to its first national championship in program history.
The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award is wide open this season, with a number of deserving candidates.
Here’s a look at the top choices to take home this year’s award, separated into tiers.
Andy Katz’s best defensive players in college basketball
FOX Sports’ Andy Katz shares his three tiers of the best defensive players in college basketball, headlined by Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis.
Tier 1: The best of the best
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana: Jackson-Davis has become a great rebounder and shot blocker, and he never gives up on the play. The senior forward is averaging 11.3 boards and three blocks per game, ranking in the top five nationally in both categories.
Zach Edey, Purdue: This is the one award Jackson-Davis might get over Edey. The 7-foot-4 big man probably alters as many shots as he blocks. Teams have to game plan around Edey whenever he’s on the floor, which is the sign of a dominant defensive player.
Moussa Cisse, Oklahoma State: The Big 12 is loaded with talent, and Cisse leads the conference in both rebounding (8.3) and blocked shots (2.1). The 7-foot-1, 216-pound junior knows his role for the surging Cowboys.
Jaylen Clark, UCLA: Clark has been one of the anchors of the Bruins defense. The 6-foot-5 junior guard is a lock-down defender, averaging 2.7 steals per game. He is constantly in sync with coach Mick Cronin.
Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky: Tshiebwe is still the most imposing player in the country, aside from Edey. The reigning AP National Player of the Year leads the nation in rebounding (13.3) and can cause havoc on the defensive end.
Tier 2: Next in line
Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton: Kalkbrenner will swat away shots from the strong and weak side. The 7-foot-1 junior big man leads the Big East in blocks per game (2.3). If the Bluejays make a run in this year’s NCAA Tournament, he will be the main reason.
Marcus Sasser, Houston: It’s hard to pick just one player from one of the best defensive teams in the country, but Sasser is the defensive leader for the Cougars. The senior guard gets it done on both sides of the floor, leading the Cougars in scoring (16.4) and steals (1.7).
Chase Audige, Northwestern: The Wildcats’ defensive 180 this season is due to the hiring of assistant coach Chris Lowery. Audige has bought into the assignment of picking up the opposing team’s top guard.
Zakai Zeigler, Tennessee: Zeigler can be a real pest on the defensive side of the court. The Volunteers sophomore guard averages two steals per game, which is tied for second in the SEC.
Caleb McConnell, Rutgers: McConnell won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors last season. He might not win it again this year, but he’s still a great lock-down defender.
Tier 3: Don’t seem on ’em
Adrian “Ace” Baldwin, VCU: Baldwin leads the Rams’ defense, which ranks in the top 30 nationally in points allowed per game (62.9). The 6-foot-1, 190-pound guard averages 2.3 steals per game.
Jamarion Sharp, Western Kentucky: Sharp is a shot-blocking machine, averaging over four blocks per game. The reason he won’t win the award is because the Hilltoppers are struggling and are in the bottom half of Conference USA.
Shakeel Moore, Mississippi State: The Bulldogs lean heavily on Moore’s defense presence. The 6-foot-1 junior guard averages two steals per game for Mississippi State.
Liam Robbins, Vanderbilt: Robbins is the leading scorer (14.7), rebounder (6.6) and shot blocker (3.0) for the rising Commodores. He probably alters as many shots as he blocks.
Cason Wallace, Kentucky: The Wildcats’ ability to make a late run in the SEC will depend on how good the team’s defense is. Wallace is the leader of the defense with his ability to pester and steal the ball.
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