Top 50 Players in the Big East: #10-1

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

For the fourth year in a row, Paint Touches is taking a look at the top 50 players in the Big East. This started as a small project that I did completely on my own. Last year, I added some other Marquette folks to the fun to try and get some more balance in the rankings. This year, we went a little bigger. We reached out to contributors from all 10 Big East teams. We asked them to pick the top 5 players from their squads. Then we took that list of 50 and sent it to all 10, and asked them to rank the 45 players not from their home team. We averaged those scores to get a truly neutral picture on the top 50 players in the greatest basketball conference in the land. Here are our contributors for this undertaking:

Butler: Lukas Harkins
Creighton: Matt DeMarinis & Patrick Marshall
DePaul: Lawrence Kreymer
Georgetown: Andrew Geiger
Marquette: Yours Truly
Providence: Richard Coren
Seton Hall: Adam Baliatico
St. John’s: Norman Rose
Villanova: Eric Watkins
Xavier: Brad & Joel Dobney

The top 50 is being broken down in to five ten team segments. You can find the other posted segments here: #50-41#40-31#30-21, #20-11.

10. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl of Villanova
6-9 232 lb FR PF
5-star FR, ranked #16 by 247Composite
Avg. Rank: 12.14
High Rank: 7 (Baliatico – SH)
Low Rank: 17 (Dobney – XA)

I have to say that this comes as a shock. Our second team to exhaust all five players on this list is none other than the Kings of the Big East, Villanova. This is the lowest the top Wildcat has ever been ranked on this list since we started this project four years ago. Checking in as the voters’ pick for Jay Wright’s go to guy is true freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. JRE was recently selected as the Big East preseason Freshman of the Year and it is easy to see why. With teammate Bryan Antonie sidelined with injury, JRE is the highest ranked freshman by a country mile. The son of former Jayhakwk standout Lester Earl, JRE is known as savvy big man who focuses on skill instead of size. He has impeccable footwork, a veteran understanding of positioning in the post, and an ability to face the basket and score from inside, outside, and in the mid-range. As much trouble as he’ll be for opponents on offense, JRE prides himself more on his D. He has all the physical tools to be a dominant defender capable of guarding the lane and being effective on the perimeter. We must mention, the last 5-star Nova freshman picked to win Freshman of the Year did not live up to expectations. But the last 5-star Nova big man found himself a national champion and first round draft pick by the end of his first year on the court. Which extreme JRE ends up at will go a long way toward deciding if Villanova can hang onto its title as the Big East basketball overlord. JRE is an undeniable talent but the voters have picked him to be the number one guy in Philly. That is a lot of pressure for a true freshman. Even if Nova lacks a true dominate superstar, their depth is so absurd that a top two finish in the conference seems inevitable.

9. James Akinjo of Georgetown
6-1 185 lb SO PG
31.6 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.0 bpg, 2.9 tpg, 43.8 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 11.43
High Rank: 6 (Baliatico – SH)
Low Rank: 22 (Jackson – MU)

We go straight from this season’s preseason Freshman of the Year to last season’s actual Freshman of the Year. James Akinjo was a late steal by Coach Ewing, snatching him up after Kevin Ollie got fired and Akinjo decommitted from UConn. He brought instant returns as the leader of Georgetown’s freshman trio. He could score in bunches, was tenacious on defense, and the dimes! Akinjo’s greatest weapon is his ability to put the ball right where his teammates needed it. Whether it was delivering it safely to Jessie Govan in the post, hitting Mac McClung for an off balance three that some how goes in, or finding ways to make even guys like Greg Malinowski look good, Akinjo is the distributor that every coach covets for his system. Where he will need to grow is in his slot selection. Akinjo is an elite passer but he isn’t afraid to call his own number, even in situations where he should have been. His eFG% is bottom 5 on this list and he was guilty of shooting the Hoyas out of competition more than once. Call me crazy, but I think Akinjo needs to pass more and shoot less. In the 20 games where Akinjo shot above 30% from the floor (this is not a high bar y’all), Georgetown was a very good 15-5. In the 13 games where Akinjo shot 30% or less, the Hoyas were 4-9…and two of those wins were against Maryland Eastern Shore (literally THE worst team in D1 per KenPom) and Central Connecticut State. When Akinjo picks his spots and focuses on getting his teammates the ball, the Hoyas win. When he doesn’t, they lose. Akinjo is another year older and if he is another year wiser, he will earn that preseason 2nd All Big East team selection.

8. Mustapha Heron of St. John’s
6-5 205 lb SR SG
31.7 mpg, 14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.2 bpg, 2.3 tpg, 50.9 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 10.71
High Rank: 5 (Baliatico – SH/Watkins – VU)
Low Rank: 21 (Jackson – MU)

While the Coach Mullin era will not be remembered fondly by most Red Storm fans, the one thing you could say about him is that he knew how to land transfers. During St. John’s short reign as Transfer U, the biggest splash came from the commitment of former Auburn Tiger Mustapha Heron. Heron was a star from day one down in Alabama. He was a member of the SEC All Freshman team before becoming part of the three headed monster that led Auburn to a 4 seed in the 2018 tourney. When Heron’s mother fell ill and Heron decided to move home, St. John’s managed to seal the deal. Not only that, but the Red Storm didn’t even have to wait a year for his services as Heron was granted a waiver to play right away by the NCAA. Heron’s addition was supposed to take an already dance worthy team to the top of Big East standings. Instead, Heron posted a career high in minutes but saw his scoring rebounding, and steal numbers all drop as the Johnnies stumbled to a first-round loss in Dayton. With most of the roster from last season gone, Heron is going to have a chance to put up yuge numbers for the Red Storm. If new Johnny skipper Mike Anderson can put together a sound offensive game plan, It wouldn’t be surprising to see St. John’s finish a little higher than most of the pundits have them pegged. Heron will be looked to for his leadership as the lone senior with high major experience on the roster.

7. L.J. Figueroa of St. John’s
6-7 200 lb RSJR SG
32.0 mpg, 14.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.8 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.3 tpg, 57.9 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 8.429
High Rank: 4 (Jackson – MU)
Low Rank: 13 Baliatico – SH)

It has been an interesting and transient career for LJ Figueroa now of St. John’s. Coming out of high school he was ranked towards the back of the top 100 and held offers from over a dozen high major programs. He bucked them all to end up at low major powerhouse New Mexico State. He didn’t play due to academic difficulties and then transferred when his coach left for greener pastures. Rather than take a year off, Figueroa went the JUCO route and dominated the NJCAA, scoring over 21 points a game and earning an NJCAA First Team All American tag. Coming into last season, Mustapha Heron’s addition got all the attention, but Figueroa showed he was every bit as impactful and according to these voters, actually surpassed him. Offensively, Figueroa is a jack of all trades. He is a knockdown jumpshooter, loves to attack on hard cuts to the rim, and is extremely aggressive on the offensive glass. What he can’t do is create his own shot. He was a disaster in isolation only scoring 5 points despite many more attempts. On defense, very few create as many deflections and turnovers as Figueroa. He can be deployed to almost any defensive position on the floor and is one of the most opportunistic defenders in the country. His two-way ability earned him a spot on the Julius Irving Award watch list to start the season. St. John’s is the only team with two players in the top 10. But the other three players on this list all ended up in the bottom 5….and one of those was recently denied a waiver and likely won’t be playing this season. If the Red Storm are going to escape a last place finish it will be on the backs of Figueora and Heron as well as because Coach Anderson has developed the other players in ways Coach Mullen couldn’t.

6. Alpha Diallo of Providence
6-7 210 lb SR SF
35.4 mpg, 16.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.5 bpg, 2.7 tpg, 46.8 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 7.286
High Rank: 2 (Baliatico – SH)
Low Rank: 17 (Rose – SJU)

Alpha Diallo did everything for the Friars last season. He led Cooley’s crew in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and guarded the opponent’s top scorer night in and night out. With so many roles to fill, it was not surprise that he finished in several top 10s for Big East statistical categories. He was top 10 in scoring, second in rebounding, and was tied for most double doubles in the conference with an even 10. Part of the reason for Diallo’s big numbers was pure necessity. Other than post scoring savant Nate Watson, the Friar’s offense often struggled to put points on the board. Diallo needed a lot of shots in order to get to his 16 points a game. Diallo has three level scoring ability but is much more effective inside the arc than outside of it. His mid-range pull up game is on point and he even developed a strong post up game when he could get mismatched on smaller wings. In fact, games where Diallo got three happy usually spelled disaster for the Friars. In the 15 games where Diallo attempted 4 or more threes, the Friars went 6-9 and those 6 wins came against DePaul, Boston College, and 4 low majors. If defenses can turn Diallo into a three-point shooter instead of the punishing slasher that he is meant to be, he can be slowed and even stopped. Diallo should have an opportunity this season to keep his high numbers while increasing the efficiency in which he obtains them. The Friars return most of their key players, Reeves should be healed from injury, and rumors are the Emmitt Holt is back and making up for lost time. The improvement of weapons around him will take some of the defensive attention off him and give him better shots. The Friars certainly have a case as a dark horse candidate for the Big East title.

5. Naji Marshall of Xavier
6-7 220 lb JR SF
35.9 mpg, 14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.2 bpg, 3.3 tpg, 45.1 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 6.286
High Rank: 3 (Geiger – GT)
Low Rank: 14 (Watkins – VU)

With the graduations of Trevonn Blueitt and J.P. Macura, Xavier fans expected rising sophomore Naji Marshall to step up and be the leader in the first year of the Coach Steele era. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. Marshall was coming off an All Big East Freshman and had put up consistently great numbers in his first year as a Musketeer. But the transition from 4th or 5th starter to go to guy can be a rough one and it shouldn’t be rushed. Marshall started last season looking a big overwhelmed. Suddenly he was the top priority for ever defense, his number was being called almost every play, and he struggled to find consistency. The efficiency that he displayed as a freshman was gone as he saw his FG% drop by almost 14%. Still, even if the scoring was a struggle at first, he found other ways to help the Musketeers. He brought high level rebounding from the wing and collected three double doubles before 2019. He was second on the team in assists and used the attention he demanded to free up and find open teammates. He also showed flashes of dominance, such as his 24-point, 13 rebound performance against the Badgers. It wasn’t until February that things finally started to click for Marshall. In the last game of their six-game losing streak, Marshall broke out in a big way, scoring 22 points. That started a near unstoppable run for Marshall (other than a painfully bad performance against Nova in the BET) as he averaged 18, 8, and 3.5 while shooting a much improved 33% from deep. If Marshall is going to take the next step from solid to superstar, the development of his outside shot will be critical. He was a 34% sniper as a freshman but was below 30% as a sophomore. If he can get that percentage back to where it was his freshman year, that would make the rest of his game so much more deadly. Xavier brings back their “core four” as the Dobneys like to call them as well a pair of instant impact grad transfers and a solid freshman class. If Coach Steele can mesh the returners with the new additions, Xavier will be a tournament team again this season.

4. Ty-Shon Alexander of Creighton
6-4 195 lb JR SG
32.6 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.0 tpg, 51.9 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 5.875
High Rank: 3 (Watkins – VU)
Low Rank: 10 (Rose – SJU)

There was no bigger omission from last year’s top 50 than Ty-Shon Alexander. We are ashamed to say that we picked Connor Cashaw over Alexander as the Jay’s fifth best player and we deserve any and all shame for that decision. Alexander showed us up in a huge way, becoming not just a starter for the Jays but their clear best player last season. Like all of the Jays, Alexander is an elite spot up shooter scoring 170 points last season on only 152 attempts. Unlike the other Jays, Alexander is a monster in transition. He led the team in takeaways and most were of the variety that led to wide open dunks, layups, and transition threes. He often took these transition opportunities himself and had a knack for not only getting to the free throw line, but making the fouled shot attempt as well. Alexander could score in bunches but oddly enough, Creighton did better when he didn’t. The Jays were 7-11 last season when Alexander attempted 13 or more FGs in a game. On the flip side, they were 13-3 when attempted 12 or less. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Alexander is a ball hog who can cost his teams games. What this actually reveals is that Creighton’s offense relies on ball movement and multiple shooters making shots. A legitimate defense against the Jays’ torrid offense last season was letting Alexander get his and shutting down the other shooters on the roster. When the Jays get the ball swinging back and forth it becomes an unstoppable offensive onslaught. Defense will be what determines the height of Creighton’s ceiling. All early indicators point towards a lineup of 4 guys 6’5” and shorter with a 6’7” center. That’s going to put Alexander and the other guards into uncomfortable positions on defense….of course the opponent will be just as uncomfortable on the other end.

3. Kamar Baldwin of Butler
6-1 190 lb SR SG
34.2 mpg, 17.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.3 bpg, 2.7 tpg, 49.2 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 5.143
High Rank: 3 (Coren – PC/Baliatico – SH/Dobney – XA)
Low Rank: 12 (Rose – SJU)

Kamar Baldwin has been surprising people since the first time he stepped on the court as a Butler Bulldog. He was considered a great pickup when he first signed but as a true freshman ranked outside the top 150, no one expected him to have the instant impact that he did. He was a key player for two NCAA bound Butler teams before taking over as their lone superstar this past season. Lukas Hankins of Busting Brackets calls Baldwin “quite simply, one of the best players to ever don a Butler uniform” and “one of the best two-way players in the conference.” The stats certainly back that up as Baldwin ranks as one of the top defenders in the Big East. He led the Bulldogs with 1.5 steals a game and was an elite one on one defender. In the 26 times that someone tried to score on Baldwin in isolation, he only gave up 15 points for points per possession of .0.577, one of the better marks in the conference. Offensively, Badwin can score every which way. He can shoot from range, he can take defenders in isolation, and he loves attacking out of the pick and roll. Everyone and their mother last season knew that Baldwin was the main threat to score but it didn’t matter, he still found ways to put up big numbers. Last season it was painfully evident that Butler could only go as far as Baldwin carried them. When Baldwin hit his season average of 17 points or higher, Butler was a respectable 11-5. When he didn’t? The dawgs struggled to the tune of 5-12…with four of those five wins being of the cupcake variety. Put simply, if you had a lockdown defender capable of corralling Baldwin, you could beat Butler last season. Coach Jordan has added a lot of new pieces who look like they could take the pressure off of Baldwin to score. If they step up, Butler may escape the bottom three finish that every pundit currently has them pegged for. If it is just Baldwin vs. the World again, his senior year may not be the swan song that a player of his caliber deserves.

T-1. Myles Powell of Seton Hall
6-2 195 lb SR SG
36.0 mpg, 23.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.0 spg, 0.2 bpg, 3.0 tpg, 54.2 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 1.429
High Rank: 1 (Geiger – GT/Jackson – MU/Coren – PC/Watkins – VU)
Low Rank: 2 (Hankins – BU/Rose – SJU/ Dobney – XA)

Before anyone says it, I know, this is a huge letdown. You’ve read through summaries on 48 players wondering who was going to be the top player in the Big East and you get to the end and it’s a tie. It’s a disappointment but that’s how the votes landed, half for last season’s Big East Player of the Year and half for this year’s preseason Big East Player of the Year with all the second place votes going to the other one (except for mine and Baliatico’s who weren’t allowed to vote on our own players). The first up in our dynamic duo is Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. Powell successfully made the leap from the conference’s best fourth scoring option as a sophomore to top banana of the Pirates as a junior. There is not an offensive move outside the post that Powell isn’t one of the best at. He can drive with either hand, run the pick and roll, take a man one on one, he even puts back offensive rebounds at a high rate. What makes him deadly is his ability to get a shot off in a split second with just a sliver a space. The Pirates loved to run Powell off of tight screens that freed him up for open shots all over the court. As good as he is in the half court, the largest chunk of his points came in transition. His 223 transition points scored last season led the Big East. One would think with his reputation as a shooter that he was usually a leak out or a trailer. In actuality, Powell would demand the ball in transition and usually took an opponent all the way to a bucket for an old fashioned three point play, which he earned at mind boggling rates. Powell really only had one disappointing performance last season, a 3 point, 7 turnover effort against the Villanova Wildcats. That seemed to spark something in Powell as that was the start of an absurd run where he averaged 25.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.4 steals a game for the remainder of the season. Put simply, he went from basketball demi-god to god mode to end the season. That late push wasn’t enough to secure the Big East Player of the Year last season, but it may have had a role in his preseason selection this season. Powell is the first Pirate we’ve seen since Myles Cale at #27. If the Pirates are to live up to the hype train that’s been running out of control this offseason, Powell going off won’t be enough. He will need to find ways to get his teammates involved and successful. If he does, the Pirates could win the Big East and he will lock up the Player of the Year award.

T-1. Markus Howard of Marquette
5-11 180 lb SR PG
33.5 mpg, 25.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.9 apg, 1.1 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.9 tpg, 52.0 eFG%
Avg. Rank: 1.429
High Rank: 1 (Hankins – BU/Baliatico – SH/Rose – SJU/ Dobney – XA)
Low Rank: 2 (Geiger – GT/Coren – PC/Watkins – VU)

The other half of the tie at the top is Marquette’s personal dynamo, Markus Howard. All three years he’s been at Marquette he’s held the mantle of their top scorer. He started as a stud and has improved his game every year. His first year he was primarily an outside shooter, making over 50% of his 150 three-point attempts. His sophomore year he upped his game inside the arc, making 53.3% of his 2P field goals. His third year, he increased the volume on offense while sacrificing some efficiency while greatly improving his defense and distribution. Per synergy, he finished last season with a points per possession allowed for .731 which was in the 85th percentile of all players. In addition, his assist rate jumped nearly 10% from around 18% to over 27%. He has improved a part of his game dramatically every year so it stands to reason that we could see another aspect of his game get elevated in the coming months. Marquette fans are hoping that it is his ball control that improves. His 134 turnovers led the Big East and was top 10 in division 1. This isn’t as bad as one might think at first glance, Howard had the ball in his hands so often that his TO% was a respectable 15.7%. Still, there was more than one occasion where Howard tried to do too much, particularly at the end of games, and it ended up with the ball going the other way. Whereas Myles Powell blew up down the stretch, Howard’s numbers started to fade towards the end of last season. His turnovers went up and his 3P shooting which had been over 40% dropped to 29% over the last 8 games of a season. Some fans say Howard was simply worn out by the end of the season, but it has also been confirmed that Markus was nursing several injuries by that point. This season, Wojo has several more ballhandlers available to help take the pressure of Howard. If fact, spies in the Al McGuire Center seem to indicate that Markus has been playing more off the ball which allows him focus on his best talent, scoring. Who ultimately ends up as Big East Player of the Year may get settled on the court. Powell got the better of Howard last season as Seton Hall took 2 of 3 from Marquette including a controversial foul fest in the BET semis. You can be rest assured that every Marquette player has the two games against the Pirate circled on their calendar for the upcoming year. One thing is for sure though, this year’s Big East is Markus and Myles’ conference, the other 48 players on this list just play in it.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic


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