Jalen Brunson

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Big East Conference Reset: It’s still Villanova’s league, but for how long?

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big East over the next six months.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES 

1. Patrick Ewing returns to Georgetown: The Hall of Fame center who took the Hoyas to three Final Fours — winning the 1984 national championship — returns to his alma mater for his head coaching debut after 14 years as an NBA assistant coach. He replaces John Thompson III, who was relieved of his duties following a second straight losing season, the third time in four years Georgetown failed to reach the NCAA Tournament. Ewing’s hire shows that John Thompson Jr. still has a lot of pull in the university but Ewing has been praised for his work ethic and player development during his decade-plus as an NBA assistant. But he has an uphill battle on the Hilltop.

2. NBA Draft didn’t hurt the league: Angel Delgado, who reportedly was set to stay in the draft, decided to return to Seton Hall for his senior season. That made the Pirates a realistic threat to knock Villanova off the throne it sat upon since the relaunch of the Big East Conference. Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 20.4 points per game during the conference and NCAA Tournament, also returned. With Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson as another option, both Delgado and Bluiett should find themselves on every single preseason All-American team. Not every team was as lucky as Seton Hall and Xavier, Justin Patton, a redshirt freshman who flew under the radar for much of the season, decided to remain in the draft. He’s projected to be a first round pick.

3. Recruiting classes: At the moment, Xavier commit Paul Scruggs is the highest ranked recruit joining the Big East, according to Rivals. In fact, the Musketeers have two of the top three prospects joining the league, both of whom are listed in the top-50. Butler, according to the Indy Star, has the school’s best recruiting class coming in, headlined by Kyle Young, Christian David, Jerald Butler and Aaron Thompson. Four seasons ago, both programs were in the Atlantic-10.

Trevon Bluiett (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • Omari Spellman, Villanova: Expected to replace Daniel Ochefu in Villanova’s quest for a repeat, the heralded freshman big man was forced to academically redshirt due to his freshman year of high school when he transferred from a public high school and reclassified at a prep school several months later. Spellman is a better offensive player than his would-be predecessor, even capable of scoring from the perimeter. Rivals had the 6-foot-9 Spellman listed as a top-20 recruit in the Class of 2016.
  • Makai Ashton-Langford, Providence: One of the most coveted point guards in the Class of 2017 had originally committed to UConn. He decommitted in March. Ed Cooley, who was in early on the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Wenyen Gabriel before seeing them commit to bluebloods, got a second chance and landed the New England native several weeks later. Whether it be with Mass Rivals on the grassroots circuit or Brewster Academy (N.H.) in the prep school scene, by the time Ashton-Langford debuts for the Friars he’ll have played a year and a half without losing a game.
  • Harry Froling, Marquette: With Luke Fischer exhausting his eligibility, the Golden Eagles, who weren’t deep on the frontline to begin with, needed some help. Marquette was able to land Froling, the SMU transfer following a visit in mid-January. Due to NCAA transfer rules, he’ll be eligible for the second semester. In 10 games, the 6-foot-10 Froling averaged 4.3 points and 3.2 boards per game. Matt Heldt and newcomers Theo John and Ike Eke will hold down the fort while Froling continues to sit out until late December.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • L.J. Peak, Georgetown: Currently, Peak is projected as the last pick in the 2017 NBA Draft according to DraftExpress.com. That didn’t stop the Georgetown junior from forgoing his final season of eligible. The 6-foot-5 power guard averaged 16.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game for the Hoyas. His departure means Georgetown has lost its top two scorers from a season ago, as Rodney Pryor, a graduate transfer, exhausted his eligibility.
  • Duane Wilson, Marquette: It’s clear that the program is focused on building around rising sophomore guard Markus Howard. Moreover, Wilson had seen his role diminished for the majority of the 2016-17 season but worked his way into the starting lineup as the Golden Eagles made their run at the program’s first NCAA Tournament under head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Wilson, the Milwaukee native, who redshirted his first season due to injury, elected to use his final season of eligibility at Texas A&M.
Patrick Ewing (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

COACHING CHANGES

  • Patrick Ewing, Georgetown: As mentioned above, Ewing replaces John Thompson III after 13 seasons with the program, leading the Hoyas to the Final Four in 2007. By all accounts, this appears to have Big John’s fingerprints all over it. However, Ewing at least had coaching experience, 14 as an NBA assistant, before he got his first coaching job. That wasn’t the case two years ago when Chris Mullin took over at his alma mater. Arguably Ewing’s biggest task will be filling out a coaching staff that can hit the recruiting trail, especially the greater Washington D.C. area.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier (Player of the Year)
Jalen Brunson, Villanova
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Kelan Martin, Butler

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Villanova: All-American Josh Hart is gone but Jalen Brunson, a floor general who will end up on many preseason All-American lists, is back, as is Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo, a two-guard many peg as a breakout star next season. Jay Wright brings in a pretty good recruiting class but the biggest new addition is redshirt freshman Omari Spellman. The Big East Conference belongs to Villanova until someone proves it can knock it off.
  2. Seton Hall: Angel Delgado’s decision to return to for his senior season makes the Pirates the biggest threat to Villanova’s conference dominance. Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder, rejoins Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and Ismael Sanogo. Madison Jones is gone but Myles Powell is a strong replacement after averaging double figures his freshman season. The Pirates are the most experienced team in the Big East. They are tough as nails and are likely the best defensive team in the league.
  3. Xavier: The Musketeers lost six of seven to close out the regular season but found themselves in the Elite Eight thanks in large part to the play of Trevon Bluiett. The 6-foot-5 wing returns, which puts Xavier in another good position for 2017-18. Edmond Sumner remained in the NBA Draft but that tournament run was made after his season ended following an ACL tear. J.P. Macura is back while Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones both made strides in their freshmen seasons. Chris Mack is also bringing in arguably his best recruiting class, headlined by Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall.
  4. Providence: The most surprising team in the Big East last season was the Friars. Despite losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, Providence went to its fourth straight NCAA Tournament under Ed Cooley. The Friars bring back everybody of value (sorry, Casey Woodring) for this season. I’ll catch heat for leaving Rodney Bullock off all-conference predictions but I’ll end by saying Kyron Cartwright, who averaged 6.7 assists per game, may have a better chance of earning that postseason honor.
  5. Butler: Despite losing Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis, and Kethan Savage, it’s hard to bet against Chris Holtmann. The Bulldogs retain Kelan Martin, one of the league’s top scorers, in addition to rising star Kamar Baldwin. Butler’s Class of 2017 is considered the best in program history.
  6. Creighton: The Bluejays are in a much different place if Justin Patton returns to Omaha for a sophomore season. That isn’t to say Creighton isn’t in line for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Greg McDermott is hoping to strike gold again as Kaleb Joseph, the Syracuse point guard, spent several months practicing against Maurice Watson Jr. He’ll pair up in the backcourt with Marcus Foster, a fifth-year senior who will make sure the Bluejays have one of the conference’s most potent offenses.
  7. Marquette: Depth took a hit with the graduation of Luke Fischer, Katin Reinhardt and Jujuan Johnson, in addition to the departure of Duane Wilson. But Marquette has Markus Howard, who is expected to have a big sophomore season, while the frontline gains a boost at midseason with Harry Froling debutting after sitting out the spring and fall semester following his transfer from SMU.
  8. St. John’s: Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett and Bashir Ahmed, the team’s three top scorers, return while Tariq Owens and Kassoum Yakwe are back to man the frontline. The Johnnies add transfer Justin Simon to the perimeter and Marvin Clark to the frontcourt. Sidney Wilson, like Ponds, is another coveted New York City recruit, will be joining the program. Chris Mullin had a lot of work to do when he took the job at his alma mater but has landed talented, especially local ones.
  9. DePaul: One of the biggest offseason additions, which resulted in immediate results, was when DePaul hired Shane Heriman, head coach of prep powerhouse La Lumiere. Northern Illinois graduate transfer Marin Maric, a potential starter for next year’s team, and 2019 point guard Tgyer Campbell both committed to DePaul this spring. Both played at La Lumiere under Heriman. Billy Garrett Jr. is gone but leading scorer Eli Cain is back in Lincoln Park.
  10. Georgetown: The Hoyas have lost their two leading scorers and the top incoming recruit since season’s end, one that resulted in the school parting ways with John Thompson III. The cupboard isn’t bare for Patrick Ewing’s first season. Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson return while Trey Dickerson joins the program as a graduate transfer. Nonetheless, Georgetown was 14-18 last season, in a league where seven teams made the tournament. This is a realistic placement, as odd as it seems, to slot the Hoyas.

Player of the Week: Dillon Brooks, Oregon

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This week, for the first time all season, Oregon looked like the team that we all had projected in the preseason top five and as a potential Final Four contender. They beat No. 2 UCLA at home, putting an end to their undefeated run this season, before blowing out No. 22 USC on Friday, who also entered that game without a loss on their résumé.

There were a handful of things behind Oregon’s improvement – the Ducks started shooting the ball well from the perimeter, Dylan Ennis played as well as he has all season, they finally had their full complement of players all healthy at the same time – but the biggest difference between this Oregon and the Oregon that lost to Georgetown and got blown out by Baylor is simple: Dillon Brooks looked like Dillon Brooks again.

The preseason all-american played like, well, an all-american in the two wins this week, setting a season-high with 23 points to go along with nine boards and four assists in the win over UCLA before he went for 28 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the win over USC.

And should I mention that he hit the game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to beat the Bruins?

Those games were just the third and fourth games, respectively, that he has started this season due to a slow recovery process coming back from an offseason foot injury. Early in the year, he was still working on getting back in shape and getting his legs under him. I’d say that, at this point, we can pretty safely say that Brooks is back to 100 percent, and when he’s healthy, Oregon is good enough to win the Pac-12.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Dwayne Bacon, Florida State: After scoring 23 points on Wednesday to lead the Seminoles past Wake Forest, the 6-foot-6 sophomore had a career-high 29 points in a win at No. 12 Virginia. He scored 26 of those 29 points in the second half – only once in his career had he scored more than 26 points before Saturday – and added the game-winning three with 2.0 seconds left for good measure. Not a bad week.
  • Nate Mason, Minnesota: Minnesota made something of a statement on Sunday, going into West Lafayette and knocking off No. 15 Purdue despite the fact that Caleb Swanigan went off for 28 points and 22 boards. Mason led the was, finishing with 31 points, 11 assists and six boards in an overtime win.
  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Brunson was the best player on the floor for No. 1 Villanova on Saturday, as they went into Omaha and knocked off No. 10 Creighton. Brunson finished with 27 points, and five assists, hitting 10-for-14 from the floor and going on a solo 11-0 run in the first half to buoy the Wildcats as Creighton jumped out to an early double-digit lead. He also had 13 points and six assists in a win over DePaul on Wednesday.
  • Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech:A 6-foot-4 freshman playing his first-ever ACC game, Okogie popped off for 26 points and five boards as the Ramblin’ Wreck went to 1-0 in league play with an impressive win over No. 9 North Carolina.
  • Edmond Sumner, Xavier: Sumner kicked off the week with 13 points and seven assists in a blowout win over Providence, following that up with 28 points, eight assists and six boards, his best game as a collegian, in a win at Georgetown on Saturday. Perhaps more impressive is that the Musketeers badly needed that kind of a performance from Sumner on Saturday; their leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett, was 0-for-10 from the floor.

Brunson scores 18 points, No. 8 Villanova beats Stanford

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) Villanova struggled to score and rebound on Thursday night.

The Wildcats’ defense was good enough to still get a win.

No. 8 Villanova compensated for offensive and rebounding struggles by forcing 23 turnovers in a 59-45 victory over Stanford in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tipoff.

“We played pretty good defense but couldn’t rebound with them,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “It was one of those nights we couldn’t make shots but hung in there defensively. Their rebounding was almost a difference maker but thank God it wasn’t.”

The Wildcats (5-0) advanced to face Georgia Tech in the championship game Friday.

Villanova won despite shooting 30.6 percent and getting outrebounded by a 55-35 margin against an opponent starting three players 6-foot-8 or taller. The Wildcats started one player taller than 6-6 but compensated for the size differential by holding Stanford to 26 percent from the floor.

“I didn’t think it would be this ugly on the boards but if we could have made a couple of shots it might not have been as ugly,” Wright said. “But I was proud the guys really grinded defensively.”

Freshman Jalen Brunson was one of few Wildcats not to struggle offensively and scored a career-high 18 points. Josh Hart added 10 points but was 4-for-13 shooting and combined with Ryan Arcidiacono to shoot 6 of 24, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.

“I was doing what I always do,” Brunson said. “I try to play aggressive all the time. I saw they were backing off me a little bit so there is time for me to shoot and time for me to make other plays.”

Leading scorer Marcus Allen had 12 points but was 3 for 12 for Stanford (2-3). Dorian Pickens added 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Stanford lost its third straight by double digits and will face Arkansas in the consolation game. The Cardinal missed their first 15 shots of the game and their first eight attempts of the second half while falling behind by 16.

Stanford was within seven on a basket by Reid Travis with 6:34 remaining, but Villanova scored the next six points and finished the game with a 13-6 run.

“They’re a very good defensive team, they’re active and they made a lot of plays,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “The thing we did most was we turned the ball over 23 times, so that was disappointing.”

TIP-INS

Villanova: Seven of Villanova’s school-record 33 wins came in New York last season. The Wildcats won twice in the Legends Classic at Barclays Center, beat St. John’s and Illinois during the regular season at Madison Square Garden and won three games there for the Big East Tournament championship. … Guards Arcidiacono and Hart combined to miss their first 11 3-point attempts. Arcidiacono came into the game shooting 44 percent from 3-point range while Hart entered at 45 percent. … Darryl Reynolds tied a career high with 19 minutes, getting most of those in the second half after Daniel Ochefu picked up his fourth foul.

Stanford: Thursday was Stanford’s 13th game in New York since 2011-12. Last year, the Cardinal appeared in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, beating UNLV and losing to eventual national champion Duke. … Stanford faced Villanova for the second time. The other meeting was a 96-70 Cardinal loss on Dec. 23, 1970. … Stanford missed 12 layups and tip-ins during the first half. … Allen hit his head on the court trying to deflect the ball on a layup by Hart. Dawkins said Allen was a little dizzy but didn’t think the junior would miss any time.

UP NEXT:

Villanova: Georgia Tech in the championship game on Friday.

Stanford: Arkansas in the consolation game on Friday.

Villanova tries to put March flops behind them

Associated Press
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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Villanova could stand to raise some funds for a new trophy case.

The Wildcats opened last season winning the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York. That was just a warmup for 12 straight wins and a Big East championship. Then it was three more wins and a Big East tournament championship.

Josh Hart even earned conference sixth man of the year honors, pointing everything toward celebration on the Main Line.

Except for one thing – the Wildcats again flopped in March, when college basketball matters most.

Thirty years after Villanova won an improbable national championship, the top-seeded Wildcats were booted in the second game of the NCAA tournament by North Carolina State. President Barack Obama had even cast his vote for Villanova to reach the national championship game.

The Wildcats have been impeached from the tournament in the first weekend every season they’ve made it since they played in the 2009 Final Four. That’s a 3-5 record that has raised some questions if the Wildcats can ever truly become elite under coach Jay Wright.

They’ll try again this season, ranked 11th in the AP Top 25 poll and the Big East favorite.

Wright said he’s looked hard at fixing the tournament problems.

“It’s more from the coaching standpoint than the players,” he said. “It’s little tactical things we could do. It’s two years in a row playing a 1-16 game or 2-15 game, then going to a high-level game the next game. Maybe the coaching staff – me – didn’t do a good enough job in between those games.”

Wright said the regular season can’t be considered anything but a success but added, “I get it” why his program is judged on March alone.

Hart, guard Ryan Arcidiacono, forward Kris Jenkins and forward Daniel Ochefu all return from a team looking to prove they really are built for the long haul.

But it’s the new kid in town that could give the program the jolt it needed as tries for the first national championship since 1985.

BRUNSON BURNER: Jalen Brunson, a 6-foot-2 guard and McDonald’s All-American, is the most highly-touted recruit to hit campus in years. Brunson is the son of former Temple star and NBA player Rick Brunson. He was unanimously named the Big East Rookie of the Year and could help the Wildcats erase their March doldrums. Wright said Brunson was an intelligent, gritty guard who might be around for only one or two seasons, a rarity for a program built on the strength of upperclassman.

“I know one thing that concerns me is that he’s gotten so much hype, that when people hear hype, they expect Andrew Wiggins,” Wright said. “He’s not that.”

NEW ARENA: Villanova’s 6,500-seat Pavilion opened in 1986 – and was outdated by 1987. Most high school gyms have more restrooms and concession stands than the Pavilion and Wright said plans are in full swing for either a new arena or complete renovation.

“We sell this place out every game,” Wright said. “But for the school, we could create more revenue. The place looks great on TV. It’s just not good for fans and it doesn’t generate the revenue like a new arena would.”

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Because seating capacity is almost tripled, the Wildcats save their biggest games each season for the Wells Fargo Center.

But with the arena the site of an NCAA tournament regional this season, Villanova was limited to only three games during the regular season if it wanted the option of playing in March at home.

“We didn’t want to be arrogant about making the decision, like we’re going to get there,” Wright said. “But if we did get that far, and we didn’t give ourselves that chance, it probably would be irresponsible. We actually take a revenue hit doing it.”

FIFTH FRANCHISE: The 76ers might be good around the next Republican presidential debate – in 2019. The Flyers are mired in mediocrity, the Eagles hope a .500 record can win them the NFC East and the Phillies are a few years off from contention. That leaves the Wildcats standing tall as the lone Philly sports bright spot through an otherwise bleak winter.

“We’re used to people paying attention to us once the Eagles’ season is over,” Wright said. “But it’s fine if they want to watch now.”

Villanova freshmen connect on alley-oop

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Earlier this week, Jalen Brunson, a five-star point guard from the Class of 2015, recorded his first assist in an official Villanova uniform.

During the team photo day, Brunson had fun with fellow freshman Donte Divincenzo. Brunson broke out a slip-and-slide dribble before lobbing a pass off the backboard for Divincenzo, who completed the play with a windmill dunk.

Brunson and Divincenzo were both rated in the Rivals150.

Oh What A Time To Be Alive 💎💎 @divincenzo10

A post shared by Jalen Brunson (@jalenbrunson1) on

The duo joins a perimeter that includes co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year and reserve guard Phil Booth.

The Wildcats, a probable preseason top-10 team, opens the season on Nov. 13 against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Following acquittal, Rick Brunson discusses son Jalen’s recruitment to Villanova

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In April 2014 Rick Brunson, the father of five-star 2015 point guard Jalen Brunson, was charged with sexual assault in regards to an incident with his then-massage therapist. The situation came at a time in which the younger Brunson had yet to choose a college, and with Temple being one of the schools in the mix the assumption in some circles was that the two could possibly be a package deal of sorts.

Late last week Rick Brunson was finally afforded the opportunity to tell his side of the story in front of a judge, and he was ultimately acquitted of all charges. With that occurring Rick spoke with the Chicago Tribune about the case, its impact on his son during his senior year of high school and whether or not the two could have gone to Temple together as some speculated.

Rick dismissed that possibility, noting that the job he discussed with Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was a non-coaching position. With that being the case, Jalen (who committed to Villanova last September) wouldn’t have been able to join the program for two seasons per NCAA rules.

“My son always wanted to go to Villanova,” Brunson said. “Nobody understands this. He never, ever wanted to go to Temple with me. I’ve never coached him at any level. Would I have wanted him to play for me at Temple? Of course. Would it have been right as a family? You’re damn right. But would it have been wrong for him? Yes.

“I have a lot of love and respect for Fran Dunphy because he understood that I couldn’t force my son to go to Temple. It was a long shot for him to go there. Jalen wanted to have a chance to play in a Final Four. Of all the schools that recruited him, he felt Villanova has the best shot of playing in a Final Four this coming season.”

Brunson played four seasons at Temple before spending eight in the NBA, with the connection to his alma mater being a factor in discussions between he and Dunphy. With this situation being resolved, it’s a weight off the shoulders of both Rick and Jalen, with the younger Brunson preparing for his first season at Villanova.