by Conor GeregFollow @CTGereg
The fog that clouded the upcoming college hoops season has finally lifted as the sport has been given both clearance and clarity to begin on November 25th. This news brings assurance that the next wave of stars will take the stage this winter and one of the nation’s best conferences will come equipped with a bevy of elite prospects in tow.
At last the Big East will welcome UConn to an already talent-rich league. For insight into which Big East players hold the most pro promise College Hoops digest brings in a scout’s viewpoint to see just how high some of these stars will ascend. Matt Babcock, a former player agent and current scout, helps us break down a handful of the Big East’s brightest entering 2020-2021.
Bryan Antoine – Villanova – Sophomore
Few freshmen were more highly touted entering the Big East last season than Antoine. 2020-2021 will bring more opportunities for the talented guard following the departure of surefire lottery pick, Saddiq Bey. A consensus top-20 recruit out of high school, Antoine appeared in just 16 games last season though a healthy sophomore year will catapult the 6’6” guard up draft boards.
Scout’s Take: “After high expectations coming out of high school, Antoine didn’t have the freshman year that everyone had expected, mostly due to missing the first part of the year because of an injury. We will certainly be tracking his progress.”
James Bouknight – UConn – Sophomore
Bouknight’s rookie season began inauspiciously due to a torn meniscus rehabilitation and an off campus matter. The 6’5” guard turned it on as the season pushed forward and Bouknight has rightly claimed his place as a potential Conference Player of the Year Candidate entering 2020-2021. Bouknight is a major reason why Dan Hurley and the Huskies are widely projected as an immediate contender entering the Big East.
Scout’s Take: “He needs to get stronger and become more efficient as a player, things that can be said about most players at his stage, but his talent should translate…”. “…A terrific athlete and has the potential to be a high-level scorer. I’m expecting Bouknight to have a breakout year for UConn and be considered a solid First-Round pick for 2021, if not better than that.”
DJ Carton – Marquette – Sophomore
Marquette fans didn’t have to wait long to find their next talented guard in the wake of Markus Howard’s remarkable career. Carton, an Ohio State transfer, will have the offensive reins Day 1 under WoJo and with that will be immediate lofty expectations.
Scout’s Take: “A good athlete that’s assertive and aggressive, Carton is worth keeping an eye on. I must admit that I’m a little concerned with how things soured for him at Ohio State so quickly, but I’ll be watching him closely nonetheless.”
David Duke – Providence – Junior
Duke is one of the league’s most dangerous scoring threats in the Big East thanks to his range, physicality, and lateral speed. The Friars will look to get the 6’5” combo guard even more opportunities to score (attempting just 9.2 shots per contest last year) and Duke has most certainly earned more looks. Shooting a career-best 42% from distance, Duke can rebound (4.2 RPG) and distribute (3.1) in a manner that’s sure to remind Providence faithful of Kris Dunn’s well-rounded arsenal.
Scout’s Take: “I’ve been interested in Duke since his freshman season. He has an NBA type of game, as he has terrific size and versatility for a guard. He really improved his outside shooting this past season…I’d like to see him continue to develop as a shooter and improve his overall floor game…A 6’5” point guard with his talent will surely lure the scouts to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on a regular basis this season, myself included.”
Sandro Mamukelashvili – Seton Hall – Senior
After testing the draft waters this offseason, the Pirates welcome back their big man who can do more than just score on the interior. “Mamu” attempted nearly 3 three-pointers per contest last year, converting a formidable 43% of them. A healthy final season in South Orange will get the Republic of Georgia native immediate looks as a dark horse draft candidate.
Scout’s Take: “He’s a big guy that can shoot it—guys like that serve a lot of value in the NBA, especially in recent years…I’m certainly intrigued by him.”
Justin Moore – Villanova – Sophomore
Alongside Robinson-Earl and Antoine, Justin Moore is yet another super-talented sophomore in Jay Wright’s system who’s prepared to take the next seismic leap. A heralded high school prospect out of Dematha (MD), Moore rebounds the ball well for a guard, reeling in 4.1 rebounds/40 minutes.
Scout’s Take: “…A strong guard that can shoot the ball. He’s a good fit for Jay Wright’s system…he’ll help them win games. He had a productive freshman year, as he averaged 11.6 point per game while shooting 39.6% from three-point range. I’ll certainly be tracking [him] this next season.”
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – Villanova – Sophomore
Wildcat faithful got a shot in the arm when both Robinson-Earl and Jay Wright reaffirmed their return to Villanova this offseason. At 6’9”, Robinson-Earl consistently makes winning plays at both ends of the floor, stretching opposing defenses with his mid-range ability while commanding the interior with his imposing rebounding prowess.
Scout’s Take: “Although [he] would have likely been a solid draft pick had he chosen to [remain] in the 2020 NBA Draft, he decided to return…”. “A solid, heard-working and reliable power forward that doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of upside, however, his reliability as a player and his well-rounded skill set make up for it. I expect him to be a pro’s pro and have a solid NBA career.”
Romeo Weems – DePaul – Sophomore
This is Weems’ team now that Paul Reed opted to remain in the 2020 draft and forgo his senior season. A powerfully built wing player at 6’7”, Weems has a game versatile enough to handle the ball comfortably in transition yet is strong enough to hold his own on the glass (6.5 rebounds/40 minutes). Look for Weems to be the focal point of the Blue Demon attack, and with that will come added opportunity to put up a collection of gaudy stat-stuffing box scores.
Scout’s Take: “I’ve seen Romeo a number of times, going back to various high school events. He has a nice frame and is a good athlete. He had a solid freshman year. I look forward to seeing him more this season, hopefully in a more significant role within the DePaul offense. If he continues to develop, I think we will see him in the NBA sooner than later.”
Marcus Zegarowski – Creighton – Junior
Zegarowski will lead a team that’s a consensus top-10 group entering this season. The Blue Jay offense is in good hands considering the junior point guard’s ability to control tempo and create scoring opportunities for the stable of talent around him. The 6’1” Massachusetts native will be the conference’s front-runner for Player of the Year as he spearheads a team that finished 3rd in the nation in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
Scout’s Take: “A very productive sophomore year…averaging 16.1 PPG and 5 assists while shooting 42% from three-point range. With Ty-Shon Alexander heading to the NBA, Zegarowski’s role with Creighton’s offense should increase, and I expect him to have an even bigger year. He’s certainly on my radar, and considering that next year’s point guard crop isn’t nearly as deep as it is this year, I think he has a chance.”
On the Horizon – Not yet Appearing on Draft Boards
Akok Akok – UConn – Sophomore
A devastating Achilles injury sidelined Dan Hurley’s shot-blocking force during a February bout vs. Memphis. The young big man seemed to be hitting his stride, anchoring the UConn interior while stretching perimeter defenses with a burgeoning shooting stroke. 2020-2021 will be a progression for Akok returning to health and he may headline this list entering his junior season in 2021-2022.
Julian Champagnie – St. John’s – Sophomore
Red Storm fans would have rather seen Champagnie flanked by L.J. Figueroa though a surprise transfer from Figueroa to Oregon means Champagnie will assume the role as Mike Anderson’s top returning scorer alongside point guard Rasheem Dunn. The 6’7” Champagnie rebounds exceptionally well (6.5 RPG) and his length disrupts passing lanes (1.2 SPG) enough to make him a key cog defensively. A refined shot (a non-threatening 32% from 3-point range) will draw the interest of scouts in seasons to come.
Dawson Garcia – Marquette – Freshman
The 6’11” big man spurned Indiana, Memphis, Baylor, and his hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers to suit up for the Golden Eagles this winter. Garcia, a consensus top-30 recruit, will make an immediate impact with his length, blocking and deterring shots to ignite what promises to be yet another high-octane Golden Eagle offense. It may be a year or two before Garcia becomes a household name for scouts though his impact in the Big East will surely be immediate.
Andre Jackson – UConn – Freshman
Jackson has been hampered by a minor knee injury this fall though there seems to be little doubt that he’ll be an immediate impact player once he steps on the floor in Storrs. Jackson carved out his corner of the internet with highlight-level dunks though scouts rave about Jackson’s unheralded passing and developing shooting stroke. At 6’6”, Jackson is a future pro swingman and is well-equipped to take the reins en route climbing draft boards the season after next.
Kyky Tandy – Xavier – Sophomore
The Musketeers’ will rely on Tandy’s talent this year following last year’s departures. Tandy brings quickness to blow past opposing guards and a shooting stroke that’ll become even more consistent this season. Tandy wasn’t able to log major minutes in his first year under Travis Steele, though 2020-2021 is likely to be a coming out party for one of the league’s most dynamic two-way stars. The Big East is chock-full of future pro guards and this 19 year old may very well headline the list of soon-to-be NBA talent in coming seasons.
Qudus Wahab – Georgetown – Sophomore
The Hoyas top recruit from last season appeared in all 32 games and showed flashes of what could be for Patrick Ewing. With Ömer Yurtseven off the roster, the path to playing time is clear for Wahab whose per 40 MPG numbers suggest the 6’11” Nigerian will be a force to be reckoned with in coming years (15.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes).
You can follow Matt Babcock on twitter @MattBabcock11 and read his work at www.babcockhoops.com.