Sat, 01/06/2007 - 18:43 — Eric Silver
Even the most rabid ACC,
Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, or SEC fans would have to admit that no conference
lost as many talented guards from the 2006-2006 season as the Big East.
Four Big East guards – Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry of Villanova, Quincy
Douby of Rutgers, and Marcus Williams of Connecticut – were selected in the
first round of the NBA draft, while a fifth – Connecticut’s Denham Brown –
was taken in the second round. Two other high-profile
Big East guards – Notre Dame’s Chris Quinn and Villanova’s Allan Ray – made
NBA rosters this year as free agents.
Besides those seven
backcourt talents, other quality guards also completed their Big East
careers last spring. Gone are Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara,
Louisville’s Taquan Dean, Providence’s Donnie McGrath, Seton Hall’s Donald
Copeland, Pittsburgh’s Carl Krauser, Georgetown’s Ashanti Cook, West
Virginia’s J. D. Collins, Joe Herber, and Patrick
Beilein, South Florida’s James Holmes, Connecticut’s Rashad Anderson, and
Cincinnati’s Jihad Muhammed and Devan Downey (who transferred).
Overall, at least 20 quality guards no longer grace conference
Still, there’s no need to
weep for Big East coaches or fans. A number of excellent
guards returned and have stepped up their games.
Additionally, quite a few newcomers have entered the conference and have
admirably stepped in for those who have departed.
Here’s a look at 16
backcourt players new to the conference that have stepped in and contributed
so far in the non-conference season. All stats are
through December 31.
Gone are Jihad Muhammed (10.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg) and member of
the all-rookie team Devan Downey (11.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 4.3 apg), who
transferred, and Armien Kirkland (9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg) who missed the
second half of the season due to injury. In my Big East
pre-season preview, I wrote,
“Regardless of which one (Deonte Vaughn or Tim Crowell) eventually earns the
bulk of the playing time, there's not a snowball's
chance in Southern Ohio that he'll produce anything even close to what last
year’s star freshman, Devan Downey, would have provided this year had he
So much for predictions!
Freshman Deonte Vaughn may be the most impressive – and
the most surprising – member of the Class of 2006 so far.
He is averaging 14.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, and 4.5 apg with an
assist/turnover ratio of 1.9/1.0. He had 25 points and 9
assists against North Carolina State and 24 points and 5 rebounds against
Xavier, as well as 33 points and 6 assists against Wofford.
At this point Vaughn is a shoo-in for the all-rookie team and a
legitimate candidate for ROY. Devan Who?
Junior college transfer
Jamual Warren’s stats are nearly identical to Muhammed’s stats
a year ago. The 6’2” combo guard is averaging 9.8 ppg,
3.9 rpg, and 2.8 apg. In his last eight games – after
going scoreless in his two previous games – Warren has scored in double
figures six times and nine points the other two times for an average of 12.6
ppg. He had 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists against
Temple, 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists against Xavier, and 15 points,
5 rebounds, and 3 assists against Miami (Ohio). Though
he’s shooting only 39% from the field and 17.1% on three-pointers, he’s
already proven to be a capable replacement for Muhammed.
Gone are first-round NBA draft choice Marcus Williams (12.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg,
and 8.6 apg), second-round pick Denham Brown (10.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), and
sharpshooting sixth man Rashad Anderson (12.8 ppg on 40.7% three-point
Though he’s a red-shirt
sophomore, A. J. Price (#24 on RSCI for Class of 2004) never
played a game at UConn until this year, so he is technically “stepping in,”
not “stepping up.” Either way, he is averaging 12.8 ppg
and 5.4 apg with an assist/turnover ration of 2.3/1.0, (fourth in the
conference). He has definitely done an admirable job so
far though UConn’s non-conference schedule was basically
a tiptoe through the tulips.
Dyson was highly-touted (#36 on RSCI), and he has not disappointed.
He is averaging 13.3 ppg and 3.7 rpg and has a very respectable
assist/turnover ratio of 1.4/1.0. He is also earning a
name for himself as an excellent defender and is averaging an impressive 2.4
steals per game. He has a reputation as a very good
long-range shooter though he’s only hitting 29.5 % on treys at this point.
Still, like Vaughn at Cincy, barring injury he’s a lock to make the
Doug Wiggins (#55 on RSCI), has played well off the bench for Coach Jim
Calhoun. He is averaging 8.8 ppg in only 18.4 mpg and is
also shooting 41.2% from long range. Perhaps more
significantly, in his last seven games, Wiggins has averaged 13.6 ppg and
has made 13 of 24 three-pointers (58.3%). If he can come
even close to continuing that kind of shooting, he will see considerable
playing time for the Huskies, especially when they play a three-guard
The Demons did not lose any backcourt players from last season.
Walker is not “stepping in” for someone who left as much as he’s taken
minutes from last year’s starting point guard, Jabari Currie (from 22.2 mpg
to 15.4 mpg) and back up Cliff Clinkscales (19.9 mpg to 11.9 mpg).
He’s also gotten more playing time (22.2 mpg) than sixth man, Draelon
Burns, who averaged 23.1 mpg last season but 21.0 mpg this year.
Walker takes excellent care of the basketball. In
his last 12 games (through Northwestern State) he had only four turnovers in
281 minutes, a phenomenal accomplishment. For the
season, he has an assist/turnover ratio of 2.7/1.0. In
short, Walker has upgraded the Demons’ backcourt.
The Cardinals lost leading scorer Taquan Dean (16.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.3
apg). They have also had two returning guards, senior
Brandon Jenkins and sophomore Andre McGee, battle injuries that have limited
their playing time.
Freshman point guard
Edgar Sosa (#55 on RSCI), who figured to split time with McGee,
has been thrust into the starting spot and has responded admirably.
He is averaging 11.1 ppg and 2.9 apg and is shooting a solid 42.7%
from behind the arc in 24.7 mpg. He had 22 points and
five assists against Ohio and 18 points and 8 assists in a recent game
against San Francisco. Even when McGee is ready to
return, he may find himself coming off the bench as a back-up to Sosa.
Jerry Smith (#45 on the RSCI), has been inconsistent but has shown
flashes of his tremendous talent. He is averaging 9.6
ppg and 4.3 rpg in only 21.2 mpg. He is shooting 47.9%
from the field, 50% from behind the arc, and 82.6% from the line.
Against ACC foe Miami, Smith had a monster game with 22 points and 12
rebounds in 30 minutes. He has worked himself into the
starting lineup ahead of Jenkins, who apparently is still not quite a 100%.
Whether he continues to start or comes off the bench, Smith will be a
key figure for Coach Rick Pitino this season.
Part-time starter Joe Chapman (6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, and 1.5 apg in 22.5
mpg) was a steady outside shooter (39.6% on treys) and had a solid
assist/turnover ratio of 2.4/1.0.
Cubillan (Eugene Harvey’s backcourt partner at St. Benedicts in
New Jersey) has given Marquette a quality back-up behind Dominic James at
point guard. The relatively unheralded Venezuelan native
is averaging 5.0 ppg and 2.0 apg in 19.1 mpg. He has
been Marquette’s best three-point shooter (48.7%) and has an outstanding
assist/turnover ratio of 2.7/1.0. He has also turned
heads with his aggressive on-ball defense. He has become
a key figure in Coach Tom Crean’s four-man rotation through MU’s three guard
Point guard Chris Quinn, (17.7 ppg, 6.4 apg, 41.9% three-point shooting, and
2.4/1.0 assist/turnover ratio) is now playing for pay in the NBA with the
Miami Heat. No single individual could come in to South
Bend this year and replace Quinn’s stats or his importance to the Irish.
However, lightning quick
freshman point guard Tory Jackson has done a respectable job
coming off the bench so far this season, and, with the recent suspension of
sophomore Kyle McAlarney, will have to take on a significantly greater share
of the load for Coach Mike Brey. Jackson is averaging
4.8 ppg and 2.0 apg in 16.6 mpg. He is definitely not
the shooter Quinn was (only 3 of 17 – 17.6% - so far this season).
And he has to improve his assist/turnover ratio of 1.1/1.0.
Still, he has a bright future in South Bend as he gives Notre Dame
much-needed speed and quickness on both ends of the court.
A year ago point guard Donald Copeland (16.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 4.5 apg)
was probably the key to the Pirates’ surprisingly successful season.
He led Seton Hall in three-point shooting (39.2%) and had a solid
assist/turnover ratio of 1.9/1.0.
Coach Bobby Gonzalez knew
he had to find someone to run the show in his first season as the Pirates’
head man. He brought in the ideal replacement for
Copeland in Eugene Harvey (#73 on RSCI), who is
averaging 15.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, and 5.3 apg. Though not a
perimeter threat (only 2 of 14 on treys through 11 games), Harvey can get to
the rim and has a solid mid-range game (48% field goal percentage).
He has scored 18 points or more in six of his 12 games with a high of
27 against Penn State. He has also done an excellent job
of taking care of the basketball as his assist/turnover ratio of 2.0/1.0
illustrates. Harvey has had as fine a non-conference
season as any other freshman in the conference and should find himself in
contention for league ROY.
The Bulls lost leading scorer James Holmes (16.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) from
last year’s squad. With virtually no other proven
backcourt scoring threat returning this year, USF needed someone to put some
points on the board.
Bozeman has been, along with Vaughn at Cincinnati, probably the biggest
surprise among this year’s cast of conference newcomers.
A relative unknown, Bozeman is averaging 13.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, and an
impressive 5.0 apg. In a recent game against ACC
opponent Wake Forest, the 6’0” point guard had 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 5
assists. He has scored in double figures in 10 of the
Bulls’ 13 games. He excels at drawing fouls and getting
to the free throw line as he’s taken a remarkable total of 107 free throws
(8.2 attempts/game) and has made 88.9% of them. He’s
also done a decent job of taking care of the ball as he has an
assist/turnover ratio of 1.3/1.0.
The recent addition of
Arizona transfer Jesus Verdejo at the start of second semester
will also help South Florida put points on the board.
Through his first seven games, the 6’4” junior has averaged 11.9 ppg in 28.6
mpg. He is shooting 38.3% from behind the arc, providing
another outside threat besides Melvin Buckley. He scored
15 points against Wake Forest and 14 against UNLV, indications that he can
put the ball in the hoop against decent competition.
Like DePaul, the Red Storm didn’t lose either of their starting
guards from a year ago. However, they did pick up a
junior college transfer who has earned a spot in the starting lineup this
Avery Patterson is the second leading scorer at 13.8 ppg (behind Lamont
Hamilton’s 13.9 ppg). As important as the points
themselves is how he gets them – from the perimeter. He
has become Coach Norm Roberts’ primary threat from behind the arc (37.5%).
He’s also hitting 81.5% of his free throws.
However, he has to become more consistent. He’s had four
games in the 20s, four in the teens, and five in single digits.
The bottom line, however, is that he has played well enough for
Roberts to have senior Daryll Hill come off the bench.
Last spring, Orange fans bade adieu to four-year starter Gerry McNamara
(16.0 ppg and 5.9 apg), who practically willed Syracuse to the conference
tournament championship last season. As good as McNamara
was, however, his replacement may be even better.
Harris was the most highly-regarded recruit (#23 on RSCI) entering the
conference this season. The 6’4” perimeter player brings
tremendous athleticism, as well as a competitive intensity to Coach Jim
Boeheim’s squad. Though not a starter, he has earned
starters’ minutes. He is averaging 11.3 ppg and an
extremely impressive 7.3 rpg. He doesn’t possess
McNamara’s perimeter shooting touch as he’s made only one three-pointer in
16 attempts, but he is a potentially prolific scorer.
Inside the arc he’s shooting 54.3%. He’s scored in
double figures in 11 of 14 games and has reached at least eight rebounds in
a game seven times. Harris was the pre-season pick as
Big East Rookie of the Year, an award he may still very well win.
No team in the country lost more in the backcourt from last year than the
Wildcats. Now playing for pay are Randy Foye (20.5 ppg
and 5.8 rpg), Allan Ray (18.5 ppg), and Kyle Lowry (11.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and
Freshman combo guard
Scottie Reynolds (#37 on RSCI) certainly can not replace these
three stars, but he’s already displayed the talent to become a future force
in Coach Jay Wright’s program. He’s averaging 8.1 ppg
and a solid 4.3 apg in 23.3 mpg. However, breaking down
his stats into the first six games and the next six games reveals how much
he has improved already. He averaged 7.1 ppg and 3.0 apg
during six games in November, then raised those stats to 9.0 ppg and 5.5 apg
in December, highlighted by a 12-point, 9-rebound game against Temple.
On a team with three senior starters, including multi-talented Curtis
Sumpter and sharpshooting guard Michael Nardi, Reynolds will not be one of
the primary options on offense. Still, he is a key
figure in Villanova’s quest for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The 16 players listed
above may not make fans of their respective teams forget those who came
before them. However, when these “newcomers” are
seniors, those same fans may be wondering how their teams will possibly
replace these quality backcourt players.