"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Simply the (second) best

It has become quite clear that Marquette's own Dominic James will be the runaway winner of the BIG EAST Rookie of the Year award. Averaging 15.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, and 4.3 rpg overall and 16.8 ppg, 4.9 apg and 4.5 rpg in strictly BIG EAST action, and having won Rookie of the Week for 5 weeks this season, anyone would be crazy to question this point. But Freak Nique aside, who has been the BIG EAST's second best freshman performer? It may surprise non-Marquette fans, but a very strong case could be made for Marquette's other starting guard, Jerel McNeal. Let's take a look at the candidates:

Jerel McNeal, Marquette:
Overall stats: 11.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.2 spg, 45.3% FG%;
Conference stats: 11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 2.2 spg, 41.0% FG%

Jerel has been an extremely solid performer for Marquette this year. His one major drawback is turnovers. On the year, Jerel is averaging 3.8 turnovers per game. However, this is made up for with his whopping 2.2 steals per game average, his glove-like defense, and his scoring prowess. It is telling that Jerel's points, rebounds and assists per game are actually higher in BIG EAST play... he is a big time performer and continues to improve as his freshman year moves on. That said, Jerel's shooting percentage has certainly tailed off in BIG EAST play. Clearly, Dominic is Marquette's top freshman performer, but a good case could be made that Marquette would also not be in its current position--on the verge of locking up a Tournament bid-- without the hard-nosed play of Mr. McNeal. His performance was made so much more important after the month-long loss of super frosh, Wes Matthews.

Eric Devendorf, Syracuse:
Overall stats: 12.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.4 3PM/game, 47.0% FG%
Conference stats: 14.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.4 3PM/game, 48.3% FG%

Devendorf was the consensus pick by the coaches for Freshman of the Year before the season began. After a relatively slow start, Eric has heated up big time in BIG EAST play. Comparing Devendorf to McNeal is a little hard to do. Clearly, Devendorf is more of a scorer than McNeal, but that may be made up for with Jerel's defensive numbers (rebounding and steals). In particular, compare McNeal's 57 steals to Devendorf's 13. While McNeal has 36 more turnovers this year, Devendorf's assist to turnover ratio isn't terrific either for an off guard... Devendorf is at 1:1 exactly, while McNeal is at 0.73/1. Syracuse has perhaps not lived up to expectations this year, but given the loss of Hakim Warrick last year and the bulking up of the BIG EAST, it perhaps is not that surprising. Syracuse has recently won some crucial games to put itself into strong contention to make the NCAA Tournament, and currently stands at 7-6 in conference. It is certainly a close call between Devendorf and McNeal.

Sharaud Curry, Providence
Overall stats: 11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1 spg, 43.7% FG%
Conference stats: 11.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1 spg, 42.1% FG%

Curry has been a very pleasant surprise for Providence. He has been a consistently strong performer for the Friars all year at the point guard position. Curry also boasts a 1.4 assist to turnover ratio, better than either McNeal or Devendorf, and very impressive for a freshman point guard. Although Curry's individual numbers definitely compare favorably to those of McNeal and Devendorf, one would be hard pressed to say he has been a better freshman, considering Marquette is 8-5 in conference, Syracuse is 7-6, and Providence is 5-8.

Geoff McDermott, Providence
Overall stats: 9.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.8 spg, 42.4 FG%,
Conference stats: 6.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 34.9% FG%

McDermott has been another very impressive player for the Providence Friars. His rebounding stats are easily the best total for freshmen, and place him fifth in conference regardless of class. McDermott impressively also has almost 2 steals per game, a very good stat for a non-guard. The main problem with McDermott being considered for second best freshman is that his scoring average and FG percentage have dropped like a rock since conference play began. This ultimately dooms McDermott's candidacy.

Devan Downey, Cincinnati
Overall stats: 12.0 ppg, 4.0 apg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 spg, 41.6% FG%
Conference stats: 9.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 2.7 rpg, 2.1 spg, 35.0% FG%

Downey started out this season as the darkhorse favorite for Rookie of the Year honors. In non-conference play, he seemed on track to battle out for this award with Dominic James. However, although Downey has been an undeniably crucial cog in the undermanned, overachieving Bearcats squad, it is also the case that, like McDermott, Downey's scoring average and FG% have taken a big hit since BIG EAST play began. One very impressive stat that should be noted is Downey's 57 steals (equal to McNeal's 57, in one more game than McNeal has played). Downey is certainly a big threat on both ends of the court.

Wilson Chandler, DePaul
Overall stats: 9.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 42.8% FG%
Conference stats: 12.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 45.2% FG%

Chandler has very impressive stats for a freshman, but in this case, stats certainly don't tell the whole story. First of all, Chandler was suspended for two conference games for actions detrimental to the team. This has to be a huge knock against him in the final tally for freshman honors. Secondly, DePaul has been awful this year, so even though his stats on paper seem very similar to those of McDermott, they lose some of their luster when one considers the disastrous DePaul season. On a bright note, Chandler's scoring average and FG% has markedly improved since BIG EAST play, so there is no doubt he can compete in this league at a very high level.

Other freshmen of note:

Anthony Farmer, Rutgers, 8.8 ppg, 3.9 apg, 2.9 rpg
JR Inman, Rutgers, 8.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg (Inman played 22 games, injured for year)
Wesley Matthews III, Marquette, 8.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.5 apg (injury took Wes out of 8 games)
Anthony Mason, Jr., St. John's: 8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.3 spg
Sam Young, Pitt, 8.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg
Terrence Williams, Louisville, 7.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Paul Gause, Seton Hall, 6.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
Jeff Adrien, UConn, 6.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg

It seems that the race for second best freshman likely comes down to Jerel McNeal and Eric Devendorf, when one considers overall stats, trend in BIG EAST play, and success of team. A better time to judge this race might be at the end of the year, when one can evaluate how both McNeal and Devendorf perform down the stretch. At this point, it appears a little too close to call. However, of course, the bloggers of Cracked Sidewalks endorse Jerel McNeal for the title of BIG EAST's second best freshman.


muwarrior92 said...

We agree.

Anonymous said...

Now if only Crean could learn how to actually DEVELOP the talent that he's been able to recruit. Or, for that matter, keep all of them at MU for all four years. Who'll be the next player to leave the program early?

muwarrior92 said...

Strange comment on development.

I'm watching Stever Novak play his way into the NBA this year. Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews have been fantastic under his tutelage.

Dwyane Wade was a human turnover machine his first year and left as perhaps MU's greatest player.

Transfers happen, don't be surprised if someone leaves this team. If you look at the major programs in the country like Kansas, North Carolina, etc, etc, they have all had transfers.

Crean is very demanding as a coach, more so than most coaches. He has a regimented program, dictates to the players when they will wake up, eat, practice, study. It's not for everyone, then again he has a clean program with no academic issues (cough, cough..ahem like some).

TB said...

good post......Crean does a fine job of developing talent -- I'd also add Travis Diener to that list, Cordell Henry, Scott Merritt, and Robert Jackson to your list.

Transfers? Gimme a break -- lets ask Bill Self about that, maybe Lute Olson, Paul Hewitt, Bo Ryan, or Pitino about that as well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comment about transfers.

Remeber Crean's also received transfers too (who can refute the impact Robert Jackson had on the Final Four team), so these kids LEFT some other school.

The fact of the matter is, alot of these kids have been pampered their entire adolescent lives. They've been told how great they are, then when they get to a solid founded program like MU, KU, UNC or Duke - they don't want to sit, they're not getting the playing time they wanted, they get moody and leave. Teenagers angst.

Anonymous said...

If Scott Merritt is an example of how Crean develops players, then thanks for proving my point! That kid had a ton of potential his Freshmen year, and by the time he graduated, that's about all he had.

I don't think anyone at MU could've predicted how much of an impact DWade would go on to have in the NBA... but he has certainly, ahem, DEVELOPED into an absolute stud since leaving MU. No doubt we all thought he was a great player, but to go on to these heights has been a surprise. It's too bad he couldn't have developed such a nice jump shot in college.

Novak (this year only) may be the only player that I've seen get better -- specifically thanks to Crean or more appropriately his staff. The other players mentioned in the last post essentially got better (if at all) through natural ability and simply by playing lots of basketball. Robert Jackson??? I agree that he was a great player, but I fail to see a temendous amount of development there.


muwarrior92 said...

Thank you for your comments.

The only player to get better? That just belies logic, in my opinion.

Was Travis Diener better as a Senior than any other year? Was he a NBA player when we recruited him? Let's not forget how many programs, Wisconsin in particular, that said he couldn't play in the Big Ten let alone the NBA.

Novak went from not playing defense or rebounding to doing both. Let's not forget that the player has to act too.

Robert Jackson went from a guy that couldn't use his left hand and was a role player in the SEC to being a dominant player at Marquette.

Scott Merritt...I'll take any guy that can finish his career in the tp 15 in 5 major categories in Marquette history.

Not every guy is going to make huge strides. Some make it in other areas. Having seen Crean in action at practice, he and his staff are pushing these guys very hard but it doesn't always take hold.

If you can name a coach that developes every player I would love to see who that coach is.

I would argue Crean and staff have developed their share of guys as much as any major staff.

Novak, Diener, Wade all in the NBA. James has a great chance to join that group.

TB said...

During a season where the team is overachieving, where Novak and Chapman have elevated their play dramatically from year-to-year, where the freshman troika shows improvement on a weekly basis - - some folks still complain about player development.

Imagine if this team was not doing well.

As for Robert Jackson -- his development at MU was extreme. Just ask Marquis Estill