Top 50 Players in the Big East: #20-11

Sam Hauser

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/ Paint Touches

For the second year in a row, 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. We did it this way because if we didn’t, poor Georgetown wouldn’t be represented. 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 debate and will hopefully inspire some reaction and discussion. Love our picks? Vehemently disagree? Put them in the comments below.

The top 50 is being broken down in to five ten team segments. You can find our past segments here: #50-41, #40-31, #30-21

20. Eli Cain of DePaul
6-6 200 lb JR SG
33.1 mpg, 15.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.4 bpg, 2.4 tpg, 45.8 eFG%

For the past two seasons, all the headlines at DePaul have been about Billy Garret Jr, but by any statistical measure, the Blue Demons have actually been Eli Cain’s team. The rising junior from New Jersey wasn’t highly ranked coming out of high school, but he immediately seized a starting spot as a true freshman. As a sophomore, he elevated his game to be the undisputed go to player on the Blue Demons’ roster. His stats from last season include several 20+ point performances and two 30+ point performances, one of which almost led to an upset of #13 Butler (they lost by 1 in OT). Cain’s advanced stats aren’t elite, his eFG% is very low and his defense is pretty average. This is likely a product of a lack of support and being the number one focus of opposing defenses.

While Garrett Jr was one of the more consistently overranked players in the Big East, his graduation leaves DePaul with a gaping hole at the PG position. The only two true PGs on the roster are true freshman Justin Roberts and seldom used backup Devin Gage. Another option for Coach Leitao is to move Cain over to the PG position. Cain was the second leading distributor for the Blue Demons and fits the mold of a 6-6 scoring point that DePaul had in Garrett Jr. Cain marks the fifth Blue Demon on this list out of five. While Coach Leitao is continuing to add talent in Lincoln Park, they still have some time before they escape the Big East’s cellar.

19. Phil Booth of Villanova
6-3 190 lb RSJR SG
21.9 mpg, 7.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.4 tpg, 44.8 eFG% (stats from 15-16)

While Kris Jenkins will always be the player who is remembered for the game winning shot that gave Villanova its first championship of the 21st century, Phil Booth was the hero for the other 39 minutes and 45 seconds. His 20 points on 6/7 shooting and smothering defense were a huge part of Villanova’s defeat of the Fighting Academic Frauds of North Carolina. The points were kind of a surprise for Booth as he had spent the entire season as the defensive specialist coming off the bench for the Wildcats. It was an optimistic sign for a player with elite defense but an offensive game that was still being developed. It was shortly after his stud performance in the National Championship that Booth had surgery on his knee. It was considered a successful surgery but Booth was plagued by knee pain afterwards. He valiantly tried to play through it but he was eventually pulled before the fourth game of last season. There was hope that he would return but ultimately Booth was shut down for the entire season.

When one thinks of Villanova basketball, offensive efficiency should be one of the first phrases that comes to mind. Booth breaks this mold with a very low eFG%, third lowest on this list behind Xavier’s Quentin Goodin and Georgetown’s Jagan Mosley. Booth makes up for it on the defensive end, where he ranks third on this list in points per possession allowed, behind only Creighton’s Toby Hegner and Butler’s Sean McDermott. Booth can come off the bench cold and lockdown just about anyone. He will be starting alongside Jalen Brunson in the backcourt who is no slouch on defense himself. Between the two, opposing guards will find it difficult to start up any sort of offense. This is all assuming that there is no lingering effects from his knee injury.

18. J.P. Macura of Xavier
6-5 203 lb SR SG
33.5 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.2 bpg, 2.0 tpg, 50.2 eFG%

J.P. Marcura has developed as player in the exact fashion that coaches hope for and fans expect. As a freshman, he was an efficient back of the rotation type player. As a sophomore, his ability to get in transition and create instant offense earned him the Big East Sixth Man of the Year award. Last season as a junior, Macura entered the starting lineup and became one of Xavier’s top players. Behind stars Edmond Sumner and Trevon Blueitt, JP Marcura was able to be an efficient and deadly third offensive option. Macura has decent range but his specialty is pulling up in the mid-range. He excels at taking his defender in isolation but oddly enough struggles when running the pick and roll. Injuries to Sumner and Blueitt forced Macura to be the man for a few games. The result was a six-game losing streak. Macura is a talented player but is better being the Robin to Blueitt’s Batman.

Marcura has elevated his game every offseason. It’s not unreasonable to think that this offseason will allow him to become a player who is relied on as much as Blueitt. The two together will form one of the deadliest offensive wing duos not just in the Big East but in the whole country. What will hold Maruca back is his defense. While he can be disruptive and loves himself some steals, his on ball defense is closer to a turnstile than a wall. His points per possession allowed of .991 ranks as third worst on this list, ahead of only DePaul’s Austin Grandstaff and Marquette’s Markus Howard. Still, the offensive production he brings far outweighs his defensive deficiencies. Xavier will be a tough team to outscore this season.

17. Marcus LoVett Jr of St. John’s
6-0 180 lb RSSO PG
31.6 mpg, 15.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.3 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.6 tpg, 53.4 eFG%

St. John’s fans weren’t happy with the NCAA when they declared Marcus LoVett academically ineligible his freshman year, but boy are they reaping the benefits now. LoVett used the mandatory redshirt year to polish his game and get used to playing at the high major level. He emerged from the redshirt as one the top scoring point guards in the Big East. While LoVett, can definitely fill it up from outside, he’s at his best when he’s attacking the rim. He loves to run the pick and roll to get some space before driving in for layup and a foul. Defensively, he generated a lot of the transition opportunities that St. John’s relied on for offense. However, he was often beat off the dribble when he couldn’t come up with the steal.

LoVett returns to reprise his role as one half of the dynamic backcourt featured by the Red Storm last season. Between LoVett and Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s was gifted with over 33 points a night. The two play well off each other with LoVett’s slashing opening up the perimeter for Ponds’ shooting. St. John’s lost switchable Malik Ellison but replaces him with talented transfers like Justin Simon and Marvin Clarke. Those additions along with the return of so much talent has made St. John’s a popular pick for most improved team in the Big East. If they make a return to the tournament, it will because LoVett has made a jump from his All-Big East freshman year.

16. Bashir Ahmed of St. John’s
6-7 210 lb JR SF
26.7 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.6 bpg, 2.3 tpg, 46.7 eFG%

Bashir Ahmed spent his first two seasons playing for Hutchinson Community College in the NJCAA. Averaging over 20 points a game, Ahmed managed to earn the tile of JUCO All-American, a #2 JUCO ranking in the country per 247 Sports, and a scholarship offer to play for hometown St. John’s. Last season we projected Ahmed as a top 20 player in the Big East but worried it was too high because forecasting Big East production with JUCO numbers is messy business. We may have had him a spot or two high but we weren’t off by much and no Red Storm fan is disappointed with his performance last season. While Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett grabbed all the headlines, Ahmed was a capable third option on offense and a better defender than either of their micro-sized guards.

Ahmed has a diverse set of offensive tools but he is primarily a jump shooter. He has decent outside shooting with 52 makes on 35% accuracy, but his ability to spot up around the top of the key is where his offensive game shines. One area he can improve is his decision making. After his jump shot, Ahmed’s second go to on offense was to take his man in isolation. In 75 possessions he managed a meager 35 points. He had the skill to run the iso in the JUCO ranks but Big East defenders are something else. Defensively, Ahmed was a bit of an enigma as he was elite at defending slashers, post players, and the pick and roll but was terrible against jump shooters. He has the defensive skills to shut down penetration but struggled against players who pull up from the outside. Some of that might be lazy rotations but a lot of it is honestly luck. A lot of defenders allow jump shots to get up but the shooter still has to make it. We expect some regression to the mean this season which will result in better defensive numbers for Ahmed.

15. Andrew Rowsey of Marquette
5-11 180 lb RSSR PG
20.8 mpg, 11.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.3 tpg, 61.5 eFG%

Very few (other than us here at Paint Touches) had high expectations for Andrew Rowsey going into last season. It’s understandable, after all, how many sub six-foot transfers from the Big South ever make a big impact on Big East squads? The answer is now at least one, because Rowsey’s capacity for instant offense was so high that it earned him the Big East Sixth Man of the Year Award in his first season in the conference. His eFG% is the 6th highest on this list (two of the people above him are his teammates…let that sink in for a second). His game by game stat sheet reads like a roller coaster. 1 minute and 0 points vs Michigan…28 minutes, 20 points vs. Pitt on the very next day. 3 minutes, 3 points in an overtime win against Seton Hall…then 26 minutes, 24 points a few days later against DePaul. By the end of the season, Rowsey found consistent minutes and a spot in the starting lineup.

Rowsey is a fan favorite at Marquette but possibly the most hated player in the rest of the Big East. Despite his size, Rowsey is known to chirp at opponents and is the first to get into someone’s face. Not only that, but he likely leads the league in getting fouled on three-point shots due to his mastery of the pump fake. He certainly leads the league in getting fouled but making three-point shots with his off hand which he did not once but twice last season. So a short, chirpy white guy with an annoying playing style? Oh yeah, he’s going to be hated. He will share the starting point guard role with Markus Howard to form a 2-point starting lineup. Rowsey gets the higher ranking over Howard because his defense was significantly better. He was the second best defender for the Golden Eagles last season.

14. Kyron Cartwright of Providence
5-11 185 lb SR PG
33.1 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 6.7 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.9 tpg, 47.0 eFG%

Going into last season, everyone knew that Kyron Cartwright had elite distribution skills. He could deliver the ball safely and in rhythm to places that no one else could. What people didn’t know was all the work Cartwright would put in to increase his scoring ability. The Compton native raised his points per game from 5.9 all the way up 11.4, nearly doubling it. Conventional wisdom says that when volume goes up, efficiency goes down, but not Cartwright. He increased his extremely poor eFG% of 41.3% up to a respectable (though still not great) 47%. Increasing both volume and eFG% so dramatically is rare and it made Cartwright a more well-rounded a deadly distributor.

Providence has now enjoyed several years of elite point guard play and Cartwright should continue that tradition into his senior year. Joining Cartwright in the backcourt will be top 40 recruit Makai Ashton-Langford. The addition of MAL will be an interesting one as they are both pass first point guards but Coach Cooley has used two points in the regularly since arriving in Providence. Despite his small stature, Cartwright is an extremely able defender. He lives in his assignment’s pocket and often finds himself breaking up passes and creating transition opportunities. While his total numbers are not likely to grow and may even go down, Cartwright has a lot of room to improve in his offensive efficiency. If he makes another jump similar to the one he made last summer, he could even exceed his Preseason All-Big East second team expectations.

13. Sam Hauser of Marquette
6-8 225 lb RSSR SG
26.5 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.6 bpg, 0.7 tpg, 62.7 eFG%

When Sam Hauser arrived at Marquette, he was coming off two years of dominating high school basketball, his SPASH high school team winning the state championship with him as the focal point both years. This high school success gave Marquette fans high hopes but most expected him to be a key player off the bench. Instead, Hauser earned a starting spot from day one and led the team in minutes, despite their being a trio of seniors on the roster. Minutes was the only traditional stat category that Hauser led in, but he earned those minutes by doing about everything well. His 8.8 points a game were 6th on the team but his absurdly high eFG% made him one of the most feared scorers on the roster. He didn’t lead the team in steals or blocks but he was the best defender on the team and one of the top six defenders on this list.

Marquette loses three seniors and a transfer but they bring back their trio of absurdly efficient shooters, of which Hauser is one. Hauser is not the type of player to try and take over a game. He has never broken 20 points in a game though he did reach 19 three times. Though that may change as he lit up UW-Milwakee for 27 in the scrimmage for hurricane relief. He picks his spots very carefully and makes the opponent pay for any defensive lapse. As a freshman, he played the role of stretch four and often defended opposing post players. Marquette brings in a lot of size in this latest recruiting class and this may allow him to shift to his more natural position at the wing. However, the official roster says that Hauser has grown an inch since last season and he looks to have gained a lot more muscle. He may not get the headlines with torrid scorers like Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard on the roster, but he is the leader of this Marquette squad.

12. Marcus Foster of Creighton
6-3 205 lb RSSR SG
30.9 mpg, 18.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 2.2 tpg, 52.9 eFG%

I have to be honest here, I did not expect Marcus Foster to be as good as he was last season. He was great as a freshman but his sophomore year at Kansas State was rough. So much so, that I actually didn’t list Marcus Foster in Creighton’s top 5 players last season. Probably my coldest take of last year’s list. Whatever Coach McDermott did during the offseason did wonders for Foster. He not only returned to freshman year form but improved on it. His 18.2 points per game nearly led all scorers in the Big East. He is still a volume scorer but his 52.9 eFG% is more than acceptable.

Foster is an elite level scorer but that is about the only thing he brings you a lot of. He doesn’t grab a lot of boards, his assist rate is pretty low, he doesn’t generate turnovers on defense, and he is only an average on ball defender. But when you score as well as Foster, you don’t need to do much else to get All-Big East honors. Foster can score in a variety of ways. Transition, attacking out of the pick and roll, pulling up in mid-range, hell he even scored 20 points last season by posting up smaller guards. An interesting facet to his game is the long ball. His 73 bombs made him one of the league leaders last season, but he posted a career low 34.1 3P% for the season. He started the season on fire, torching non-conference opponents. When Mo Watson Jr went down with injury, his 3P% took a noticeable hit. In the 17 games he played without Watson Jr, Foster only shot better than 33% from deep in three total games. It could be the Foster relies on getting his three-point attempts in perfect rhythm and the loss of an elite distributor really affected him. Foster will be hoping that Coach McDermott can do the same career resurrection for PG transfer Kaleb Joseph, that he did for Foster last season.

11. Khyri Thomas of Creighton
6-3 210 lb JR SG
31.2 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 5.8 ppg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 2.0 tpg, 57.6 eFG%

Coming out of high school, few people outside of Nebraska had heard of Khyri Thomas. The senior from Omaha was a three-star ranked below 300 by several services. He defied those low rankings and became one of the most reliable players of Creighton’s bench as a freshman. He continued that upward trajectory as a sophomore, leading the team in minutes and becoming one of the best all around players in the Big East. Thomas is a player of consistency, not explosion. He had one 20+ point performance (in a loss to Marquette) but managed at least six points in all but two games (to Georgetown and Truman state of all teams). He rebounds extremely well for his size and is a terror on defense. He strongarms weaker guards on the perimeter and picks the pockets of larger wings. He was key to both creating and finishing transition opportunities for the Jays.

Between Thomas and Marcus Foster, Creighton might just have the deadliest duo of wings in the entire conference. Foster can get buckets while Thomas focuses on stuffing the stat sheet. It will be interesting to see what position Thomas ends up playing. After Mo Watson went down, Creighton tried a lot of different solutions at the point. Thomas is definitely a wing but he ended up leading the Jays in dimes after Watson’s injury. Coach McDermott has options at the point, but in the interest of getting the ball in the hands of their best player, Thomas might bring the ball up some. Thomas is the fifth and final Blue Jay on this list. Creighton has some questions to answer but being led by a player like Thomas goes a long way towards earning a tournament berth.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic


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