With the season just around the corner, Paint Touches is taking a look at the top 50 players in the Big East. Instead of doing a true top 50, we took the five best players from each team and ordered them one to fifty. Important to note, these are the five best players, not necessarily the five starters from each team. This list is the product of a lot of analysis and discussion and will hopefully inspire some reaction and debate.
10. Edmond Sumner of Xavier
6-6 205 lb RSSO PG
25.9 mpg, 11.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 2.1 tpg, .397 FG%, .727 FT%, .301 3P%
In almost any other year, Edmond Sumner would have won the Big East Freshman of the Year handily. The Detroit native jumped immediately from his redshirt year to a starting role, ousting would be starter Larry Austin Jr. Sumner joined Trevonn Bluiett, Myles Davis, and JP Macura as part of one of the deadliest collection of guards in the country. Sumner has the size of a wing and the skills of a PG. He is a adept at breaking down opposing defenses and slashing to the hoop. He has the strength to finish in traffic and the awareness to kick out to open defenders. Sumner was a great scorer but was less than efficient getting there. He shot an eFG% of 44.5% which is less than ideal.
Xavier’s strength last season was in its depth of guards. Most of the key players in the backcourt return but they lose virtually their entire frontcourt. As a result, the Musketeers will be running a lot of a four out and one in lineups with transfer Rashid Gaston roaming the paint. Coach Mack is likely going to continue to a run a two point guard offense with both Sumner and Davis. While Sumner will miss Farr and Reynolds clearing out space for him, the four guard offense will be very versatile and give him a lot of different options on any given play. If he can increase his 3P% by a few percentage points, he could be a complete offensive player. On defense, Sumner is the most disruptive player for Xavier, as he led the team in steal % a season ago. Sumner is already a pre-season All Big East selection and is destined for a big year.
9. Rodney Bullock of Providence
6-8 225 lb RSJR PF
32.8 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.7 spg, 1.3 bpg, 1.8 tpg, .443 FG%, .717 FT%, .337 3P%
You want a player whose stat lines will give you whiplash? Rodney Bullock is your man. Bullock spent last season as the best player on the Providence Friars who wasn’t part of the two headed monster that was Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Often overlooked by opponents, Bullock was always ready to make them pay, either by hitting a corner three or grabbing an easy offensive putback. There were games last season where Bullock looked just as dangerous as Bentil or Dunn. He put up 16 or more points in 11 different contests last season, none bigger than his 16 point, 10 rebound performance in Providence’s NCAA tournament victory over the Trojans of USC. Other nights, he looked completely lost, managing only three points or less in 5 different contests. The worst of these was just a game after the victory over USC, when he managed 2 points on 0/7 shooting against North Carolina. It seemed like any time Bullock was a focus of the defense, he would sputter and struggle. On the other end of the court, his versatility allowed him to guard many different positions. Unfortunately, due to the Friars’ lack of size, Bullock was often stuck the biggest man on the floor. He did lead the team with a respectable 1.3 blocks per game.
It’s been a long time since we have seen any Friar’s on this list. It took almost equally as long for Bullock to see the floor for Providence. Bullock spent his first season suspended and his second season redshirting due to injury. Last season was the first time Friar fans got to see Bullock and he for the most part did not disappoint. Next year’s Friar squad will be Bullock’s to lead whether he is ready or not. He was solid as the third scoring option but now he must be the go to guy. Consistency and confidence is going to be what Bullock needs if he is going to live up to this role (sounds similar to what we said about his teammate Jalen Lindsey). He should put up some monster numbers, not Ben Bentil level, but still monster level. His efficiency getting there is what is going to be the concern. The general rule is that when usage goes up, efficiency goes down, and Bullock was already inefficient as a third option. Still, he has all the physical tools and will have plenty of opportunity. Being the number one guy on his team should allow him a real good shot at being All Big East 1st team.
8. Angel Delgado of Seton Hall
6-10 240 lb JR C
30.1 mpg, 9.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.8 bpg, 1.9 tpg, .567 FG%, .536 FT%, .000 3P%
If you want a model of consistency, look no farther than Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado. In his first two seasons he has put up remarkably similar stat lines. You can count on Delgado for about 10 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block while shooting around 55% from the floor. Delgado has been an imposing force on the interior since he stepped on campus. He has a variety of post moves that allow him to find the open angles for easy buckets. Though with a playmaker like Isaiah Whitehead on the team Delgado often got the ball with no one between him and the basket. Delgado’s true prowess on the boards. His 9.3 rebounds a game was in the top 40 in the country and 2nd in the Big East, behind freshman phenom Henry Ellenson. While Ellenson got his boards from good spacing and size, Delgado gets his with pure physicality, fighting for every rebounding opportunity. On defense, he isn’t a lockdown interior defender. Bigs with strong post moves often found ways around him, but his motor and strength keeps him from being overpowered and returns a lot of shots back to sender.
Consistency has been a strength of Delgado’s, but the Pirates are hoping that he will put up even bigger numbers this upcoming season. Seton Hall will try to defend its Big East title by remaining the most physical frontcourt in the Big East. Ish Sanogo and Delgado will team up again to dominate the inside and the battle of the boards. While guards like Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are likely to dominate the scoring, Delgado might actually be bigger indicator of their success. The Pirates were 18-1 last season when Delgado grabbed 10 or more boards. They were also 13-0 when he posted a double double. Delgado will enter this season in the best shape he’s ever been in. The official Seton Hall roster has him changing from 6”9 245 last season to 6”10 240 this season. The added fitness could push Delgado over the double double mark for a per game average. As the best center in the conference, Delgado is a heavy favorite to be first team All Big East.
7. LJ Peak of Georgetown
6-5 215 lb JR SG
24.9 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.6 bpg, 1.7 tpg, .491 FG%, .748 FT%, .409 3P%
My favorite fact about LJ Peak is that he is from Gaffney, SC. That’s right, he shares a hometown with President Frank Underwood. Like President Underwood, Mr. Peak has no problem overpowering others on the way to his goals. Peak arrived on campus as a consensus 4 star recruit, top 30 by several services. His defense was spot on from the beginning, hounding the perimeter and creating turnovers. His offense was somewhat of a disappointment his first season, shooting 39.4% overall and a terrible 24.6% from deep. There was no trace of that his second season. His FG% shot up to 49.1% and he went 38 for 93 (40.9%) from long range. In fact, his stats across the board saw a huge uptick. Somehow despite this, he actually saw less minutes on the court…. even though he was playing for a worse Georgetown squad. That might have something to do with his fouling. His 3.5 fouls per game were some of the worst of any guard in the conference and caused an early exit from competition in 8 different contests.
Gone is D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and no player’s stat line will benefit from this more than Peak’s. Peak will go from having to defer to the high scoring senior to being the go to scorer on this Hoya squad. Pairing him with high scoring and athletic transfers Rodney Pryor and Jonathan Mulmore should make Georgetown one of the most dangerous transition teams in the country. Peak will have to adjust to being the focal point of the opposition’s defense. His efficiency is what made him so impressive last season. Those numbers are likely to drop while his totals will likely skyrocket. Peak will continue to bring junkyard dog level on ball defense. If he can do it without fouling, Georgetown fans will be much relieved. One of the things that makes Peak so exciting is his stats from conference play. Similar to Jajuan Johnson of Marquette, something seemed to click for Peak late in the season. He averaged 13.7 points per game while shooting 52.2% from the floor and 43.9% from trey in conference play. That included a 31 point explosion against eventual national champs Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center. Keeping up that kind of pace could put Peak into serious conversation for All Big East 1st Team.
6. Desi Rodriguez of Seton Hall
6-6 215 lb JR SF
26.0 ppg, 12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.7 tpg, .503 FG%, .690 FT%, .386 3P%
If you like junkyard defense and booming slam dunks, you must have been a huge fan of Desi Rodriguez last season. Rodriguez didn’t wander too far from home to play college ball but he kept some of that Bronx swagger. Seton Hall was known for its defense last season. While most will look to the two brawlers they started in the post, Rodriguez might have been the key to their defensive dominance. Rodriguez was third in the Big East in steal%, behind only Marquette’s Jajuan Johnson and some guy named Kris Dunn. There were only two games the entire season that Rodriguez didn’t manage at least one steal, and one of those was because he played 12 minutes due to foul trouble. He would take full advantage of these created turnovers, taking the ball himself for a dunk or finding a driving Isaiah Whitehead or Khadeen Carrington for more of the same. In the half court, Rodriguez was an incredibly efficient scorer with an eFG north of 55%. Slashing to the hoop was his bread and butter but he has a decent mid-range game and was good for about 1 3PM per game with 39% accuracy.
The offseason storyline for Seton Hall has been how they will replace the NBA bound Whitehead. With Carrington likely to take over his role at the point, many have thought he will be the one to take over the spotlight in Newark. While Carrington put up better scoring and assist numbers, Rodriguez is the better pick. Carrington had higher usage and lower efficiency which explains the higher raw numbers. Rodriguez will continue his trademarked high pressure defense and create a ton of transition opportunities. With top 100 freshman Myles Powell’s elite three point shooting and Ish Sanogo’s ability to seal off driving lanes, there will be a lot spacing created for Rodriguez to get to the hoop. Rodriguez will be a threat to go off on any given night. Just ask Xavier fans. In their last three regular season meetings, Rodriguez has gone off for 16 (in 20 minutes), 21 (with 8 rebounds), and 27 (with 12 rebounds). A lot more teams beyond Xavier will see that side of Rodriguez in the coming season.
5. Mo Watson Jr. of Creighton
5-10 175 lb RSSR PG
31.4 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.5 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.3 tpg, .475 FG%, .714 FT%, .297 3P%
Looking at Mo Watson Jr., you wouldn’t see much to be intimidated by. Standing just 5”10, the Philadelphia native is far from imposing and his lack of height would seem to disqualify him from being able to score amongst all the trees that play in the Big East. Those would all be incorrect assumptions. Watson Jr. has an ability to score the ball that can only be matched by a few of the true greats in the game of college basketball. Watson Jr. uses blinding speed to blow by defenders and incredible body control to somehow get through the much taller post players and get the ball through the hoop. There were literally dozens of times last season that he put up a shot that should have no business going in but somehow the ball found the bottom of the net. His ability to put up a floater in traffic is simply at a level above anyone else in the conference. And scoring isn’t even the best part of his game. Watson Jr. excels at dribbling into the paint and finding open teammates on the perimeter. On a three happy team like the Jays, his teammates are all too happy to reward him with an assist and three points on the scoreboard. There are times when Watson Jr. tries to do too much. His 3.3 tpg was one of the highest in the country, let alone the conference. This was offset by being in the top 10 in the nation for assists per game, but his turnovers often got the team in trouble at key points.
Creighton has been the popular pick for best team in the Big East not named Villanova or Xavier and Watson Jr. is a big part of that. With a year in the Big East under his belt, Watson Jr should have an even more successful season, featuring similar scoring and assist numbers with lowered turnovers. Watson Jr. gets a brand new weapon to feed with highly touted transfer Marcus Foster joining the Jays. Khyri Thomas, Isaiah Zierden, and Cole Huff all return as well to give Watson Jr. plenty of spacing in which to operate. One factor that might be a drawback that is overlooked by most is the departure of center Geoffrey Groselle. While not a dominant player in the traditional sense, Groselle excelled at sealing off driving lanes, which is part of why Watson Jr. was so successful on drives to the hoop. That is one of those skills that takes experience to learn so redshirt freshman Justin Patton may not be ready for that right away. Watson Jr. could offset this by working on his outside shot, he only made 19 threes with 30% accuracy a season ago. If that number gets a little more respectable, it will make him that much more dangerous.
4. Kris Jenkins of Villanova
6-6 235 lb SR PF
28.4 mpg, 13.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.3 tpg, .459 FG%, .845 FT%, .386 3P%
What do you do when facing the realization that the biggest moment of your life is already behind you? That is the problem facing Kris Jenkins who with one shot, granted himself access to college basketball immortality. Topping that moment is likely impossible, but Jenkins will try his darndest to do it. Jenkins was possibly the most improved player in the Big East a season ago, doubling his per game averages in points, rebounds, assists, and blocks. The Maryland native played the role of stretch four in Villanova’s patented and lethal four out, one in offense. Jenkins filled this role with deadly efficiency, sinking 100 three pointers with 38.6% accuracy. Those numbers make him not just an elite shooter for the conference, but for all of D1. His defense and rebounding are not elite but both were more than enough for last year’s Wildcat squad. His passing ability and unselfishness might have been the traits that really set him apart. Jenkins was never afraid to make the extra pass to find the guy who was just a little more open than he was.
Losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu hurts, but Villanova still has the firepower to challenge for another national championship. Jenkins will continue in his role as the sharpshooting four, but will likely need to expand his game even more if the Wildcats want to match last year’s success. As their PF, Jenkins’ 3.9 rpg was not something overly impressive but with an aircraft carrier like Ochefu in the middle, he didn’t need to be. Ochefu is gone and their replacement, Omari Spellman, was ruled ineligible. Jenkins will need to put extra work on the boards. Jenkins’ offensive style will not change, he will continue to hit the big threes from all over the court. His ability to stretch the floor will be crucial for creating driving lanes for fellow stars Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson. It would not be surprising to see Jenkins’ efficiency take a small hit as his total numbers go up. While it will not be as memorable as last season, Jenkins has the chance for a very nice senior campaign and as is a dark horse for All American status.
3. Kelan Martin of Butler
6-7 220 lb JR PF
28.3 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.6 tpg, .447 FG%, .761 FT%, .377 3P%
There was no player that was more of a pleasant surprise for their team than Kelan Martin was for Butler. If we had done this list a year ago, I’m not sure that Martin would have made the top 50. As a freshman, he was a backup forward who couldn’t rebound, couldn’t play defense, and couldn’t shoot the three. At the beginning of the season, not even the Butler coaching staff seemed to know what they had as they started Martin coming off the bench. It didn’t take long for Roosevelt Jones to take over for Tyler Lewis as the starting point, allowing Martin to enter the starting lineup. From there, Martin established himself as the lead scorer and rebounder for the Bulldogs, surpassing even seniors Kellen Dunham and Jones. Martin has a ton of different tools in his offensive belt. He has shoot it from anywhere range. His drives to the bucket aren’t often pretty but he gets to rim through pure muscle and willpower. His most dangerous weapon might be his pull up game. He has an old school ability to stop on a dime and take a shot with unexpectedly high accuracy.
The Bulldogs lose two weapons in Jones and Dunham but keep their most deadly in Martin. This theoretically could create more opportunities for Martin but it’s hard to imagine him increasing his usage which was already in the top 5 in the Big East. Dunham and Jones’ replacements, transfer Kethan Savage and Avery Woodson, are not quite at the same level. This could allow defenses to focus in on Martin more than last season. Still, with the additional opportunities and an offseason of improvement Martin should put up some eye popping numbers. With Tyler Wideman and Andrew Chrabascz roaming the post, Martin will be free to bully smaller players out on the wing. If Martin has a shortcoming, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. He was often a touch slow on rotations but he is still capable on the defensive end. Martin is almost a shoe in for first team All-Big East, and a contender for Big East Player of the Year.
2. Trevon Bluiett of Xavier
6-6 205 lb JR SG
30.6 mpg, 15.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.6 tpg, .424 FG%, .770 FT%, .398 3P%
Trevon Bluiett was a model of consistency last season. Usually, that term is used to describe a 4th or 5th scoring option who plays well but never great. Not the case with Bluiett. Bluiett was the number one option for one of the best teams in the country and put up big numbers in almost every game. There were only three games all season where he didn’t put up double digit points, only one of which was during the conference season. Bluiett is one of the most versatile offensive forces in the Big East. He can get to the rim almost at will. He has a decent mid-range game. Where he truly excels is beyond the arc. His 78 threes made was good for 4th most in the conference and his 39.8% was top two. His combination of well executed drives and deadeye three point shooting gave him an eFG% that was top 5 in the conference for guards and wings. His defense, while nothing to brag about, was fundamentally sound. He had the speed to keep up with guards and wings as well as the strength to take on bigger players in the post.
Xavier was a frightening foe for any opponent. They had quality players to start every position and the sixth man of the year in JP Macura. The most terrifying thing about them? Despite having highly talented players such as Bluiett, they didn’t have a single player in the top 10 for usage in the conference. That is a testament to how many talented players that Xavier has and how well they spread the ball around. What it also means is that while Bluiett’s numbers were gaudy last season, he has the potential to put up so much more with greater opportunity. The Musketeers lose two fearsome post presences in James Farr and Jalen Reynolds. With only transfer Rashid Gaston, back of the rotation player Sean O’Mara, and freshman Tyrique Jones to man the post, Coach Mack will be forced to run a lot of four guard offenses. This suits Bluiett just fine. He often plays the “four” in these types of offenses where he can use his speed and range to abuse much slower post defenders. This tactic also creates plenty of space in the lane for the likes of Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner to take advantage. While not all of the minutes left by the departing Farr, Reynolds, and Remy Abell will go to Bluiett, enough will for him to put up truly spectacular stat lines. In most years, he would be the favorite for BEast player of the Year, but this year he might have to settle for All Big East First Team.
1. Josh Hart of Villanova
6-5 215 lb SR SG
31.4 mpg, 15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.7 tpg, .513 FG%, .752 FT%, .357 3P%
It cannot be overstated how good of a junior campaign that Josh Hart had for Villanova. The Maryland native was top 10 in the conference for just about every advanced stat there is. Included in that list is his conference leading eFG%, offensive win shares, and defensive win shares. There isn’t an offensive move that Hart doesn’t know. His 3P shooting dipped from his sophomore year but was still a decent 35.7%. That is just enough to keep defenders from cheating off him, which allows him to punish them with his slashing ability. Hart’s insane ability to hit difficult shots in traffic gave him an absurd 59.5% of his two point shots. That was the highest % obtained by any guard in the Big East by almost 4 percentage points. The truly remarkable part of Hart’s game is his motor. If you are looking for him on the court, he is most likely either diving on the floor after a rebound or leaping over the scorer’s table to try and corral a loose ball. His 6.8 rebounds a game was good for 7th in the Big East and he was the only guard to make the top 10. Hart’s willingness to fight and scrap for every possession is what makes him the heart and soul of the defending champions.
Losing studs like Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu to graduation and a 5 star freshman to ineligibility would derail most team’s hopes of winning a high major conference. Not the case with the Villanova Wildcats and Hart is the main reason why. Hart has done nothing but improve and produce since coming onto campus. His senior year could be his best performance yet. The loss of Ochefu and Omari Spellman means that Villanova will often be operating without a true center. As a result, Hart will not have a big body sealing off the lane for him. This can be mitigated by the three point shooting that forwards like Kris Jenkins and Eric Paschall can bring. This will also mean that Hart will have the opportunity to bring his rebounding numbers up to another level. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Hart average over 16 points and 8 rebounds a game. Hart is a heavy favorite to win the Big East Player of the Year and should be an All American by the time the season is over.