Power Ranking Brandon Paul and the Big Ten's Shooting Guards

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistJune 29, 2012

Power Ranking Brandon Paul and the Big Ten's Shooting Guards

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    Pictured is a highlight from the Big Ten's only 40-point individual game last season. Brandon Paul (No. 3 for Illinois) dropped 43 points in an Illini victory over Ohio State that stands as the final true highlight of Illinois' season.

    Shooting guard is, by its name and definition, a position for players with the confidence that they can score every time down the court. Brandon Paul certainly possesses that confidence in spades, but can he back it up?

    How many Big Ten 2-guards can do their jobs more effectively than Paul? Read on and discuss.

12. Ben Brust, Wisconsin

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    Is it unfair to categorize Ben Brust as a one-trick pony, a mere gunner who likes to spot up at 20 to 22 feet and take his three-pointers all night?

    The fact that 64.2 percent of his shots were from deep last season says no. So does his 41-percent mark from inside the arc, only a couple of points better than his three-point success rate.

    Wisconsin's coaching staff had to counsel Brust on slowing his game down and expanding beyond the three last season. If the coaches are taking notice and speaking on it publicly, there must be a problem.

    When Brust is on, he's unstoppable, as his combined 14-for-17 nights against UNLV and BYU showed. When he's off, he can cost the Badgers games, as shown in his 1-of-9 in a loss to Iowa on New Year's Eve.

    If Bo Ryan trusts George Marshall to run the point, Josh Gasser can remain at the two and Brust will resume his place on the bench as a shooting specialist. If Gasser needs to take the reins, however, Brust may be the most potent option to run alongside him.

11. Dylan Talley, Nebraska

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    Dylan Talley came up large in one of Nebraska's bigger games last season. This season, he'll need to do it every night.

    With the Huskers losing five of their top seven scorers from 2011-12, Talley is the returning leader at 8.9 points per game.

    When Nebraska knocked off the 11th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers in Lincoln on January 18, Talley was huge in erasing the Huskers' 11-point deficit in the final six minutes. He recorded seven points and three big offensive rebounds during that time, plus the 6'5" guard blocked a Matt Roth three-pointer that would have given IU a six-point lead with one minute left.

    Talley took more than half of his shots from behind the arc last season, shooting a respectable 37 percent from deep, but only 45 percent from two-point range. Also sporting a strong 82-percent free throw rate, Talley could score 15 points a night if he sets his mind to attack the basket and get to the stripe more often.

10. Jermaine Marshall, Penn State

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    Jermaine Marshall's sophomore season could have been much worse, considering the way it started.

    In October 2011, Marshall was suspended for violating team rules, his future with the Penn State program in serious doubt. Scared sufficiently straight, Marshall endured an up-and-down season in his first year of extensive playing time.

    His performance veered from a 7-for-34 (20.6 percent) shooting stretch in January to a 27-point, eight-rebound effort in the regular-season finale against Michigan. For the season, he shot 38.8 percent from the floor, a figure that must improve.

    For his 6'4", 190-pound frame, Marshall is a surprisingly adept rebounder. He had a three-game non-conference stretch in which he ripped 24 boards, and his 16.3 percent defensive rebounding rate placed in the Big Ten's top 20.

    In the 24 games from November 30 to March 4, Marshall scored in double digits 19 times. If he can improve his shooting consistency, Marshall could become a very solid complement to All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier.

9. Terone Johnson, Purdue

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    Let's get it out of the way immediately: Terone Johnson is a hideous free-throw shooter. 43.5 percent from the line is a definite red flag, especially for a player who's expected to be one of his team's top ballhandlers and scorers next season.

    There have been signs of improvement, though.

    In Purdue's last eight games, all double-figure scoring nights for Johnson, the 6'2" guard made 22 of his 38 foul shots, a 57.9 percent clip. Still bad, but just less so.

    Johnson had to adapt late in the season to an increased role after Kelsey Barlow was dismissed from the team, and the first post-Barlow game was a disaster for all concerned. Johnson shot 1-of-8 from the floor in a 14-point loss to Michigan State.

    After that, though, the aforementioned final eight games saw Johnson put in solid work for the Boilers. He shot 57 percent from the floor, averaging 15 points, four rebounds and three assists.

    There should be great chemistry between Terone and his new point guard, since it's his little brother Ronnie coming in to run the team. Terone should be capable of being a 15-point per game scorer all season, if only he can make enough free throws to keep "Hack-a-rone" from becoming a profitable defensive strategy for Purdue's opponents.

8. Austin Hollins, Minnesota

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    The versatility of the Minnesota backcourt will make it highly difficult for opponents to defend next season.

    The Gophers will sport two highly capable point guards alongside 2-guard Austin Hollins, who is a fair distributor himself. Hollins had six games of five or more assists last season, peaking with a 12-point, seven-rebound, six-dime effort against Northwestern.

    Still, shooting guards are measured by their scoring ability, and Hollins wasn't called upon to dominate many games by shooting. Only three times did he score more than 15 points, but in those games, Hollins kept shooting because he was rolling.

    Against Indiana, Michigan State and LaSalle, Hollins scored a total of 51 points on 19-of-29 shooting, including 6-of-12 from long range. While not often spectacular, his shooting was steady, with a .450/.370/.815 percentage line.

    Hollins is often called upon as a defensive stopper, peaking in the NIT semifinals when he helped hold Washington's Tony Wroten to a wretched 4-for-16 shooting night. Granted, Wroten rarely needs help to have a bad shooting night, but that's a different story.

    With Trevor Mbakwe returning as an offensive focus, Hollins will be the object of even less defensive attention. His raw scoring numbers may not impress by season's end, but look for him to produce on both ends when the Gophers need him to do so.

7. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa

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    Roy Devyn Marble hasn't had to be a dominant scorer yet, but he has been dangerous at times. His 31-point night against Oregon in the second round of the NIT was only the second time all season he'd broken 20 points.

    With Hawkeye veteran Matt Gatens gone next season, Marble may be first in line to make up the slack left by Gatens' 10 shot attempts and 15 points per game. Marble was only held to single-figure scoring three times in Iowa's last 18 games, showing the kind of improvement his team needed from him.

    Part of the value of a player like Marble is that he often seems to do his best all-around work when he has his worst shooting nights. A 4-for-17 February night against Indiana was certainly not one to write home about, but Marble added seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals to help Iowa to an upset victory.

    The following game against Wisconsin was another victory, one in which Marble shot 3-for-10. His six first-half assists helped give the Hawkeyes a nine-point halftime lead that they would never relinquish.

    Marble recorded 11 games of five-plus rebounds and 11 more with five or more assists. His ability to run the point, play the two or even slide into a small forward position in a small-ball lineup make him one of the Big Ten's more versatile players.

    He'll need to improve on his 47-percent effective field goal rate, and if he does, expect him to take Gatens' place as the Hawkeyes' top gun.

6. Brandon Paul, Illinois

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    Brandon Paul's 43-point explosion against Ohio State made national headlines, primarily for the sheer volume of points scored in one night. A deeper examination, though, shows that the game was noteworthy for a less auspicious reason.

    Paul's 11-of-15 shooting night was the first time all season that he had shot better than 50 percent in a game. It wasn't a harbinger of things to come, either.

    Paul only had three games above 50 percent the rest of the way, and when he did score in bulk, it was usually because he shot in bulk. In his six 20-point games aside from torching the Buckeyes, Paul averaged 15 shot attempts, compared to less than 11 in his other games.

    Granted, his 43.3 percent shooting in those 20-point nights was a marked improvement over his 39.2 season figure, but then there's also the 4.5 turnovers per game in his 20-point nights. Paul was trying to do way too much, and that was with first-round draft pick Meyers Leonard on the roster.

    Look for Paul to continue chipping paint off rims everywhere, even in the face of persistent double teams. If new coach John Groce can't get Paul to move the rock more efficiently, it'll be a long season in Champaign.

5. Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State

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    Lenzelle Smith had only nine double-digit scoring games last season, a byproduct of being the fourth option in the Ohio State offense.

    But there was one game that showed Buckeye fans what they had to look forward to once Jared Sullinger and William Buford left.

    Smith torched Indiana for 28 points and seven rebounds, missing only two shots all night.

    Lest anyone think he was a mere one-hit wonder, Smith also produced for the Buckeyes in their NCAA regional games against Cincinnati and Syracuse, dropping a total of 33 points and earning All-East Regional honors. He dropped 16 points in the second half of the final against Syracuse after taking four stitches.

    Without Sullinger and Buford, the scoring load will lay squarely on Deshaun Thomas and Smith. Look for Smith to more than double his 6.7 points per game from last year.

4. Gary Harris, Michigan State

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    Michigan State loses totemic forward Draymond Green, and it's highly possible that the Spartans may not skip a beat. A large part of the preseason optimism in East Lansing is tied up in Indiana's Mr. Basketball, Gary Harris.

    Harris spurned schools like Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana and Purdue to sign with Spartan coach Tom Izzo. Purdue fans were particularly shattered to miss on Harris, since his mother is former Boilermaker All-American Joy Holmes.

    Harris stands 6'4", but has the ability to defend all three perimeter spots. He'll have the opportunity to fly on the break with speedy point guard Keith Appling, and those situations may be the ones that produce the lion's share of his points early on.

    Harris isn't quite a reliable three-point shooter as of yet, but he's much further along than someone like Green, who became a respected perimeter threat by the time he finished at MSU.

    Big Ten All-Freshman honors should be a minimum expectation for Harris, and it should be a minimal surprise to see him contending for full all-conference status.

3. Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan

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    Tim Hardaway Jr. started off hot last season, scoring in double figures 10 times out of 12 non-conference games and torching Penn State for 26 in Michigan's Big Ten opener.

    Around New Year's Day, though, something went off the tracks for Hardaway.

    Outside of that opener against the Nittany Lions, Hardaway shot an ugly 37.9 percent from the floor in Big Ten play. Even including that big game, the sophomore guard could only knock down 26 percent of his three-point shots.

    If he thought it was difficult getting good looks with Trey Burke, Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz surrounding him, there's no telling how the shots will be spread out with Burke returning and the Wolverines adding touted freshmen Glenn Robinson, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas.

    This ranking makes an assumption that the offense will prioritize Hardaway's production over that of the rookies, but that may be a large assumption. If Hardaway can return to the level of effectiveness he managed as a freshman, he and Burke may indeed form the Big Ten's best backcourt.

2. Jordan Hulls, Indiana

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    Jordan Hulls spent a good portion of last season operating as a point guard for Indiana, especially after the season-ending injury to Verdell Jones. It's highly possible that he may resume that post this season if McDonald's All-American Yogi Ferrell isn't ready to start from day one.

    If Ferrell is ready, though, it would be a mistake to simply ask Hulls to caddy for the rookie. Hulls has two-plus years of experience as a starter, and has been one of the Big Ten's 20 most efficient offensive players that entire time.

    A perimeter player draining 50 percent of his shots is rare in this day and age. Hulls not only managed that, but he also fell just one three-pointer short of making half of them, as well. His 49.3 percent success rate from deep ranked first in the Big Ten and second nationally.

    While a three-guard lineup of Ferrell, Hulls and Victor Oladipo would be a small one, scoring should come easily, especially with Cody Zeller for defenses to contend with inside.

    Hulls can struggle defensively, but if Tom Crean decides to help him out with aggressive trapping against dangerous guards, Hulls does have quick enough hands to increase his steals total for the fourth straight season.

1. Drew Crawford, Northwestern

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    A lofty ranking for Drew Crawford? Perhaps, especially if he can't adapt to life without John Shurna around to draw defensive attention.

    Still, Crawford has been a double-digit scorer his entire career. He was the first Wildcat ever named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and has followed an upward arc since then, culminating in a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

    He exploded for 34 points against Creighton in December, tying a record for a Creighton opponent at the CenturyLink Center. Crawford was only held to single digits five times all of last season, two of those coming against Minnesota.

    Crawford was every bit as efficient with his shot as Shurna, with both recording effective field-goal percentages of 55.9. For those who like all-around contributions, Crawford finished in the Big Ten's top 25 in rebounding, assists, steals, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.

    Barring major surges from players like JerShon Cobb or Reggie Hearn, Crawford will have to do all that and more. If he does it, he and Tim Frazier will easily headline next season's All-Hernia team.