Big East Bonanza returns with its first February edition, covering three segments as per usual. Stat leaders and power rankings once again bring down the curtain, but in the leadoff spot this week is an in-depth profile of arguably the Big East Conference's top freshman, one who has given an already potent national championship contender an extra weapon and added dimension to its multifaceted and impressive arsenal.
At 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds, Omari Spellman's build suggests, at least on paper, that he would be the last person to become one of the most dominant forces on the perimeter at any program, let alone a perennial powerhouse the likes of Villanova.
But when the Cleveland native finally suited up for the Wildcats this season after being declared ineligible by the NCAA a year ago, he began to turn heads with each passing night, showing no sign of letting up anytime soon.
"It was extremely hard," he reflected, chronicling his NCAA-induced time on the sidelines. "I love to compete, and even though I did get to compete in practice, obviously it's different from competing in games against other people. It was really hard for me because I just wanted to help my teammates win. I just really wanted to be there for them. It wasn't the same."
Now more than halfway into his rookie season, Spellman; whose average of 11 points per game ranks fifth on a Wildcat team that has seen six of its players post double-figure scoring clips, and whose rebounding and three-point field goal averages rank within the top five on the Big East leaderboard, the time to marvel at what his arrival has brought to the Main Line has only intensified.
"When we recruited him, he was a perimeter player," head coach Jay Wright assessed after Spellman carved up Seton Hall, and a likely first team all-conference selection in Angel Delgado, for 26 points and 11 rebounds in Villanova's 92-76 victory over the Pirates this past Sunday, a game that saw his freshman wunderkind connect on six of his seven three-point attempts in front of several NBA scouts. "This isn't any surprise to us. He grew after we recruited him and grew into a big, strong rebounder and post player, so this is really natural for him, to be on the perimeter and on the ball. It just makes him -- I think this gives him a quicker path to being a complete player."
"Last year helped him a lot," Wright continued. "He really didn't get to play a lot because he was injured, but he did get to be around the program and he did get in shape. He didn't get to play at all, but he did a lot of conditioning work. changed his diet, he learned everything we do. He's not your basic freshman, and I think you're seeing now that some of that rust of a year not playing is starting to come off. He's a freshman that has learned a lot in a short period of time, and he's become a really intelligent player."
Spellman's intellect has improved so much to the point where even when challenged on his X-factor of a perimeter shot, he still has the confidence to take them and the sense to pass when necessary. But when he gets into a groove, as was the case Sunday, his on-court IQ helps carry a team already projected to be a Final Four contender as it seeks a second national championship in three seasons.
"I'll be honest with you, four of his threes were contested," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said of Spellman after the redshirt freshman burned the Pirates firsthand. "When a guy makes shots like that, anytime a guy goes off like that, you're going to have a long night."
"His demeanor's getting so much better," Jalen Brunson, Villanova's point guard and Big East Player of the Year frontrunner, said of his teammate. "All the aspects about him, he's been growing; not just as a player, but as a man. He's really done a great job of just limiting some of the stuff we used to do last year, some of the stuff we used to do at the beginning of the year. He's really just trying to play for us, and he really doesn't care about all the stats or all the hype. He just wants to go out there and play, and that's what we need."
And for Wright, having a player the likes of Spellman has been a new, and consistently eye-opening, experience.
"As an assistant or a head coach, I've never had somebody as complete as that, with the size and strength," he said. "He's going to keep getting better. He rebounded because he was playing around the basket against the big guys. There's not that many big guys anymore, so he's playing on the perimeter all the time, but he could do that, too, so that's what makes him complete."
1) Markus Howard, Marquette (21.6 PPG)
2) Kelan Martin, Butler (20.3)
3) Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (20.3)
4) Marcus Foster, Creighton (19.9)
5) Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (19.4)
6) Jalen Brunson, Villanova (19.4)
7) Andrew Rowsey, Marquette (19.0)
8) Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall (17.4)
9) Max Strus, DePaul (17.3)
10) Jessie Govan, Georgetown (17.0)
1) Angel Delgado, Seton Hall (12.0 RPG)
2) Jessie Govan, Georgetown (10.1)
3) Martin Krampelj, Creighton (8.1)
4) Marcus Derrickson, Georgetown (7.7)
5) Omari Spellman, Villanova (7.3)
6) Justin Simon, St. John's (7.2)
7) Kelan Martin, Butler (6.5)
8) Ronnie Harrell, Jr., Creighton (6.4)
9) Alpha Diallo, Providence (6.4)
10) Marin Maric, DePaul (6.2)
11) Tre'Darius McCallum, DePaul (6.1)
1) Kyron Cartwright, Providence (6.2 APG)
2) Quentin Goodin, Xavier (5.1)
3) Justin Simon, St. John's (5.0)
4) Jalen Brunson, St. John's (5.0)
5) Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (4.7)
6) Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall (4.4)
7) Eli Cain, DePaul (4.1)
8) Andrew Rowsey, Marquette (4.0)
9) Aaron Thompson, Butler (3.6)
10) Jonathan Mulmore, Georgetown (3.4)
Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Tyler Wideman, Butler (.695)
2) Martin Krampelj, Creighton (.671)
3) Tyrique Jones, Xavier (.655)
4) Kerem Kanter, Xavier (.565)
5) Jalen Brunson, Villanova (.556)
6) Toby Hegner, Creighton (.546)
7) Kaleb Johnson, Georgetown (.543)
8) Tariq Owens, St. John's (.525)
9) Marin Maric, DePaul (.516)
10) Khyri Thomas, Creighton (.513)
11) Eric Paschall, Villanova (.509)
Free Throw Percentage Leaders
1) Markus Howard, Marquette (.936)
2) Andrew Rowsey, Marquette (.903)
3) Marin Maric, DePaul (.877)
4) Eric Paschall, Villanova (.872)
5) Kelan Martin, Butler (.872)
6) Marcus Derrickson, Georgetown (.858)
7) Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall (.845)
8) J.P. Macura, Xavier (.839)
9) Khyri Thomas, Creighton (.836)
10) Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (.833)
Three-Point Field Goal Percentage Leaders
1) Jalen Brunson, Villanova (.483)
2) Sam Hauser, Marquette (.477)
3) Sean McDermott, Butler (.471)
4) Omari Spellman, Villanova (.467)
5) Jalen Lindsey, Providence (.459)
6) Toby Hegner, Creighton (.453)
7) Marcus Foster, Creighton (.451)
8) Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (.436)
9) Phil Booth, Villanova (.430)
10) Mikal Bridges, Villanova (.423)
11) Marcus Derrickson, Georgetown (.419)
1) Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (2.6 SPG)
2) Justin Simon, St. John's (2.5)
3) Mikal Bridges, Villanova (1.7)
4) Kamar Baldwin, Butler (1.7)
5) Khyri Thomas, Creighton (1.4)
Blocked Shot Leaders
1) Tariq Owens, St. John's (3.3 BPG)
2) Omari Spellman, Villanova (1.4)
3) Jessie Govan, Georgetown (1.2)
4) Mikal Bridges, Villanova (1.2)
5) Ismael Sanogo, Seton Hall (1.0)
1) Villanova (22-1, 9-1 Big East)
Last Week: 1
Last Game: Sunday 2/4 vs. Seton Hall (W 92-76)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 vs. St. John's, 7 p.m.
2) Xavier (22-3, 10-2 Big East)
Last Week: 2
Last Game: Tuesday 2/6 at Butler (W 98-93)
Next Game: Saturday 2/10 at Creighton, 2:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. CT)
3) Creighton (17-6, 7-4 Big East)
Last Week: 3
Last Game: Thursday 2/1 at Villanova (L 98-78)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 at DePaul, 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET)
4) Seton Hall (17-6, 6-4 Big East)
Last Week: 4
Last Game: Sunday 2/4 at Villanova (L 92-76)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 vs. Marquette, 7 p.m.
5) Providence (16-8, 7-4)
Last Week: 6
Last Game: Tuesday 2/6 vs. Georgetown (W 73-69)
Next Game: Saturday 2/10 vs. DePaul, 4 p.m. (3 p.m. ET)
6) Butler (17-8, 7-5 Big East)
Last Week: 5
Last Game: Tuesday 2/6 vs. Xavier (L 98-93)
Next Game: Saturday 2/10 at Villanova, 12 p.m.
7) Marquette (13-10, 4-7 Big East)
Last Week: 7
Last Game: Saturday 2/3 vs. Providence (L 77-75)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 at Seton Hall, 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET)
8) Georgetown (13-10, 3-9 Big East)
Last Week: 8
Last Game: Tuesday 2/6 at Providence (L 73-69)
Next Game: Saturday 2/10 vs. Seton Hall, 4 p.m.
9) DePaul (9-13, 2-8 Big East)
Last Week: 9
Last Game: Saturday 2/3 at Butler (L 80-57)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 vs. Creighton, 8 p.m. (9 p.m. ET)
10) St. John's (11-13, 0-11 Big East)
Last Week: 10
Last Game: Saturday 2/3 vs. Duke (W 81-77)
Next Game: Wednesday 2/7 at Villanova, 7 p.m.