Brandon Paul: Certified Gopher KillerPosted by KTrahan on March 14th, 2013
Throughout his career, Brandon Paul has been touted as an ultra-talented player who struggles with inconsistency. Sometimes he showcases his impressive range and versatility, while other times he seems to disappear from the moment. In Thursday’s opening round Big Ten Tournament game, Paul rose to the moment, and then some. He scored 25 of the Illini’s 51 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and was 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in his team’s victory over Minnesota. But he saved his best for last, hitting a 15-footer at the buzzer to get his team a date with Indiana in the second round of the Big Ten Tourney on Friday.
Other than Paul, Illinois struggled mightily. Its next three leading scorers — D.J. Richardson, Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu — each had just six points. Paul, a guard, was the second-leading rebounder with five, just one behind Egwu. And while Paul shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (4-of-8), the rest of the team was just 2-of-17 from long distance — Tyler Griffey was 0-of-4, Abrams was 0-of-3.
Illinois’ season has taken after Paul’s career, in a way. The Illini have lived and died by the three, which essentially means inevitable inconsistency. On nights when they’re firing on all cylinders, they’ve pulled out impressive wins against Butler, Gonzaga, Indiana and Ohio State. However, cold-shooting nights have led to bad games — a 14-point home loss to Northwestern and near losses to Gardner-Webb and Auburn. The good wins have offset the bad ones, and they’re why the Illini will surely be dancing next weekend.
However, now that it’s NCAA Tournament time, inconsistency can’t cut it. The best way to become more consistent is to find players capable of hitting high-percentage shots, particularly in the frontcourt. There’s obviously not enough time for that now — Illinois just isn’t going to get that from Egwu and Griffey — so it’s going to need to bank on Paul to put together a long string of wins.
Thursday’s game wasn’t one of those games when everyone in an Illini uniform was producing, and that’s usually a game Illinois will lose. Thankfully for the Illini, even though the rest of the team struggled, their most important player was on target against the Gophers. If Illinois is to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago or the NCAA Tournament next week, Paul can’t have an off night, because even if his teammates are struggling, he can keep the Illini in the game. Against Minnesota, Paul didn’t just keep his team in the game — he won it. Illinois will need a lot more games like that from its star if it wants to make this postseason a memorable one, but Thursday was a good start.