Player of the Week
Though not the sexiest player of the week pick considering the frequency of his appearances here, it would have been irresponsible to choose anyone else.
Jones was fantastic in West Virginia's overtime win over a streaking Cincinnati, finishing with 26 points and 13 boards on 11 for 15 shooting from the floor. He knocked down the game-tying three in the closing seconds of regulation, displaying a sense of confidence and accountability as team's leader and go-to scorer. He dropped 25 on 8-12 from the field in a win over Marshall earlier in the week, and is currently 9 for his last 15 from downtown.
Prior to the season, Jones fell off NBA radars after failing to step up when called to the plate as a junior. Now, we have him as a late first round pick, and rightfully so. Not only has his jump shot improved to the point where can be a reliable pick and pop player, but his decision making in terms of maximizing his strengths is a concrete reason for his improvement as a senior. And while he appears top-heavy as a power forward, his feet and legs seem quicker and lighter, which contribute to his success tracking down loose balls and offensive rebounds.
Jones still leads the Big East both in scoring and rebounding, and has been the primary reason for West Virginia's resurgence into conference's elite tier of programs.
Maalik Wayns G, Villanova
Wayns is in the zone, averaging 30 points and 5 assists over his last three. He's become a shoot-first player in his junior year, although it's tough to blame him considering the lack of weapons that surround him. Wayns is getting to the hole with ease while learning to effectively draw contact, as his 33 free throw attempts (made 30-33) over the last 3 games illustrates. If this point guard thing doesn't work out, it's possible that the role of scoring spark off the bench could be available on a team that needs some life added to their backcourt.
Alex Oriakhi F/C, Connecticut
Oriakhi fouled out in 19 minutes against Tennessee, and was a complete non-factor in a loss to Cincinnati. It's just inexcusable for someone with his physical tools. If he can assert himself, he has NBA potential based his size, strength and mobility.
Big East Power Rankings
Nobody's goin' undefeated with this grueling Big East schedule, so that Notre Dame upset shouldn't be considered Earth-shattering. With 10 strong players, there's never a weak link on the floor for Cuse, something few teams in the country can say. The Orange have 7 players averaging 7 or more points, with nobody at more than 13 a game. Their balance, cohesiveness and unselfishness really plays into their game, while their length and athleticism creates all sorts of issues for opposing teams. And although lacking a go-to guy can hurt most offenses, it opens Syracuse's up when considering their mix of skills.They have both active off-ball player movement as well as effective ball-movement in general, resulting in good looks at the rim almost every possession down the floor. Defensively, their just very difficult to score against inside with Fab Melo protecting the rim and the length of players like Kris Joseph, James Southerland and CJ Fair. Though they lack the talent of a Kentucky or North Carolina, I still think they have the best "team" in regards to overall completeness. Leadership and experience are vastly underrated during a period like March Madness.
2. West Virginia
West Virginia has talent, veteran leadership and a coach that stresses discipline. And while it's easy to talk about what Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant have done, the play of Deniz Kilicli should not go unnoticed. The thickest beard in the conference has contributed to three straight double-digit point efforts, including one of the prettiest hook shots you'll see to seal the deal in OT against Cincy. The freshmen trio of Jabarie Hinds, Aaron Brown and Gary Browne have really helped fill out the rotation, giving this team great balance and significant bench production. The Mountaineers have strong wins over Kansas State, Georgetown and Cincinnati, as well as a tough OT loss to Baylor earlier in the year. With Kevin Jones looking like the toughest force in the conference to slow down, along with Truck Bryant's scoring ability, this team has serious promise moving forward.
Between coach Buzz Williams, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, Marquette brings a feeling a toughness to the floor every night they take it. Crowder has really emerged as one of the better players in the conference, improving his outside stroke to the point where he can't be left open (38% from 3). DJO is a lock to show up on a nightly basis, and has shown the ability to take over when needed. The X-factors for Marquette have been the strong play of Davante Gardner, the 6'8 290 pounder who moves well and cleans up underneath. Gardner dropped 22 and 15 on St. Johns, and is coming off a big 17 point game in a good win over Louisville. Todd Mayo has been an excellent 3rd option, while Junior Cadougan, Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue have provided valuable role-playing minutes. You really have to bring your A-game in order to take down the Golden Eagles.
Sean Kilpatrick has taken the next step in his career, showing a more diverse skill-set than he has in the past. He's actually been impressive on both sides of the ball, and really fits in well alongside Yancy Gates and the guard tandem of Dion Dixon and Cashmere Wright. Jaquon Parker has also played an important role, giving the Bearcats a solid punch off the bench when the offense needs a boost. This group has put together wins over Connecticut and Georgetown, but lost in disappointing fashion in overtime to West Virginia. Had Yancy Gates not missed at least three easy layups throughout the game, that outcome could have been different. Cincy has a huge matchup with Syracuse Monday night, and will need Gates to get physical inside without Fab Melo anchoring the Orange zone. With no team outside of Cuse establishing ground in this conference, there's no reason while Cincy can't finish top five in the Big East.
UConn's here based on their potential with Ryan Boatright, since their back to back losses to Tennessee and Cincinnati were head-scratching. This team has the talent to win the National Championship, and if last year showed anything, regular season losses don't necessarily mean a whole lot. While Andre Drummond has come on, it's still not uncommon to see him sprinkle in a dud occasionally. I'd like to see more of a sense of urgency from Jeremy Lamb, who sometimes forgets how dominant he could be. And as mentioned earlier, the Huskies will Alex Oriakhi to really get going. His presence last year played a huge part in the team's success, and they can't afford for him to disappear when it counts most in March. They have all the pieces to finish second in this conference, it's just a matter of when they'll fit together.
** No, I didn't forget about Georgetown. While their national ranking is top 15, it's not reflective of their recent performances. Georgetown's two big conference wins came against an unimpressive Louisville team and Marquette, which was in fact a solid victory. However with a double-digit loss to West Virginia and a recent loss to Cincinnati, paired with a 49 point effort in a win over Providence, an uninspiring win over DePaul and an abysmal offensive performance against Rutgers, the Hoyas have fallen back down to earth. Markel Starks' inconsistencies are troublesome, and the team seems to be over-reliant on their outside shooting. I'd put them at six now, as I truly believe the five teams I previously mentioned are more dangerous than Georgetown.
-Though Darius Johnson-Odom has yet to explode, his consistency and reliability should be noted. Since league play began (7 games), DJO has scored at least 18 points in every conference game.
- I wouldn't tell Syracuse fans to panic. Melo's absence, paired with the odds of running into a hot shooting team during a long season were both contributors to their loss against Notre Dame.
- Georgetown shot 29% from the floor... and beat Rutgers. Georgetown's starting lineup scored 6 field goals all game, and they still won. As poor of game as I've seen in a while.
- Connecticut is really missing Ryan Boatright. Their bench scored 0 points in a loss to Tennessee! That won't fly in a demanding tournament atmosphere.