Top 50 Players in the Big East: #10-1

Marquette Men's Basketball

Marquette Men’s Basketball

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, #20-11

10. Omari Spellman of Villanova
6-9 245 lb RSFR C
2016 5-star C, ranked #21 overall by 247Sports, returns from redshirt

When Daniel Ochefu graduated from Villanova’s championship winning team, few Wildcat fans were worried about the future of their frontcourt. Their class of 2016 contained 5-star big man Omari Spellman, a mountain of a man who could immediately step in and fill Ochefu’s massive shoes. With a composite ranking of #21, Spellman was the highest rated Villanova recruit since Dominic Cheek back in 2009….though Spellman was expected to be a little better than Cheek was. With all the excitement and hype, it is easy to understand how devastating it was when the NCAA made the questionable decision to declare Spellman academically ineligible for his first year. We don’t have all the details but it seems like there were some technicalities that brought some of his high school classes into questions (but paper classes at UNC are just fine). So Spellman sat but Big East coaches know he wasn’t idle. Spellman spent the season off working on his body and preparing for the Big East. His time has finally arrived.

How many programs get to redshirt a 5-star freshman? I didn’t check but odds are that it’s not many. Spellman came to Villanova as a can’t miss prospect in the post. He could use his wide body to clear out space, corral rebounds, and seal defenders to make open lanes. The only concern the pundits had was his conditioning. Spellman weighed in at 290 lbs as a high school senior. Per the official Wildcat roster, Spellman is now a much leaner 245 lbs. Assuming he added some muscle, that means he dropped over 50 lbs of chub. So a guy who was a 5-star when he was out of shape, is now in the best shape of his life. Oh, and he can shoot threes. Spellman will be the center that Villanova was sorely missing last season. The Wildcats don’t miss often but when they do, they will now have Spellman to clean up the mess. Fans of the Big East got to see how Justin Patton turned a redshirt year into a first round draft pick. We could be seeing something similar in Philly.

9. Mikal Bridges of Villanova
6-6 210 lb RSJR SF
29.8 mpg, 9.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.3 tpg, 64.4 eFG%

Mikal Bridges started his career at Villanova by redshirting his freshman season. The always talented Wildcats had some depth at his position and he needed a little extra seasoning. Bridges emerged from the redshirt year as a defensive specialist coming off the bench. He is a tremendous athlete and has a wingspan that goes on for days. Opponents dread when he draws them as an assignment. His lockdown defense and two game sealing steals is what gave Villanova the win in the 2016 Elite Eight against Kansas. As a junior he seized a starting spot, kept the disruptive defense and added an absurd level of efficiency to his offensive game. His offensive points per possession of 1.166 ranked in the 98th percentile of all Division 1 players. It didn’t matter how Bridges attacked, if it was his turn to score he was coming away with points.

Without a true center on the roster last season, Villanova often ran out a four-guard lineup with Bridges playing the role of largest guard. The arrival of Spellman could free up Bridges to spend more time at the wing, a position much more natural for a player of his talents. The departures of Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins means there is a ton of scoring to be made up. Bridges was possibly the best fourth scoring option in the country last season, but he will know be part of a dynamic duo with PG Jalen Brunson. The sudden availability of shots and Bridges’ incredible efficiency last season are telltale signs of player primed for a breakout season. If Bridges continues to develop his outside shot, an All-Big East caliber season is well within his grasp.

8. Rodney Bullock of Providence
6-8 225 lb RSSR PF
32.8 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.8 bpg, 2.5 tpg, 49.3 eFG%

Rodney Bullock is a bit of an enigma. He is a jumpshooting power forward and there’s nothing wrong with that, stretch fours are all the rage in college basketball these days. The interesting wrinkle is that Bullock was not a very good jumpshooter last season. 138 of his offensive possessions in the half court ended with him taking a jump shot. In those 138 attempts he only scored 102 points. That puts his points per possession on jumpshots at .739…good for the bottom quarter of all Division 1 players. His other moves weren’t great either, he struggled in isolation, he didn’t run the pick and roll, and he didn’t do well cutting to the hoop. Where Bullock made up for all that was in transition. 139 of his 519 points (27%) came in transition. Not only did he put up big numbers in the open court but he did it with great efficiency. He runs the floor extremely well for his size and can light up opponents with the trailing three. The best defense against Bullock is strong offense that doesn’t give up turnovers.

Bullock is the last Friar on our list and highlights a squad that is returning every starter and adding a top 40 recruit. The addition of two post players in their 2017 class should guarantee that Bullock never has to spend time at the center position and will be able to play exclusively as forward. An interesting wrinkle to Providence is that their two top players, Bullock and Kyron Cartwright, are in the bottom 10 on this list for eFG%. Two offensively inefficient players as your stars is usually not a recipe for success but Providence could be the exception this year. A year of development for his teammates and the addition of an elite distributor like Makai Ashton-Langford will hopefully allow Bullock to let the game come to him more, sacrificing volume of shots for quality of shots. If he can push that eFG% north of 50% and still bring the solid fundamentals on defense, Bullock could sneak into the All-Big East First Team.

7. Trevon Bluiett of Xavier
6-6 198 lb SR SG
35.1 mpg, 18.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 2.2 tpg, 53.2 eFG%

Few players in the Big East can claim to have terrorized defenses more consistently over the last three years than Trevon Bluiett. In the fall of 2014, the Indianapolis native found himself on the starting lineup from day one. In his first five games as a musketeer, he calmly eviscerated the opposition for point totals of 18, 20, 16, 19, and 17. He hasn’t really slowed down since and is now the lead returning scorer for the entire conference. He scored 20+ in exactly 20 games last season, including a 40-point explosion against Cincinnati. Nothing seemed to slow him down, not losing his point guard to injury, or getting hurt himself. He did have a few clunkers in there, 8 points with 3/12 shooting against Northern Iowa (the 2nd time), 1 point with 0/10 shooting at Georgetown, and 10 points with 3/14 shooting in the Elite Eight…. but the offensive potential is too high to just hope he has an off night.

Bluiett returns for his final year at Xavier to find himself in yet another roster chocked to the gills with talented guards. Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura return and Coach Mack added Paul Scruggs, the top-rated recruit in the Big East’s Class of 2017. Blueitt will continue to be the offensive focal point and if he takes another step forward we could be seeing a guy who averages 20+ points a game. So why are we seeing Bluiett down her at #7 and not somewhere closer to #1? Simple answer is defense. Blueitt is the worst defender in the top 15 players on this list and it’s not particularly close (except perhaps for #10 Omari Spellman as we haven’t seen him play D in college yet). In fact, he’d be the worst defender in the top 20 if not for teammate Macura. He creates a decent amount of steals but his assignments often get around him too easily and shoot over him despite his size. Even with the defensive deficiencies, his offense makes him more than worthy of a top 10 spot. And because award voters love them some offense, he will be a strong candidate for Big East Player of the Year at the end of the season.

6. Khadeen Carrington of Seton Hall
6-4 195 lb SR SG
33.1 mpg, 17.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.3 tpg, 49.4 eFG%

Khadeen Carrington was part of Seton Hall’s absurd class of 2014 that featured six recruits from NYC area high schools. He earned a large role off the bench from day one with his defense and worked his way into the starting lineup by the end of his first year. Since then, he has been a staple in the starting lineup and has been in the business of getting buckets. Carrington’s go to move is attacking out of the pick and roll. He has blow by speed that can get him all the way to the rim and a quick trigger that allows him to rise up somewhere in the mid-range. Of course, he also is a decent passer and when you have a monster like Angel Delgado setting the pick for you, its easy to find the roll man for a layup or a statement dunk. With an eFG% of 49.4% his efficiency isn’t the strongest but that is to be expected with the volume he puts up. If you want to stop him, try talking to Xavier. Their defense accounted for 2 of his 4 single digit games and held him to 4/21 shooting. Don’t talk to Creighton as he torched them for 27 and a scorching 41 points.

Last season Carrington’s spot on this list talked about how he would handle being the primary ball handler. With Whitehead gone to the NBA, and two PG transfers that looked unimpressive on paper, it was assumed that Carrington would have to switch from the 2 to the 1. Instead, one of the transfers, Madison Jones, impressed with his defense and distribution (the other transfer Jevon Thomas just choked people out) and allowed Carrington to spend most of his time off the ball. With both Jones and Thomas now gone, and three-star FR Jordan Walker being the only true point guard on the roster, Carrington may finally be forced to take over the point full time. He was a more than capable backup to Jones last season but he is clearly more comfortable off the ball. He has the skills but it might take a change in mindset. If Carrington can look for his teammates more and use that to select his spots more carefully and bump up that eFG%, he could be even better than this already lofty ranking would suggest.

5. Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s
6-1 175 lb SO PG
33.6 mpg, 17.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.1 apg, 2.1 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.9 tpg, 52.3 eFG%

When Omari Spellman was ruled academically ineligible last season, the honor of top ranked freshman in the Big East fell to Shamorie Ponds. Ponds picked local St. John’s over fellow Big East schools Providence and Creighton and to date is one of the most hopeful signs of the Coach Chris Mullin era at St. John’s. His commitment proved that Coach Mullin had the ability to a be player in the coveted recruiting grounds of NYC. Ponds was the highest ranked New Yorker to commit to St. John’s since Mo Harkless back in 2011. Ponds did not disappoint. He scored a season low of 8 points in his first game and then took off from there. His 17.4 points of game led the Red Storm and was near the top of the conference. What set him apart from fellow high-scoring diminutive St. John’s guard Marus LoVett was his ability to stuff the stat sheet. He rebounds extremely well for his size, dishes the rock with confidence, and plays defense with such ferocity that he can intimidate even veteran players into coughing up the ball multiple times a game….all while keeping turnovers decently low.

If the old adage about players taking their biggest jump between their freshman and sophomore years is true, then the rest of the Big East should be terrified. Ponds will return to St. John’s small but mighty backcourt, but gains some talented weapons in transfers Justin Simon and Marvin Clark Jr. With more proven scorers around him, Ponds will be free to take better looks and increase his already solid 52.3 eFG%. It’s not a stretch at all to say that Ponds has a chance to be All-Big East first team and potentially a candidate for Player of the Year. Ponds highlights a very talented St. John’s team. The questions for the Red Storm will be if they can combine all the talent together and play as a team, and if they have enough depth. They have one of the most solid groups of top seven players in the league with the five on this list plus Kassoum Yakwe and Simon, but there is a huge drop off after that. A seven man rotation can be a dangerous thing for a team that loves to run and foul. If they can stay healthy, St. John’s fans may finally see their team return to the promised land of March Madness.

4. Kelan Martin of Butler
6-7 220 lb SR PF
28.7 mpg, 16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.9 tpg, 50.3 eFG%

Kelan Martin’s freshman year could be categorized as “unremarkable.” He had good scoring off the bench but was horribly inefficient, didn’t grab many rebounds, and didn’t add much on the defensive end. In yet another testament to the development ability of Butler coaches, Martin came back and was dominant as a sophomore. His rebounding over tripled, he become disruptive on defense, and he became a deadeye shooter from beyond the arc. Despite senior studs like Kellan Martin and Roosevelt Jones, Martin was the lead scorer and rebounder for the Bulldogs. He entered his junior season as a preseason All-Big East First Team member with legitimate hopes of being the Player of the Year. He didn’t quite live up to those expectations as he “only” earned a spot on the All-Big East Second Team. Martin had yet another elite season but didn’t really take the step forward than many had hoped he would.

Kelan Martin as a sophomore showcased an old man’s game that is not very often seen in high major basketball in this day and age. His drives to the hoop were never pretty but he could will himself there with raw strength and willpower. The best part of his game was his ability to stop on a dime and deliver a cold swish from the mid-range. As a junior, Matin became a lot more perimeter oriented. Despite similar minutes, he launched over 60 more threes as junior and hit them at a lower rate. His rebounding and defensive numbers also took a hit though they were still respectable. If Martin has spent the offseason either perfecting that outside shot or getting back to what made him great as a sophomore, he could find himself back on the First Team by the end of the year. Butler has a solid trio of players at the top of their roster, none more important than Martin. He will be expected to carry the scoring load and be the senior leader on a team that will be relying on some younger players.

3. Desi Rodriguez of Seton Hall
6-6 220 lb SR SF
31.9 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.4 bpg, 2.1 tpg, 49.7 eFG%

Desi Rodriguez has been overshadowed since he arrived at Seton Hall as part of their legendary class of 2014. He was the fourth highest rated player in the class of 6 NYC area recruits. With classmates like Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, and Khadeen Carrington it’s easy to understand how Rodriguez could get lost in the shuffle. But Rodriguez has always been there, scoring big numbers, grabbing a ton of boards, and playing a suffocating brand of defense that few can match. Offensively, Rodriguez is one of the best in the league at taking his defender one and one and coming away on top. Defense is where he shines. He doesn’t get the steals like Carrington or the blocks like Delgado but his long frame allows him to shut down opponents in a way that neither of them can. His points per possession allowed ranks seventh overall on this list. Carrington will always get more attention because of the scoring numbers, but Rodriguez is one of the best two-way players in the Big East.

You may find yourself counting after seeing Rodriguez’ name. No, it’s not a typo and you haven’t miscounted. This is only our fourth Pirate and the second of three in the top six players in the Big East. This is what happens when you bring in a huge recruiting class and manage to keep just about all the players for all four years. When you have a player like Rodriguez who averaged nearly 16 points a game as the third scoring option for a team, you know you have something special. Rodriguez’ size, speed and length gives him the ability to legitimately guard positions 1-4 on the floor. Coach Willard will plug him in to shut down the opposition’s best scorer. As a sophomore he was one of the league leaders in steal rate. If he can bring back that aspect of his defense without gambling too much, he could be the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Rodriguez is unlikely to end up on an All-Big East team because voters tend to value points and rebounds more, but if the Pirates finally break their March funk, Rodriguez will be one of the primary reasons.

2. Jalen Brunson of Villanova
6-3 190 lb JR PG
31.1 mpg, 14.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.1 tpg, 60.4 eFG%

The first thing that needs to be said at this point is that there is a significant gap between #3 and #2 on this list. The Big East will feature two players that are quite simply on another level from everyone else on this list. It was a tough decision but Jalen Brunson of Villanova is the first of those two players to appear on this list. Coming out of high school, Brunson was rated as a 5-star freshman. He was the fifth starter in his first year as a Wildcat and anytime you can have a 5-star freshman as your fifth starter you know you are doing something right. The starting PG from that championship team graduated and Jalen Brunson was promoted from 5th starter to main ballhandler. His calm decision making, unparalleled ball handling, and lockdown defense helped Villanova earn a #1 seed in the Big Dance though they failed to repeat as champions. On offense, Brunson is nigh unstoppable. His go to move is attacking out of the pick and roll, where he can score at all three levels or dish to one of Villanova’s many sharpshooters. He doesn’t use isolation often but when he does defenders are left with nothing but broken ankles and embarrassment.

Now that Josh Hart has graduated, Villanova is finally Jalen Brunson’s team. He’ll retain his role is the main ballhandler, but he will also take over being the primary scorer and veteran leader. The advanced statistics say he will be more than ready for the task. In 473 offensive possessions, Brunson scored 523 points. That puts his points per possession at 1.106 which was in the 95th percentile of all Division 1 players. On the other end, Brunson had 248 defensive possessions and only allowed 186 points for a points per possession allowed of 0.75. That number put him in the 82nd percentile of all players. Both numbers were in the top five for all players on this list. Put another way, Jalen Brunson is unquestionably the best two-way player in the Big East going into this season. He is more than deserving of the Preseason Big East Player of the Year award that was bestowed upon him. It would not be surprising at all if he ended up competing for National Player of the Year by the end of the season.

1. Angel Delgado of Seton Hall
6-10 245 lb SR C
33.0 mpg, 15.2 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 2.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 3.0 tpg, 54.3 eFG%

It’s been a long, winding labor of love but we are finally here at the number one player in the Big East. It’s not without controversy as we decided not to go with the Big East’s Preseason Pick for Player of the Year, Jalen Brunson, but with another just as worthy candidate. The Angel of the Boards, the Devil of New Jersey, the Dominican Dominator, Seton Hall’s own Angel Delgado. Last season we included Delgado towards the back of our preseason top 10. He was an elite rebounder but a poor post defender and not the greatest threat offensively. He stagnated a bit between his first and second year and we weren’t sure he could raise his game to another level. We were wrong. Delgado answered the bell by increasing his rebounding ability from elite to one of the greatest in Big East history. On the offensive boards he often gives his team not two chances, not three chances, not four chances….well you get the idea. It’s like Lebron counting championships he’s going to bring to Miami, except Delgado actually delivers. In addition, his post moves became crisper, his passes out of the post became more on point, and he turned himself from a turnstile on defense to a brick wall that few found their way through.

While Mr. Brunson is clearly the best all around player in the Big East, Delgado is simply the best at what he does. It is easy to overlook what Delgado accomplished last season simply because he has been doing it and making it look so easy for so long. He only had one game all season where he failed to grab at least six rebounds (and only two where he failed to grab at least 8). His second longest streak of games with a double double was 11. His longest was 13. His 14.1 rebounds per game in Big East play broke a 20-year-old conference record. On top of all of that he also chipped n 15.2 points a game and dished out over 2 dimes from the post. He is a player the likes of which is unlikely to be seen for a long time. It is quite a shame that Delgado is playing in the time he is. If he played even 10 years ago back when dominant rebounding centers were valued at a premium, he likely would be in the NBA by now and collecting six figure paychecks. The game has gotten away from the traditional center in favor of skilled big men who can shoot it from outside. Even if he never makes the NBA, the college game still loves big men of his caliber. He is a lock for First Team All-Big East and should be an All American when all is said and done. If he merely repeats his rebounding total of 431 from last season, he will be ranked 6th overall on the list of career rebounders of the modern college basketball era (post 1973).

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic


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