Predicting the Leading Scorer in Every Major College Basketball Conference

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2013

Predicting the Leading Scorer in Every Major College Basketball Conference

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    There's more to being a college basketball conference's leading scorer than taking daring drives to the basket. There's more than just hitting a three-pointer or six.

    Scoring ability is important, but it has to meet opportunity. Some of the nation's top scorers last season made it a habit to bomb up shots that would have most coaches yanking them from the game in an apoplectic rage.

    The guys who managed 18 PPG and up, though, had coaches who invited them to do what they do.

    Fall into a slump? Shoot your way out of it.

    Hit a hot streak? Your coach isn't even thinking about calling a timeout. Leave that for the other bench.

    In the power conferences, there are talented scorers galore, but these guys should be the best of the best.

American: Russ Smith, Louisville

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    Russ Smith took 560 shots last season, which is good for fifth-most in America. And that was with a steady senior point guard in charge of orchestrating the offense.

    It's highly possible that in his senior year, "Russdiculous" will be spending more time running the offense himself. You think he's not going to call his own number a few (dozen) times a game?

    Smith averaged 25 PPG in the NCAA tournament before struggling through a 3-16 night in the final against Michigan. There were only five games all season that ended with Smith taking fewer than 10 shots.

    The one thing that can stop him is coach Rick Pitino trying to rein in his shooting impulses and make him more of a distributor. However, if Pitino hasn't been able to muzzle Smith after three years, will he really try now? Junior college transfer Chris Jones can run the offense while Russ runs wild.

    Upset Picks: Keith Frazier, SMU or Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati

ACC: P.J. Hairston, North Carolina

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    Assuming that nothing else goes wrong in the summer of Tar Heel fans' discontent, P.J. Hairston should be available for most of the relevant games. If he is, he'll be in need of an escape from his problems, and a basketball player knows no better escape than to score some points and get the crowd hyped.

    Over UNC's final 13 gamesthe ones in which Hairston started seeing full-time minutesthe 6'6" wingman dropped in 18.2 PPG, an average that would have finished second in the ACC behind Virginia Tech's Erick Green.

    Now that Green is gone, taking essentially VT's entire offense with him, it's Hairston's turn. While coach Roy Williams is hoping for greater offensive production from his post players, he also needs Hairston to keep bombing from outside because there aren't many other appealing options.

    Forward James Michael McAdoo, senior guard Leslie McDonald and freshman big man Isaiah Hicks are there to keep defenses honest and get Hairston some open looks.

    Upset Picks: T.J. Warren, NC State or Ryan Anderson, Boston College

Big 12: Markel Brown, Oklahoma State

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    Play next to the nation's best returning point guard and you'll get opportunities.

    Oklahoma State returns four double-digit scorers, and Markel Brown wasn't even tops on the team last season. So why does he make the power move this season?

    The aforementioned point guard, sophomore Marcus Smart, has already gone on record with his plan to declare for the 2014 NBA draft. As a 40 percent shooter last seasonincluding a sickly 29 percent from threeSmart will best serve his draft stock by being judicious with his shot selection and consistently creating for others.

    Of the Cowboys' other top returning scorers, Brown was the most efficient last season. He was the Pokes' only perimeter player to card a 50 percent effective field-goal percentage (eFG%), unless one counts J.P. Olukemi, who only appeared in two games before going down to injury.

    Brown led the team in field-goal attempts, and there's little reason to expect that to change. Defenses should key even harder on Smart, expecting him to try and show out for the scouts, so pencil Smart in for a Big 12 assist title while we're at it.

    Upset Picks: Wayne Selden, Kansas or Isaiah Austin, Baylor

Big East: Doug McDermott, Creighton

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    Apologies to Providence's Bryce Cotton, who led last season's Big East scoring race, but Creighton joining the new-look league means Dougie McBuckets is in town and everyone else is playing for second.

    Doug McDermott has finished third and second in the nation in scoring the past two seasons, so first seems like the logical progression, no? In those two seasons, he's finished among the game's top 25 in eFG% and top 10 in true shooting percentage (TS%).

    Last season's heroics were managed with no real replacement for his best support player in 2011-12, Antoine Young. No other Bluejay dropped in 10 PPG last season, and the closest performer was center Gregory Echenique with his 9.7. Now, Echenique's gone.

    Three-point gunner Ethan Wragge and silky wing passer Grant Gibbs return, but the offense remains geared around McDermott's ability to score from anywhere.

    Upset Picks: Semaj Christon, Xavier or Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall

Big Ten: Andre Hollins, Minnesota

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    Minnesota guard Andre Hollins was one of the Big Ten's top 10 scorers under Tubby Smith's methodical offense. And "methodical" is a very kind word for it, as the Gophers ranked 278th in the country in adjusted tempo, per Ken Pomeroy.

    This season, Tubby's gone and Richard Pitino is in charge. Pitino's Florida International team stood as one of the nation's 50 fastest, and his system should be much more beneficial to an athletic guard like Hollins.

    While Austin Hollins and FIU's leading scorer Malik Smith are also on board, Andre Hollins should be first in line at the all-you-can-shoot buffet. With Minnesota losing frontcourt studs Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams, the backcourt will have to carry the load, especially early on.

    A return to the tournament would be an impressive feat with this roster, and the Gophers could be playing from behind many nights. Hollins is the most experienced scoring threat on the roster, and he could be this season's version of Penn State's Tim Frazier from 2011-12.

    Upset Picks: Noah Vonleh, Indiana or Glenn Robinson III, Michigan

Pac-12: Jahii Carson, Arizona State

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    Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson hit the ground runningliterallywhen he arrived in Tempe. By the end of his freshman season, Carson had racked more 30-point games (three) than single-digit efforts (two).

    Even though he had eight games of 18 or more shot attempts, Carson wasn't simply a volume scorer. He drained 47 percent of his shots last season, ending on a 54 percent run over the Sun Devils' final six games.

    The ASU staff is preparing to push tempo even harder this season, running spring practices with the NBA three-point line on the court. If Carson can up his 32 percent three-point shooting from last season, he'll be nearly impossible to keep off the scoresheet.

    Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall joins the roster, but Carson's backcourt partners Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon both departed. If bigs Jonathan Gilling and Jordan Bachynski become consistent double-figure scorers, Carson could lead the conference in assists. If not, Carson's scoring may even see a slight uptick.

    Upset Picks: Aaron Gordon, Arizona or Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado

SEC: Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss

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    Much like P.J. Hairston at North Carolina, the one thing that can dim Marshall Henderson's prospects for this season is his own awful decision-making. Coach Andy Kennedy will reinstate him early if he makes no more missteps, and he'll return to a team that desperately needs his scoring.

    Big men Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, who cleaned up a ton of Henderson's misses and got him additional opportunities, are gone. Point guard Jarvis Summers is the only other returning Rebel who scored more than seven PPG last season.

    After taking more three-point shots (394, or nearly 11 per game) than anyone in America last season, Henderson will have an even greener light, since Kennedy won't be able to point to many other convincing options.

    As long as Henderson doesn't enjoy White Girl Wednesday too much, another 20-PPG season should be in the cards.

    Upset Picks: Trevor Releford, Alabama or Bobby Portis, Arkansas


    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.