College basketball is sold to the casual fan through narratives and boldface names, along with the name on the front of the jersey. But teams know that there's a player on every team who is the straw that stirs the drink; and a player who will emerge from their team to be the guy opposing teams have to stop. Who are the ballers who will breakout this year? I asked my fellow bloggers in the Big East.
This roundtable's participants are below, with links to the pages on their sites with their full answers:
A Raging Bull (South Florida)
Black and Green Irish Blog (Notre Dame)
Chicago College Basketball (DePaul)
Eye of a Panther (Pittsburgh)
Hoya Prospectus (Georgetown)
I Bleed Blue and White (Villanova)
Orange 44 (Syracuse)
The Rumble (St. John's)
U Conn Blog
Villanova by the Numbers
I'll be posting the answers - one question at a time - on this site. There are 7 questions in total, and they should all be up in a few days. It's a big league, after all, and large group of participants. Enjoy, spread on the message boards and forums, and comment freely (but with civility). Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 were published earlier, go take a look!
Our respondents were asked the following: Before practice starts, who would you say is the most pivotal player on your team? Who is your candidate for breakout player in the Big East (and please state how the player will be better than last year)?
Kemba Walker and Devin Ebanks - New York City ballers of the highest degree - get some love in these responses.
4. Before practice starts, who would you say is the most pivotal player on your team? Who is your candidate for breakout player in the Big East (and please state how the player will be better than last year)?
A Raging Bull (South Florida): Pivotal player is Gus Gilchrist. At 6'9" he was the best inside-and-out after Jones. Jones may be the best 2-guard in the Big East.
Eye of a Panther (Pittsburgh): One guy that comes to mind is Ashton Gibbs. He had a good freshman year and played in some big games. With the big three (Blair/Young/Fields), he really only needed to be a role player. This year he will be expected to score more. Sophomores Kemba Walker and Devin Ebanks are both good candidates to have breakout years. Walker should move into the starting spot and get more minutes and Ebanks will get more scoring opportunities with the departure of three-point specialist Alex Ruoff.
Black and Green Irish Blog (Notre Dame): Again, Harangody is the most pivotal player for the Irish, but Scott Martin could be a breakout star. The Irish need a small forward who can contribute on both ends to be competitive. We didn't get that last year with Ayers and Hillesland, but Martin has all the talent to be a household name. No one really knows how he will perform in a starting role, but I'm hopeful.
Villanova by the Numbers: Antonio Peña without a doubt. Should Peña become a reliable front court presence, the team will have an anchor in the paint and the staff will have many more options for front court looks. They could move 'Tone to the #5 and bring in King at the #4 for a true 4-out 1-in offense. Or put Morph at the #5 and 'Tone at the #4 for setting high screens and getting lane penetration along with rebounding and putbacks on offense, while shutting down the lane and blocks on defense. If Pena stumbles, the staff will have to push Morph, Sutton, Armwood and King along a lot faster.
Breakout player - Jeremy Hazell of Seton Hall. Hazell has produced very efficiently (109.8), taking nearly 3 in 10 possessions (28.0) and shots (31.6) on a team that recorded an offensive efficiency of 103.1. He was the Pirate every opposing defense knew they had to throttle, but still he managed to record very good numbers. If, as Hazell distracts defenses, Herb Pope, Keon Lawrence, Stix Mitchell and John Garcia can finish the play, SHU will be a nightmare on defenses. I am not sure Hazell can get more possessions or shots, but with fewer defenders dogging him, he may be able to hit a few more shots. Hazell may not record "breakout" level basketball numbers, but if the Hall's record improves dramatically, Hazell and his Pirate band should record "breakout" level media attention.
Orange 44 (Syracuse): Wesley Johnson will be the most interesting player to watch. A transfer from Iowa State who sat out last season, he looks to fill in at forward and be a big time shooter, but also hit the boards. A former member of the Big XII All – Rookie Team, this dynamic player has been getting rave reviews from Jim Boeheim, who I trust has an eye for talent.
As for a player that could break out, I look for guard Scoop Jardine to breakout for Syracuse this season. Sitting out last year with a leg injury, and disappearing halfway through the season before, this player seemed lazy and often made poor decisions on the team. He also lacked the conditioning of other players, and phoned in several games. This season he should be back in top form. He has hit the gym hard, as confirmed by Assistant Coach Mike Hopkins, and should be playing with renewed fire and commitment to running the floor.
I Bleed Blue and White (Villanova): The most pivotal player for Villanova is Antonio Peña. We lost 3 very good frontcourt players, and it is now Peña’s time to step up. I think he’s ready to do it, and so does Jay Wright. That inspires a lot of confidence. Villanova has the guards to beat most teams but if they are thinking Final 4 again they are going to need some consistent play inside.
I have a feeling you’re going to hear Gus Gilchrist’s name a lot this season. As he goes, South Florida will go. The sophomore year is when you see the lights go on for a lot of players, and Gilchrist was already good. He’s going to stamp his name on the 1st or 2nd team this year after he takes the rest of the team under his wing and becomes a true leader.
Chicago College Basketball (DePaul): Mac Koshwal is by far the most important on DePaul. He has to play well every game. The breakout player for me seems to be Devin Ebanks of West Virginia. He looked ready to be a superstar during Big East Conference play. Another sleeper candidate is Marquette forward Jimmy Butler. Butler was incredible efficient in the minutes he played last season when he wasn't asked to do too much. It comes down to how he handles being a starter instead of a complimentary player, but he's got the build and skills to be a great player.
U Conn Blog: This is easy, it's Kemba Walker. It is his team now. If he plays up to his potential, UConn can be a very dangerous team that can make some serious noise in March (and maybe even win a Big East Tournament game). If he has a serious sophomore slump, UConn will struggle big time. The rest of the guys, especially in the front court, each come with at least one question mark, but it will be Kemba who determines the team's fate.
The Rumble (St. John's): Malik Boothe is the most pivotal player. If he (or the point guard spot as a whole) can penetrate, dictate tempo, and hold on to the damn ball, St. John's will surprise. Not because their offensive talent is so great, but because dictating tempo should lead to better defense against opposing points, turnovers, and fewer missed opportunities.
As far as breakout players, I’ll go with Devin Ebanks. He is going to be a monster, "a problem" as they say back in New York.
Hoya Prospectus (Georgetown): Most pivotal for Georgetown: Chris Wright. Greg Monroe and Austin Freeman are more-or-less know commodities for the Hoyas. It will be up to Wright to make the leap (cut down on turnovers, run the offense, improve his shooting) or the Hoyas will struggle. With three All-Big East caliber players, Georgetown can have a very good season.
Breakout player: Devin Ebanks. He does everything well except shoot from outside (why did he attempt 40 3's last year?). West Virginia should be contending for the Big East regular season title - if they can deal with their off-court issues - and I think Ebanks is their star. He'll be better by shooting less from outside, but mostly he'll break out when people realize he's more than just a great athlete.