Def Pen Sports continues its 2019-20 NCAA preview series this week with a focus on the Big East. As a conference, the Big East underachieved in the NCAA Tournament and looks to make an improvement in the 2019-2020 campaign. There is some serious upperclassmen star power this year in the Big East which features some the strongest guard play of any league.
Let’s take a look at our 2019 Top 10 Big East players.
10) James Akinjo (Georgetown)
James Akinjo was one of the best freshmen in the conference last year and won Big East Freshmen of the year last year. He was also on the All-Freshmen First Team along with teammates Mac McClung and Josh Leblanc. Akinjo should be one of the top guards in the conference this year as Georgetown hopes to get back to the tournament.
Akinjo is one of the best offensive guards in the conference, with a strong ability to shoot the ball from 3 and has the quickness to get into the lane and score. He shot 36% from the field, 39% from 3 and 81% from the line. He’ll need to improve his efficiency from the field, but he came up with some clutch shots last year and if he can improve his shot election he’ll be even more dangerous than he already is. He’s also one of the best passers in the conference, averaging 5.4 assists a game last season. He has been solid on the defensive end, but due to his height, he struggled at times with guarding taller opposing guards.
9) L.J. Figueroa (St Johns)
LJ Figueroa was one of the conference’s best newcomers last year and was a key piece in St John’s tournament team. Despite this, St Johns choose to thankfully move on from Chris Mullin and hired the recently fired Arkansas coach Mike Anderson. The question is not Figueroa’s talent, but how high is his ceiling, especially with his more important role in the team with the loss of talent and production St John’s experience at the end of last year.
Figuroa had a strong season last year, is one of the most offensively efficient players in the conference play last season, averaging 14.4 PPG on 51% shooting from the field and 38% from 3. Figueroa is a strong player, with the ability to make room in the post and get good positioning in the post. He also has a surprising amount of quickness and in transition threw down some thunderous dunks last season. Figueroa was solid on defense but also benefitted from playing with Mustapha Heron and Justin Simon, two of the conference’s best defenders. That being said, if Figueroa can continue to improve his game, he should be one of the conference’s best players and should end up on an All-Big East Team.
You won’t like him when he’s angry! Alpha slams it home on the and-1 #GoFriars pic.twitter.com/U8VTcvKXKT
— PC Men’s Basketball (@PCFriarsmbb) February 7, 2019
8) Alpha Diallo (Providence)
Alpha Diallo had a strong season last year and was one of the conference’s best players, but his team struggled and PRovidence missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years. Diallo will be looked at to help right the ship and guide the Friars back to the tournament this season.
Diallo was one of the conference’s best rebounders last season, pulling down 8 boards at night at 6’7 (although he is most likely an inch or two shorter). He made the All-Big East Second Team last year while averaging 16 PPG, 8.1 RPG, and 3.1 AST. Diallo is strong in the post, using his strength well and is dangerous when he has a good position down low. His shooting has been improving, but still leaves something to be desired. If he can consistently hit shots, he’ll have a strong all-around offensive game. Diallo is best known for his defense. He has a good IQ and is not easily blown by smaller quick players and is not bullied by taller stronger players. Diallo will be one of the conference’s best all-around players this season and should help lead Providence back into the tournament.
7) Jermaine Samuels (Villanova)
Jermaine Samuels may at first seem like he does not belong on this list. His stats do not reflect someone who should be considered a top ten player in the conference, but due to how he finished the season last year and his play during the Pan-American Games this summer, Jermaine Samuels will look to be one of Villanova’s and the Big East’s top players this year.
Samuels had a strong finish to his season, scoring 13 PPG on 42% shooting from the field and 38% from 3 during the last eight games of the season. But Samuels looked impressive during the Pan-American games, shooting well from 3 and showing a strong ability to score inside the arc and attack the basket. Samuels also has shown a strong defensive game, thanks to his length and height, he should be one of the best 3 and D players in the conference this year.
6) Mustapha Heron (St. Johns)
Mustapha Heron alongside backcourt mate LJ Figueroa plans to make St. Johns a tough team to deal with in the Big East. Despite right knee tendinitis and a sore left Achilles tendon that plagued him all season, Heron was one of the best guards in the league. The Auburn transfer averaged 14.6 points while shooting 44% from the field and 40% from behind the arc in his first year at St. Johns. Under new coach Mike Anderson (previously at Arkansas) Heron looks to benefit from a fast-paced offense that will offer plentiful opportunities.
5) Kamar Baldwin (Butler)
Senior point guard Kamar Baldwin looks to lead Butler back to the NCAA tournament after missing it for the first time in four years. Baldwin is a do it all guard who averaged 17 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting over 44.7% from behind the arc. In a league that has great guard play, Baldwin really shines with his exceptional pull-up game and defensive prowess. Look for Baldwin to will Butler to the tournament and make some strides in Big East play.
Kamar Baldwin (@kamar3baldwin) earned All-BIG EAST Second Team honors after averaging 17.0 PTS, 4.9 REB, 3.1 AST in his junior season at @ButlerMBB
?? #BIGEASThoops Full Season Highlights: pic.twitter.com/GnmKKVAA1u
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) May 3, 2019
Ty-Shon Alexander (Creighton)
Ty-Shon Alexander was one of the best guards in the conference last year and should be seen as one of the conference’s top-scoring threats come this season. He was an all-Big East Team Honorable Mention last year and was Creighton’s top scorer at 15.7 points a game.
Alexander is known as one of the best scorers in the conference and rightfully so. He averaged 15.7 PPG while shooting 40% from the field, 36% from 3 (on 8 attempts a game) and 79% from the line. He has flourished in Greg McDermott’s offense, a system that he fits like a glove. Alexander’s weakness is his defense, which does not lack for effort, but McDermott’s teams have never been known for their defense. If Alexander can continue to improve upon his strong play last year, Creighton will finish in the top half of a strong Big East.
3) Naji Marshall (Xavier)
With the graduation of Trevon Blueitt, Najii Marshall is poised for a huge year for Xavier. Marshall averaged 14.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists for a Xavier team that has some high aspirations in Travis Steele’s second season. The Second Team All-Big East awardee took a major jump between his freshman and sophomore year and looks to become an All-Big East First Team player. With Quentin Goodin and Paul Scruggs plus a good freshman class, Marshall looks to lead the way.
2) Markus Howard (Marquette)
The best news of the offseason for Marquette was when Markus Howard decided to return for his senior year. Howard was electric last year and averaged 25 points, 3.9 assists and 4 rebounds per game. The Big East First Teamer, had a 53 point game against Creighton and 45 against Buffalo as he cooked the competition. Per ESPN Stats and Info, he’s the first player in 20 years to score at least 50 points twice in his career. The Golden Eagles lost in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament to Murray State and have aspirations for a deep tourney run. Despite the loss of the Hauser brothers, Markus Howard makes Marquette a top 25 caliber team.
Myles Powell (@Myles_MBP_23) averaged 23.1 PPG in his junior season with @SetonHallMBB ?
?? Full #BIGEASThoops Season Highlights: pic.twitter.com/QIyuJiehgR
— #BIGEASThoops (@BIGEASTMBB) April 11, 2019
1) Myles Powell (Seton Hall)
Myles Powell barely edges out Markus Howard for the best player in the Big East. After flirting with entering the NBA Draft, Powell elected to come back to the Pirates for his senior year. The senior averaged 23.1 points, 4 rebounds and shot over 36 percent from 3-point range. Powell is a natural scorer and a gifted passer who can score at all levels. In the Big East, Powell has been nearly unguardable. Last season Powell scored over 30+ seven times and had a 40 point game against Grand Canyon. Powell and Seton Hall will have some serious early-season tests against Michigan State, Oregon, Maryland and Iowa State before the Big East slate starts. Howard will look to lead Seton Hall back to the NCAA tournament and get them to the second weekend.