Isaiah Whitehead

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Big East Preview: Is there a real challenger to Villanova?

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Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Big East Conference.

The Big East Conference landed six teams in the NCAA tournament last season. The Big East might not replicate that number come Selection Sunday, but the 10-league members should make for another unpredictable season.

Villanova should be the unanimous preseason pick, given what the Wildcats have accomplished over the past two years (two regular season titles and the 2015 Big East Tournament championship) and the key pieces they bring back, inclduding Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart. Georgetown, Butler and Xavier should all pose as Villanova’s biggest competition, though the order in which they finish is up for debate.

The same could be said for the rest of the conference. St. John’s is likely out of the mix following a massive roster overhaul, but Nos. 5-9 could end up in a variety of ways.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kris Dunn spurned NBA: Kris Dunn could have been a lottery pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, but choose to return to Providence for his junior season. This is a gamble on Dunn’s part, given the recurring shoulder injury that plagued his first two seasons. But with the return of Dunn, arguably the top player in college basketball, the Friars eye an NCAA tournament for the third time in as many seasons, instead of focusing on a rebuilding year.

MORE: How Kris Dunn attacked the weaknesses in his game

2. Villanova postseason cut short again: In 2014, Villanova, a No. 2 seed, was upset by eventual champion UConn in the Round 0f 32. This past March, the Wildcats validated critics who believed that they were unworthy of a No. 1 seed, exiting the tournament in the Round of 32 again, this time at the hands of No. 8 N.C. State. Jay Wright led the Wildcats to the Final Four in 2009. In five tournament appearances since, Villanova hasn’t gotten out of the first weekend. Villanova can prove its among the top programs in the country with non-conference matchups against Oklahoma and Virginia, but it won’t matter unless NCAA tournament success follows.

3. Chris Mullin returns: After five seasons, St. John’s and Steve Lavin decided to part ways. This paved the way for a Chris Mullin homecoming. The Brooklyn native led the Johnnies to the 1985 Final Four before enjoying a Hall of Fame career as a player. Since retiring, he’s worked as both a broadcaster and in NBA front office’s but he returns to his alma mater with zero coaching experience. He inherits a team that lost its entire rotation, but Mullin has made tremendous strides in his first few months as a head coach, surrounding himself with talented recruiters, who have overhauled the roster and helped land a pair of four-star recruits.

4. Impact freshmen: The two highest-rated recruits entering the league is Marquette’s Henry Ellenson and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Both five-star prospects are expected to make immediate impact. This summer offered a glimpse of what to expect this season, with Ellenson putting up big numbers on Marquette’s European tour and Brunson leading USA Basketball to a gold medal in the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. Brunson averaged 14.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, earning MVP honors.

5. NBA Draft: For the first time in Big East history (dating back to 1979, not 2013), no player was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. In all likelihood, that will change this June, as Kris Dunn and Henry Ellenson are both projected as lottery picks.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE:

  • Favorite: “I’d say Villanova. They’ve dominated our league. They’ve been the standard the last two years. They have a lot of guys back, a lot of experience, very, very good guard play. They can all shoot and drive. They’re all very good defensively, too.”
  • Sleeper: “I think Marquette has a chance to be a sleeper. I think Woj has done a really good job of upgrading the talent in the last year. They return just enough guys and I think he has some really good freshmen to help elevate them to the upper part of the league.”
  • Best player
    • “You obviously have to start with Kris Dunn … Ryan Arcidiacono as well. Those two guys headline our league. [Dunn] impacts the game on both ends of the floor. He’s a two-way player. He’s a phenomenal defender. At the other end, he’s just really hard to keep out of the lane. Arcidiacono stays more within himself. He can really shoot the ball, makes the right play, tough guy. He does a great job.”
    • “I think Arcidiacono is the best player … He’s truly a quarterback in that system. He makes average players very, very good and he pulls that team together. He’s an extension of Jay [Wright]. I’m probably a rare guy, but I think Arch is the best player.”
  • Most underrated player
    • “I think Daniel Ochefu is very undervalued. Obviously, he’s 6-foot-11, but he’s so mobile and he’s an extremely good defender around the rim and in ball-screen defense. Then he can score on the other end.”
    • “Roosevelt Jones. I think people talk about him, but I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. For not being able to shoot the ball, he’s extremely talented. He understands his role. He’s one of those guys that makes a team click.”
Kris Dunn (AP Photo)
Kris Dunn (AP Photo)

PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn is a candidate for Preseason National Player of the Year honors, so it’s no surprise that he should be the runaway selection to repeat as Big East Player of the Year after he shared the honors last season. The 6-foot-3 Dunn, in his first full season, posted posted 15.6 points, 7.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game as a redshirt sophomore. As opposing coaches mentioned above, he impacts the game on both ends of the floor, probably more so than anyone else in the country.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: The experienced lead guard who shared Big East co-Player of the Year honors with Dunn last season, anchors the conference’s top perimeter attack, which includes Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth. Arcidiacono averaged 10.1 points and 3.5 assists per game and shot a career-best 37 percent from three.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: The five-star recruit, rated No. 11 player in the class by Rivals, is the highest-rated prospect entering the Big East. The projected lottery pick will make up one of the top front courts playing alongside Luke Fischer.
  • Roosevelt Jones, Butler: His old-school game helped the Bulldogs turnaround the program’s first losing season in nine years. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior, who missed the 2013-14 season due to a wrist injury, led the team in assists at 3.7 per game and added another scoring option, putting up points using his arsenal of unorthodox runners.
  • D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The key piece on a team loaded with talented underclassmen, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera did it all for the Hoyas last season. The first-team all-conference selection averaged 16.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Trevon Bluiett, Xavier
  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • Billy Garrett Jr., DePaul
  • Daniel Ochefu, Villanova
  • Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

BREAKOUT STAR: Jalen Reynolds, Xavier

There are several players that could fit this category (Georgetown’s Isaac Copleand or Providence’s Ben Bentil ), but Jalen Reynolds has the ability to put up an all-Big East caliber season for the Musketeers. The 6-foot-10 forward, who plays with the attitude that he can dunk everything, may be the most athletically gifted player in the conference. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 boards per game as a sophomore and had two strong showings in Xavier’s Sweet 16 run.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Kevin Willard, Seton Hall

In five seasons, Willard is 30-60 in conference, taking the Pirates to only one postseason appearance (2012 NIT). Willard is also coming off a season of highs and lows. The highs being back-to-back wins over Villanova and St. John’s to propel the Pirates in to the top-25 rankings. The lows: a 1-9 finish and the departures of starters Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : Can someone make run in March?

Through the first two years of the Big East relaunch, only one team has made it past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. That was Xavier this past March, reaching the Sweet 16 by defeating No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 14 Georgia State.

Questions of the league’s strength will continue as long as postseason struggles do.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : The Gavitt Tipoff Games

Named in honor of the Big East founder, Dave Gavitt, the Big East and Big Ten will play eight games throughout the first week of the season. Kicking off slate of non-conference matchups is Georgetown traveling College Park to take on Maryland. The two teams haven’t played locally since 1993. The Terrapins host the Hoyas on Nov. 17.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 17, Georgetown vs. Maryland
  • Nov. 20, Xavier vs. Michigan
  • Dec. 7, Oklahoma vs. Villanova (in Honolulu)
  • Dec. 5, Syracuse vs. Georgetown
  • Dec. 19, Villanova vs. Virginia

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigEastMBB

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Villanova: The conference’s most efficient offense and defense, returns a core of last year’s team. With deep guard play and a big man in the middle, Jay Wright’s team should expect to be back to the top spot in the Big East standings.
2. Georgetown: John Thompson III will rely on up to seven freshmen and sophomores. Isaac Copeland, L.J. Peak, Paul White and Tre Campbell were all part of the rotation as freshmen. First-year big men Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson both had impressive outings in the Hoyas’ summer trip. The return of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera will Georgetown as the underclassmen develop over the course of the season.
3. Butler: It seems odd: a former McDonald’s All-American needing to fill the shoes left behind by a walk-on. But that’s the position Tyler Lewis finds himself in, replacing beloved Alex Barlow. The N.C. State transfer joins the veteran perimeter of sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and wing Roosevelt Jones. Like Villanova, Butler lacks depth up front, but third-year starter Andrew Chrabascz is a solid piece to have on the interior.
4. Xavier: Trevon Blueitt and Jalen Reynolds are poised for breakout years, but the Musketeers must combat the loss of both point guards, Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook (yes, 6-foot-10 Matt Stainbrook). That point guard duties will fall on the committee of Larry Austin Jr., Myles Davis and Edmond Sumner, a 6-foot-5 freshman who sat out last season. There is still enough talent on the roster for another NCAA tournament appearance for Chris Mack.
5. Providence: Kris Dunn’s return is what keeps the Friars in the top half of the league to begin the season, but players like Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey will need to take major steps forward in their sophomore seasons in order for PC to still be there in February/March.
6. Marquette: The trendy pick as the dark horse in the Big East, the Golden Eagles could be in for a big turnaround in the Wojo’s second year. Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer make for a good tandem on the frontline, while Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham are other freshman to watch, playing alongside Duane Wilson in the back court.
7. Seton Hall: The Pirates are a dangerous team despite a dismal end to last season. Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all gained valuable experience as freshmen. Seton Hall will need contributions from players like Desi Rodriguez, another sophomore, and graduate transfers Braeden Anderson and Derrick Gordon if it wants to do more than pull off a few upsets.
8. Creighton: Seven of Creighton’s 14 conference losses came by five points or less, helping contribute to a last-place finish a season ago. Transfers Maurice Watson Jr. and Cole Huff should make an immediate impact alongside cast of returnees that includes James Milliken, Toby Hegner and Geoffrey Groselle. The Bluejays certainly got better, but is it enough to climb into the middle of the pack?
9. DePaul: Although the Blue Demons are slotted second from the bottom, this could be the team to surprise many this season. They return Billy Garrett Jr., Myke Henry and Tommy Hamilton IV, three double-digit scorers from last season.
10. St. John’s: Chris Mullin has covered a lot of ground since March, but the loss of last year’s entire rotation puts the Red Storm in the cellar for Year 1.

NBA MVP Stephen Curry sends personalized invites for his SC30 camp (VIDEOS)

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For the second summer in a row, Stephen Curry will be hosting a camp for some of the nation’s best high school guards. This year, he sent out personalized invitations for SC30 Select Camp to each and every one of the kids that were invited.

This season, in addition to the high school guards that will be in attendance, Under Armor is inviting college guards to come back and work as counselors at the event in addition to being able to workout with the NBA MVP himself.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble, Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson, Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead and Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh are the four college counselors that have been invited, and here is what Steph sent them:

Is there a more likeable star in any sport right now than Steph Curry?

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whithead could return by the end of January

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On Thursday afternoon, the Big East held a conference call with the 10 head coaches. During Kevin Willard’s turn, he updated the status of Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead.

The 6-foot-4 Whitehead has been out since Dec. 24, missing the last six games for the Pirates. Willard said his heralded freshmen guard could be available for Seton Hall’s game against Marquette Jan. 28.

“We probably won’t take another picture [MRI] until after the DePaul game [on Jan. 22],” Willard said.

Whitehead had been sidelined with a stress fracture in the second and third metatarsals in his foot. Up to that point, he was averaging 11.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game for the Pirates.

“We are glad that we caught this injury early,” Willard said at the time of the injury. “We have outstanding doctors who will monitor Isaiah’s progress, and we look forward to having a healthy Isaiah back on the court as soon as possible.”

Despite missing their second-leading scorer over the last six games, the Pirates are 4-2 — 3-2 to start Big East play — racking up back-to-back wins against then-No. 15 St. John’s and No. 6 Villanova to begin league play.

If Jan. 28 at Marquette is indeed Whitehead’s return, the Pirates will play two more contests without the Brooklyn native against DePaul and on the road against Butler.

Seton Hall freshman guard sidelined with stress fracture in his foot

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Picked in the preseason to be the Big East Freshman of the Year, guard Isaiah Whitehead has been solid for a Seton Hall team that’s won nine of its first 11 games. Whitehead’s averaging 11.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and a team-best 3.4 assists per game this season, and he’s started all 11 games for Kevin Willard’s team.

Unfortunately for Whitehead and the Pirates he’s going to miss some time, as it was learned Wednesday that the freshman is dealing with a stress fracture in the second and third metatarsals in his foot.

“Stress Fracture Out For A Few Weeks But I Know & Believe My Team Will Do Great Without Me Can’t Wait To Get Back On The Court,” Whitehead tweeted. A couple hours after Whitehead tweeted that he would be sidelined, the school confirmed the injury.

“We are glad that we caught this injury early,” Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said in a statement according to Jerry Carino of Gannett New Jersey. “We have outstanding doctors who will monitor Isaiah’s progress, and we look forward to having a healthy Isaiah back on the court as soon as possible.”

Seton Hall plays its final non-conference game Saturday against Maine, and their games to begin Big East play won’t be easy. The Pirates host No. 17 St. John’s on New Year’s Eve, with that game being followed with a home matchup with No. 7 Villanova.

Seton Hall will then play two straight on the road, at Xavier and at Creighton. With Whitehead out of the lineup freshmen Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez, who have played 19.9 and 15.6 minutes per game respectively, should see their minutes increase.

College Basketball Talk’s Top 100 Players: Nos. 80-61 #CBTTop100

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College Basketball Talk’s Top 100 Players: Nos. 100-81

College Basketball Talk’s Top 100 Players: Nos. 100-81

2014-15 Season Preview: Villanova is the heavy favorite in an uncertain Big East

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Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Big East.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

The 10-team Big East debuted during the 2013-14 season. The relaunch season featured national player of the year Doug McDermott, who went on to be a lottery pick, and Villanova, which ended up being a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Villanova will remain a top-15 team heading into the 2014-15 season. After the Wildcats, there are several teams with questions that also have the tools to solve them over the course of the next five months.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Villanova will build off last season: The Wildcats had a disappointing finish to their 2013-14 campaign, but heading into this year, Jay Wright will have a more seasoned team. He gets four starters back, including Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Archidiacono. Villanova will be the flag bearers for the Big East as the only team ranked in the preseason. The Wildcats can make a statement in the non-conference, as they did last season, with games against VCU (potentially Michigan), Illinois and Syracuse.

2. St. John’s will go dancing again: In Steve Lavin’s first season at St. John’s, the Red Storm reached the NCAA tournament — Mike Dunlap, now at Loyola Marymount, was coaching while Lavin battled cancer — and hauled in a heralded recruiting class. The Johnnies won 20 games last season, but they did no favors by digging themselves into an 0-5 hole to begin Big East play. It’s been three seasons since St. John’s went dancing, and it would take some heat off Lavin and help the growth of the new Big East if the Red Storm could get back in 2015. And, if everything comes together, they should. D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Green IV and Sir’Dominic Pointer — all part of that heralded recruiting class — are now seniors. Chris Obekpa reversed his decision to transfer and, most importantly, x-facotr Rysheed Jordan is coming off a promising freshman campaign.

MORE: Can Kris Dunn ever be the player that he was coming out of high school?

3. Despite significant losses, Xavier has plenty of depth: Semaj Christon was drafted in the second round and Justin Martin decided to use his last year of eligibility at SMU. Despite the losses, Chris Mack will have plenty of options with six returners and seven newcomers — six freshmen and Indiana transfer Remy Abell. Seniors Matt Stainbrook and Dee Davis are back while Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis could both be in line for big seasons.

4. Providence adds McDonald’s All-American: Kris Dunn was rated the top point guard in 2012 by Rivals. His collegiate career has gotten off to a slow start thanks to nagging shoulder issues that occurred before the start of his freshman season, limiting him to 29 games in two years. A redshirt sophomore, Dunn is finally healthy, giving Ed Cooley a lead guard to help fill the void left behind by Bryce Cotton. Add in LaDontae Henton, an all-conference caliber forward, and the Friars have a nice one-two punch.

5. March failure: The mark of a conference is how it fares in March. The 1985 Final Four featured three Big East teams, serving as the benchmark of NCAA tournament success. In 2014, the new Big East had 40 percent of the league dancing, only to hear the music stop playing after the first weekend. Xavier lost in the First Four, Providence nearly upset North Carolina, Creighton was caught in an unfavorable matchup against Baylor and Villanova was bounced by the eventual national champion UConn Huskies. Success in March will continue to be a topic of discussion for the Big East.

RELATED: The Big East will be better than their second season

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PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown

As a sophomore, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists en route to all-Big East second team honors. He finished top 10 in scoring and was one of the best rebounding guards in the conference. This season, with the graduation of Markel Starks, Smith-Rivera will also be tasked with handling the ball for the Hoyas.

THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM:

  • D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s: Harrison is the conference’s top returning scorer, trailing only Doug McDermott and Bryce Cotton in points per game at 17.7 in 2013-14.
  • Darrun Hilliard, Villanova: The Big East Most Improved Player from a season ago averaged 14.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the conference’s top team.
  • JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova: The 6-foot-7 forward’s points, rebounds and shooting percentage all went up from sophomore to junior seasons. Arguably the best big man in the Big East.
  • Matt Stainbrook, Xavier: The Western Michigan transfer made an immediate impact last season with six double-doubles. The 6-foot-10 center will take on a greater role after the Musketeers lost several key players this spring.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Kellen Dunham, Butler
  • LaDontae Henton, Providence
  • Rysheed Jordan, St. John’s
  • Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova
  • Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall

BREAKOUT STAR: Deonte Burton, Marquette

The former four-star recruit saw only 12.6 minutes of action a night, but was able to score 6.9 points per game during his freshman season at Marquette. The 6-foot-4 power wing showed what he could do in extended minutes last season with a season-high 23 points (in 24 minutes) in the last game of the year against Xavier in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Oliver Purnell, DePaul

There are several coaches feeling the heat heading into this season. But the hottest seat in the Big East belongs to Oliver Purnell at DePaul. The Blue Demons are 9-57 in the Big East over the last four years. And it’s not like he’s stockpiling young talent either. A handful of players have signed their letter of intent to play at DePaul, only to never play a single game.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : This league could be in line for five bids, but what if they only get one?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT : A rivalry starting … somewhere … anywhere

At Big East Media Day I asked Georgetown head coach John Thompson III, who’s been around the Big East basketball since he was a child, about rivalries in the new league. “You know, the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry didn’t happen in one year,” he said. It took battle after battle to develop those fiery rivalries back in the 1980s. In Year 2 of the Big East relaunch, hopefully we’ll start to see the foundation set for a new rivalry whether it be close game followed by an even better rematch, or controversial call that the losing team doesn’t forget the next time those two teams meet. Sooner or later a new rivalry will unfold.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • Nov. 24, Villanova vs. VCU at the Barclays Center, Brooklyn
  • Nov. 26, Georgetown at Florida
  • Dec. 6, St. John’s at Syracuse
  • Dec. 10, Georgetown vs. Kansas
  • Dec. 20, Butler vs. Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW:

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Villanova: The unanimous pick to finish atop the conference standings for the second season in a row. Jay Wright has four starters back, as the Villanova adapts to having the target on its back.
2. Georgetown: With arguably the conference’s best player, the Hoyas look to bounce back from their 8-10 record in conference. Big question: how much of an impact will Josh Smith have?
3. St. John’s: Maybe the league’s most talented team, St. John’s has the pieces to not only finish in the top half of the conference, but could also be a threat to heavy favorite Villanova.
4.  Xavier:  The league’s deepest team will benefit from having seniors Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook. That senior leadership can help the Musketeers reach their eighth NCAA tournament since 2007.
5. Providence: A healthy Kris Dunn helps combat the loss of PC’s two starting guards. Ed Cooley will have several young players who will need to make an impact. Come March, Friars could be back in the top 3.
6. Marquette: Hiring Steve Wojciechowski was a good move in the long run, but his Golden Eagles could surprise the rest of the league behind graduate transfer Matt Carlino and potential breakout star Deonte Burton.
7. Seton Hall: With five-star shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead, the Pirates bring in the conference’s top recruiting class.
8. Butler: Having Kellen Dunham back and Roosevelt Jones healthy is big for the Bulldogs, but for a program that has gone through a whirlwind of changes over the last five years, is this another transitional season?
9. Creighton: Greg McDermott and Co. are bound for a rebuilding season after graduating Doug McDermott and three other starters.
10. DePaul: The cellar is the likely destination for DePaul once again this season. Sophomore Billy Garrett Jr. is worth watching, though.