Predicting the Best Shooters for the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMay 30, 2014

Predicting the Best Shooters for the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

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    Kentucky's Aaron Harrison made some of the biggest shots of the year in 2013-14. Where will he rank among the top shooters for next season?
    Kentucky's Aaron Harrison made some of the biggest shots of the year in 2013-14. Where will he rank among the top shooters for next season?Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    It's the most fundamental part of the sport of basketball: shooting. Yet the ability to get the ball in the hoop with high accuracy is not an easy task.

    Making more than 50 percent of your shots is considered a really good rate, while hitting better than one-third of attempts from three-point range unofficially qualifies a player as an outside shooting expert. (If only all areas of life allowed for being able to miss about half the time or coming up short on two of every three occasions.)

    This past college basketball season gave us a lot of great moments centered on a clutch shot—Kentucky's Aaron Harrison gave us two of them in less than a week, and from virtually the same spot on the court—and featured plenty of great shooters. Many of them have moved on, though, either via graduation or entry into the NBA draft.

    So, who's going to carry the torch for the shooters in 2014-15? Based on our analysis of field-goal percentage numbers from this past year, as well as potential roles they'll play next season, here's our list of the 20 best shooters in college basketball.

20. Trevor Cooney, Syracuse

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 195 pounds

    A lot of things went wrong for Syracuse in the final month of the 2013-14 season, causing the Orange to go from 25-0 to a first-weekend casualty in the NCAA tournament. The disappearance of Trevor Cooney's outside shot was a big factor.

    Cooney, who finished the year shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range, made just 14 of 63 long-range shots during Syracuse's 3-6 finish to the season. Prior to that he had made 76 of 177 threes, a 42.9 percent clip, showing the deadly touch that hyped his arrival in college.

    With Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis off to the pros, the arrival of 5-star power forward Chris McCullough will move the Orange's best scoring option back inside. That will ease pressure off Cooney to shoulder the scoring load, which could make his selection better and lead to a much higher percentage in 2014-15.

19. Justin Jackson, North Carolina

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Year: Freshman

    Height, weight: 6'8", 189 pounds

    One of the longest and skinniest small forwards you'll see in 2014-15, Justin Jackson pretty much breaks the mold for what to expect from such a position. So, naturally, that makes it understandable that his best attribute might be his shooting touch.

    While the 5-star prospect won't be expected to serve as North Carolina's main outside shooter, thanks to Marcus Paige's presence in the backcourt, that doesn't mean he won't serve as a matchup nightmare. A defender trying to prevent Jackson from driving to the basket won't be able to close on him when the shot goes up, and vice versa. 

18. Keifer Sykes, Green Bay

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 5'11", 175 pounds

    Green Bay's speedy little point guard was not only a slasher and disher for the Phoenix last season but was also the main offensive weapon. At 20.4 points per game, he finished tied for 20th nationally in scoring and is one of eight returning players in the country to average more than 20 in 2013-14.

    He only made 30.9 percent of his three-pointers, but when he wasn't driving, he showed a mid-range game that you don't normally see from players under 6 feet tall. Five of his 13 field goals in a career-best 32-point performance against Wisconsin came on jumpers, which caused the Badgers to have to cover him closer and resulted in easy layups on blow-bys.

    Sykes had 7'1" center Alec Brown to aid his cause on the inside last year, but in 2014-15 he'll need to do more from outside. Look for Sykes to significantly ramp up his three-point attempts (he only took 3.2 per game last season) in 2014-15.

17. Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 190 pounds

    Though his numbers were down from the previous year, Rasheed Sulaimon became one of Duke's most important players down the stretch last season. His move into a more defined ball-handling role opened up the Blue Devils offense, and not only did the team score more, but so did Sulaimon.

    He averaged 9.9 points per game for the season, but that clip was 13 per contest over Duke's final seven games. That included five three-pointers in the second-round upset to Mercer, when Sulaimon seemed like Duke's best offensive weapon.

    He'll shift back and forth from shooting guard to Tyus Jones' backup at the point, but wherever he plays, look for Sulaimon's shot to go up in good situations.

16. Tyler Harvey, Eastern Washington

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 180 pounds

    Most people won't know who Tyler Harvey is because the average college basketball fan doesn't watch a lot of Big Sky Conference basketball. But when Eastern Washington got a chance to face a power-conference opponent last year, Harvey rose to the occasion.

    In an early-season loss at Washington, he made seven three-pointers on 13 attempts. It was one of nine games last year when the sophomore drained at least five threes. He finished the year with 109 in 31 games.

    Harvey, who led the Eagles (and the conference) in scoring at 21.8 points per game, didn't just rely on his 43.3 percent outside shooting. He made 89.7 percent of foul shots and had a knack for hitting the mid-range shot, too.

15. Caris LeVert, Michigan

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'6", 185 pounds

    Caris LeVert went from a little-used freshman on a national finalist to a key part of Michigan's return to the Elite Eight last year. But an even bigger leap is in store for him in 2014-15. Thanks to graduations, transfers and early NBA entries, he will be the guy on the Wolverines.

    At 12.9 points per game, he is Michigan's leading returning scorer. That number is more than five times what he produced in his first season, as roster attrition helped him get a larger role in 2013-14. He maximized that opportunity, serving as a great defender but also a pretty reliable shooter thanks to his 40.8 three-point shooting percentage and 43.9 percent overall shooting clip.

    Not a spot-up shooter like most outside experts, LeVert creates his own shot thanks to great moves off the dribble. Expect to see a lot more of that this season.

14. R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'5", 185 pounds

    As a coach's son, R.J. Hunter has been around basketball for a long time. But that experience is only partly responsible for how the Georgia State guard has turned into one of the nation's best shooters.

    Hunter, who made 39.5 percent of his three-pointers and shot 44.4 percent overall last year en route to scoring 18.3 points per game, also benefited from having Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow feeding him the ball on a regular basis. That combo helped the Panthers dominate the Sun Belt Conference in their first year of play, going 17-1.

    And with the addition of former Louisville guard Kevin Ware, who hopes to be eligible immediately via a medical hardship, Georgia State should again be the team to beat in the Sun Belt. Hunter, Harrow and Ware will make for a fearsome threesome, with Hunter's shooting leading the charge.

13. Ron Baker, Wichita State

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    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'3", 213 pounds

    With Wichita State losing its major inside presence in the form of Cleanthony Early, the Shockers will find themselves doing more work from the perimeter to stay at their lofty level. That's just fine by Ron Baker, one of the most underrated yet hardest-working players in the country.

    A 38 percent three-point shooter, he made 55.3 percent of his two-point shots in 2013-14. And a good portion of those came on jumpers and floaters, as the scrappy guard found his points in as many ways as possible. Teamed in the backcourt with Tekele Cotton and Fred Van Vleet again this season, he'll be part of another strong team that will benefit from his tenacity and smart shot selection.

12. Micah Mason, Duquesne

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    Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'2", 180 pounds

    One of the most under-the-radar transfers to make a major impact last season was Micah Mason, who after spending one season at Drake moved over to Duquesne and quietly became the NCAA leader in three-point shooting.

    He made 56 percent of his threes last year, and though he only connected on 65 long balls, that percentage was good enough to qualify for the national lead and win that category by a wide margin. The Dukes had a bad year at 13-17, tying for 10th in the Atlantic 10, but Mason's performance was still noteworthy.

    He played a key role in Duquesne's biggest win of the season, an upset of a then-red-hot Saint Louis team that saw Mason make 4-of-5 from outside.

11. Dez Wells, Maryland

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'5", 215 pounds

    Maryland's roster is going to look very different in 2014-15 thanks to incoming recruits and a mass exodus of transfers. But one constant that brings promise for a good season is Dez Wells, who even through last year's turmoil still managed to average 14.9 points per game and shoot 48.1 percent.

    He isn't a master at the outside shot, registering a career-low 30.4 percentage last season, but he still hit big shots. Just ask Miami (Fla.), which saw Wells' three at the buzzer swish for a Terrapins victory in January. In that same game he erupted for all 21 of his points in the second half, making them on a combination of drives, pull-ups and a lone outside shot.

    Maryland will likely turn to freshman Melo Trimble as its point guard in 2014-15, and that young player will probably look often to Wells for the senior to hit the open shot.

10. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Freshman

    Height, weight: 6'2", 175 pounds

    Paired up with Yogi Ferrell this fall, James Blackmon could form one of the nation's scariest shooting backcourts at Indiana. He's shown through the AAU leagues, in high school and during national all-star games that he's not afraid to shoot, but he's also nailing the important ones.

    The 5-star shooting guard will allow Ferrell, who nearly tripled his three-point attempts from 76 as a freshman to 220 last year, to focus more on being the point guard and getting his points off the dribble. Jackson will be the one to spot up more, and the result could be the Hoosiers getting back into the national title picture.

9. Andrew Rowsey, UNC-Asheville

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    Ted Richardson/Associated Press

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 5'10", 175 pounds

    At 20.3 points per game, Andrew Rowsey was the second highest-scoring freshman in the country last year, and his 106 three-pointers were a huge part of that scoring.

    UNC-Asheville was never on the national radar as a team in 2013-14, going 17-15 and finishing in the middle of the pack in the Big South. Rowsey went a combined 1-of-8 from outside in early-season losses to Duke and Kentucky, but that was before his shooting touch picked up.

    Over the final 15 games of the season, he made 56 of 126 threes, and that stretch included games when he was 0-of-7 and 1-of-10. For the year he shot 40.5 percent.

8. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 7'0", 234 pounds

    Most of the players on this list are guards, which is understandable since that's where the bulk of jump shots come from in college basketball. But in the professional game, the big men need to be able to hit baskets from all over the court, not just off layups and dunks.

    That describes Frank Kaminsky, the nation's best-shooting big man, to a T.

    He was the breakout player of the year in 2013-14, going from a seldom-used post player to Wisconsin's leading scorer and most accurate shooter on a team that reached the Final Four after surviving the Big Ten's regular-season minefield. He shot 52.8 percent from the field, but that also included 37 three-pointers and 37.8 efficiency from outside.

    He also showed off some of the sweetest fadeaway jumpers seen from a big man outside of Dirk Nowitzki, making him almost impossible to guard when he got hot.

7. Marcus Foster, Kansas State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'2", 200 pounds

    With so many great freshmen throughout the country last year, Marcus Foster kind of got lost in the shuffle. Even inside the Big 12 he struggled to get much regular notoriety, despite leading Kansas State into the NCAA tournament with a team-best 15.5 points per game.

    But now he has a chance to establish himself as one of the nation's best, as well as keep the Wildcats charting upward. To do so, he'll need to build off good-but-not-great freshman shooting numbers (42.3 percent overall, 39.5 from three-point range) and be able to hit shots from all over the court.

    He showed flashes of dominance, such as his 32-point, 13-of-16 (including 5-of-8 from outside) performance in K-State's romp over Texas in early February. That's not a fluke of a game; that's what Foster can do with a little more consistency.

6. Jarvis Summers, Ole Miss

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'3", 186 pounds 

    Jarvis Summers managed to score 17.3 points per game for Ole Miss last season despite the presence of shoot-every-chance-he-got Marshall Henderson next to him in the backcourt. Now that Henderson is gone, the already prolific and efficient Summers could be poised for a monster senior year.

    He shot 48.6 percent overall and 42.3 percent from three-point range in 2013-14, benefiting a bit from teams focusing so much attention on Henderson's exploits. But he did a lot of it on his own, too, like when he made all 10 of his baskets in Ole Miss' SEC tournament loss to Georgia on two-point jump shots.

    Ole Miss has brought in a handful of transfers from junior colleges and other Division I teams to beef up the roster for 2014-15, but it will still be Summers and his shooting that drive the Rebels' chances for success.

5. Phil Forte III, Oklahoma State

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    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 5'11", 185 pounds

    Though many college basketball players can be effective at doing more than one thing, each has his own specialty that he's known for. It's not hard to describe what that is for Phil Forte III based on his career numbers at Oklahoma State: He's a long-distance specialist.

    In two seasons with the Cowboys, he has attempted 567 shots, of which more than 75 percent have been from three-point range. He's made 227 field goals, with 168 of those (74 percent) coming from outside.

    But he doesn't just jack up threes and hope they go in, at least not this past season. After making 33.8 percent as a freshman, he connected on 44.1 percent in 2013-14, actually hitting shots at a better rate from behind the arc than inside it.

4. Aaron Harrison, Kentucky

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Year: Sophomore

    Height, weight: 6'6", 218 pounds

    Bring up Aaron Harrison, and the first thing that should be mentioned is either his game-winning three-pointer to beat Michigan in the Elite Eight or the nearly carbon-copy shot he hit to defeat Wisconsin.

    The second thing will be whichever of those shots didn't get mentioned first.

    While that's what his freshman season will be most remembered for, he was far more than a two-shot wonder. His stats might not have shown it, as for the year he made 35.6 percent of his threes and 42.3 percent from the field, but he had other big shooting games.

    Something else needs to be considered, and Kentucky coach John Calipari made sure to mention it over and over again: Harrison was a first-year player, playing with a bunch of other first-year players against teams that were far more experienced. Now he'll be almost veteran-like and should become much more consistent and not just a late-game killer.

3. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

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    Young Kwak/Associated Press

    Year: Senior

    Height, weight: 6'2", 180 pounds

    Gonzaga had what amounted to a two-headed point guard last season, with Kevin Pangos and David Stockton either taking turns or working in tandem to run the Bulldogs offense. That didn't stop Pangos from contributing in other ways when he wasn't in charge of the play, as he shot 41.2 percent from three-point range.

    He will be the lone floor leader for Gonzaga this year, and with the team adding capable shooters in USC transfer Byron Wesley and former Kentucky guard Kyle Wiltjer, he will move more into a distributor role than the combination one he had in 2013-14. But knowing how effective he's been at shooting, don't expect Pantos to spend his senior season holding back on his shot.

2. Marcus Paige, North Carolina

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'1", 175 pounds

    When North Carolina found itself without shooters P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald to begin last season, Marcus Paige knew much of their outside scoring was going to have to come from him. Rather than wilt under the added pressure, he responded like the star he's become to more than double his point output from 2012-13.

    He averaged 17.5 points per game last season, with almost half of that coming from three-point range as the Tar Heels' only reliable long-distance shooter. He made 38.9 percent of his threes while hitting 50 percent of his two-pointers through a combination of drives and pull-ups.

    Paige is getting some significant reinforcements in the form of a stellar recruiting class, including noted mid-range shooter Justin Jackson, but the junior will still be the go-to scorer. Having extra firepower around him, though, might just make him even more accurate.

1. Michael Frazier II, Florida

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    Year: Junior

    Height, weight: 6'4", 199 pounds 

    On a team with four senior starters, Michael Frazier II wasn't asked to do much more than his part, which in 2013-14 was to be one of the nation's best three-point shooters. His role will expand greatly for the Gators next season, but that won't alter what he does best.

    He was 10th in the nation in three-point shooting last season at 44.7 percent, but you could argue his efficiency was the best of any of the lot based on the competition. In addition to being in a power conference and on a team that reached the Final Four, Frazier also faced several notable nonconference opponents and shot the lights out nearly every time.

    He was 5-of-7 from three in one of Florida's few losses, in November to Wisconsin, and he was a combined 4-of-9 in back-to-back-to-back early games against Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis. And then there was the game he absolutely erupted during SEC play, when he made 11 threes and scored 37 points against South Carolina.

    Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.