Monday, September 17, 2018

Big East all-conference predictions

While Shamorie Ponds will likely receive preseason accolades, Villanova's Eric Paschall is primed to shoot his way into all-Big East honors in senior season. (Photo by The Journal News)

College basketball season appears closer than ever before as we transition into the start of practice for each Division I team, and in a Big East Conference where many teams are retooling in the wake of Villanova's second national championship in three seasons, the speculation surrounding preseason all-conference honors is as widespread as the predictions of where each of the league's ten teams will finish.

Yes, there are certainties abound just as much as there are the ever-present question marks and intrigue just over one month removed from media day at Madison Square Garden. Selecting 15 players to fill three teams is always a tall order going into any year, but nonetheless, we will make the attempt to offer a mild prognostication before the Big East descends upon the Big Apple in October:

First Team
Preseason Player of the Year: Shamorie Ponds, St. John's (21.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.7 APG, 2.3 SPG, 42% FG, 86% FT in 2017-18)
Kamar Baldwin, Butler (15.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.6 SPG, 44% FG, 78% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)
Jessie Govan, Georgetown (17.9 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 BPG, 51% FG, 76% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Markus Howard, Marquette (20.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46% FG, 94% FT, 40% 3-pt FG)
Eric Paschall, Villanova (10.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 2.2 APG, 53% FG, 81% FT, 36% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Ponds, the reigning Haggerty Award winner who easily could have challenged Jalen Brunson for Player of the Year honors last season had St. John's not started Big East play 0-11, is the consensus choice entering his junior season, and rightfully so. The Brooklyn native followed up his rookie campaign with a multifaceted and well-rounded sophomore season, stuffing the stat sheets on a nightly basis and captivating the rabid Red Storm fan base with a commanding month of February that transcended the league and included a 44-point outburst against Marquette to set a Carnesecca Arena scoring record. Not to be outdone, Baldwin continues to be an emerging star for Butler, and the most unbelievable part of the explosive guard's game is that he is only a junior. A perennial mainstay on these lists in just a short amount of time, Baldwin will lead the Bulldogs to greater heights in year two under LaVall Jordan, who has exhibited the calm demeanor under which Brad Stevens led the former mid-major darling to two national championship games, and continues to grow each time he leads his alma mater onto the floor. With Angel Delgado having graduated, Govan now takes over the title of dominant big man in the Big East, and should have no problem replicating his double-double per game numbers from his junior season. Howard is Ponds' primary challenger for the conference scoring title this season, and with Andrew Rowsey having graduated, the stage should grow wider in Milwaukee for the 19-year-old junior to take his already dynamic game to yet another level. The wild card here is Paschall. It speaks to just how strong Villanova is that the Wildcats could conceivably lack a first-team all-conference selection going into a national championship defense, but Paschall has drawn rave reviews from nearly every major basketball aficionado this offseason as he steps into the role of team leader with each of Jay Wright's top four scorers having turned pro early -- something not usually seen on the Main Line -- while immersing himself further into the fabric of a contender.

Second Team
Alpha Diallo, Providence (13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 SPG, 47% FG, 73% FT)
Sam Hauser, Marquette (14.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 50% FG, 84% FT, 49% 3-pt FG)
Myles Powell, Seton Hall (15.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 43% FG, 79% FT, 38% 3-pt FG)
Justin Simon, St. John's (12.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 2.5 SPG, 47% FG, 66% FT, 42% 3-pt FG)
Max Strus, DePaul (16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 41% FG, 80% FT, 33% 3-pt FG)

Analysis: Diallo had arguably the quietest and most underrated productive season in the Big East a year ago, helping lead the Friars to an unprecedented fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Much like head coach Ed Cooley, the burgeoning big man gets nowhere near the amount of credit he deserves for helping maintain the status quo in the Ocean State, but that notion should undoubtedly change this season. Hauser will likely be a first-team player by season's end, but his recovery from offseason hip surgery may hinder his progress in the early going. Either way, when the marksman is back at 100 percent, he and the aforementioned Markus Howard will have the Golden Eagles firing on all cylinders. The Most Improved Player in the Big East last season, Powell is now the unquestioned leader for Kevin Willard in South Orange, and will have more than his share of opportunities to score and facilitate in equal parts for the Pirates, who have a deceptively strong core to back him up. Simon reprises his role as Shamorie Ponds' wing man in Queens for St. John's, and the redshirt junior could average a double-double if his breakout last year is any indication. Simon has been a big part of the Red Storm's transition defense game since becoming eligible, and projects to do exactly that once again for Chris Mullin. Finally, Strus returns to DePaul for his senior season to give the Blue Demons their most formidable scoring presence since the days of Cleveland Melvin (remember him?), something Dave Leitao will need more often than not if he is to navigate out of the cellar.

Third Team
Eli Cain, DePaul (11.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 4.7 APG, 35% FG, 66% FT, 31% 3-pt FG)
Marvin Clark II, St. John's (12.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.2 SPG, 46% FG, 85% FT, 41% 3-pt FG)
Emmitt Holt, Providence (12.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.0 APG, 52% FG, 68% FT, 34% 3-pt FG in 2016-17)
Paul Jorgensen, Butler (10.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 42% FG, 84% FT, 35% 3-pt FG)
Martin Krampelj, Creighton (11.9 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 67% FG, 62% FT)

Analysis: This may finally be the year that Cain, now just a senior even if it feels as though he has been at DePaul for a decade, finally gets his due. The Blue Demons should be much improved from last season, but unfortunately for those around Chicago, the rest of the conference has gotten better as well. Either way, the steady hand of the New Jersey product at point guard will help ease the pain in spurts throughout the year. Clark, the third piece of St. John's troika of scorers, could average a double-double provided he is able to stay out of foul trouble, no easy feat considering the Red Storm will have to break in yet another big man alongside him now that Bashir Ahmed has graduated and Tariq Owens has transferred to Texas Tech. Holt makes his return to the Providence lineup after abdominal surgery sacrificed what would have been his senior season, and he appears to be back in his old form as the Friars gear up for a sixth-straight NCAA Tournament run. Jorgensen possesses the two-way ability to make Kamar Baldwin a factor off the ball, which will only aid Butler in its progression this year. Last, but certainly not least, is Krampelj, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. Before his injury last season, head coach Greg McDermott proclaimed on a Big East coaches' conference call that "if there's a more improved player in our league from last year to this year, I'd like to see him." The same holds true this season with the Bluejays' Slovenian import, one who is eager to make up for lost time and return Creighton to the postseason in what would be both a feel-good story and a well-deserved piece of redemption.

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