Top 55 Players in the Big East: #30-16

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

For the past four years, Paint Touches has been counting down the top 50 players in the Big East. It started as my personal opinion and over time it grew to the point of having representatives from each of our Big East bloggin’ brethren contribute to the rankings for a truly neutral picture of the best of the BEast. This year was supposed to be the biggest yet with the Prodigal Dawgs returning home to the Big East, pushing our top 50 into a top 55. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us (like everyone else) to adapt and we are going a little smaller this year. With the season not being confirmed until mid-September, there simply wasn’t enough time to gather the Magnificent 11, get their picks, and write 55 profiles before the season started. Not only that, but with the NCAA holding a fire sale on transfer waivers (unless your Butler and Xavier), we didn’t really know who was and wasn’t going to be eligible for this list until recently (seriously, Marquette had a guy approved like two days ago). Given this, this year’s list was done solo and the players lower on the list have some pretty short profiles.

A reminder of how this works. This is not a true top 50/55 list. Rather than take the top 55 players from the 140ish players in the Big East regardless of what team they are on, we take the top 5 players from each team and rank them 1-55. We do this because, well, if we didn’t, Georgetown may not have had any players make the list. I usually make that joke about DePaul every year, this is how far you have fallen Hoyas. These rankings are based on how we think each player will do this season and this season alone. This isn’t about who has the most upside, who will make the best pro, or who had the best stats last year. It’s about who will have the best 20-21 campaign…assuming we actually survive 2020.

You can find the other posted segments here: #55-31

30. Marcellus Earlington of St. John’s
6-6 240 JR PF
18.2 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 0.6 apg, 1.0 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.9 tpg, 48.5 eFG%

Marcellus Earlington was one of my favorite dudes to watch last season. His game is that of a bygone era. His shot isn’t pretty, the metrics don’t love the shots he takes, but somehow this man just gets buckets. His bull in a china shop approach doesn’t just apply to his scoring. His 12.3% OR% put him in the top 70 players in D1 on the offensive glass. He has a high motor and a tendency to just rip the ball away from opposing rebounders before putting it back for a quick shot. He’s a solid defender with quick hands that created a lot of transition opportunities for the red storm. The weakness to his game is certainly his outside shooting. He’s a career 27% 3P shooter and only has 14 treys to his name. That can be a challenge in a game that increasingly relies on the three ball. It will be interesting to see how his game is impacted by going from the third or fourth scoring option to one of the go to guys. Like our last entry, Bryce Golden, Earlington is another big weight gainer from last season. The official Red Storm Roster lists him as gaining 25 lbs from a year ago. If most of that is muscle, it could make him even more of a force in the post and on the glass.

29. Dwon Odom of Xavier
6-1 180 lb FR PG
4-star FR, ranked #56 by 247Composite

Just the third true freshman to crack our list and the first one that is here more because of his talent that out of necessity. Dwon Odom is a high rising PG and the latest member of Xavier’s southeastern pipeline that has been going for the last few years. Odom has exceptional ball control and an elite ability to penetrate opposing defenses. He’s only 180 lbs but has the ability to absorb contact from much bigger players and still get the ball in the hoop for the and one. His shooting is a work in progress. There’s a weird hitch in his shooting form that will need to be corrected before Big East play. His presence allows Scruggs to stay at his more natural position of shooting guard. A very likely candidate to make the All-Big East Freshman squad.

28. Koby McEwen of Marquette
6-4 195 lb RSSR PG
28.6 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 2.8 tpg, 41.2 eFG%

If you asked ten Marquette fans who the most frustrating player to watch last season was, one of them would be an irrational Markus Howard hater and the other nine would say Koby McEwen. McEwen arrived at Marquette after spending two years as a mid-major stud for Utah State. The belief was that he could be the Robin to Howard’s Batman in the MU backcourt and take some of the scoring load off Markus. There were moments in time, where McEwen did just that. He singlehandedly willed Marquette to an early season victory over Purdue, scoring 23 points when everyone else was clanking iron. He poured in 22 points in a win over the Wildcats. When Howard went down with an injury at Xavier, McEwen scored the last 10 points in regulation to force OT…then scored all 7 points in OT to force double OT before Sacar Anim took them home for a win. But most of the time, McEwen’s shot was awful. His eFG% is second lowest on this list. Not only that but he boasted a TO% of 26%. And a McEwen TO often meant that the ball ended up a few rows up in the audience. Despite these drawbacks, McEwen earned major minutes with his above average rebounding, his defense, and by leading the team in assist rate. If McEwen can fix his shot and cut down on the turnovers, he could greatly outperform this ranking. The MU faithful are hopefully about his shooting as the thumb injury to his shooting hand that nagged him all season is supposedly fully healed.

27. Andre Jackson of UConn
6-6 210 lb JR SF
4-star FR, ranked #50 by 247Composite

The second highest ranked true freshmen in the conference this season. An elite athlete with a wingspan that goes on for days. Assuming he adapts to Hurley’s scheme quickly, should be an immediate defensive presence with the ability to guard everyone but that quickest points and the beefiest forwards. Jackson is electric in transition. He soars for high flying dunks and has superior body control that allows him to absorb contact and still get a shot off. His half-court offense is still a work in progress. His outside jumper needs work and while he dominated high schoolers off the bounce, will need to lower his dribble and improve his control to navigate Big East level defenses. Hurley will be able to deploy Jackson anywhere from the 2-4, making him a very diverse rotational piece. UConn is very deep and Jackson may struggle to get playing time initially as more experienced players get the early nod due to limited practice time. By the end of the season, I expect Jackson to be earning starters’ minutes.

26. Jamorko Pickett of Georgetown
6-9 206 lb SR SF
30.9 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.9 bpg, 2.0 tpg, 45.2 eFG%

Jamorko Pickett has the honor of being one of the only players to ever crack our countdown all four years of his eligibility. Unfortunately for Hoya fans, this is the highest he’s ever been ranked. Pickett was the first major recruit of the Patrick Ewing era and paid immediate dividends. Pickett was a starter from the get-go and earned a spot on the Big East All-Freshman team. He took a big step back his sophomore year before a junior year resurgence. He’s never been more than a third or fourth scoring option and now faces the task of being Georgetown’s alpha Hoya. This is not a natural look for Pickett as he is most comfortable in catch and shoot situations. He added an inside game to his repertoire last season but as a career 39% shooter inside the arc, its just not where he is comfortable. If the Hoyas want to have any hope of escaping a last place finish, Pickett will have to find a way to be more than the three and D specialist that he’s always been. We still have 25 players to go but no more Hoyas. Creighton hasn’t even made an appearance yet. But, to quote Coach Ewing “I’d pick us last.”

25. Tyler Polley of UConn
6-9 215 lb SR PF
25.2 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.5 bpg, 0.3 tpg, 55.6 eFG%

On January 8th, 2020, UConn struggled to a single digit home win over a mediocre Tulane squad. The lone bright spot was a career game from Tyler Polley, pouring in 19 points and grabbing 6 boards to help secure the win. What could have been signs of a new level for Polley quickly turned to disaster as he tore his ACL two days later in practice. In what can only be described as a surprisingly quick recovery, Polley is supposedly fully cleared and ready to pick up where he left off. Polley is the definition of a stretch-4. At 6’9” he has 30 more career 3P makes than two-pointers. His speed allows him to play at both the PF and wing positions, meaning he often has several inches on his defender, allowing him to shoot over them. His speed and size also make him a swiss army knife defender. He can be placed on virtually any assignment and his length will keep guard corralled on the perimeter or alter shots in the post. The if and it’s a big if, is what shape Polley is in after the ACL tear. He is fully cleared to play but that is months of rust that he will need to shake off. Perhaps, the COVID shortened offseason will mean he’s not at such a disadvantage.

24. Aaron Thompson of Butler
6-2 195 lb SR PG
32.4 mpg, 7.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.9 tpg, 48.1 eFG%

Aaron Thompson may be the most feared perimeter defender in the Big East. He doesn’t have the size, he isn’t particularly lanky, but the man knows how to defend. He’s not a flashy defender, he doesn’t force that many turnovers, but he stays in front of his man, denies passing lanes, and never loses an assignment. This works well with Butler’s slow em down and beat em up style of play. Scoring has never come naturally to Thompson, last year’s 7.2 points per game was a career high for him. He only made a single 3P FG last season and most of his damage was done by getting to the free throw line. Thompson balances his scoring struggles by being an elite level distributor. His assist rate of 26.7% was good for the top 150 in all of Division 1. Now, a majority of those assists ended up going to Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott. With both graduating, Thompson will either need major leaps from his teammates or will need to take on some of the scoring load himself if Butler is to avoid a bottom half of the conference finish.

23. Denzel Mahoney of Creighton
6-5 220 lb RSSR SF
22.5 mpg, 12.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.9 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.4 tpg, 49.7 eFG%

Phew, 33 players in, including four teams who have already had four or more appearances on this list, and we finally hit our first Blue Jay. Denzel Mahoney is a guard masquerading as a PF for Creighton. He’s a unique player among the Jays. While most of their offense is built on crisp passing leading to wide open shots, Mahoney has never seen a shot that he didn’t like. To his credit though, he makes most of them. Mahoney led Creighton in usage by over 4% last season despite playing with a plethora of offensive studs. This resulted in the former Southeastern Missouri St star putting up a lot of points in a very short amount of time. Scoring is what he brought to the table last season as he didn’t do much for Creighton’s rebounding or defensive numbers. To be fair, this was because he was playing wildly out of position against guys much bigger than him and while his rebounding and defensive numbers weren’t great, he held his own. The Jays have a few more options at the forward spot this season so that may allow Mahoney to switch to his more natural position on the wing.

22. Jaylen Butz of DePaul
6-9 224 lb SR PF
27.4 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.7 bpg, 2.2 tpg, 59.3 eFG%

Under Leitao’s second reign as DePaul’s head coach, DePaul has become synonymous with tall and athletic forwards with arms that go on forever. With Paul Reed now competing for minutes on the 76ers, Jaylen Butz will be the main man in this role. There’s nothing pretty about what he does on offense. His range is mostly within five feet of the hoop. He does most of his work with his back to the basket or by crashing the offense glass. He’s also one of the best in the nation at drawing contact with a FTR ranked in the top 75 of all players last season. Just don’t ask him how it goes once he actually shoots his FTs. His true value lies on the defensive end where he is stout enough to challenge any opposing post and is quick enough to guard forwards and wings in space. He’s not just a good defender, he’s a disruptive one. In conference play last season, Butz ranked in the top 15 players in the conference for both blk% and stl%.

21. Damien Jefferson of Creighton
6-5 220 lb RSSR SF
27.1 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.2 tpg, 55.6 eFG%

Damien Jefferson is the other guard masquerading as a PF for the Creighton Blue Jays. His scoring numbers are a little less gaudy than Mahoney’s but that’s because Jefferson was much better at picking his spots. Jefferson finished last season with an absurd 2P% of 61.5%. It was even higher in Big East play at a whopping 66.1%. He is actually a poor shooter (by Creighton standards). Instead, Jefferson used his size to his advantage on offense by blowing past slower defenders away from the ball so he could score on an undefended cut to the basket. Anytime opposing defenses tried to cheat by overextending on the perimeter, Jefferson was there to make them pay. Similar to Mahoney, his rebounding and defensive numbers weren’t pretty, but considering the usual size disadvantage he had to overcome, Jefferson held his own. Ty-Shon Alexander’s departure means that Mitch Ballock will slide to the 2 and Jefferson can move to a more natural spot at the 3 while Mahoney covers the 4. This added size to the starting lineup may help Creighton’s defense but it’s hard to imagine it making up for Alexander’s ability to lockdown the opponent’s best player.

20. Dawson Garcia of Marquette
6-11 235 lb FR PF
4.5-star FR, ranked #36 by 247Composite

The preseason Big East Freshman of the Year and the only Burger Boy to join the Holy Land of Hoops this season. A big man out of the Twin Cities, Garcia is known for his plethora of offensive weapons. He can back you down in the post. He shoots threes with alarming accuracy. He has the ball control to drive on defenders and get himself to the rim. Having seen him scrimmage, he has an impressive amount of body control and can twist himself however he needs to in order to get the ball into the hoop. His drawback, like many freshmen, is that he is a defensive work in progress. All the physical tools are there to be a plus defender but he hasn’t mastered them yet. Fair or not, Garcia will get compared to the last Burger Boy to play for Marquette, Henry Ellenson. Their games are remarkably similar. Garcia has the better jumpshot but Ellenson was much better around the hoop. Hopefully for MU fans, Garcia having a better team around him will lead to better results than Ellenson’s lone season at MU.

19. James Bouknight of UConn
6-5 190 lb SO SG
25.9 mpg, 13.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.2 bpg, 1.8 tpg, 50.7 eFG%

My first draft of this list had Bouknight a lot higher than this spot. Then I looked deeper into the numbers and just couldn’t find a reason to keep him there. Bouknight does one thing and one thing only very well. He scores. A lot. Despite averaging less than 26 minutes a game, Bouknight managed to average a sweet 13 points a contest. About a third of his points came in transition. The Huskies didn’t push the tempo that much but anytime they did, it seemed to end up in Bouknight’s hands where he could use his superior athleticism to get to the rim. Outside of scoring, Bouknight did not bring much to the table. His rebounding numbers were below average, he’s not much of a distributor, and he was closer to a turnstile than a capable defender. To add evidence to my point, for all of his heroics, Bouknight was not listed as the MVP by KenPom in a single game last season. Bouknight will lead the Huskies in scoring, but until he contributes on the rest of the stat sheet, I’m not ready to crown him as a surefire member of the All-Big East team.

18. Charlie Moore of DePaul
5-11 180 lb RSSR PG
35.6 mpg, 15.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.1 bpg, 3.5 tpg, 43.7 eFG%

It’s been a long and transient career for Mr. Moore. The Chicago product started as a FR standout for (technically) high-major California. He parlayed that performance into a blue-blooded scholarship offer from Kansas where he became a fixture on the bench of the Phog. A transfer home to Chicago turned out to be the right call for Moore as he put up explosive numbers for the Blue Demons in his first season. This has earned Moore one of only two unanimous selections to the preseason All-Big East First Team this year. Far be it from me to criticize the coaches who know way more about basketball than I could ever hope to forget…but this is a fan blog and that’s what we do. Moore’s selection was based more on volume of stats than quality of stats. Moore put up a lot of points last season but needed a ton of shots to do it. Moore’s eFG% ranks third to last on this list. He is an elite distributor with an assist rate that ranks in the top 40 of Division 1. He loses two of his favorite beneficiaries in Paul Reed and Jalen Coleman-Lands, but DePaul’s trio of transfers make for intriguing replacements. Moore is the fifth and final Blue Demon making DePaul the second team to exhaust all of their spots on this list. Appropriately, most services, including this one, have them finishing second to last in the conference this season.

17. Bryce Aiken of Seton Hall
6-0 180 lb RSSR SG
32.8 mpg, 22.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.5 tpg, 52.8 eFG% (18-19 stats for Harvard)

What do you do when you graduate one of the most electric scorers in program history? In Chris Willard’s case, you go out and find the poor man’s version of that same player. That is not meant as an insult to Mr. Bryce Aiken. The poor man’s version of Myles Powell is still better than most college basketball players. Two seasons ago, Aiken was taking all of the shots. He ranked in the top 15 in the country for both usage and shot percentage. Even with this many shots going up, Aiken kept it pretty efficient with an eFG% close to 53%. Granted, you have to account for the quality of competition that Aiken faced. An injury kept him out of non-conference play so his numbers were built against Ivy league level competition. Aiken only faced a single top 75 team that season and he went 6/18 from the floor in a loss to NC State in the NIT. Aiken did play last season but with only seven injury hampered games to judge its hard to get a read on his performance. Health is the obvious concern for Aiken as he’s never played a full season in four years and over the past three years, he’s missed more games (53) than he’s played (39). The less obvious concern is his defense. He put up some dreadful defensive numbers and again this was against Ivy league level competition. Taking on the much bigger and faster guards of the Big East is going to be a major adjustment. Even so, Aiken’s scoring ability is so good that it more than offsets the defensive lapses.

16. Justin Moore of Villanova
6-4 210 lb SO SG
29.9 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.7 spg, 0.3 bpg, 1.8 tpg, 52.0 eFG%

Villanova’s 2019 recruiting class was highlighted by two 5-star recruits. Justin Moore, was not one of them. Moore was the third ranked player in that vaulted recruiting class and few outside of Nova insiders expected him to make an immediate impact. An injury to one of those aforementioned 5-stars opened the door for Moore and his play blew it wide open. Moore started the season in the starting lineup, playing the 2G position along PG Collin Gillespie. A goose egg performance against Baylor led to him coming off the bench but he saw his minutes actually increase. By the time the season ended, Moore was in the starting lineup again and was torching opponents from deep. Moore made 61 treys last season at a 40% clip, becoming yet another in the long line of Villanova sharpshooters. Moore’s main contributions were on the scoreboard as he didn’t add much in terms of boards or assists. Now that Saddiq Bey has been drafted and Bryan Antonie is hurt again, Coach Wright will look to Moore to continue his scoring but also help the Wildcats in additional facets of the game.

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Categories: Analysis, Offseason

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic

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