Treinta Ocho for LaDontae

Player of the Week

LaDontae Henton - Providence (F, Sr., 6-6, 215, Lansing, Mich.)

LaDontae HentonLaDontae HentonAs the Providence Friars sit at 5-0 to start the season, their senior power forward, LaDontae Henton, has made a strong case for recognition as the Big East’s best player. Henton has taken over Bryce Cotton’s role as the team’s go-to guy, a role in which he has excelled in up to this point. The preseason All-Big East Second Team selection is leading the conference in scoring with 24.3 points per game on 55 percent shooting, including 43 percent shooting from beyond the arc. In the Friars’ last four games, Henton has average 28.2 points per game on an incredibly efficient 63 percent shooting from the field. He has also been disruptive on the defensive end, tied for second in the Big East with 2.3 steals per game.

The senior scored 24 points in the Friars blowout win against Florida State in the semifinal of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Henton followed up that performance by exploding for 38 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, in a 75-74 victory over Notre Dame in the final of the tournament. He made several game changing plays in the final two minutes, including a go-ahead three-pointer and two clutch free throws after attacking the basket and drawing a foul, which put the Friars up for good. Henton also made a late defensive stop - a block shot on a potential game-winning jumper by Notre Dame’s Pat Connaughton.

What’s Hot?

Sterling Gibbs - Seton Hall (G, Jr., 6-2, 185, Scotch Plains, N.J.)

The Pirates’ 4-0 start can be attributed to the play of junior point guard Sterling Gibbs. In four games, the second leading scorer in the Big East has averaged 22.0 points per game, while pulling down 2.3 rebounds and dishing out 3.5 assists. The Scotch Plains, N.J. native has upped his points per game average from last year by nine points. He has knocked down 54 percent of his shots from the field and an impressive 63 percent of his shots from the three-point line. Gibbs went off for 40 points in Seton Hall’s 84-80 win over Illinois State Monday night in the Paradise Jam championship game and was named MVP. He went 10-of-14 from the field, including 7-of-9 from beyond the arc and a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line.

Matt Stainbrook - Xavier (C, Sr., 6-10, 270, Bay Village, Ohio)

The 6-foot-10, 270-pound center is the unanimous choice for best center in the Big East, and was selected as a Preseason First Team All-Big East team member prior to the start of the season. As the season enters its third week, Stainbrook has been nothing short of spectacular for the Musketeers, essentially backing up the notion that he’s one of the top centers in the nation. “The Stain Train” made a name for himself as an enforcer in the paint as he bullied his way to eye-catching 2013 season. Through Xavier’s first six games of this season, Stainbrook has averaged 15.5 points per game on 74 percent shooting, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.2 blocks. Stainbrook has shown off his ability to score efficiently down low, grab tough rebounds in traffic, and has passed the ball well to open teammates out of the post. Coming out of high school, many scouts predicted that he’d be a productive player at a low-level school, but he has continued to prove that he can be an impact player in one of the best conferences at a high-level school.

What’s Not?

Deonte Burton - Marquette

Burton’s slow start is a reason why Marquette is just 2-3 in its first five games. The sophomore had a productive freshman year, averaging 6.9 points in 12.6 minutes per game last year. The potential he showed last year led some to believe that he’d have a breakout sophomore year. However, his season averages have been slightly worse than last year’s totals. He is averaging just 7.0 points per game on 43 percent shooting, compared to his 6.9 points on 48 percent shooting averages from a year ago. His rebound and assist numbers are down from last season and he’s shooting 33 percent from the three-point line. Last season he shot 50 percent from beyond the arc. The Golden Eagles started the season on a two-game slide. In both games he combined to shoot 5-for-14 from the field 1-for-5 from deep. In order to find a rhythm, Burton should try to use his big frame and athletic ability to get to the rim and attack smaller guards more often. He’ll either convert high percentage shots from inside the paint or draw fouls and knock down free throws.

Darrun Hilliard II - Villanova (G, Sr., 6-6, Bethlehem, Pa.)

Hilliard is an experienced senior who has continually posted improved numbers with each season. The senior guard’s stock could rise with another increase in production in his final season for the Wildcats. However, Hilliard’s play has seemingly regressed, as he has failed to find his shooting stroke so far this season. The Preseason All-Big East Second Team selection averaged 14.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game last year while shooting 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. His production has taken a dip in almost every major statistical category through Villanova’ first five games. Particular to his scoring, he’s averaging just 9.2 points per game on 32 percent shooting from the field and and just 17 percent from the three-point line. At 6-foot-6, Hilliard has good size for his position, but he has struggled with his shot selection and creating his own offense off the dribble. He’ll need to be more consistent in these areas as the season progresses.

Top Five NBA prospects in Big East

Rysheed Jordan - St. John’s (G, So., 6-4, 185, Philadelphia, Pa.)

Jordan, a former five-star recruit, is continually growing into his potential as a sophomore at St. John’s. The former Big East All-Freshman Team member and current Preseason All-Big East Second Team selection is lengthy but has a strong build. The Philadelphia, Pa. native is an explosive athlete who is quick with or without the ball. His 6-foot-4 size gives him a height advantage over most collegiate point guards and allows him get into the paint and to the basket with ease. His athleticism and bounce gives him the ability to create his own shot and beat his defenders off the dribble. He’s a great threat in transition, being able to finish at the rim or find a teammate for a score. Jordan is a good on-the-ball defender, and his long arms make him disruptive in the passing lanes. Two areas of improvement for Jordan include being able to consistently finish around the basket, especially with his left hand. He also needs to work on his ball-handling, as he sometimes turns the ball over at an alarming rate. Most of those turnovers stem from careless passes. He will also need to improve his shooting and shot selection. Last year he shot just 27 percent from three-point range. This year he’s shooting 20 percent from long distance.

Trevon Bluiett - Xavier (F, Fr., 6-5, 205, Indianapolis, Ind.)

The talented freshman has hit the ground running in his first six games with Xavier, averaging 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists. The reigning Big East rookie of the week has great poise, and has shot the ball confidence with averages of 60 percent shooting from the field, 55 percent shooting from long range and 85 percent shooting from the free throw line. His top scoring outing was in Xavier’s first game of the season, scoring 20 points in a 97-94 win against Long Beach State on Nov. 18. Bluiett leads the team in scoring and free throw percentage and ranks in the top five in rebounds, blocks and steals.

Chris Obekpa - St. John’s (C, Jr., 6-9, 240, Makurdi, Nigeria)

The 6-foot-10 junior has proven to have great defensive abilities for the Red Storm, which should transfer well into the next level. Due to his size, physical attributes and athleticism, Obekpa is an elite shot blocker and rebounder. His season-high in blocked shots is eight in a win against LIU Brooklyn on Nov. 19. He pulled down a season-high 13 rebounds in the Red Storm’s first game of the season, a win against N.J.I.T. His 7-foot-4 wingspan allowed him to block 2.9 shots per game last year, and 4.0 shots so far this season. Obekpa can do it all defensively, as he is mobile enough to step out and defend on the perimeter and move his feet well enough to defend pick-and-rolls. He’s also great help defender. Despite his work on the defensive end, he vastly needs to work on his offensive game if he wants to be considered at the least serviceable at that end at the next level. He has decent finishing abilities at the basket, but does not have a low-post game, which can be attributed to his lack of footwork. He lacks an outside shot and is a liability at the end of games due to his inability to hit foul shots.

Darrun Hilliard II - Villanova (G, Sr., 6-6, 215, Bethlehem, Pa.)

Despite his slow start to this season, Hilliard remains one of the top prospects in the Big East. For most of his collegiate career, Hilliard has been a productive and consistent collegiate player, with the size and overall scoring ability that allows him to play either shooting guard or small forward. He can also guard multiple positions on the perimeter. Last season’s Big East Most Improved Player is an efficient scorer who takes smart shots within Villanova’s offense. While he’s not a terrific shot-creator, he uses his fundamentals and strong IQ to find holes in the defense and attack his defender off close-outs and shot-fakes. His crafty footwork also helps make up for his lack of explosiveness when driving to the basket. He is also an unselfish and willing passer. Hilliard needs to work on his ball-handling abilities and finishing ability at the rim. Working on these areas can improve his stock at the next level.

DVauntes Smith Rivera - Georgetown (G, Jr., 6-3, 214, Indianapolis, Ind.)

The Preseason Big East Player of the Year comes off a productive sophomore year in which he averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.7 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the field and 39 percent from beyond the arc. He is versatile and can play any position on the perimeter, either as a slasher or a scorer. His big body permits him to get almost anywhere on the court against opposing perimeter players. He can also take his defenders into the paint and uses his body to effectively score around the basket and draw fouls. Smith-Rivera is quality jump shooter and can score off the pick-and-roll. He can also shoot the ball from long range. At 6-foot-3, he lacks the size, lateral quickness and speed he’ll need to have in order to defend point guards and shooting guards at the next level. He also needs to improve his passing when it comes to creating for his teammates.

Honorable Mention

Isaiah Whitehead - Seton Hall (G, Fr., 6-4, 195, Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Although the 6-foot-4, 195-pound freshman has had sort of a slow start to his collegiate career, he’s still undoubtedly the new face of Seton Hall basketball. Whitehead is an talent who will continue to see a major role at Seton Hall this season. The McDonald’s All-American is a high-quality scorer with a powerful body that absorbs contact and allows him to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line at a high volume. He’s lethal in transition and attacks the rim relentlessly, using his great athleticism, power and balance score in the paint against opposing big men in the paint. Whitehead is versatile in that he can play both guard spots with success and creates offense for himself and his teammates off the dribble. In addition, his competitiveness is top-notch. Whitehead is confident in his jumper but he could use some work on his shot selection and his catch and shoot ability. In addition, he also gets caught up in playing too much one-on-one at times.

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