Jerel McNeal: The Best in the Country?

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Jerel McNeal: The Best in the Country?

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Quick, name the top five players in college basketball.

Done yet?

I'm willing to bet those lists contained a lot of Griffin's and Harden's; a number Curry's and Hansbrough's; probably quite a few Lawson's and Thabeet's thrown in there as well.

Well, what if I asked you who the best guard in the country was? Besides those already mentioned, I'm sure that a lot of you brought a Flynn, a Collison, or a Teague into the conversation.

How many people considered Jerel McNeal for either category?

Well, maybe it is time you all started to.

McNeal, a senior is having his best season at Marquette, which is all the more impressive considering he is a two-time second team all Big East performer. After going for 16 points, four boards, and three dimes against Rutgers on Wednesday, McNeal is averaging a career high 18.0 ppg to go with 4.6 rpg and 3.5 apg.

So why should McNeal be considered among the nation's best this season when he couldn't even crack the first team in his own conference last year (remember, the Big East puts 11 guys on their first team)?

Sure, his scoring is up a bit this year, but isn't that to be expected from a senior? His rebounding and assists numbers have been pretty consistent from day one. He has always been a fantastic defender. He won the 2007 Big East Defensive Player of the Year and probably would have been a repeat winner had there not been that tall guy on UConn.

In fact, you could argue he is worse defensively as his steal and block numbers are down this year.

So I ask again: What is so great about McNeal this season?

Before this year, as good as McNeal was, he was not a complete player. He could get to the rim and score, he could find open teammates, he could lock down an opposing teams best perimeter player, but he was not a consistent shooter.

Saying that has changed would be an understatement. McNeal is now one of the best shooters in the conference.

Don't believe me? Look at the numbers. He is shooting 46% from deep while making more than two three's per game. He has already made a career high 37 three's this season, which included Sunday's 7-7 performance against Cincinnati.

Six times in Marquette's 16 games this season, McNeal has made three or more three-pointers. He had accomplished that six times in three years prior to this season. He's also shooting 49.5% from the floor and 78.9% from the line, both well above his previous career highs.

The writing was on the wall for this kind of improvement. Over the last six games of last season (which includes the Big East and NCAA tournaments), McNeal went on a tear. He averaged 23 ppg and 6.2 rpg. A 30% three point shooter on the season, McNeal was 14-33 from beyond the arc in his last six games, a 42% clip.

Choosing the best player at any position in any sport is always going to end up in a debate or an argument. How do you define "best"? Scoring? Defense? Team player?

I would define the "best", at least for me, as the guy that I would want the most if I were going to be coaching a college team. Not NBA Draft potential, not all-american accolades, not how media friendly the player is. Plain and simple—who would I want the most?

Now the question becomes what do I look for in a shooting guard. I would want a guy that can shoot, but that can also get the ball to the rim. A guy that is a lock down defender (big enough to guard a two or three, quick enough to guard a point), but can also slide over and handle the point if necessary. I would want a guy with great athleticism, toughness, and the moxie to knock down a big shot in a big moment.

Name someone that better fits that profile than Jerel McNeal.

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