8. Seton Hall
10. St. John‘s
POY: Kris Dunn, Providence
Coach of the Year: Chris Mack, Xavier
Newcomer of the Year: Henry Ellenson, Marquette
G – D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown, Senior
G – Kris Dunn, Providence, Junior
G – Kellen Dunham, Butler, Senior
F – Henry Ellenson, Marquette, Freshman
C – Daniel Ochefu, Villanova, Senior
G – Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova, Senior
G – Roosevelt Jones, Butler, Senior
G – Myles Davis, Xavier, Junior
F – Jalen Reynolds, Xavier, Junior
F – Andrew Chrabasz, Butler, Junior
G – Trevon Blueitt, Xavier, Sophomore
G – Josh Hart, Villanova, Junior
F – Isaac Copeland, Georgetown, Sophomore
F – Ben Bentil, Providence, Sophomore
F – Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, Sophomore
C - Daniel Ochefu, 6’10, Sr.
PF - Kris Jenkins, 6’6, Jr.
SF - Josh Hart, 6’5, Jr.
SG - Phil Booth, 6’3, So.
PG - Ryan Arcidiacono, 6’3, Sr.
Reserves: Jalen Brunson, 6’1, Fr.; Darryl Reynolds, 6’8, Jr.; Tim Delaney, 6’8, Fr.; Mikal Bridges, 6’7, R-Fr.; Donte DiVincenzo, 6’4, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 3 seed
Another year, another extremely balanced team that should contend for the conference title. What Jay Wright needs to determine is, have the last two years‘ NCAA tournament flameouts been a failure of talent, a failure of the system, poor coaching, or something far less consequential (bad luck? Cold shooting nights?). Despite the losses of Darrun Hilliard to the draft, JayVaughn Pinkston to graduation, and Dylan Ennis to Oregon, the Wildcats have another talented and experienced team led by Ryan Arcidiacono (how is he not a coach’s son?), scoring wing Josh Hart, and the ever-improving Daniel Ochefu. The main critique of Villanova’s elite teams the past two years has been the lack of an elite NBA-level prospect, instead seeing the Wildcats as a perfect mix of skill, experience, and chemistry that lacked the upside to win in the tournament. This year, the difference-maker might be 5-star recruit Jalen Brunson, a lightning-quick point guard from Chicago who is adept at creating shots for others as well as hitting outside shots when presented with the chance. Running ball screens for Brunson with Ochefu as a dive man or Kris Jenkins as a pick-and-pop guy with Arcidiacono (37% from 3), Hart (46%), and Phil Booth (49%) spotting up around the floor should be a cure for Villanova’s late-shot-clock ills.
The team’s depth is pretty questionable at this point, but freshman Tim Delaney is ready to play a role right away backing up Jenkins and Ochefu along with junior Darryl Reynolds, and besides Booth/Brunson (whoever doesn’t start), some backcourt depth should come from redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges and true freshman Donte DiVincenzo. Both have solid recruiting pedigree.
One of Villanova’s biggest strengths is its ability to space the floor with three-point shooting. Jenkins in particular is key to this strategy; he’s a burly 6‘6 forward who shot 37% on 129 attempts last year. Surrounding Ochefu, who gets better and better in the post, with 4 shooters should give him plenty of space to operate. He had a respectable-for-a-big-man 13.4% assist rate, so he should be able to find shooters out of double-teams. The next step in his evolution will be to cut down on turnovers.
Overall, it looks like another top-10 or top-15 squad this year, though I think they will be challenged a lot more in conference play (don’t expect a third straight 16-2 run through the Big East). But with the addition of Brunson and the increased conference competition, this year might just be the year the Wildcats overcome their first-weekend blues in March.
C - Isaac Copeland, 6’9, So.
PF - Paul White, 6’8, So.
SF - LJ Peak, 6’5, So.
SG - Tre Campbell, 6’2, So.
PG - D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, 6’3, Sr.
Reserves: Reggie Cameron, 6’7, Jr.; Jessie Govan, 6’10, Fr.; Marcus Derrickson, 6’7, Fr.; Kaleb Johnson, 6’6, Fr.; Akoy Agau, 6’8, R-Jr.
Postseason Projection: 6 seed
When D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera initially declared for the NBA draft, it seemed that this would be a rebuilding year of sorts. Georgetown’s excellent sophomore class of Tre Campbell, LJ Peak, Paul White, and Isaac Copeland would have been the heart of the team, growing into their roles as leaders and having a sort of trial by fire. Instead, Smith-Rivera will again be the team’s driving force (82.2% of minutes, 120.8 O-rating) after pulling out of the draft, with the four sophomores likely joining him in the starting lineup and staying in more comfortable complementary roles. The frontline will have great (if inexperienced) depth, with 6‘6 small forward Kaleb Johnson, 6‘7 power forward Marcus Derrickson, and 6’10 center Jessie Govan all fairly well-regarded as freshmen, and Louisville transfer forward Akoy Agau eligible in December. Due to a slight lack of depth in the backcourt, DVR (DSR? DVSR?) will likely play an even higher share of minutes, and Peak will have to play some shooting guard. John Thompson’s Princeton-esque system and slower tempo really doesn’t stress his players too much, though, and Campbell and DVSR should be able to handle the ball-handling duties. Thompson typically gets skilled big men; White showed a decent ability to pass last year, and it will be interesting to see how well the freshmen take to the scheme. Govan in particular could earn big minutes with his size and skill if he can exist within the system similar to the way Josh Smith did last year (although no one in collegiate hoop, save Tanveer Bhullar of New Mexico St., is that big).
As an overall squad, Georgetown was relatively solid last year. Statistically, their biggest weakness was committing too many fouls and putting opponents on the free throw line – Hoyas‘ opponents had a FTA/FGA ratio of 44.1%, coming in at a despicable 305th in the country. By far the two largest culprits, Josh Smith (a walking foul due to his lack of mobility) and Mikael Hopkins, have both graduated, and so it will be up to Copeland, White, Govan, etc., to correct that bad habit. Of course, Georgetown was also elite at getting to the lines themselves, putting up a 30th-ranked 43.9% FTA/FGA. Georgetown also didn’t defend the three-point line well, though that was likely symptomatic of having Smith’s lumbering body on the floor and killing rotations. A little more speed out of the post men will go along way towards allowing Thompson to have his team switch more and recover to the three point line faster.
With a star senior guard who can fill it up efficiently and a bunch of young talent around him, Georgetown has a pretty high ceiling this year. Most of it depends on the development of the sophomores – if one or more can emerge to an all-conference level (my money is on Copeland or Campbell), then Georgetown could potentially push for the conference title. Whether Thompson can make his deliberate style translate to the NCAA Tournament – something he hasn’t done since the days of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert – is a little more up in the air. My sense is a 6-seed, hard-fought loss in the round of 32 to a 3-seed, despite DVSR’s heroics.
C - Tyler Wideman, 6’8, So.
PF - Andrew Chrabasz, 6’7, Jr.
SF - Roosevelt Jones, 6’4, R-Sr.
SG - Kellen Dunham, 6’6, Sr.
PG - Tyler Lewis, 5’11, R-Jr.
Reserves: Kelan Martin, 6’6, So.; Jordan Gathers, 6’3, R-Sr.; Nate Fowler, 6’9, Fr.; Jackson Davis, 6’8, So.; Austin Etherington, 6’6, R-Sr.
Postseason Projection: 5 seed
The most remarkable thing about Butler is that Roosevelt Jones is still in college. It feels like he was the veteran leader on the Gordon Hayward-Shelvin Mack teams (or maybe he’s just super similar to Ronald Nored?), and yet here he is, the unconventional senior PG for a gritty Butler squad in 2015-16. Jones leads a pretty talented team: NC State transfer Tyler Lewis is a solid guard who will split point guard duties with Jones while likely sharing the court with him; wing Kellen Dunham might be a top-5 shooter in college basketball (77 made threes at a 41% clip last year) who also made a concerted effort to take advantage of his dead-eye FT shooting last year (85% on 167 attempts); and junior forward Andrew Chrabasz is an unconventional mismatch as a burly driver who can also step out and hit threes occasionally.
Coach Chris Holtmann did an exceptional job after being thrust into the position by Brandon Miller’s departure. Butler played with all the traits of a disciplined team – didn’t turn the ball over, played exceptional defense, and finished defensive possessions with elite defensive rebounding. A big part of that was departed center Kameron Woods, who was 11th in the country in defensive rebounding; he will need to be replaced by aptly-named sophomore Tyler Wideman and talented freshman Nate Fowler. The duo should be up to the challenge, though a lack of experience might be a hindrance. Fowler offers the added benefit of a smooth shooting stroke, which Holtmann could use at times to give opposing defenses a different look.
The wildcard for Butler is sophomore Kelan Martin. An extremely bouncy athlete at 6‘6, Martin has the ability to play either forward position and create a lot of mismatches. He can shoot the three (though his freshman percentage of 25% was atrocious) and put the ball on the floor from the perimeter; he offers a dynamic option, likely off the bench, that will challenge defenses. If Martin can make a leap this year, he will give the Bulldogs a dimension they mostly lack at this point.
One last concern for Butler will be overall outside shooting – Jones’s hilariously bricky game (at least he doesn’t even try to shoot them!) means the spacing needs to come from elsewhere. Dunham is as pure as it gets, but the team was 299th in the country in 3PA/FGA and lost its second-best shooter in Alex Barlow. Someone from the group of Lewis (terrible shooter in his NC State tenure), Chrabasz, Martin, or even Fowler will need to show the ability to consistently make threes (and not just wide open kickouts) to keep the paint from being overly clogged.
Butler has the talent to make a solid run in the conference, and Holtmann has the team playing a similar style to what the wizard Brad Stevens had going in his prime. Butler’s toughness and experience should translate to a solid finish (call it a 5-6 seed), with the potential to really give opponents problems in the one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament.
C - Jalen Reynolds, 6’10, Jr.
PF - James Farr, 6’10, Sr.
SF - Trevon Blueitt, 6’6, So.
SG - Remy Abell, 6’4, R-Sr.
PG - Myles Davis, 6’2, Jr.
Reserves: Edmond Sumner, 6’5, R-Fr.; JP Macura, 6’5, So.; Kaiser Gates, 6’8, Fr.; Makinde London, 6’9, R-Fr.; Larry Austin, 6’2, So.
Postseason Projection: 8 seed
Traditionally, when a team loses a senior point guard (Dee Davis) and a senior anchor down low (the legendary Matt Stainbrook), they take a major step back. I’m not sure that will be the case this year for Xavier, though. They return everyone else, with effective replacements ready to step in – Myles Davis (no relation) should take over the point guard duties, with help from sophomore Larry Austin and redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner, and massive breakout candidate Jalen Reynolds (consider me all over his bandwagon) should be a force down low. Davis played off the ball last year and was very efficient, but with the uptick in handling the ball, he’ll need up his assist rate relative to his turnover rate, which seems plausible based on his controlled play last year. As for Reynolds, he has the potential to be a monster on the block. He’s big, long, and athletic, and shot an impressive 62% from the field last year. Watching him as he backed up Stainbrook, he absolutely passed the eye test as a ferocious competitor on the block with solid ability to hit a righty half hook. His production should rise along with his minutes and the development of some counter-moves to the half hook.
As good as I think Myles Davis and Reynolds will be, the team’s true strength will be on the wing. Remy Abell and Trevon Blueitt are both rangy athletes who can get to the rim, shoot a little bit, and defend the heck out of the ball. Blueitt is only a sophomore, and his continued growth as both a scorer and a lockdown perimeter defender will be key for the Musketeers to push into the Big East’s upper tier. Off the bench, sophomore JP Macura is constant shooting threat who should also get better with the benefit of a year of experience.
One thing to always like about Xavier is the coaching. The program has established a culture of winning, and through a strong hiring process (and maybe a little luck), the team’s recent list of coaches is a murderers row – the late Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, Sean Miller, and now Chris Mack. Mack has carried on the tradition that his predecessors set, and as of yet, has not shown the same interest to jump ship to a bigger program. Part of that is probably due to conference re-alignment – Xavier now being in more of a “power“ conference helps in both recruiting reputation as well as marketing dollars; the league’s deal with Fox Sports 1 will help give Xavier the ability to pay Mack a competitive salary compared to most suitors. It would be nice to watch what Mack can do with an extended tenure at the school.
With a lot of talent back, Xavier will likely continue to be a threat. Their biggest concern is finding the right guy to run the show, and in a guard-driven sport, that’s no small issue. The smart money, though, is on Mack figuring that out and having yet another tournament team on his hands.
C - Luke Fischer, 6’11, Jr.
PF - Henry Ellenson, 6’11, Fr.
SF - Haanif Cheatham, 6’5, Fr.
SG - Duane Wilson, 6’2, So.
PG - Traci Carter, 6’0, Fr.
Reserves: JaJuan Johnson, 6’5, Jr.; Sandy Cohen III, 6’6, So.; Matt Heldt, 6’10, Fr.
Postseason Projection: 10 seed
Marquette is an extremely interesting case. They lose a lot, don’t return much...but I think they will be significantly better next year. Their freshman class is excellent, headlined by silky-shooting, Wisconsin native big man Henry Ellenson. Ellenson is the perfect Badger big man, able to stretch defenses out by stepping to the three point line and – wait, what’s that? He went to Marquette and not Wisconsin? Bo, where art thou? Anyway, Ellenson will be an outstanding talent from the jump – he can handle the ball very well for a 6’10 or 6’11 guy and is already a high-level shooter. His versatility will cause rampant mismatches, which should open the floor up for some of the other freshmen – point guard Traci Carter might start so that Duane Wilson can play off the ball (where he is far more effective), and wings Haanif Cheatham and Sacar Anim will compete with returnees Sandy Cohen III and JaJuan Johnson for big minutes as well. Cheatham in particular adds a dimension of size on the wing, a smooth lefty who can also help ease the ball-handling burden on Carter and Wilson. Speaking of Duane Wilson, he’ll need to improve his efficiency; playing next to actual offensive threats (cough, no more Derrick Wilson, cough) will most likely give that a natural bump as he gets more open looks.
By far the team’s best returning player is center Luke Fischer, who should fit perfectly next to Ellenson’s versatility in one of the largest starting frontlines in the country. He definitely prefers to operate down low, making 61% of his shots while only attempting one three last year. His post game should be enhanced by having better shooters (especially his post buddy Ellenson) around him. Fischer was also 60th in the country in block rate last year as the only one on the team remotely capable of defending the rim, and he will be helped by the arrival of Ellenson and Matt Heldt, a 6’10 recruit also from Wisconsin. Heldt is still pretty thin, but like his classmate Ellenson, is very versatile with great touch both on the block and from distance. Coach Steve Wojciechowski should be able to play any of the three together at the same time, a luxury that Marquette didn’t have last year when it’s biggest players besides Fischer were 6‘7 Steve Taylor and 6‘6 Juan Anderson.
Marquette was a very unlucky team last year, both by kenpom’s metric (280th) and by results – the margins in the team’s first 7 Big East losses were 3, 6, 4, 3, 10 in OT, 10, 4 in OT. Having a go-to scorer should help the Golden Eagles greatly in these late game situations. Another big help will be improved free throw shooting – they were 323rd in the country last year, which should be helped by most of the freshmen (as well as the departures of Juan Anderson, Steve Taylor, and Derrick Wilson, who pathetically shot 47% as a point guard). Fischer will need to improve his poor 58% stroke, but he has the mechanics to get better.
As you can probably tell by now, I’m pretty bullish on this young team’s potential this year, and I have an absolute mancrush on Henry Ellenson’s game. I think Marquette will make the tournament just inside of the bubble, getting enough big conference wins to bolster its resume. Then their big job begins – convincing Ellenson, DraftExpress’s #9 prospect, to come back and lead a real Big East contender in 2016-17.
C - Ben Bentil, 6’8, So.
PF - Rodney Bullock, 6’7, R-So.
SF - Jalen Lindsey, 6’7, So.
SG - Kyron Cartwright, 5’11, So.
PG - Kris Dunn, 6’3, Jr.
Reserves: Junior Lomomba, 6’5, Jr.; Drew Edwards, 6’3, Fr.; Ryan Fazekas, 6’7, Fr.; Ricky Council, 6’4, Fr.; Quadree Smith, 6’8, Fr.
Postseason Projection: Squarely on the bubble - play-in game
I’m probably going to feel bad watching this team all year because Kris Dunn deserves more help. For a guy that almost certainly would have been a first round draft pick (probably top-20), he’s taking quite a risk returning to a team without a whole lot of roster continuity. Dunn’s numbers last year were incredible and unique – the combination of #1 in assist rate (50%!!) and #5 in steal rate is something we might never see again, even from Dunn this year. His approach will be interesting – how much of his play will focus on proving to NBA scouts he has progressed in his weak areas (sloppy with the ball, kind of a bricky low-volume shooter) and how much will be focused on trying to drag this slightly undermanned roster back to the successes it has had in the last 2 years? If Dunn can improve on his shortcomings while still being absolutely dynamic on both ends of the floor, he could carry this team to a much higher finish than this – he’s that good.
Of Dunn’s top distributing options, LeDontae Henton, Tyler Harris, and Carson Derosiers are all gone, and Pascal Chukwu (should have been Derosiers replacement) transferred during the offseason as well. One guy who should take a solid leap is forward Ben Bentil, a strong offensive rebounder who will need to become a better finisher as the team’s primary (only?) inside threat. Providence will be laughably small inside, with Bentil being the only player over 6‘8, and only a few other forward options: 6‘8, 285 lb freshman Quadree Smith, 6‘8 redshirt sophomore Rodney Bullock, who is coming off a torn ACL, skinny 6‘8 freshman Ryan Fazekas. Fellow freshman Alex Owens, who might have started at center, will likely miss the year with a torn ACL suffered in February. Coach Ed Cooley will probably explore some funky lineups with Junior Lomomba or Jalen Lindsey at the 4 and hope to spread out opponents. This style could have the added benefit of giving Dunn significantly more space to create, although everyone except LeDontae Henton was a pretty terrible/low-volume shooter last year (294th in the country in both 3P% and 3PA/FGA). This will likely give the smooth-shooting Fazekas and fellow freshmen Drew Edwards and Ricky Council some chances at playing time.
This team will go as Kris Dunn goes. He’s good enough to get them to something like a 6-seed, but the far more likely scenario is for him to be cramped by poor floor spacing and a lack of viable passing options, causing the Friars to battle through a decent Big East conference and hang around the bubble all year.
C - Toby Hegner, 6’10, So.
PF - Cole Huff, 6’7, R-Jr.
SF - Isaiah Zierden, 6’2, Jr.
SG - James Milliken, 6’2, Sr.
PG - Mo Watson, 5’11, R-Jr.
Reserves: Geoffrey Groselle, 7’0, Sr.; Ronnie Harrell, 6’7, R-Fr.; Zach Hanson, 6’9, Jr.; Marlon Stewart, 6’3, Fr.; Khyri Thomas, 6’4, Fr.
Postseason Projection: NIT
Based on initial reads on their returnees, Creighton will likely be one of my pet teams this year – they could (and should) start 5 legitimate three point shooters while still having a conventional 1 through 5 lineup. Keying that lineup will be Boston University transfer Mo Watson, a tiny fella who was sensational as the Terriers catalyst in 2013-14 – he had a 49.9% assist rate, second in the country behind LIU-Brooklyn’s immortal Jason Brickman, and didn’t turn the ball over much (20.1%) relative to his prolific passing and domination of the ball. With a steal rate that was 27th in the country as well, he’s a bit of a Kris Dunn Lite. While he may be the worst shooter in the starting lineup (34% on only 28 makes), he’s certainly capable of taking advantage of space and creating for everyone else. On the wings, two returnees should enjoy playing with Watson – senior James Milliken and junior Isaiah Zierden didn’t use a ton of possessions, but they combined to go 89/218 from deep (right about 39%) despite Zierden missing 13 games. With no Devin Brooks or Austin Chatman, more will be asked from both players. Rounding out the starting lineup will likely be Nevada transfer Cole Huff and sophomore center Toby Hegner. Both hit more than 40 threes in their most recent seasons, and no defense will be able to relax against the Bluejays with those two on the floor. Huff and Hegner should have field days against some of the more lumbering big men in the conference. A fun comparison – Wisconsin’s five starters last season (probably one of the best shooting lineups from 1-5 ever) shot 243/632 (38.4%) from three land; Creighton’s 5 prospective starters shot a combined 247/647 (38.2%) from three in their most recent seasons (with Zierden’s stats pro-rated to 33 games). The obvious difference is that all 5 of Creighton’s players did it in mostly complementary roles; it remains to be seen who will step up as the go-to threats.
The concern for that lineup, of course, will be defense. Hegner and Huff are not even close to rim protectors and are only decent rebounders, and so the guards will need to play solid perimeter defense. Creighton’s best post defenders, actually, might be bench players Geoffrey Groselle and Zach Hanson. It wouldn’t be overly shocking to see one of them start over one of Huff/Hegner simply to get more defense on the floor, but this writer will always be hoping for the Bluejay Bombers. Perimeter depth will have to come from true freshman Marlon Stewart and Khyri Thomas; Huff will likely see some minutes at the three as well to give the starters some breaks.
Creighton could be a 2014-15 Indiana-esque team – lights out three point shooting and offense, but a total sieve with no rim protection on defense. If Greg McDermott can figure out how to space the offense and use Watson’s passing to create open shots for everyone else, Creighton will be an absolute nightmare to guard. It will be interesting to see if McDermott opts for a faster tempo to create more open transition shots, as his Creighton teams have always played fairly slowly. Regardless, I’m excited to watch this team play and potentially be in the bubble discussion thanks to its rainmaker offense.
8. Seton Hall
C - Angel Delgado, 6’9, So.
PF - Desi Rodriguez, 6’6, So.
SF - Khadeen Carrington, 6’3, So.
SG - Isaiah Whitehead, 6’4, So.
PG - Derrick Gordon, 6’3, Sr.
Reserves: Rashed Anthony, 6’9, So.; Dalton Soffer, 6’4, Fr.; Braeden Anderson, 6’9, R-Jr.; Ismael Sanogo, 7’2, So.
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT
This is probably too low for the talent that Seton Hall has, but I have no reason whatsoever to trust a team led by Isaiah Whitehead and Kevin Willard. Willard has never made an NCAA tournament (even in his days at Iona before getting promoted to Seton Hall), and last year was perhaps the Hall’s most disastrous in his tenure for the way it progressed. Fairly highly hyped due to Sterling Gibbs and the arrival of elite recruit Whitehead, Seton Hall started relatively strongly, racking up against wins against subpar competition (and George Washington before they started sucking). Then Whitehead sustained a stress fracture to his foot, and the Pirates started really started playing well – they only went 5-4 in his absence, but the wins included statement wins against St. John’s and Villanova and the losses were to Butler twice, Xavier, and a letdown against DePaul. As soon as Whitehead returned, though, things went downhill in a hurry. Seton Hall went 2-9 after his return, with Whitehead posting an offensive rating over 100 only twice in those eleven games.
All year, Whitehead profiled poorly as a completely inefficient gunner, using 29.3% of possessions (65th in the country) despite a gross 91.8 o-rating. He passed the ball fairly well, but also turned it over a ton, and his shooting was nothing short of abysmal. A guy with that statistical profile being your floor leader is pretty scary, but that’s the case after Sterling Gibbs transferred to UConn and Jaren Sina straight up quit during the season (good chemistry there, hey Coach Willard?). If Whitehead can play more to his recruiting pedigree than his awful freshman year numbers, then Seton Hall can be decent, but that’s a gigantic, Josh Smith-sized if.
The team is not devoid of talent, though. The freshman class outside of Whitehead showed a lot of promise, especially Angel Delgado, and he along with Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez should be a great base upon which to help build the team. The Pirates also have Massachusetts grad transfer Derrick Gordon, a strong scorer last year for the Minutemen despite inefficiency similar to Whitehead. Without Gibbs, though, the team doesn’t really have a true point guard, meaning one of Whitehead, Gordon, Carrington, and unheralded freshman Dalton Soffer will have to handle the ball – Gordon or Whitehead are probably the best and most qualified of the bunch, but they are also the most likely to implode the offense with terrible pull-up jumpers and drives to nowhere. Willard needs to find a way to get the ball inside to Delgado and Rodriguez, both of whom were outstanding inside as freshman. Delgado was 25th and 28th, respectively, in the country in offensive and defensive rebounding rates. If he can improve on his heinous free throw shooting (41%), he’ll be a super efficient option inside who can also help anchor the defense (4.7% block rate). I have a feeling Willard won’t be smart enough to make him the team’s focal point, though, instead letting Whitehead gun to his heart’s content (or not being able to control).
Seton Hall has some nice young pieces, but their lack of natural ballhandlers, depth, and experience likely spells disaster for this squad this year.
C - Tommy Hamilton, 6’11, Jr.
PF - Myke Henry, 6’6, Sr.
SF - Durrell McDonald, 6’2, Sr.
SG - Aaron Simpson, 5’11, Sr.
PG - Billy Garrett, 6’5, Jr.
Reserves: Rashaun Stimage, 6’8, Sr.; Darrick Wood, 6’5, Jr.; Elijah Cain, 6’5, Fr.; Ray Doby, 6’7, Fr.
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT
The triumphant return of Dave Leitao! This is actually a time to be mildly optimistic about the DePaul basketball program, regardless of your feelings on Leitao Round 2. They had a couple nice wins last year, knocking off Xavier and St. John’s at home as well as sweeping Seton Hall before they went totally off the rails. They then, however, lost their last 8 games of the year, which might have been a blessing in disguise because this team was going nowhere with Oliver Purnell in charge, and a respectable end to the year might have meant keeping him around.
Leitao is the last coach to be successful with this program, so you can see why the administration brought him back. They made the tournament in 2004, and he won 20 games again in 2005. His old DePaul teams played pretty slow, though he sped up his style considerably at Virginia (and failed – so perhaps he’ll go back to his more plodding ways).
The players he will be coaching are actually pretty solid, led by the trio of lanky point guard Billy Garrett, powerful forward Myke Henry, and center Tommy Hamilton. Garrett, a junior, is solid floor general who excels at getting to the rim and drawing fouls; he was 28th in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and took advantage of that by hitting 84% of his free throws. He should continue to evolve as a distributor after a solid sophomore season in that regard as well. Henry, a senior, was a high usage forward who is a fierce rebounder and also hit a three per game last year at a nice 37% clip. And Hamilton, a junior, provides a balanced blend of rebounding, shotblocking, and sneaky-good shooting (23/49 from 3 last year).
The Blue Demons also return starter Durrell McDonald on the wing and rotation guys Aaron Simpson (an unremarkable guard), Rashaun Stimage (a strong offensive rebounder), and wing Darrick Wood (desperately needs to improve his efficiency). McDonald is a quick defensive player who racked up a strong 3.4% steal rate.
The big thing that needs to change for DePaul this year is their defense. Pick a metric, and they didn’t perform well in it – defensive rebounding, defending without fouling, forcing turnovers, opponents shooting percentages. They have the length and experience to be a better defensive team; it’s more about instilling the mindset to go out and earn stops. Leitao’s teams have never been stalwarts, but they have certainly been better than last year’s DePaul team, and perhaps simply playing for a new coach will ramp up their intensity. My guess is the team shows some improvement this year, but not enough to contend for the tournament.
10. St. John’s
C - Yankuba Sima, 6’11, Fr.
PF - Darien Williams, 6’7, Jr.
SF - Ron M’Vouika, 6’6, R-Sr.
SG - Durand Johnson, 6’6, R-Sr.
PG - Marcus Lovett, 6’0, Fr.
Reserves: Felix Balamou, 6’4, Sr.; Amar Alibegovic, 6’9, So.; Malik Ellison, 6’6, Fr.; Federico Mussini, 6’1, Fr.
Postseason Projection: None
In a new era led by Chris Mullin, St. John’s is likely to struggle quite a bit. Point guard Rysheed Jordan left the program in June to pursue a pro career, and Chris Obekpa decided mid-summer to transfer, really hurting the Johnnies down low. No one else who played over 15.6% of the team’s minutes last year returns. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, though, as transfers Durand Johnson from Pitt (sat out 2014-15) and Ron M’Vouika from Missouri St. (graduate transfer who also sat out 2014-15 due to a bulging disc in his back) provide talent and potential on the wing. They’re both tall, long athletes and can shoot the three a little bit – which should allow them to switch fluidly on the perimeter.
What will really hurt them defensively, though, is the loss of Obekpa and Sir’Dominic Pointer (drafted by the Cavs). They were the only two above average rebounders on the team, an aspect of the game that killed St. John’s last year (288th and 331st in offensive and defensive rebounding rate, respectively), and also the best rim protectors the team had (13th and 82nd in the country in block rate). Without these two to cover up perimeter mistakes, the team might have to adopt a less aggressive defensive style and a slower tempo than former coach Steve Lavin preferred – relatedly, it remains to be seen what style Mullin will have his team play. Top-10 Junior College transfer Darien Williams will have to play bigger than his 6‘7, 210 frame – and his perimeter shooting style – would indicate, and a ton will hinge on 6’11 freshman post Yakouba Sima, who will get all the minutes he can handle from day one. The team has a decent collection of (inexperienced) talent, but with their overall youth and interior deficiencies, it’s hard to see them being very competitive in what should be a tough, deep conference.