The wait is almost over. Almost. Half the year has dragged on without college basketball, and our appetite for hoops is enormous.
Today, we feast on the Big East.
Best player: Jalen Brunson, Villanova
You know your team is in a good place when you graduate the best player in the conference and already have the next one lined up. Villanova’s Josh Hart put together one of the more impressive season in the country last year, but with Hart gone, it’s Jalen Brunson’s time to be the Wildcats’ No. 1 option in his third year on campus.
Brunson, a smooth 6-3 point guard with a silky offensive game, often looks like he has the ability to score at will. He added more than five points per game from his freshman season to his sophomore game, while also improving his field goal percentage by nine percent and his free throw percentage by double digits. He also added 1.6 assists per game while cutting down his turnovers per 100 possessions.
Basically, he got better at everything, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do so again.
With Hart gone, Brunson will both be handling the ball more and scoring more, and if Villanova ends up taking the Big East crown once again, Brunson is going to be a big part of why.
With championship experience in his freshman year and talent coming out of his ears, the junior playmaker is one of the most well-rounded players in the country, and he should take off in a big way this fall.
Best team: Villanova
Like Jay Wright’s suits, the Wildcats will likely be among the best in the country once again this year. Having the aforementioned Brunson running the show certainly helps, but this isn’t a one-man team by any means.
New Year.— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) September 29, 2017
Day 1 of Practice.
Ready For It. pic.twitter.com/Wn68qo5EWr
Big man Omari Spellman (6-9, 245 pounds) will make his debut this season, a perfect foil to Brunson’s smooth point guard play. There’s also the returning shooter Mikal Bridges, who averaged 9.8 points per game while knocking down nearly 40 percent of his threes last year, and Donte DiVincenzo, another enticing shooter who took a big step forward last season in Ryan Arcidiacono’s wake.
The all-around talent they have at every position on the floor, and the head-and-shoulders-above talent they have in Brunson and Spellman, will make Wright’s team a hard one to compete with for its Big East foes, and, frankly, for the entire country.
Sleeper team: Providence
There’s a lot to like about Providence. The Friars are coming off a surprise 20-win season in which they wiggled their way into the NCAA tournament, and looked solid doing it. Now, with their top seven scorers returning, there are plenty of reasons (at least seven, right?) to think they keep getting better.
A big one is Rodney Bullock, who led the team in scoring last year at 15.7 points per game. He’ll be a candidate for the Big East player of the year; his ability to score in close and knock down shots from deep makes him a hard cover for any defender, and his rebounding ability (7.8 boards per 40 minutes last season) is excellent for a player who only stands 6-7.
Outside of Bullock, bringing back sharpshooter Jalen Lindsey (46 percent from deep last year) and playmaker Kyron Cartwright (38 percent from deep and 6.7 assists per game) means the Friars have players who can score with regularity and stretch the floor in a big way.
Freshman to watch: Jamorko Pickett, Georgetown
With Georgetown entering a period of rebuilding under new head coach Patrick Ewing, Jamorko Pickett likely figures to play a big role in the Hoyas’ game this season, which is good: his talent deserves room to breathe.
Six-foot-nine is a good height for a small forward in the Big East, and his ability to shoot the ball from the outside means he should be a matchup problem for opponents right away.
His wingspan — easily over seven feet — also means he should be able to affect plenty of shots on the defensive end, something the Hoyas will appreciate after allowing at least 75 points 16 times last year.