July 23, 2007

The top stopper: Who's your pick?

Cast Your Vote: Who is the best stopper in college basketball?

Not every team has a defensive stopper.

You can bet more coaches wish they did. Coaches love guys who put a premium on defense, the player who does the little things. Almost every kid loves to shoot; the special player loves to prevent the shot.

He's the guy with the quick hands. He's the guy who always seems to be in the passing lanes. He fights through screens as though a PS3 with Madden 08 were waiting for him on the other side.

If your team was protecting a one-point lead with time running down and you could pick any player in college basketball, who would you choose to guard the opposition's top scoring option?

We asked our experts, Basketball Editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara, to pick the guy they'd want. Here's who they chose and why:

McClellan's pick: Jerel McNeal, Marquette

Simply put Jerel McNeal is the best defender in college basketball, and he prides himself on locking up people. He knows better than anyone that it's his ticket to the next level.

I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago for another story, and here's how he described himself.

"I've got a good frame for playing defense," McNeal said. "I'm not tall, but I have long arms and quick feet. Everything else is mental things - anticipation, thinking about plays that the offense will make before they make them. It's a combination of physical ability and getting inside my opponent's head."

Here that, Skwara? He doesn't care if the guy is taller or bigger, he's in his head. Guys are looking around for McNeal before he even has a chance to make a play. That's having an impact.

McNeal was 10th nationally in steals and was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year (notice he didn't share the award with anybody). He also thinks on his feet.

"If a guy makes a move and gets by me, it won't happen twice," McNeal said. "I pick things up quickly in a game. The next time he tries it he's gonna have a problem."

Skwara's pick: Marcus Dove, Oklahoma State

If I needed a defender for 40 minutes, Jerel McNeal would be a great choice. So would Kansas' Mario Chalmers. Those two are better at creating turnovers than anyone else in college basketball.

But, McNeal (6-3, 185) and Chalmers (6-1, 195) don't have the size to match up with anyone other than guards.

Oklahoma State's defensive specialist Marcus Dove (6-9, 215) can guard just about any player, at any size. That's why he gets my vote.

Any opponent trailing by a point or two in the final seconds is going to try get to the ball to its best player. It doesn't matter if that player is a speedy point guard, a wing with deep range or some overpowering center.

Dove, who has a 7-2 wingspan and uncommon quickness for someone with his height, can match up with anyone who fits those descriptions. The long list of players he has defended include Acie Law IV, Chris Lofton, Adam Morrison and Kevin Durant. He held Lofton to 5-of-15 (33 percent) from the field last season.

Still not sold? Consider what the Big 12 coaches think. Chalmers averaged more than twice as many steals as Dove last season (2.6 to 1.2 per game). But when it came time to choose the league's defensive player of the year, the votes were split evenly between Chalmers and Dove.

Cast Your Vote: Who is the best stopper in college basketball?

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.


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