A year removed from one of the most exciting Big East Tournament finals in recent memory, one which saw Seton Hall upset eventual champs Villanova on a missed Josh Hart jumper at the buzzer, the 2017 Big East Tournament built on last year’s momentum. And this year’s tourney did not disappoint, with its dossier of intriguing storylines. It featured yet another nail biting Seton Hall-Villanova thriller [this time in the semifinals], capped off by Wooden Award Finalist Josh Hart’s moment of redemption, a game winning offensive rebound-putback, which solidified his spot in the annals of Madison Square Garden and once again reaffirmed his place amongst college basketball’s elite.
It also witnessed a reinvigorated Red Storm fanbase, a testament to Chris Mullen’s successful rebuilding efforts thus far. This up-and-coming program knocked off Georgetown only to have Villanova hang 108 points on their heads [scorching the nets shooting 79.2% in the second half and shattering a school record for points scored in a Big East tournament game], underscoring that – despite making considerable strides – the Red Storm still have a long way to go to recapture their former glory. And then there was the headline that the Big East could send seven teams to the Big Dance, conjecture that became a reality on Sunday, as Xavier advanced far enough despite its injury woes to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
With the stakes this high and considering how many fascinating storylines captured the public’s attention this year, it seems like a foregone conclusion – then – that several players must have separated themselves from the pack, boasting their NBA draft stock. As such, here's who did the most for their professional future at this event.
Josh Hart, Villanova – Clearly, POY candidate Josh Hart was most deserving of the Dave Gavitt Trophy for Most Outstanding Player in the Big East Tournament this year. And this isn’t just because Villanova took home the trophy either. Far and away, Hart was the single biggest game changer nearly every time he stepped on the floor.
In terms of his pro prospects, many outlets are tabbing Hart as a late first round/early second round pick due to his advanced age and average physical tools/overall athleticism. Clearly, they are overlooking the strides that he has made on the court, and thus it would not surprise me if he were to climb draft boards following not only the NCAA tournament, but also post NBA draft workouts.
Standing at a respectable 6’5.5 with a 6’7.5 wingspan, Josh Hart has an average frame for an NBA shooting guard. But, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in instincts and basketball savvy. And, in my opinion, too much of a premium is being placed on standalone athleticism tests when examining Hart. I say this because I’ve heard some express the concern that he lacks the run-jump athleticism necessary to distinguish himself in the NBA. Despite what NBA draft combine measurements might indicate (poor no step vertical of 29.5’’, but a solid 38.5’’ running vertical occurring in a vacuum and not on a basketball court), Josh Hart passes the eye test as an athlete. Whether it is soaring amongst the trees to snatch rebounds over bigger players or being the first to loose balls, Josh Hart possesses quick reflexes and simply reacts faster to plays than his opponents. This is supported by his numerous deflections in the Big East tournament, his sixth best steals % in the Big East (which significantly understates his impact given the fact that his 27.9% usage in conference play was far higher than anyone above him), or his top 20 conference ranking in both defensive and offensive rebounding % (likewise understated because of significant usage).
Despite the reservations of some when projecting him to the next level, it is clear that Hart’s core competencies stand out at this level, particularly in transition. Hart is a dynamo in the open floor, regularly leaking ahead in transition and either finishing at the rim, or feeding open teammates. Given the incremental improvements he has made as a passer, it is clear that he will function as a high IQ player at the next level. While he has always distinguished himself as an offensive weapon in transition, this new wrinkle in his game – facilitating for teammates – was clearly on display at the Big East Tournament. Not only was he unselfish in 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 scenarios on the break, but he also displayed solid awareness and vision in Villanova’s halfcourt sets. Hart regularly found post cutters and it appears that he will be able to function in pick-and-roll sets, a characteristic that is important in the transition to the next level. But, moreso in halfcourt sets, Hart was effective driving all the way to the rim and looking opposite or reversing the ball to three point shooters, which led to many wide open shots and several hockey assists.
To this end, the consensus amongst many NBA draft prognosticators has been that Hart is more of a straight line slasher and that his rudimentary handle will prevent him from translating this ability to the next level. I firmly disagree with this assessment and believe that Hart did much at the Big East Tournament to dispel these notions. First, Hart is relentless attacking the rim with the ball in his hands. In fact, his 5.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes overall is a solid number, and represents a marked improvement over a year ago (4.3 FD/40 previously) While he could stand to advance his stop-and-go and in-and-out handles, which would enable him to more effectively put the defender on his heals, Hart has developed his euro step and is crafty fading from the basket on drives. With that said, his burst could be better on his first step. He can remedy this concern by honing advanced dribble techniques, and working with NBA level strength and conditioning coaches. Given Hart’s year-over-year trajectory in his time at Villanova and his masterful work ethic, I believe that is more likely than not that he will make these incremental adjustments in a relatively short window of time.
In terms of his overall offensive prowess, Hart has become one of the most efficient players in the country. He currently ranks 6th in the nation in Offensive Rating (according to Kenpom.com) for players with usage on at least 24% of his team’s possessions. He also ranks 98th in the country in eFG%, an indication of how efficient he is shooting the basketball. Subsumed in this statistic is his impressive 40.7% from 3pt range, a marked improvement over a year ago, which was the first season he stepped into his role as a go-to player for Villanova and began taking over 20% of his team’s shots when on the floor. At the Big East tournament, Hart thrived as a spot up shooter on ball reversals and off the bounce. His stepback jumper from midrange was balanced and effective, as he was able to get separation rather easily at this level. In addition, Hart regularly jump stopped in the paint (instead of taking it all the way to the rim) and faded away for impressive jumpers in the paint. I believe that he will be able to implore this move at the next level.
Defensively, Josh Hart possesses strong technique (stance, positioning, etc.) and fundamentals. While he sometimes cheats in the passing lanes, his quick reaction timing and savvy anticipatory instincts enable him to make the right plays the majority of the time. He also has very quick hands and is a decent shot blocker. Importantly, Hart is not overaggressive defensively and has made strides since his sophomore year, with a solid 2.7 fouls committed per 40 minutes, 14th best in the Big East. Overall, Josh Hart ranks as one of college basketball’s most elite and iconic players at the moment. With that said, he is fairly underrated as a professional prospect. In time, I believe that his superior basketball IQ, work ethic, reaction timing intangibles, and offensive efficiency should enable him to rise up draft boards before it is all said and done.
Justin Patton, Creighton – While his overall Big East tournament statistics certainly don’t jump off the page at first glance, Patton’s deer-like quickness, solid athleticism, and excellent efficiency have NBA scouts salivating. Standing at a wiry 7’0 230 lbs with a frame that can stand to add 15 lbs+, it’s clear that Justin Patton passes the eye test as an NBA prospect and will probably be the first Big East player to hear his name called on draft day. Although he is about one year ahead of his class after redshirting as a freshman, Patton was not only the top freshman in the Big East, but one of the most promising big men prospects across the nation.
Given his intriguing size and length, coupled with his remarkable end-to-end quickness, it is clear that Justin Patton has tremendous potential as a two way player at the next level. In the Big East Tourney, he regularly beat his man down the floor for easy dunks. He understands floor spacing well and is able to make quick rim runs, slipping past or behind the defense for open alley oop opportunities. Because of his speed, he is a threat in transition and is able to make plays streaking down the lane. And, he has good hands inside; on one play at the Big East Tourney, he was able to corral a ball thrown way out of bounds for an easy layup.
On the block, Patton’s footwork is fairly advanced for his age, and he sports a back-to-the-basket hook shot with either hand. At the Big East Tournament, he also demonstrated his faceup game, maneuvering around his man off the bounce. With that said, Patton must improve his strength, as he has a tendency to get pushed off the block at this point or simply rush his post moves when met with double teams. Despite his length and athleticism, he is mostly a finesse player at this stage, drawing a mere 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes (towards the bottom half of the Big East in this respect).
Most impressive on the offensive end, however, was when he flashed his midrange faceup jumper. His mechanics are sound, and he appears comfortable connecting on college-range three pointers, though admittedly on a small sample size (8-13 on three pointers for the season). Also, he must continue to improve on his concentration/proficiency at the line (51.2% on the year). Further, because of his aforementioned quickness and ability to dive to the rim, Patton is especially intriguing as a pick-and-roll option at the next level. With these offensive strengths in mind, Justin Patton’s 71.2% eFG% was the 4th highest efficiency mark in the country. And, he took a greater percentage of his team’s shots (21.5%) than any of the three men ahead of him.
While Patton is clearly an intriguing prospect on the offensive end, Patton may have actually have more potential defensively. Not only is he agile moving towards the basket, but he possesses decent lateral quickness, demonstrating an ability to move his feet with guards who come into the paint. Also, Patton regularly changes or blocks shots with his superior length and leaping ability. He ranked 4th in the Big East with a 5.7% blocks%, but this figure is largely understated because he frequently changes shots without fouling and he often plays in foul trouble (4.3 fouls committed per 40 minutes) due to his lack of strength. In terms of rebounding, Patton sports decent box out fundamentals, but must continue to work on his lower body strength. He relies too much on his length at this point, and this will not translate as much at the next level. With that said, he was effective in this tournament on the defensive glass, which is captured by his Patton’s 19.1% defensive rebounding % (good for 6th best in the Big East).
All in all, while Patton is currently one of the most efficient players in all of college basketball, he has yet to even scratch the surface of his potential. With the proper mentoring and NBA strength and conditioning, Patton can become an effective two way player with a faceup game at the next level.
The Best of the Rest:
Marcus Foster, Creighton – Foster was arguably the biggest shot maker of this tournament, and his rapid-fire three pointer at the end of the Xavier game secured the Jays’ spot in the Final. While not a traditional prospect by any stretch as a 6’3 combo guard, Foster was the most effective offensive weapon for his team for most of the year. Foster is a solid slasher with tremendous physical strength at 210 lbs. He is effective connecting on floaters in the lane, or spinning to the hoop, due to his reliable handle and good body control/balance. In transition, Foster often employs a devastating Euro step when attacking the rim with reckless abandon. In the Big East Tourney, he implored a variety of hesitation moves, drop steps spinning in the lane, and does an excellent job of using his body to create separation. Due to his solid strength and craftiness with the ball, it is clear that he will be able to create his own shot at a higher level of play, whether this is in the NBA or overseas.
As a shooter, Foster does a nice job of creating separation and connects on some difficult three pointers with only an ounce of daylight. On several plays in this Tournament, he hit contested step backs from college three point range. He is fairly streaky from beyond the arc, but can be deadly when he gets into a rhythm. While his 34.3% from three point range is only average for a prospect, the degree of difficulty on his shots when paired with his incredibly high usage (32.4% of his team’s shots when on the floor), make this mark more impressive. In addition, the loss of the team’s floor general, Maurice Watson Jr., to a season ending injury also contributed to Foster’s downtick in efficiency from beyond the arc (28.8% in Big East play). With that said, he must continue to work on his shot selection.
While he functioned as a lead guard at Kansas St. before transferring to Creighton, Foster has always been more of a scoring option. At some point, he will have to transition and function more as a true point guard if he hopes to have a shot at the NBA one day. But, while he is adept at making post entry feeds on the perimeter and eventually may develop into more of a drive-and-kick weapon, he does not look for teammates enough at this point (15.3 Assist Rate was 25th best in the Big East).
Defensively, Foster utilizes his brute strength to contain his man and possesses decent fundamentals. He does a nice job of being physical without fouling, and his 2.69 fouls committed per 40 minutes was the 12th best mark in the Big East this year. Foster possesses average lateral quickness for a guard, but does a nice job of staying with his man. All in all, Marcus Foster is a streaky scoring guard who must do a better job of creating for his teammates if he hopes to transition to point guard at the next level.
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall – Functioning as a throwback, traditional big, the 6’10, 240lb Angel Delgado is one of the most devastating forces on the glass in the NCAA. He is relentless in his pursuit of the basketball, and utilizes solid box out fundamentals and lower body strength to secure positioning. He regularly creates extra possessions for his team and is a willing facilitator, often kicking the ball out to restart the offense or to hit open three point shooters. Because of his tremendous knack for anticipating where the ball will be and his relentless pursuit of the basketball, Delgado boasted the 8th best offensive rebounding % in college basketball this season (16.3%) and 12th best defensive rebounding % at 28.0%.
On the offensive end, Delgado’s game is effective at this level, albeit not very diversified. He is a back-to-the-basket post scorer who can occasionally step out for an open jumper. His footwork is fairly rudimentary at this point, but he does an excellent job of securing deep post position and finishing at the basket. Oftentimes, he is able to back his man down into the paint due to his superior lower body strength. When attacking the basket, his go-to move is a half hook in the lane that is difficult to block because he does a nice job of using his body to shield the ball. Due to the physical nature of his play, Delgado regularly draws fouls, 5.5 per 40 minutes, 3rd best in the Big East this year. With that said, he needs to continue to improve his jump shot, and work on extending his range if he hopes to keep defenses honest at a higher level of play.
Defensively, Delgado is a mixed bag. When he is assertive, Delgado utilizes his strength to disrupt post players and does a nice job of chesting his man out of the paint. On the other hand, he has a tendency to be complacent, particularly early in games, ceding deep post position. He is, by and large, a positional defender who does a nice job contesting shots without fouling (2.4 fouls per 40 minutes in Big East play).
Overall, Delgado is a player that understands his limitations, but is a specialist who may be able to impress some teams with his remarkable nose for the ball.
Desi Rodriguez, Seton Hall – While admittedly he didn’t have the most efficient game in his first outing against Marquette, Rodriguez was virtually unstoppable attacking the basket against Villanova. He was very effective against elite defender Josh Hart, and was able to contort his body in mid air and finish through contact on countless possessions. Rodriguez possesses a reliable floater in his arsenal and the handle to get where he wants to go on the floor. He demonstrated an effective mid range shot in this game, and was able to connect from beyond the three point line as well, where he has been solid on the season – shooting 36.0% (42.2% in conference play). Importantly, Rodriguez has made strides as a facilitator and should continue to improve as a drive-and-kick weapon.
On the defensive end, Rodriguez has decent hands, but is more of a position defender. Throughout the tournament, he was aggressive to loose balls and even though he didn’t display it here, he is capable of blocking shots due to his solid run-jump athleticism. All in all, Desi Rodriguez is a diversified offensive weapon who can create for himself from the midrange or attack the basket and finish through considerable contact.