Monday, July 3, 2017

Early all-Big East preseason predictions

Entering junior season after first team all-Big East nod last year, Jalen Brunson should be on short list for Player of the Year honors if he replicates his performance for Villanova. (Photo by CSN Philly)

As the offseason drags on, we open the month of July with something we attempted two months prior in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, that being a projection of preseason all-conference honors, only this time for the Big East Conference. After our MAAC picks were met with a fair share of feedback, the decision to do the same for the Big East became a much clearer one to make.

Just as it is in any conference, finding 15 players (the Big East does two all-conference teams followed by honorable mentions, a slight contrast from the first, second, and third teams selected by the MAAC) that stand head and shoulders above their brethren is no easy task. Nevertheless, here is an early crack at it, with another three months remaining before the conference's preseason poll is announced at media day in October:

First Team
Preseason Player of the Year: Jalen Brunson, Villanova (14.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.1 APG, 54% FG, 87% FT, 37% 3-pt FG in 2016-17)
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (18.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 44% FG, 75% FT, 37% 3-pt FG)
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall (17.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 42% FG, 73% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall (15.2 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 54% FG)
Marcus Foster, Creighton (18.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.4 APG, 46% FG, 70% FT, 34% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: As much as we cover Seton Hall and have a greater appreciation for Delgado and how he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, the fact remains that coaches like to reward winning when determining their selections for all-conference honors, and that is what ultimately tips the scales in Brunson's favor as far as Player of the Year is concerned. It only enhances his case when you consider that the junior point guard has made the transition from Ryan Arcidiacono not only smooth and seamless, but also added facets to the Wildcats' game that make them more dangerous in all possible aspects. Getting back to the Pirates, Delgado and Carrington have unfinished business in South Orange this season, looking to take the next step once and for all by winning an NCAA Tournament game. The pair certainly have the firepower alongside them to do just that. Finally, Bluiett and Foster are two senior leaders who have already proven what they are capable of with the basketball in their hands, and should burnish their already rich legacies even more so this season. It will be intriguing to see how Foster adjusts to life without Justin Patton, but if the loss of Maurice Watson was any indication last season, such a question mark will not go unsolved very long for the Bluejays.

Second Team
Rodney Bullock, Providence (15.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 44% FG, 75% FT in 2016-17)
Kyron Cartwright, Providence (11.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42% FG, 71% FT, 39% 3-pt FG)
Markus Howard, Marquette (13.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 51% FG, 89% FT, 55% 3-pt FG)
Kelan Martin, Butler (16.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 43% FG, 79% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (17.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.0 SPG, 44% FG, 82% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Bullock and Cartwright emerged from the shadows of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil last season to be the driving force behind Ed Cooley's fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth in the Ocean State, and the two will lead a much deeper Friar team for their final go-round. In fact, we'll put this out there right now: Do not be surprised if one or both of these players find their way onto the first team at the end of the season, because their impact is just that immeasurable. Howard is the rare specimen of efficient and lethal shooter coupled with a basketball intelligence far ahead of his time that will make the 18-year-old sophomore (he turns 19 next March) a surefire Big East Player of the Year before he graduates. His 66 percent effective field goal rate last season was far from an aberration, and that number is certain to improve as he sees more reps in Steve Wojciechowski's offense. As far as Martin and Ponds are concerned, each was deserving of a first team nod, but with the conference so abundant with star power across the house, there was simply not enough room to include them. However, just as we stated with Providence's duo of Bullock and Cartwright, the inclusion of either of these two on the first team at season's end would be far from a surprise.

Honorable Mentions
Mikal Bridges, Villanova (9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.7 SPG, 54% FG, 91% FT, 39% 3-pt FG in 2016-17)
Marcus LoVett, St. John's (15.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 46% FG, 80% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)
J.P. Macura, Xavier (14.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 43% FG, 79% FT, 34% 3-pt FG)
Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall (15.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 44% FG, 36% 3-pt FG)
Khyri Thomas, Creighton (12.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 51% FG, 77% FT, 39% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Bridges might just be the most underappreciated player in the Big East, and maybe even the nation as well. Few players possess the two-way ability that comes naturally for "The Condor," and with Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins having graduated, Bridges will become the latest in a long line of Villanova mainstays to become a more integral part of the starting lineup after serving as a role player early in their careers. LoVett blossomed alongside Shamorie Ponds in the St. John's backcourt, creating a high-scoring duo whose defensive exploits were just as profound, contributing to the Red Storm leading the conference in defensive turnover rate. The sophomore should continue to improve as Chris Mullin's program will once again be in the postseason conversation come March. A four-year warrior, Macura should finally get his due this season. With everyone in front of him over his first three years, it was rather easy to lose him in the shuffle, but after a breakthrough run to the West Regional final, he will not be sneaking up on opponents of the Musketeers this time around. Rodriguez is the third of a four-pronged Seton Hall senior core that has already tasted success, but now seeks to make it more than just a fleeting appetizer. The Bronx native will need to be more consistent on the wing, especially with Kevin Willard's point guard situation still in a state of flux until Khadeen Carrington can fully transition into the floor general role. Finally, Thomas might just be the player with the biggest breakout this year. Greg McDermott has raved about his potential and defensive ball-hawk abilities throughout his tenure in Omaha, and that will be on full display in the Bluejays' backcourt. If Thomas and Marcus Foster can be a two-headed monster on both ends of the floor, which is not too far out of the realm of possibility, Creighton could not only challenge Villanova for conference supremacy, but possibly usurp the crown from the Wildcats if all goes well.

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