Big East play starts next week. And every year, there are players who make a leap, and others who... leap into the abyss. Who has emerged as a star for each team? Who has seen his progress stall? Of course, it's hard to say a player didn't meet expectations when most didn't have great expectations for anyone on a roster... like with Providence.
I asked some of the Big East basketball bloggers to answer a quintet of questions looking back on their team in the non-conference season and the league, over the same period.
If you didn't see parts I-III, you'd better click on that link above and catch up! And the bloggers will give their predictions for the order of finish later today; check back here after 2 PM Eastern time... or keep your eye on the Twitter page of your favorite blogger).
Note that answers are from early last week.
Here is our panel, with a representative of all 16 Big East teams:
Cincinnati Bearcats Blog (Twitter) | Connecticut The UConn Blog (Twitter) | DePaul Chicago College Basketball (Twitter) | Georgetown Casual Hoya (Twitter) | Hoya Prospectus | Louisville UofL Card Game | Marquette Cracked Sidewalks (Twitter) | Notre Dame Rakes of Mallow (Twitter) | Pittsburgh Cardiac Hill (Twitter) | Providence Friar Basketball (Twitter) | Rutgers On the Banks (Twitter) | Seton Hall South Orange Juice (Twitter) | St. John's The East Coast Bias (Twitter) | South Florida Voodoo Five (Twitter) | Villanova Villanova by the Numbers | VUHoops (Twitter) | The Nova Blog (Twitter) | Syracuse Orange::44 (Twitter) | West Virginia The Smoking Musket (Twitter)
And the question for today:
Which player has exceeded your expectations on the team you follow? Which player has fallen short of expectations?
The answers, after the jump>>
|Big East Teams||Surprise Player||Disappointment|
|Cincinnati Bearcats||Cashmere Wright||Ibrahima Thomas|
|Connecticut Huskies||Kemba Walker||Charles Okwandu|
|Depaul Blue Demons||Brandon Young||Devin Hill|
|Georgetown Hoyas||H. Sims/ C. Wright||Julian Vaughn?|
|Louisville Cardinals||Chris Smith||Terrence Jennings|
|Marquette Golden Eagles||Davante Gardner||Darius Johnson-Odom|
|Notre Dame Fighting Irish||Eric Atkins||Joey Brooks|
|Pittsburgh Panthers||Talib Zanna||Gary McGhee|
|Providence Friars||Marshon Brooks||Bilal Dixon?|
|Rutgers Scarlet Knights||Mike Coburn||Dane Miller?|
|Seton Hall Pirates||Fuquan Edwin||Herb Pope|
|South Florida Bulls||Jawanza Poland||Gus Gilchrist|
|St. John’s Red Storm||Justin Brownlee||DJ Kennedy?|
|Syracuse Orange||Rick Jackson||Fab Melo|
|Villanova Wildcats||Corey Stokes||C. Fisher/ M. Wayns|
|West Virginia Mountaineers||Casey Mitchell||Deniz Kilicli|
Freshman forward Davante Gardner has far exceeded expectations. Despite still being somewhat out of shape and limited by injury the little-heralded freshman is a scoring revelation. It will be exciting to watch him develop through the next few years because, wow, the kid is efficient on the blocks.
As for disappointments, Darius Johnson-Odom is shipwrecked right now. He is the most disappointing player in the Big East to this point in the season.
Casey Mitchell has absolutely exceeded expectations, at least based on his performance last year. He went from playing only a couple minutes a game to averaging over 17 points a game, which is remarkable but not entirely unforseen as he was the National Junior College Player of the Year before he came to WVU. He's really the main reason we are 7-2 and not 5-4 at this point, as he's been our most consistent scoring threat. I just hope he can keep it up in Big East play or we may be in for a long season unless someone else steps up.
[Deniz] Kilicli has been the guy I thought would really improve from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and I've yet to see it. I saw him play in high school and thought he would be a project, and it looks like I was right. He certainly has some gifts, like being able to score in the post, but he's pretty slow afoot and is still trying to learn the game - meaning he's going to get eaten alive in conference play if he doesn't improve.
Kemba. Walker. I don't think we quite expected him to be the best player in the country, but here we are, and here's Kemba averaging 27 points and 41 percent from 3. I don't know if he can keep it up once Big East play starts, but my goodness, what a joy to watch.
Given that we didn't know what to expect from any of the freshman, I'll have to give the disappointment award to Charles Okwandu. UConn is desperate for post play, and he hasn't really provided it thus far.
Freshman Fuquan Edwin, who was named BIG EAST freshman of the week for week ending December 19th is the biggest surprise. In his last three games, Fu' has dropped 44PTS/21REB/7STL/2TO. Extremely impressive for the freshman wing. It's going to be a lot of fun to watch Edwin develop throughout the season and over his career at Seton Hall.
Herb Pope averaged a double-double last season (11.5PTS/10.7REB), but after a near-death collapse this offseason, he's recorded just one through 10 games. When Hazell went down with injury, Herb Pope's teammates looked to him to lead them through a tough stretch of their schedule. Pope hasn't done his part on or off the court. After his extremely embarrassing nut-punching incident in the first round of the NIT tournament last year, I wasn't expecting Pope to have any disciplinary issues this season. I was wrong. Whether he was five minutes late for curfew or three hours, there's no excuse, he needs to lead by example and he hasn't done that.
Rick Jackson has gone above and beyond expectations so far this season. He’s averaging 14 points and 12.5 rebounds a game and has a double-double in eight of the ten games Syracuse has played. He is a beast in the post and has been the most consistent player for Syracuse so far this season.
As for most disappointing, I would have said Kris Joseph as he was supposed to be the superstar this year and hasn’t quite been that, but I have to give it to freshman Fab Melo. He was highly touted and is over seven feet, but he hasn’t adjusted completely to the college game and gets into foul trouble while only averaging 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds a game. Not enough to make any difference in a game.
Mike Coburn has been a complete surprise. He's been playing hard nearly every possession, but even better he's been playing smart. Gone are the mistakes of the Hill era, leaving a more confident player.
Fallen short? Not much. A week ago I would have said Dane Miller, who was MIA for most of the first 6 games, but he's really started to enforce his will too.
Point guard Vincent Council was seen as the team's best player heading into the season, but even he only started a handful of games as a freshman. He has been more than solid at the 1, leading the conference in assists on a team lacking scoring options.
The one weapon he does have is emerging senior Marshon Brooks, who is putting up 22.9 ppg and 8.7 rpg at small forward. Brooks has blown up, to the surprise of most in Providence, and won Big East Player of the Week after scoring 33 against Brown, 28 with 10 boards in a loss to BC, and then 33 more in a win over Alabama. Brooks has scored at least 26 points in the last six games and has five double doubles this year after not recording one prior to this season.
No player has really fallen short of expecations, as almost nothing was expected out of this group. Some thought we'd see a greater jump by sophomore center Bilal Dixon, but the Jersey native is averaging 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game, negating any offensive limitations.
Louisville UofL Card Game:
Exceeding is Chris Smith, a 6-foot-2 transfer guard from Manhattan College. Among the most surprising, averaging 7.6 points after nine games.
Underperforming is 6-foot-10 junior center Terrence Jennings with an aversion to contact on the boards, has the ugliest hook shot ever and has yet to make a credible post move ... And is being challenged for his starting spot by freshman Gorgui Dieng.
Freshman Talib Zanna is one player who has given the team a bit more than expected at times. He put up a double-double against Maryland and just missed double-doubles in two other games. Unfortunately for Pitt, he's really disappeared since that Maryland game. But as a freshman, he's showing some signs of becoming a pretty good player.
I'd have to go with Gary McGhee as the team's biggest disappointment. He's played well in the team's two local 'rivalry' games against Duquesne and Robert Morris, but hasn't done much more than that offensively. The talk was that McGhee had really improved over the summer and he looked good in the local Greentree Summer League. McGhee is above average defensively, but his offensive numbers have dropped in scoring and rebounding from last season.
Justin Brownlee has been excellent at scoring; Malik Boothe has been steady; but most impressive to me has been Dwight Hardy, who has seemed a little more complete in the early going than he did last year. Once his outside shots start falling with regularity, I think he’s a great scorer to play off of who is willing to pass and defend a little.
As for players who have fallen short, no one particularly sticks out; Sean Evans hasn't been able to contribute much this year as he adjusts to a less freelance offensive and defensive scheme.
Exceeded: Brandon Young - How anyone could've anticipated a freshman point guard playing this well is beyond me. He's thrived in Oliver Purnell's system.
Exceeded Honorable Mention: Tony Freeland
Fallen Short: Devin Hill
Cashmere Wright has exceeded the expectations. I thought Cash would grow from last season to this season, but his maturity has come around much faster than anticipated. His shot is better, he's getting people involved better, he's playing very well.
The player falling short has probably been Ibrahima Thomas for this reason. A year ago, Thomas couldn't make a shot within 5 feet and couldn't really shoot free throws. This season, he can't make a shot within 5 feet and can't really shoot free throws. Yancy Gates would probably be a mild disappointment, since he hasn't really dominated.
I suppose Corey Stokes has exceeded my expectations the most. He had a huge game against Penn, but more so than that, he appears to have done a good deal of work to expand his game, and now seems comfortable (and more effective) driving to the basket.
I had Isaiah Armwood pegged for a breakout season, however, and he hasn't shown a whole lot so far. He is a tremendously talented kid who can run faster and jump higher than anyone else on the court. He has the potential to be another Dante Cunningham out there, but he just never seems to have a big impact on any game.
Villanova Villanova by the Numbers
Most of Villanova’s players are about where I thought they would be. Corey Stokes continues to expand his game by taking defenders off the dribble when he sees a lane to the bucket is available. When the team had to shoot technicals against Delaware over the weekend Coach Wright tabbed Stokes for the job and he did not disappoint. Maalik Wayns on the other hand does appear to be struggling with his shot. Fisher recognizes when his shot is not there and adjusts his game. Wayns seems to have problems recognizing and adjusting.
Corey Fisher is definitely the guy who has fallen short so far. He's been terrible from the field (which I think will correct itself) but he got benched once for an incident in practice. Inexcusable for a senior. The other Corey, Stokes, has been great however. He's stepped up in a big way on both ends of the floor and has been a leader by example.
Georgetown Hoya Prospectus
Henry Sims is the easy answer to the first question. I've long been a Henry supported and even I was starting to discount the chances he'd contribute. He's been leaps and bounds better than before, being our best interior defender, showing great passing skills and improved finishing skills.
I was skeptical when the season began that our frontcourt by committee would yield enough quality minutes to be effective, but I was wrong. Sims' emergence, freshman Nate Lubick's strong minutes and Hollis Thompson's great rebounding for a string bean have really shored up what looked to be Julian Vaughn and a lot of question marks.
As for disappointment, I don't have any. Some fans would point to Julian Vaughn, but I think that's more related to unrealistic expectations than anything.
Austin Freeman was voted Big East preseaon player of the year, so his contributions to date were fairly "expected." Point guard Chris Wright, however, has been a bright spot. Wright has truly developed into one of the better playmakers in the country this season, and is running the offense beautifully while creating high percentage shots for his teammates.
It's tough to point out an individual who has fallen short of expectations because the truth is that everyone has contributed, but center Julian Vaughn will have to be able to stay on the court more for Georgetown to have success once conference play starts. It's worth noting here that junior Henry Sims, who until this year was considered a disappointment, has been an invaluable member of the bench thus far and has helped make up for Vaughn's early season inconsistency.
JAWANZA! Poland has started to assert himself over the last couple of games. He's the only guard who attacks the rim, and I can see us revolve the offense around him ala Dominique Jones over the next couple of seasons.
Gus Gilchrist for the fact that he left the team for a couple of games before asking to be reinstated Friday. Just a weird, weird story.
Exceeding expectations would have to be freshman Eric Atkins, who has logged a whole lot of crunch time minutes. He can create his own shot, dish it and knock down shots from three, all while playing good defense and coming up with a high number of boards for a point guard. We had high hopes, but he’s been great so far this season.
On the disappointing side, I guess you would have to say Joey Brooks. I thought he might get lost in the shuffle on the wing, and so far that’s exactly what has happened. He’s got some athleticism and has shown flashes, but there have also been some moments where you cringe. He’s got some work to do.