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Refreshing Our Memory…
The Big East previewed the coaches first and second All-Conference teams at Media Day, October 16, and like most consensus preseason “All-Team” previews, the 2013-14 version offered little by way of surprises. With about 30% of the season in the record books and conference play two weeks in our future, this might be a good time to check in on those candidates and reflect on their seasons to date.

Credit: Eric Francis

Conference Player of the Year
Doug McDermott (Creighton) — This pick was made on April 26, about five seconds after the then-junior All-American forward announced he would forgo the NBA draft, return to Creighton for his senior season and lead the Bluejays full throttle into their new conference. The choice may be high risk and low reward — except to the Big East, which boasts having the best forward in Division I. Controling for superman-level expectations, (a team does not go undefeated just because it happens to have the All-Ameircan Player of the Year on the roster), the 6-8 combo forward has not disappointed. He is averaging 25.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game so far and ranked #15 on Ken Pomeroy’s stats-heavy Player of the Year (kPOY) list, second in the conference behind Georgetown’s Josh Smith (#9).

Rookie of the Year
Rysheed Jordan (St. John’s) — The transition to college can be tough anyone, and the 6-4 Philadelphia native has not been immune. Ranked #17 in the country by ESPN and #8 on this list of 10 impact freshmen, the combo guard out of Philadelphia was suspended for undisclosed reasons just before the Red Storm’s November 22 game versus Monmouth and reinstated three days later. Heralded as much for his defense and passing as for his scoring, the rookie has proven he can consistently get his teammates the ball in spots where they can score. Erratic playing time in a Red Storm guard rotation that goes five deep has translated into only two games (of the seven he has played) where Jordan has logged more than 20 minutes. The season is still young and Jordan has more than enough time to get on track, but he should know that a solid class of fellow freshmen have stepped into the limelight for their respective squads. He started in St. John’s 88-83 loss to Syracuse on Sunday and scored 13 points, corralled six rebounds and dished three assists in 31 minutes of playing time. This might be his best outing.

All-Conference First Team – The coaches produced a guard-heavy first unit, consistent with the new mix of schools.
Semaj Christon (Xavier) – No coincidence that as Christon struggled with leg cramps and other medical issues in the Bahamas last month the Musketeers faltered. The sophomore point guard takes responsibility for the major part of Xavier’s offense, as he is inclined to drive the lane and either finish or kickout. He may lead the team in scoring (16.1 points per game) and assists (40 through 10 games), but Xavier is the least efficient offensive unit in the conference per Ken Pomeroy…and their schedule has not been especially challenging (Pomeroy ranks them #8 out of 10 in the Big East). Attached at the waist, Xavier will need a solid (All-Conference?) season from Christon to take a spot in the upper half of the conference (and get into the post season conversation).

Markel Starks (Georgetown) – His offensive rating mirrors his team. As Starks goes, so goes the Hoyas. Though he is the second leading point maker (15.0 per game so far) for Coach John Thompson III, Starks’ forte is recognizing who can score — D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera outside and Josh Smith inside this season — and getting them the ball where they can convert. Georgetown has made progress since righting the ship in Puerto Rico last month, but their road game with the suddenly vulnerable Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kansas next Saturday (12/21), should give fans a good idea of how far they still have to go before conference play begins on New Year’s Eve.

D’Angelo Harrison (St. John’s) – The junior off guard has produced quantity points in the St. John’s important games so far, but the Johnnies are 2-2 in the four most productive games so far. As Alex Moscoso over at Rush the Court notes in his B1G analysis, volume scoring is not always efficient scoring. Harrison’s trend (including the Red Storm’s 88-83 loss to Syracuse Sunday) shows a line that moves in the “wrong direction”. More shots does not translate into more efficient scoring. This is not unusual, as Pomeroy has pointed out several times, for the “average” Division I player, the higher percentage of possessions and shots taken, the lower the player’s scoring efficiency. The challenge for Coach Steve Lavin going into conference play will be how to integrate Harrison’s instinct for scoring into an offensive scheme that will exploit the attention he will almost certainly draw.

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Bryce Cotton (Providence) – The Big East’s leading scorer last season will get no competition from his own teammates this season as Brandon Austin’s suspension continues. Sophomore point guard Kris Dunn’s shoulder re-injury forces Coach Ed Cooley to slide the senior off guard and leading scorer over to the point (Vince Council graduated, remember?) and that could influence how many field goal attempts Cotton will be able to take. Cooley has to be happy with Josh Fortune’s availability to assume some ball handling responsibilities.

Credit: Maggie Casey

Credit: Maggie Casey

Davante Gardner (Marquette) – The 6-8 wide body senior functions as the sixth man in Coach Buzz Willliams’ rotation but leads the club in points (148 points/16.5 per game) and rebounds (70 total/7.8 per game). Gardner is not Williams’ problem, but neither is he the solution. Williams’ offense needs wings (*cough* Wilson & Mayo *cough*) who can score consistently to be most effective. The offensive production from those spots has not been consistent, efficient and prolific enough to elevate Marquette this season. Gardner is solid player, but he will only appear on this team in March if his teammates step up.

All-Conference Second Team
Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova) – The Wildcats’ sophomore point guard has had his moments — the three pointer with 11 seconds left to take the lead against Kansas for example, but he has not developed that consistent game-to-game efficiency and usage (point production) that many thought he would have in his second season. The Wildcats have found other scorers which keeps his slow start under wraps. If Arcidiacono can hone his court vision and passing while limiting his impulse to shoot to those “heroic” situations to which he rises so easily, he will probably hold this spot, or even move up. Voters tend to reward players from teams that rise.

Fuquan Edwin (Seton Hall) – The Pirates’ second leading scorer by average left the Long Island University game Thursday (December 5) with a sprained ankle. He missed the Hall’s last two games, a win over Rutgers and an overtime loss to St. Peters but is expected to return after Christmas. Meanwhile, Coach Kevin Willard’s blood pressure has to be through the roof. After Saturday’s disastrous losses — an overtime to St. Peter’s and point guard Sterling Gibbs to a knee injury — Willard has to wonder if he is trapped in an injury-themed version of Ground Hog Day. Edwin’s return is a necessary prerequisite if the Hall is to avoid the conference cellar.

Cleveland Melvin (DePaul) – The 6-8 senior forward leads his team in scoring (166 points) and rebounding (23-44-67) and defines Ken Pomeroy definition of a high efficiency/high usage player. He takes nearly 27% of the shots for DePaul when he is on the court, contributing 1.26 points (he has a 126.4) for each possession he takes — among the best 150 players in Division I. His (and fellow senior Brandon Young’s) challenge is translating their collective efficiency into wins.

JaKarr Sampson (St. John’s) – The Johnnies’ second leading scorer (111 points) and leading rebounder (19-42-61) has posted a single double-double this season. Sampson excels at rebounding team misses and not turning the ball over. Good qualities for a 6-9 glue guy (Pomeroy would call him a “Significant Contributor”) who can slide from the #3 to the #5 if needed. Is that enough to be in the conversation for an All-Conference team?

Jamil Wilson (Marquette) – The forward-in-waiting has still not arrived. Wilson is the second leading scorer (122 points/13.6 per game) and rebounder (53 rebounds/5.9 per game) on a squad that needs very badely for him to be the leading scorer. Wilson’s spot in Williams’ lineup has been a spotlight under which Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crawford have shined. He still has just over two months.

JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova) – Previews focused on the collective ceiling anticipated from a veteran quartet — wings James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston along with point guard Ryan Arcidiacono — very much in keeping with Coach Jay Wright’s tendency to reward tenure with playing time. The Wildcats’ trio of newcomers has grabbed the limelight, obscuring the significant but largely overlooked job Pinkston has done in the chameleon rotation crafted by Wright this season. The junior leads the Wildcats with 16.7 points per game, connecting on 60.9% of his two point attempts. Look up Pomeroy’s definition of a high efficiency/high usage player and Pinkston’s picture will be there. If Villanova’s run continues the mainstream writers will tire of “freshman phenom” stories and look for the deeper reasons for their success. Pinkston will be waiting.

Games to Catch This Week
Between gift shopping, holiday decorating and partying, here are a number of games to take in while catching your breath next weekend…

Georgetown at Kansas (Saturday 12/21 11:00 am CT ESPN) – Georgetown will offer Kansas the toughest  defense this side of Villanova that the Jayhawks have seen so far next Saturday as the Hoyas travel to Lawrence, Kansas for a game with the Jayhawks. Kansas looks for points in their front court, so look for some very competitive front court matchups — Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis vs. Jabril Trawick and Nate Lubbuck/Mikael Hopkins. The key may be junior Josh Smith versus freshman Joel Embiid. Embiid plays defense (much to Coach Bill Self’s relief) and it is up to Smith to bring his “A game” on defense.

(Credit: Butler University Sports Information)

(Credit: Butler University Sports Information)

Butler at Evansville (Saturday 12/21 2:05 pm CT) – Of interest largely for seeing how the Bulldogs do on the road in what promises to be a hostile environment. The metrics favor Butler, but the intangibles (crowd noise, maturity, etc) could give fans a preview of Butler’s ability to win on the road in conference play. Solid performances from Kellen Dunham, Khyle Marshall and Kameron Woods are the keys.

Xavier at Alabama (Saturday 12/21 6:00 pm CT ESPN3) – Did the drubbing of the Bearcats exorcise the ghosts of the Crosstown Brawl? Given the surprisingly similar offensive and defensive profiles, the difference comes down to home court advantage (does the Tide have a football game that day?). Trevor Releford and Semaj Chrison should be a good matchup if Releford’s hip aggravation is calmer (the Wichita State game Tuesday should provide the answer). It is close on paper, but does the Tide have an answer for Matt Stainbrook?

Marquette vs. New Mexico (Saturday 12/21 7:00 pm MT ESPNU) – The Golden Eagles play the Lobos at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. Coach Buzz Williams needs scorers in the worst way. One of his best defending teams does not translate into wins because the Golden Eagles struggle on the offensive end. Todd Mayo, who sat for the Wisconsin game, returned for the IUPUI game and scored eight points in 20 minutes of play. Erratic play from Mayo and wing Jamil Wilson have to be addressed either by those two or by substitutes going forward. Marquette’s front court should be good enough to outlast New Mexico’s, led by Alex Kirk.

Creighton vs. California (Sunday 12/22 6:00 pm CT Fox Sports 1) – A preview of a Pac-12/Big East Challenge next season perhaps? The Golden Bears have to know by now that stopping Creighton’s offense (ranked #6 by Ken Pomeroy) is the key to beating the Bluejays. Fortunately for Creighton California’s defensive strong points (defensive rebounding and not fouling) are not crucial elements of Creighton’s offense. Junior David Kravish will most likely draw Doug McDermott and both he and McDermott are strong rebounders. That should be interesting.

Personnel Moves

Marquette – Although Steve Taylor has logged minutes in  games this season he is not really ready for game action. The forward, who had ACL surgery last May is back to practice. Freshman point guard Duane Wilson is cleared to play, but is not yet game ready. Williams continues to work him in practice.

Providence – Point guard Kris Dunn underwent surgery for a shoulder injury suffered in an exhibition game. He will not play this season.

Seton Hall – The nightmare continues for Coach Kevin Willard and the Pirates as the Hall lost their third starter in three weeks when Sterling Gibbs’ left knee buckled in the waning seconds of regulation in their overtime loss to St. Peter’s last Saturday. Tweets from the Gibbs family suggest that the injury, described after the game by the understandably upset Seton Hall staff as “ugly” and “not good” may not be as serious as initially believed. Those close to the family describe the injury as more a twist than a tear. The school has not officially commented on tests run to determine the extent of the injury however. Starting wing forward Patrik Auda and off guard Fuquan Edwin did not play in the St. Peter’s loss due to ankle injuries. The Pirates also lost sophomore guard Tom Mayan to the Israeli Defense Force earlier this month.

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