Conference Rundown: Big East
We're going to try something new here at the Box and One... a rundown of NBA prospects to watch based on college conferences. Our goal is always to add insight into the "how" and "why" of what prospects show in college -- to combine knowledge of the collegiate system with how it could help or hinder guys looking to be drafted.
These conference rundowns are a combination of highlighting prospects and discussing system from the teams in those leagues. After a dive into the Big Ten, we'll go with the Big East, one of the slept on conferences in all of the NCAA. A few standout sophomores, some fringe prospects that are intriguing and a lot of solid upperclassmen make it a must-follow for those looking for fringe prospects. That shouldn't diminish some of the guys who are flirting with the lottery, of which the conference has a few.
What are we watching for, and who might be able to separate themselves through the year? We'll give you a quick preview and go team-by-team through styles and prospects.
Quick Team Guide
Villanova - Fundamentals City. They always have guys who pass, dribble and shoot from their scheme. 4-out and some 5-out offense that's heavy on 3-point shooting and great spacing. They're Role Player University for NBA teams. Everybody finishes off two feet and has impeccable footwork. Switching on defense, prioritizing length, and have a world class strength program. Fall in love with Villanova guys.
Creighton - Unreal offensive group. Tons of beautiful sets and a well-spaced motion offense centered on 3-point shooting. Upperclassmen group that competes on D and can play with the best teams in the country.
Connecticut - Guard-heavy team led by one scorer. Playing exclusively man-to-man defense, and have great shot blockers down low. Only played five games; still getting a feel for their schemes but pretty reliant on dribble penetration and getting their ball handlers quick screens on the move.
Providence - Always overlooked. Good defensive group with mixture of defenses, unique zones and gritty personality. Coach Ed Cooley is the best. Traditionally mix Flex offense with slow, deliberate approach -- tough place to highlight scorers, though they're trying more with David Duke.
Xavier - Led by toughness on defense, senior leadership from Paul Scruggs and having a true identity. Always a tough game in Cincy. Strong frontcourt play, run some creative offensive sets. Always produce overlooked guys.
Marquette - Talented, well-rounded group. Like a few of their guys, but playing drastically different than last few years without Markus Howard. Lots of post-ups, a good amount of 3-point shooting. Like some of their screening actions on offense, too. Solid team
Seton Hall - A few unique guys on their roster worth monitoring. Somewhat thin in the backcourt, though. Have a TON of size at the 4 and 5, so they funnel everything to the rim on defense.
Butler - Young group counting on freshmen to put the ball in the hole. Like their offensive system and sets, though they do a lot of heavy-lifting for a team lacking scoring ability. Mix in a lot of zones to keep teams off-balance.
St. John's - Play SUPER fast and thrive in transition. Top-10 in press defense frequency -- they want to play full-court defense all game if they can. Not a ton of ball screens in the half-court; more dribble drive and relying on their athletic backcourt. Unique matchup.
DePaul - One of the best kept secrets in college hoops. Should have a solid year; traditionally poor program building in right direction. Been more athletic in the past; have more skill than ever this year and (finally) a rim protector, which are the key to winning in a league whose top teams are so skilled and disciplined.
Georgetown - Decimated by transfers. Patrick Ewing hell-bent on aggressive, hard hedging PNR defense, which allows teams to get clear paths to the rim when they break that first line. Have decent talent, but the scheme is their undoing and unrealistic for NBA comparisons.
Players to Know
Villanova: So. F Jeremiah Robinson-Earl
My favorite returning player in college basketball resides in the Philadelphia suburbs. Robinson-Earl, known as JRE, isn't an elite scorer, a polished shooter or a back-to-basket threat. What he does well is combine high-level multipositional defense with fundamentally sound offense. He scores in a variety of ways, with solid 3-point shooting range and really good finishing ability. He's a solid athlete, though not a great one.
What I love about JRE is how he is as locked in as possible to being a role player. As a long, switchable swing forward, he strikes me a bit as the next coming of PJ Tucker. Not that the two of them play the exact same way, but the comparison is moreso about guys who are mentally perfect to be high-caliber role players.
When I think about JRE's value at the next level, it's in his ability to perfectly execute switches, never miss an assignment, master and implement the details of how to accept the ball off a switch (aggressive, in a stance, using length vs. drivers, claiming inside position). He's a really strong on-ball and off-ball defender, where his time spent in the system at Villanova only benefits him for the next level:
I'm higher on Robinson-Earl as a draft prospect than most, impacted partly by how Villanova guys are always good role players as pros. I have him as a fringe-lottery guy, a safe bet in the 13-20 range. There are a lot of mainstream outlets who see him as a late-first round guy at best, stunted by the limited offensive arsenal and lack of one elite role on that side of the floor.
Villanova always has other guys who turn into solid role players. Eric Dixon could become on as a massive big body. Collin Gillespie might be an undrafted free agent who forces his way onto a roster like Ryan Arcidiacono did, through poise and fundamental mastering. Big shooter Cole Swider is intriguing, and and 6'4" sophomore Justin Moore is putting up solid numbers this year. Lots of guy to watch long-term, so there are players to monitor whenever turning on a Wildcats game.
Creighton: Jr. PG Marcus Zegarowski, Sr. W Mitch Ballock
In the eyes of most I've heard from, Zegarowski is the better prospect. A polished point guard who can shoot, score and make plays for others, Zegarowski might be a four-year player at Creighton. He takes a high-volume of threes and makes a lot of great plays out of the well-spread pick-and-roll. Zegarowski is a fine but uninspiring athlete. He's barely at the end of the second round, there are reasons to believe he could attract the right suitor.
âTo me, Ballock is the guy to target from Creighton. He's a near-automatic 3-point shooter with a quick lefty stroke and glimpses of deep range. Due to his consistency, I'd rather have Ballock end up as a late-second guy than Zegarowski.
Connecticut: So. CG James Bouknight
Perhaps no sophomore has seen a sharper increase in their draft stock than James Bouknight. He always fit the bill of a big-time scorer, but he seems to be more consistent on all three levels, is handling a larger volume than ever and isn't as tunnel-vision as he has been in the past. I love how Bouknight draws contact and contorts his body in so many different ways around the rim, while making all his attempts.
It's early, but Bouknight is a front-runner for Big East Player of the Year and could be an All-American. He's flirting with the lottery and should be a first-round pick next year, a microwave scorer early in his career.
Providence: Jr. CG David Duke
Ed Cooley's teams all play tough defense and run deliberate, slow, flex-based offenses that don't prioritize the 3-point shot. As Cooley's teams continue to ride the same wave of play style, scouts become pretty skeptical after seeing the lack of PNR and perimeter development from guys like Kris Dunn. It may not be fair to a guy like Duke, averaging nearly 20 a game from the start, but the way Providence plays on offense is drastically different than NBA systems.
I like what Duke is showing this year and how tough of a scorer/ finisher he is. He's shooting over 40% from 3 on 4.4 attempts per game. It's the number that needs to stay high in order for him to be considered a real prospect for 2021. He gets to the free throw line a ton, too - the most attractive part of his game.
âWe'll see how much buzz Duke generates. He might be on the borderline of being a draft pick this year, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him return to school to finish out his career. Friars are really wired to be super competitive, so that move wouldn't be a surprise.
Senior big man Nate Watson is averaging 19 points and 7 rebounds to start the year, too. He's not a great shot blocker and might not be NBA-bound, but his production makes him stand out in games of theirs.
Xavier: Sr. PG Paul Scruggs
Undrafted free agent alert: Paul Scruggs. He's taken a massive leap in playmaking ability after the graduation of point forward Naji Marshall. He's averaging 6.8 assists per game through the first ten and has kept the Musketeers in the hunt in the Big East. He's a career 38% 3-point shooter, makes a lot of nice reads with the ball in his hands and plays really good defense.
I'm not sure if he's a draftable guy, but he is a reliable senior who will earn some sort of camp invite and has a solid chance to make a roster. Not many holes or flaws in his game. Big man Zach Freemantle, a 6'9" sophomore from New Jersey, is tremendously skilled but might be undersized to be an NBA 5.
Marquette: Fr. F Dawson Garcia, So. CG DJ Carton
The Golden Eagles might just be a middle-of-the-pack Big East team, but they have one of the more intriguing guys in the conference in Dawson Garcia. A 6'11" stretch shooter, Garcia can be an inside-outside mismatch threat. He's a solid passer. He's shooting 38.5% from 3, is solid off the dribble and can make shots in a variety of ways. I really like him as a big, big stretch-4.
Carton is an Ohio State transfer who can do a little bit of everything in the backcourt, though has demonstrated no standout skills that make him an NBA guy. Everyone has waited to watch him at Marquette to be more of a lead guy than he was with the Buckeyes, but he hasn't taken to that role.
Seton Hall: Sr. F Sandro Mamukelashvilli, Jr. P Ike Obiagu
Mamu, as he's known, is a unique prospect. He and Garcia are those similar big forwards who have unique traits. Garcia from Marquette is more of a scorer; Mamu is more of a facilitator. He's 6'11" and is averaging 3.2 assists. He scores it okay, is a weird mismatch guy and a surprisingly strong help defender.
âMamu has a wide draft range because he's such a unique prospect. He could go be a first-round guy if he keeps up the shooting (32.6% on 4.2 attempts a game) and defensive impact (1.9 slocks). To tell the truth, I haven't seen a lot of Seton Hall yet this year. I want to see more before jumping to a conclusion on his draft stock and where I would peg him right now. He's a unique player, and those guys require very careful studying.
As for Obiagu, he's a 7'2" shot blocker, and those guys always deserve a little attention when they play major minutes in a power conference. Obiagu is blocking 3.2 shots in 22.5 minutes per game. It's insane, but there's a chance he becomes a fringe prospect if he keeps this up -- more as a G-League flier than anything.
Lot of young guys for Butler, nobody catching our eye just yet. We'll see if anyone steps up, but right now there's nobody drawing attention.
St. John's: So. W Julian Champagnie
Champagnie wasn't on many draft boards coming into the year. He's a big 6'8" wing with guard-like skills and looks the part. But he's stepped up quite a bit for the fast-paced Johnnies. He's averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2 assists -- and shooting 38.1% from 3. I'd love to see where his stats are at the end of the year, and if St. John's can knock off a win or two against strong competition. Definitely a dark horse guy who can play the 3 or the 4.
DePaul: So. W Romeo Weems
DePaul's season was delayed with Covid issues, and Romeo Weems missed their first game. As of this writing, Weems only has two games under his belt: one great, and one mundane. As a 6'8" wing shot-maker, he looks fluid with the ball in his hands and without it is a high-level shooter. He is a solid defender, has some athleticism that pops and is very streaky.
How high can Weems go on a DePaul team that might struggle? I think the 15-18 range is his ceiling, and would require a best-case scenario to get there. But he's a good enough shooter and has upside remaining as a sophomore; teams could pull the trigger regardless. I like him as a first-round guy and think it would take a really poor year to move him down to the second-round.
With games like this already in his arsenal, it's difficult to say no to him:
Nobody in DC right now. A few guys I've liked as college players and prospects, though this will be a rough year to watch for the Hoyas.
Leave a Reply.
Adam Spinella, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Boys' Latin School (MD)