Big East Wrap Up
By Jonathan Sauber
Player of the Year:
Josh Hart, Villanova
A lot of players had good years in the Big East, but Josh Hart is the clear-cut player of the year. Hart has consistently improved each year at Villanova, and this year was no different for the senior. Hart posted career bests in points per game, assists per game, and steals per game, which makes sense given the 2.6 percent rise in his usage rate. Hart took on the role of lead guard this year with the departure of Ryan Arcidiacono and never looked back. Hart is the clear emotional leader of the Wildcats and was a force on both ends of the floor all year long. He averaged 18.9 points per game to go with 6.6 boards per game and 3.1 assists. Like a lot of Wildcats in recent years, Hart’s best weapon was his shooting from deep, where he made 40.7 percent of his attempts on the year. Hart wasn’t just a sharpshooter from deep, he also remained efficient within the arc, shooting 57.5 percent on his two-point attempts this season. Hart did it all for the Wildcats, consistently hustling for boards and diving for loose balls. He embodies the kind of players that the Wildcats covet. He plays both ends of the floor at a high level while also maintaining a high intensity level and a passion for the game. Hart is the best player in the Big East, and very deserving of this season’s Big East Player of the Year.
Coach of the Year:
Jay Wright, Villanova
A lot of coaches had good years, like Greg McDermott who helped Creighton overcome injury issues, Ed Cooley who helped Providence overcome the losses of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, and Chris Holtmann who helped Butler finish second in the conference despite turning over a third of the roster after last season. However, only one coach had a nearly perfect year, and that is Villanova’s Jay Wright. Wright and the Wildcats finished the season 31-3 after last year’s National Championship, with a 15-3 record in the Big East. Wright did so after he lost his senior leader in Ryan Arcidiacono and his best big man in Daniel Ochefu. Wright’s Wildcats seemingly reload every single year, with each year’s senior class stepping up to take the team to a high level. Wright has built a culture of Villanova that is rare in modern college basketball. His team’s rarely see players leave before their senior year and being a one-and-done isn’t in the cards for most Wildcats. Instead, players stick around for the length of their eligibility, and in most cases, they improve drastically during their time on the Main Line. Wright is already a legend in Philadelphia, and a surefire hall of famer. His résumé will only continue to grow, and since he’s only 55 years old, the sky is the limit for Jay Wright.
Defensive Player of the Year:
Mikal Bridges, Villanova
This was a difficult decision, as the two options contributed in very different ways on the defensive end of the floor. My runner-up, Angel Delgado contributed on the defensive glass, averaging 8.1 defensive rebounds per game. However, his exceptional rebounding could not help him overcome the defensive ability of Mikal Bridges. Bridges was the Wildcats’ shutdown defender on the wing, often guarding the opposing team’s best offensive wing. His length allows him to disrupt opposing ball handlers while also cutting off passing lanes. At 6’7” he can guard most twos, threes, and fours in college basketball and that versatility was big for Villanova this year. The sophomore’s defensive stats helped his cause as well, as he averaged 1.8 steals per game and .9 blocks per game. Bridges was also the head man when the Wildcats’ employed a press this year, often causing mayhem for teams before they could even cross midcourt. He has grown immensely as a defender from last year, and he will play a big role for the Wildcats as they look to win back-to-back NCAA Championships. His defensive ability as well as his defensive statistics make him the choice for this year’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year.
Freshman of the Year:
Justin Patton, Creighton
There weren’t a large number of freshman contributors this year in the Big East, but there was one who did make a fairly large contribution to his team. That player is Justin Patton, who contributed in a big way for the Creighton Blue Jays. Patton came in and immediately had a big role for the Blue Jays, scoring in double figures in all but two non-conference games this season. He followed that into conference play where he achieved that feat in all but three regular season conference games. Patton crashed the glass as well, averaging 6.2 rebounds per game, good for first on the team and sixth in the Big East. He also finished second on the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. That scoring came on a field goal percentage of 69.4 percent, good for first in the conference and fourth in the entire country. Defensively, Patton also lead the Blue Jays with 1.4 blocks per game this season finishing fourth in the Big East. Statistically, Patton is the clear choice for the Big East Freshman of the Year, especially when you consider the lack of competition he had for the award and his massive role for Creighton. Not only that, Patton appears to be the most talented freshman to go with all of his statistical contributions, making him the only choice for Freshman of the Year.
Top Five NBA Prospects
5. Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Jalen Brunson also isn’t a lock to enter the NBA Draft this year, but if he does, he will be able to contribute right away for his new team. Brunson has excellent court vision and passing ability while also having a wide range of ways to score in his arsenal. Brunson uses his crafty ball handling to get to the hoop and finish. He occasionally struggles to turn the corner because of his lack of size and lack of elite athleticism. With that said, at the least he will make a very good backup point guard on a championship-level team in the NBA.
4. Edmond Sumner, Xavier
Edmond Sumner would be higher on this list, had he not torn his ACL this season. Sumner is an oversized point guard at 6’5” with good ball handling and court vision. He struggles with his jump shot but uses his size and athleticism to get to the hoop. He will most likely be returning to college this year with his injury, allowing him to continue to gain strength and work on his jumper.
3. Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Bridges is a prototypical three-and-D wing in the NBA and took a major step this year in becoming a first-round prospect. Last season, Bridges had way better defense than three-point shooting and it appeared he had a long way to go on his shooting. That changed drastically this season when he improved his three-point shooting by almost 10 percentage points to 39.3 percent. That included an increase in three-point attempts per game from 1.9 to 3.1. That improvement is very important for Bridges as he looks to take the next step as a prospect. If he develops as a ball handler, Bridges could sneak his way into the middle of the lottery next season.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova
As the only senior on this list, Josh Hart is the most NBA-ready prospect in the Big East. Hart does a little bit of everything and would make an excellent seventh or eighth man on an NBA team. Hart can shoot, he can take the ball to the hoop, and he has good passing ability. Defensively, Hart is very active and can wear out his opponents. His lack of elite athleticism will hold him back, but he has the chance to be a good sixth man in the NBA.
1. Justin Patton, Creighton
Justin Patton finds himself first on this list because he is the only player in the conference that has All-Star upside in the NBA. Of course, he also has a very low floor in the NBA. Patton is a good offensive player who uses his athleticism well on that side of the floor. He’s essentially an unmolded block of clay who has every tool to become successful. He shot well from distance this season, on a very small sample size and is very smooth on the offensive end. If Patton can learn to use his size better defensively he has the chance to be a great player in the NBA.