Saturday, July 26, 2008

Big East Freshmen: Ten Six to Watch

Disclaimers, Exclusions & Disclosures...
Before I get to this year's potential break out players, I feel I ought to follow up on the list I put together going into last season. I identified this group of ten as players who, though overlooked for the Big East All Rookie Team (2007), could have a big impact on their teams in the 2007-08 season. Two of those players, Lazar Hayward and Earl Clark did indeed receive more recognition than their freshmen years. Hayward, a 6-6, 225lbs sophomore from Marquette was named to the Second Team All Big East, while speculation on whether he would declare for the NBA draft, followed Clark all season. Dwain Williams (PC), Larry Wright (St. John's) and Vernon Macklin (Georgetown) all saw their minutes grow as did their roles in their respective offenses. Each "progressed" from a role player-type player to a regular-type player. Solomon Bozeman (USF), Larry Wright and Lazar Hayward improved their shooting efficiency, while most maintained or saw their eFG%s decline slightly. Only Sololmon Bozeman saw a significant cut in minutes, though Jerry Smith (Louisville), David Cubillian (Marquette) and Larry Davis (Seton Hall) saw their roles (mostly role player-level involvement in their offenses) tread water or decline slightly. Qa'rraan Calhoun (St. John's) left school over the summer of 2007 while five others Solomon Bozeman (South Florida), Larry Davis (Seton Hall), Vernon Macklin (Georgetown), Dwain Williams (Providence) and Larry Wright (St. John's) transferred during the off season.

Gilbert BrownPitt54.7115.815.415.451.91.1237.0
Corey StokesNova45.9101.817.621.946.51.0120.8
Chris WrightGTown20.2100.122.119.956.41.1232.9
D.J. KennedyJohn's66.098.418.316.548.91.0748.0
Rashad BishopNati58.097.315.114.745.70.9932.2
Antonio PenaNova48.495.421.518.847.51.0552.5

Note that all possession-based stats come from the Scouting Report Pages for each team, located on Ken Pomeroy's website. Clicking on a player's team will link you to the corresponding Scouting Report.

Ten Six to Watch
Going over the numbers for this off season's rising sophomores, made me appreciate the depth of the class from last summer. The class this time around, below the All Big East Rookie Team and these six, seems thinner than last summer.
When Pittsburgh's Mike Cook went down with a season-ending ACL tear freshman Gilbert Brown joined a rotation with seniors Keith Benjamin and Ron Ramon to fill out the Panther attack on the wing. If Brown did not live up to the preseason press offered by Mike DeCourcy, he did post some pretty good numbers. Ramon and Benjamin are gone; even if Mike Cook's appeal for a 6th year of eligibility is upheld, Brown will see even more minutes than last season.
The Villanova team will be much the same next season as it was last season. Only the now-transferred Malcolm Grant's minutes are available to divvy up. The perfect opportunity for a do-over that much heralded (when he entered last fall) swingman Corey Stokes ought to seize to his advantage. Stokes started strong in the Wildcat's exhibition games, but lost momentum as the regular season got under way. He came on strong at the end, gaining the starting job in Villanova's last four games. I make no apologies for my Villanova bias, but including the second Wildcat (forward Antonio Pena) in a rather small list is less favoritism and more a candidate who fits the profile as a capable player with an opportunity to contribute. When Casiem Drummond went to the bench with a foot fracture Pena stepped in on (very) short notice to pick up Drum's minutes. He did well, surging in the first few games, but "settling" as the Big East season kicked in and wore on. Pena seemed to tire at the end (freshman fatigue?), but maintained a presence in the offense (21.5% Poss%, 18.8% Shot%) and was a force on the boards. By way of comparison, rising senior Dante Cunningham posted his first double-double as a Wildcat nine games into his junior season (versus Hartford). Pena register his first double-double ten games later (2nd Pittsburgh game). For Pena, becoming more efficient offensively involves not simply hitting a higher percentage of shots, it also means (more importantly?) cutting down on turnovers.
I am reluctant to name any St. John's player to this list...writing anything positive seems to condemn the player to transfer at the the next available opportunity. DJ Kennedy did have a very good freshman campaign, and though he was not named to the All BE Rookie Team should, despite new challenges from redshirt sophomore Rob Thomas, be even more effective next season. St. John's has developed a reputation for tough defense under head coach Norm Robert, and Kennedy's Stl% (2.8) is pretty good for a #2/#3, no doubt a stat that caught Coach Robert's attention. Kennedy rebounds well (compare his numbers to Pena's -- below), which ought to be a plus when deciding whether to give him more time next season.
Rashad Bishop worked himself into the starting lineup by the fourth game of last season, and despite an up and down season, managed to work himself back into the starting line up by the end of the season. Bishop averaged 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in about 23 minutes of play. Bishop's main competition for the #3 will continue to be fellow wings (and fellow sophomores...) Darnell Wilks and Alvin Mitchell, either of whom may well be the breakout (though Mitchell seems more likely than Wilks...) player next season.
Normally I would look for more minutes than Georgetown's Chris Wright has played before including an individual on the "...To Watch" List. Wright, a well regarded point guard going into last season, had a "donut" season (play in the beginning and end, injury in the middle). Despite some good scoring numbers Wright's ORtg is just over 100, most likely due to his turnovers. Jon Wallace has graduated and Jeremiah Rivers transferred. With no entering point guards this season, Wright will most likely team with Jesse Sapp; their only relief will come from fellow sophomore Omar Wattad, redshirt freshman Nikita Mescheriakov and incoming 2 time All-Met (Washington DC) guard Jason Clark.

Gilbert BrownPitt5.410.415.81.31.8
Corey StokesNova3.112.415.70.61.3
Chris WrightGTown2.513.
D.J. KennedyJohn's8.117.823.01.42.8
Rashad BishopNati5.311.621.11.81.7
Antonio PenaNova8.517.324.82.11.6

And Then There is...
John Flowers of West Virginia logged about 30% of the minutes at the #3 and posted an ORtg of 93.3 as a 2nd/3rd option on offense. Flowers played behind Da’Sean Butler. With Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones coming in next season Flowers (and Butler...) will have some very competitive practices.
Preston Knowles of Louisville logged some impressive numbers playing about 20% of the minutes on the wing. Knowles played behind Jerry Smith (among others) while logging an eFG% of 57.6, yeildng an ORtg of 115.3. Like Smith, Knowles plugs into the offense as a sniper -- shooting enough from the outside to keep defenses honest, but not taking touches (Poss% 13.6) and scoring opportunities (Shot% 16.6) from the team's offensive headliners. Smith and Knowles will no doubt split time with transfer Reggie Delk and incoming Jared Swopshire. Coach Pitino tends to spread the playing time around, allowing each player a shot to stake his claim to the position.
Mike Davis was the first big off the bench to relieve the often injured John Garcia, a junior next year. Garcia was healthy all last season, the first full season he has been able to log at the Hall. Davis managed to post some very good numbers on the boards, especially on the offensive boards (OR% 10.4). Bob Gonzalez teams are back court-oriented, but as the 4/4 option he posted a very decent 108.7 ORtg on an eFG% of 47.1. Augustine Okosun transferred in the off season. That leaves incoming Melvyn Oliver (340lbs) from Mississippi Elite Christian as Davis' competition for Garcia's backup. If Garcia hits another run of bad health, Davis will most likely get the first crack at the starting line up.

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