Top 50 Players in the Big East #50-41


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

For the third 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. Important to note, these are the five best players, not necessarily the five starters from each team. To come up with this list we looked at raw stats, advanced stats, and the good old-fashioned eye test. This year we even splurged on a synergy subscription. This list is the product of a lot of analysis and debate and will hopefully inspire some reaction and discussion. Please let us know in the comments below.

The top 50 is being broken down in to five ten team segments. We’ll start with #50-41. You can find the other segments here: #40-31, #30-21, #20-11, #10-1.

50. Michael Nzei of Seton Hall
6-8 205 lb RSSR PF
16.6 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.7 tpg, 57.6 eFG%

Our countdown surprisingly starts with a fifth-year senior. Michael Nzei is the least heralded member of Seton Hall’ legendary class of 2014. Unlike the rest of his classmates, Nzei redshirted his freshman season. After his redshirt year, Nzei fell in to the role of backup forward to Ish Sanogo and has even spent some time playing the five behind Angel Delgado. Now that they have graduated, Nzei may finally have the opportunity to step out from their shadows. Seton Hall will need him to if they want to avoid a major drop off from the last few seasons.

Nzei is a tall but lean big man who does all of his work exclusively in the post. He’s never been known for volume scoring but his first two years, he was a very efficient scorer in his limited opportunities. As he took on a bigger role last season he saw that eFG% drop by almost double digits which will need to be corrected for this upcoming season. Rebounding is where Nzei can bring the most value especially on the offensive glass. His best game last season was a 7 point, 14 rebound performance in a win over a ranked Creighton team. Nzei figures to slide into the starting PF position alongside Taurean Thompson. As long as they can find a way to work together on offense as neither is known as a floor spacer. He will have to hold off rising sophomore Sandro Mamukelashvili and newcomers Romaro Gill and Darnell Brodie for playing time.

49. LJ Figueroa of St. John’s
6-5 195 lb RSSO SG
34.2 mpg, 21.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.4 bpg, 1.4 tpg, 64.1 eFG% (stats for JUCO Odessa College)

LJ Figueroa has had a few twists in his road to high major basketball. Coming out of high school, Figuerora was rated as a 4-star by most services and was usually ranked towards the back of or just outside the top 100. He committed to low major powerhouse New Mexico State despite offers from a few high majors. He enrolled early but never played for the Aggies. Head coach Paul Weir and staff were poached by in state rival New Mexico and Figueroa decided to transfer. Possibly encouraged by academic concerns, Figueroa ended up going the JUCO route where he was an instant star at Odessa College. He led Odessa to the NJCAA tournament and earned a First Team All American recognition. There was some question on whether or not Figueroa would need one or two years of JUCO but he managed to get himself eligible in one and quickly joined the Red Storm.

At every stop on Figueroa’s path, he has had the reputation of a scorer. He is both a crafty slasher and a deadeye three-point shooter. As a former four-star recruit he was a man amongst boys at the JUCO level, averaging over 20 points per game with eFG% in the mid-60s. One opposing JUCO coach described him as having a “crafty old man” game. The transition from JUCO to Big East is a steep one. Plus, St. John’s is lousy with guards this year but Figueroa’s scoring ability should demand a significant role. He should start alongside Shamorie Ponds, Mikey Dixon, and Justin Simon giving the Red Storm one of the most lethal backcourts in the nation. His presence on this list is assuming that Mustapha Heron will not be eligible for this coming year. If Heron were to be granted a waiver, this would force Figueroa to the bench, but what a bench player to have if you are St. John’s.

48. JaMarko Pickett of Georgetown
6-8 190 lb SO SF
27.5 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.6 bpg, 2.4 tpg, 47.0 eFG%

JaMarko Pickett was the first big name pickup of the Patrick Ewing era at Georgetown. Originally an Ole Miss commit, Pickett came to Georgetown as a top 100 recruit in most services. He earned a starting role from day one and ended up getting more minutes than anyone besides the dynamic duo of Govan and Derrickson. He was third on the team in points per game and led in 3PM. He needed a lot of attempts to get there however. His eFG% is in the bottom 10 of players on this top 50 list and he doesn’t add much outside of his scoring.

Pickett spent most of last season playing on the wing which made him a difficult matchup on both ends of the floor. With Derrickson’s surprise departure and only true freshmen forwards on the bench, Pickett may find himself filling in as the PF more often then he would like. He will no longer have the same size and length advantage that he enjoyed while playing on the wing. However, he should be able to be effective in a stretch four type role. He will need to work on his rebounding and rim protection but Pickett has a chance to build on his solid freshman year campaign. If anything gives Georgetown fans hope, it is that Pickett became a lot more consistent towards the end of last season, averaging 12.7 points 5.2 rebounds over the last 12 games. Unfortunately, Georgetown went 3-9 over that stretch.

47. Myles Cale of Seton Hall
6-5 200 lb SO SG
17.2 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.9 tpg, 52.1 eFG%

Four players in and we already have a second player from one of the Big East squads. The gem of Kevin Willard’s 2017 recruiting class came from Delaware of all places (Divencenzo says hi!). Myles Cale was a top 100 recruit who was known for his elite scoring ability. His freshman year was spent as the first man off the bench for a top 30 Pirate crew. With four seniors graduating, Seton Hall is going to need big minutes from the rising sophomore and for him to show more of the scoring touch that he demonstrated in high school.

Cale did not show a ton on offense his freshman year. With four dominant seniors and an elite scorer like Myles Powell in the starting lineup, there simply wasn’t a lot of opportunity for Cale to have the ball in his hands. He only reached double digit scoring three times, two of which came against low major competition. When he did, he showed a natural ability to weave through the defense and score at the hoop as demonstrated by his impressive 58.1% 2P FG%. His outside shooting is where he struggled converting on only 28.3% of his 3P attempts. Where he did surprisingly well was with his on-ball defense. He had a smaller sample size than others but his dPPP was in the top 10 of players on this list. He will get tougher assignments this year but if he can keep those numbers up while improving his offense, he has a chance to end up a lot higher on this list by the end of the year.

46. Jahvon Blair of Georgetown
6-3 189 lb SO PG
21.5 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.0 bpg, 1.5 tpg, 43.2 eFG%

Not much was expected out of this 3-star guard from the frozen north. He was ranked in the mid-200s by all major services which usually means a prospect that needs time to develop. Georgetown’s depleted roster forced Blair into action and in many ways, he rose to the occasion. Blair was a microwave off the bench for the Hoyas. He showed no fear as he launched trey after trey (5.1 attempts per game). His accuracy unfortunately did not match his confidence, but hey, someone had to score for the offensively inept Hoya backcourt.

Georgetown loses its starting PG and half of its frontcourt dynamic duo. This opens up some minutes and leaves a huge hole in the offense that needs to be plugged. Jesse Govan will still be the go to but he will need a wingman to take Derrickson’s place. Blair seems poised to fill in that role. Accuracy and defense are going to be what Blair needs to address moving forward. His d-rating is the lowest on the roster and his eFG% is the second lowest of this top 50. The addition of talented freshman PG James Akinjo should help Blair get the ball in better scoring position.

45. Paul Reed of DePaul
6-9 210 lb SO SF
10.1 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.5 tpg, 53.6 FG%

This one may seem a little odd at first. Paul Reed, like most DePaul recruits, arrived in Chicago as fairly unheralded 3-star prospect. He’s a string bean of a forward with a wingspan that goes on for days. The Blue Demons were set in the post last season with grad transfer Marin Maric and senior Tre’Darius McCallum. Reed came off the bench and was surprisingly effective in small bursts. He doesn’t have the sexiest stat line but some of his advanced numbers suggest that there is potential for a lot of growth. He led DePaul in defensive rebounding%, steal%, and block%. With more opportunity, Reed could develop in a disruptive defensive specialist with some limited low post offensive ability.

Last season was the best in years for DePaul, in no small part due to the post work by Maric and McCallum. With both departing there is plenty of minutes for Reed to step into. He will have to compete with incoming grad transfer Femi Olujobi, rising sophomore Jalen Butz, and incoming freshman George Maslennikov. Given that DePaul under Leitao has hung its hat on defense, Reed’s speed and length seem to make him a likely candidate to win one of those starting jobs.

44. Femi Olujobi of DePaul
6-9 258 lb RSSR PF
31.9 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.5 tpg, 56.2 eFG% (stats for North Carolina A&T)

Two years ago, it would have been hard to imagine Femi Olujobi ever playing at the high major level. He was a very back of the rotation player at low major Oakland averaging a measly 6.2 minutes and 1.1 points a game. He transferred looking for playing time and ended up at North Carolina A&T, a low major that hadn’t finished higher than 337 in KenPom since 2013. Whether it was the year off or playing in the MEAC, Olujobi blossomed. He led the team in scoring, rebounding, and blocks. Behind his production, the Aggies turned in their best season in years, winning 20 games (though most of against very low level competition).

Olujobi will be facing much stiffer competition as a member of the Blue Demons. At North Carolina A&T he only faced three high major defenses, though he had great success against all of them. Against the Hoyas, Hokies, and Tigers (of Clemson) he averaged 19.7 points while shooting 50% from the floor. DePaul fans shouldnt expect that from him every night but it shows that the potential is there. Maric and McCallum’s departures mean that there is plenty of room in the post for Olujobi to earn minutes. He should team up with defensive specialist Paul Reed to earn the starting role. If both of them develop their limited three point shooting that could create some fun offensive lineups for the Blue Demons.

43. James Akinjo of Georgetown
6-0 160 lb FR PG
4-star PG, ranked #88 overall by 247 Composite

When UConn skipper Kevin Ollie got the boot last March, there was a new top recruiting priority on many program’s radar. PG James Akinjo was the star of UConn’s 2018 recruiting class and he reopened his recruitment after losing the coach that had earned his commitment. A ton of programs reached out for the newly available top 100 player but Coach Ewing was the one to seal the deal almost a month later. Akinjo is a versatile playmaking guard who can score at all three levels. He lacks size and athleticism so he relies on shiftiness to get the job done. He can finish with both hands and has a devastating little floater that he can get over the trees guarding the post.

It’s no secret that backcourt play held the Hoyas back last season. Neither Jagan Mosely nor Jonathan Mulmore were scorers and Jahvon Blair could score but only with a volume of attempts. Akinjo gives the Hoyas a PG with penchant for scoring to pair alongside Jahvon Blair. His presence should spread out the defense more and allow Blair to find better shots. The biggest question for Akinjo is whether or not he will be able to run a team as a true freshman. He has the playmaking ability, but will he be able to be the floor general that Coach Ewing will need him to be? Even if it doesn’t happen this year, Akinjo is a great talent who should develop into quite the weapon over the next four years.

42. Davion Mintz of Creighton
6-3 185 lb JR PG
21.1 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.1 tpg, 46.7 eFG%

It may finally be time for the Davion Mintz show in Omaha. Jay fans thought for a second that he would be the one to take over two years ago when their stud PG Mo Watson Jr went down with a torn ACL. Instead, he was thrown into the fire too fast and struggled. Last season, he saw an increased role and was technically the starting PG, but his minutes were that of a bench player. With the graduation of guard Marcus Foster and the declaration of wing turned PG Khyri Thomas, the path is now clear for Mintz to take over as the starting PG. Even though he is only a junior, he is the leader in career minutes played as a Blue Jay heading into next season.

Mintz clearly showed that he has the distribution skills to be a high major PG last season with a team leading 3.1 assists per game. Where he struggles is scoring the ball. His 33% 3P% is nothing to brag about but its how dreadful he is inside the arc that is the true problem. His 2P FG% was an abysmal 43.3%, good for last on the team. Mintz certainly had trouble finishing drives but he did have a way to compensate for it. He could get to the free throw line. His FTA attempts were third on the team to Foster and Thomas and only by a few attempts in much less minutes. This lead to an absurdly good FTR of .543. Mintz seems like the likely starting PG for Creighton but he will have to hold off a talented true freshman in Marcus “Z” Zegarowski, who has allegedly been tearing it up in practice and has impressed the Jay coaching staff early. You also can’t count out former top 50 recruit Kaleb Joseph who has shown flashes but never put it all together for the Jays.

41. Quincy McKnight of Seton Hall
6-4 185 lb RSJR PG
32.5 mpg, 18.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 4.6 tpg, 45.4 eFG% (16-17 stats for Sacred Heart)

We conclude our first list of ten with our third Pirate. Quincy McKnight spent his first two seasons as a Sacred Heart Pioneer. As a freshman, he was Robin to eventual Cincinnati Bearcat Cane Broome’s Batman. Once Broome transferred, the path was opened for McKnight to take over and take over he did. His 18.9 points a game were second in the NEC only to Bryant’s Nisre Zouzoua (who transferred to Nevada). Practically 19 points a game is impressive no matter the competition level, but the volume it took to get there should be concerning for Pirate fans. McKnight boasted an absurd usage of 33.6%, which combined with his eFG% of 45.4% could mean a steep decline in production when moving to the high major level.

Everyone is aware that Seton Hall lost four senior starters during the offseason. They also had a few less publicized transfers from the guard position. None of them were major contributors last season but it leaves McKnight and true freshman Anthony Nelson as the only two PGs left on the roster. McKnight is going to play huge minutes and Coach Willard will need him to be exceptional if Seton Hall has any chance of making the tournament this season. Improved teammates should help immensely with McKnight’s poor shooting but one part of his game that will need to improve is turnovers. His 4.6 turnovers a game didn’t just lead the NEC in 16-17, it led the entirety of Division 1. McKnight has talent for sure, you don’t drop 40 in a game without it, but there are a lot of concerns that will need to be addressed as he moves to the Big East.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic


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