Big Ten Floor Generals

Although not typically seen as a PG conference, the Big 10 outputs quite a bit of stellar players at the position. Just in the last few years, we've seen guys like Deron Williams, Mike Conley, Dee Brown, Devin Harris, Drew Neitzel, and Jamar Butler roll through the Big 10. Yet the image of the Big 10 being guard-unfriendly persists.

This year, however, might be a perfect storm. In addition to having great guards, the Big 10 is lacking in post players. So I expect the conference's guard-play to get more press this season.

Butler and Neitzel concluded their college careers last season, on their way to play ball in Italy and Germany, respectively. Despite their undrafted status, Butler and Neitzel will leave big shoes to fill. Butler played over 90% of the available minutes last season, boasted an Assist Rate of nearly 35 in conference games, all in addition to his stellar scoring. Neitzel took over 26% of his team's shots while he was on the floor, and boasted an Assist Rate of 24.1 in conference games while holding his TO Rate under 15.

Fortunately, the Big 10 received an injection of four very promising point guards last season:

Kalin Lucas
2007 Conference Stats:
Min%: 63.4
Shot%: 26.4
eFG: 48.1
ARate: 29.4
TO Rate: 21.1

The scary thing about Lucas is not just how good he was as a freshman, but the fact that there's a lot of room for improvement in his game. Despite standing only 6-0 tall, Lucas devoted 5 times as many shots to 2 pointers as he did to 3 pointers. Not only is that a bad mix for someone of Lucas' height, but it's also not the best strategy for such a good outside shooter. Lucas made 38% of his 3 point attempts last season in-conference, and his 82.6 FT% suggests that it was no fluke. A guy like Lucas ought to be shooting twice as many 3s as 2s - and given that he's so far from that kind of ratio, he has a lot of room to improve his numbers. And I say this about a guy who posted a 102.5 ORtg on a substantial shot diet. Lucas is the best PG in the Big Ten, right now.

Demetri McCamey
2007 Conference Stats:
Min%: 75.8
Shot%: 22.3
eFG: 45.8
ARate: 28.5
TO Rate: 25.0

With the exceptions of Kosta Koufos and Eric Gordon, it's possible that no freshman was leaned on by his team more than McCamey last season. Illinois lacked playmakers, and McCamey was charged with generating offense. This role led him to force shots and play a lot of minutes. Much has been made of McCamey's conditioning, but playing 75% of the available minutes in the conference season is not easy, especially when counted upon to make the offense function. McCamey suffered from the high TO syndrome that affects about 90% of freshmen college point guards, but he will need to work on his shooting this season. While his 35.3% 3P% wasn't bad, his 65.1% FT% indicates that he still has quite a bit to work on. The turnovers should come down, but the thing standing between McCamey and stardom is improved shooting.

Talor Battle
2007 Conference Stats:
Min%: 80.4
Shot%: 25.8
eFG: 46.3
ARate: 22.0
TO Rate: 18.4

Battle was already discussed in some detail in our Penn State preview, but one other item merits discussion here. I really hope that Chris Babb can contribute early, because I'd like to see what Talor can do with more options at his disposal. His ARate indicates a "shoot first" PG, which certainly fits with his high school career, but that's a pretty good TO Rate nonetheless for a freshman PG. I'm curious to see if he can keep it that low with an ARate over 25, but if Penn State doesn't find some other scorers, we might never find out.

Michael Thompson
2007 Conference Stats:
Min%: 88.8
Shot%: 20.5
eFG: 47.6
ARate: 25.5
TO Rate: 17.5

Of all of these freshmen, Thompson played like the most experienced guard. His TO Rate is already at a senior level, and it did not come at the expense of his ARate. Thompson suffers from the same disease as Lucas, in that he took more 2s than 3s last year. What possesses a 5-10 player in the Big 10 to think that's a good strategy, I'll never know. Thompson will improve as he keeps things on the perimeter, but there is a concern here - although he shot 41.8% on 3 pointers last season, his FT% was a Shaun-Pruitt-esque 64.3%. There could be a correction coming.

These four figure to be the elite point guards in the conference for at least the next couple of seasons. But there are others who will challenge them:

Trevon Hughes: Wisconsin fans aren't going to like this...but Hughes is a player that carries a loftier reputation than the numbers merit. First of all, it's stretching a bit to call Hughes a PG, with his ARate at 17.9. Second, his shooting was all over the place last season, but mostly, it wasn't great (43.4 eFG). Nonetheless, Hughes was often seen as the focal point of Wisconsin's offense last season. This was likely in part to his torrid start to the season (through the non-conference schedule, Hughes averaged over 15 points per game with an eFG north of 50%), and the fact that he had several big games throughout the year. Because of those performances, and the fact that he improved so much from his freshman season, I still think he's a player to watch.
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Lawrence Westbrook: The only thing holding Westbrook back was his high TO Rate (23.8). That's lower than what McCamey posted, but I'm more forgiving with freshman TOs than with sophomore TOs. Westbrook also figures to increase his shotload (19.8) substantially this season, with the graduation of the other Lawrence (McKenzie).
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Al Nolen
: I was very excited about Nolen in the non-conference season, but when he played against tougher competition, he absolutely fell apart. His eFG fell below 40, on a very limited shot diet, his TO Rate hit the 30s...it was all very bad. But his non-conference performance was good enough to believe he's capable of more.

Korie Lucious/Noopy Crater: These two are the highest rated incoming PGs. Neither is ranked in the "instant impact" range, though Crater will be asked to make an early impact nonetheless, as the backcourt suddenly looks thin without Butler. Lucious figures to fight a bit more for his PT.

Next up, wing players...