"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

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Top 40 Players of the Big East Golden Era: 2006 to 2012 seasons

With at least West Virginia leaving for the Big 12 for next season, this year marked the end of an incredible 7-year run in which Marquette was blessed to be part of the greatest basketball conference ever assembled. Certainly my friends in the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC can all argue that with a few weak teams in the bottom few spots each of them were sometimes ranked higher overall, but as far as having the most top level players and teams, this run was unmatched.

While I am excited about the additions of a Houston team that I believe is on the verge of going to the next level, and consistent excellent play of Temple and Memphis, I did want to pause and run the database to calculate the top 40 players of the Big East Golden Era. These are purely stat driven – I didn’t know who any of the other top 40 were before I ran it last night, and I won’t print out tables now that you can pull whoever you want up at www.valueaddbasketball.com. 

These are based on career totals, so obviously 4-year players usually have more value to a school than one-and-dones. Several great players did not make the list because they only played one year during the era, as Steve Novak, Quincy Douby, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, James White and Rudy Gray finished in 2006. By the same token, Otto Porter of Georgetown projects as the best Value Add player next year, but since he only played his freshman year of 2012 during the era, he doesn’t make the list.

40th to 31st best player of Big East Golden Era: 2006 to 2012

Without further ado, here is the countdown:

40. FLYNN, JONNY - SYRACUSE 13.76 – sophomore year was already top 1% in assists and minutes played and nationally ranked both years in offensive efficiency (see ORtg at www.kenpom.com) before leaving for pros.

39. HARRIS, PAUL - SYRACUSE 13.82 – ranked all three years in offensive rebounding and drawing fouls.

38. PRICE, A.J. - CONNECTICUT 14.09 – top 1% in assists his first two years before shifting to a shooter his senior year and going 82 of 204 for 40.2% beyond the arc.

37. GATES, YANCY - CINCINNATI 14.19 – nationally ranked in offensive rebounding and blocked shots all four years, and defensive rebounding all but his sophomore year. Also ranked in eFG% (see www.kenpom.com, shooting percentage with an extra half shot made awarded for every 3-pointer made) his sophomore and junior year.

36. GAUSE, PAUL - SETON HALL 14.41- the best ball hawk of the era. He was 1st in the nation as a sophomore stealing the ball 6.9% of opponents trips, then he went up to 7.2% his junior year but didn’t have enough minutes to qualify. His senior year he picked up his offense to play 74% of all minutes and still stole the ball 5% of all trips for 5th best in the country.

35. NICHOLS, DARRIS - WEST VIRGINIA 15.05 – ranked 6th in ORtg his junior year despite playing 86% of the minutes, and then played just as much his senior year and stayed in the top 3% offensively. Didn’t shoot a lot, but his junior year he was 42% on treys, 57% on two-pointers and 84% from the line.

34. JOSEPH, KRIS - SYRACUSE 15.25 – nationally ranked in steals and getting to the line each of his last three years.

33. SAPP, JESSIE - GEORGETOWN 15.27 - part of a very steady, strong defensive effort his sophomore and junior seasons to help Georgetown smother opponents en route to consecutive 2-seeds.

32. CUNNINGHAM, DANTE - VILLANOVA 15.27 – was nationally ranked in offensive rebounding and blocks all four years to give them just enough size to dominate with a 4-guard offense.

31. MONROE, GREG - GEORGETOWN 15.31 – top 1% in defensive rebounding his sophomore and final season, and nationally ranked both years in shooting, blocked shots, and drawing fouls.

30th to 21st best player of Big East Golden Era: 2006 to 2012

30. JARDINE, SCOOP - SYRACUSE 15.44 – ranked in steals and assists all four years, and in top 1% of assists each of last three years.

29. ADRIEN, JEFF - CONNECTICUT 16.17 – was ranked each of his final three years in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, blocks, minutes, not fouling and drawing fouls.

28. GIBBS, ASHTON - PITTSBURGH 16.31 – his junior year was one of the top 20 offensive value add seasons of the era, as he was 17th in ORtg and 36th in shooting in the country due to an incredible 49% from behind the arc on 102 of 208 shooting.

27. MATTHEWS, WESLEY - MARQUETTE 16.55 – ranks lower than the other two Amigos because he was the late bloomer, but Value Add says he had the best single season of any of the three with his 6.38% Value Add his senior year after having a solid but not elite 10.17% in his first three seasons combined. His top 2% in getting to the line that year was crucial since he hit 83% of his free throws once there, and he was also ranked in overall shooting with 37% from beyond the arc and 52% from inside it.

26. THABEET, HASHEEM - CONNECTICUT 16.75 – three years of absolute dominant shooting (64th and 17th last two years), pounding the offensive glass and especially blocking shots (ranked 6th, 11th and 6th again his three years in the latter).

25. WRIGHT, CHRIS - GEORGETOWN 16.79 – capped a four-year career by finishing in the top 2% in assists, but it was his sophomore and junior years in which he was ranked in eFG% and minutes played.

24. YOUNG, SAM - PITTSBURGH 16.89 – nationally ranked in shot blocking all four years. His first two years nationally ranked in offensive rebounding as well, but then shifted focus to shoot more his last two years and was nationally ranked offensively the last two years.

23. CLARK, JASON - GEORGETOWN 16.99 – last three years ranked in eFG%, steals and minutes played.

22. JACKSON, RICK - SYRACUSE 17.07 – nationally ranked in defensive rebounding his last three years, but truly dominated as an offensive rebounder (top 5% all three years) and shot blocker (top 2% all three years.)

21. CROWDER, JAE - MARQUETTE 17.07 – his senior season nudges out Terrence Williams, Gorgui Dieng, Hasheem Thabeet, Greg Monroe and DeJuan Blair for the best defensive season of the era. It was also the 14th best offensive year of the era, so the mirror of Kemba’s final season as the two are virtually tied for the best overall season of the era. Crowder’s junior year was the 23rd best of any junior.

20th to 11th best player of Big East Golden Era: 2006 to 2012

20. SMITH, JERRY - LOUISVILLE 17.15 – only averaged about 58% of the minutes his first three seasons, but when he came in he stole the ball (nationally ranked all four years) and popped treys at an alarming rate (177 of 423 for 42% over his first three years). He had a very poor senior year offensively, but Pitino knew how much value he could bring in this role.

19. WALLACE, JONATHAN - GEORGETOWN 17.15 – nationally ranked in assists his first two years, and was one of the top shooters in the country his last two years. He put up over 300 treys between his last two years, hitting 49% and 45%, while going 87% and 79% from the line. His eFG% was 63.9% his junior year for 22nd in the country, and 63.5% his senior year to come in at 19th.

18. FISHER, COREY - VILLANOVA 17.16 – nationally ranked in steals and assists all four years, including ranking in the top 2% in assists his senior year.

17. BLAIR, DEJUAN - PITTSBURGH 17.25 - Clearly the best player of the era, as he accomplished all of this in his freshman and sophomore seasons. His sophomore season he put together the 6th best defensive season of the era and 5th best offensive season. Crowder was better defensively his final year, Kemba was better offensively his final year, but Blair would have almost certainly been both the best offensive and best defensive player of the era if he had played past his sophomore year. His final year he was 1st nationally in offensive rebounding, 10th in defensive rebounding and nationally ranked both years in those categories as well as blocks, steals and drawing fouls.

16. HAZELL, JEREMY - SETON HALL 17.45 – His senior injury cost him half the year and ended his streak of putting up exactly 290 treys in back-to-back years and hitting a solid 35% of them – most from the parking lot. But he was also ranked all four years in steals AND not fouling or turning it over, a tough combination.

15. BUTLER, JIMMY - MARQUETTE 17.6 – While Lazar had to carry the load with a great 2010, it was actually Butler’s incredible efficiency that resulted in the 2nd best year of any junior – behind only Kemba. He was actually the 4th most efficient offensive player in the country in limited use his sophomore year, and was still 7th his junior year as the 11th best in the country at getting to the line.

14. MCNEAL, JEREL - MARQUETTE 18.1 – ranked in steals, shots taken and assists all four years, and improved his ORtg and cut down on his turnovers every season.

13. HAYWARD, LAZAR - MARQUETTE 19.28 – in the top 3% in defensive rebounds his final three years and top 2% in steals his senior year while having to put up the 10th most shots in the country to carry MU to the unexpected bid.

12. JONES, DOMINIQUE - SOUTH FLORIDA 19.41 – one of best at drawing fouls, assists and steals while playing over 87% of all minutes all three years.

11. RUOFF, ALEX - WEST VIRGINIA 19.57 – ranked in steals and ORtg all three seasons.

Best 10 careers of the Big East Golden Era: 2006 to 2012

I had him behind the other Amigos and Lazar when using the much more simple Win Credits formula, and obviously many fans remember the shooting fall off and the heart-breaking injury. However, the much more precise Value Add calculations say that over his entire career DJ was the move valuable MU player of the era. Dominic James started by having the 5th best year of any freshman during the era, and that was the best season any of the Amigos had until Matthews nudged him out his senior year. After falling off some to have the 46th best sophomore year of the era, he did have the 26th best junior year and he was nationally ranked in steals and assists all four years to likely be one of the top few in those two categories in the country during those four years. Even as the free throws stopped falling his senior year, he was still hitting 52% of his shots from the floor and was 62nd in the country with a 3.9% steal percentage. If hopes hadn’t soared so high after the freshman year, it would be easy to see the value he continued to add every year until the injury.

Pitt was a top 5 seed all four years of him running the point, as he was nationally ranked in ORtg, assists and avoiding fouls every year. His senior year he led Pitt to a 1-seed as the 11th best assist man in the country.

One of the most versatile players, ranking nationally in defensive rebounding all four years and assist rate all but his freshman year. After three strong years he dominated defensively to rank 60th in both steals and defensive rebounding his senior year, making it the greatest defensive performance of the era until Crowder’s 2012 season.

Easily the best offensive season of the era at 8.41% in the title run, ahead of Quincy Douby (Rutgers in 2006), Kevin Jones, Steve Novak and DeJuan Blair. He was part of the inspiration for Value Add, as his 116.7 ORtg was great but not in the top 100 of the country. The fact that he maintained that level through the diminishing returns of playing 92.4% of all minutes while using 31.4% of possessions was significant since Dean Oliver had shown that even Kobe Bryant becomes a below average player when called on for 35% of possessions.

When WVU was struggling his freshman year people may not have noticed the 6-foot-7 guy who was already 146th in the country in steal percentage, but by his sophomore year his nationally-ranked 54.0 eFG% was getting attention. By his senior year he was ranked 137th in offensive efficiency despite having to play 88% of the minutes to lead WVU to a 2-seed and the run that ended with his injury vs. Duke.

All four years he was nationally ranked in assists, steals, possessions, drawing fouls and getting to the line. He deferred more as a freshman, ranked 69th in assists, but gradually took over to end up leading Nova to a 2-seed as one of the top shooters and overall offensive players his senior year.

Pomeroy says his senior year was very similar to DJOs, Freeman just ranks higher because he was already the 205th most efficient offensive player in the country his freshman year and just got better. He was the 42nd best shooter in the country in 2010, hitting 57% of his twos and a Novak-like 59 of 133 treys for 44.4% from behind the arc.

I have to eat my words after believing he was getting “Notre Dame hype.” He took the greatest percentage of shots of anyone in the country over three years and still had an eFG% of over 50%. He backed that up on the defensive end by being in the top 1.5% three straight years in defensive rebounding. Combine the two, and I have to admit he is in contention for the greatest player of the era.

Perhaps the greatest scorer off the offensive glass in the country his last three seasons, and somehow put up his eye-popping numbers while hardly ever fouling or turning the ball over. While I argued hard that Crowder deserved POY this year, I understand West Virginia fans wanting him rewarded for the amazing career of dominance. His performance this year was the third best offensive performance of the era, and he would have had the highest Value Add in the conference in 2008 or 2010.

1. Hibbert, Roy - Georgetown 24.112
Three years of utter dominance, including a junior year in which he shot 67.1% from the floor for the 4th best eFG% in the country. He was in the top 50 in the country in blocked shots every year, and ranked in offensive and defensive rebounding every season. No one was as dominant on both ends of the court from 2006 to 2007, the best the Big East saw during the era. If Blair had played one more year he would have been the top, but Hibbert was more valuable over the course of three years than Blair was over the course of his two.

DJO and the other 10%-plus Value Adds
I must make a note on Value Add not calculating DJO’s spectacular career as one of the top 40, while all of us who watch him play know that he was truly elite. Two points I would like to make on DJO’s greatness. First, of the more than 1,000 player seasons you will see if you put in “BE” under conference in the database, DJO is one of only 54 players to add more than 10% of Value to their team over their careers – and here are the other 14 besides those listed above:

List of all other 10%-plus career Value Adds
Others with at least 10% Career Value Add - Abromaitis, Tim - Notre Dame; Brooks, Marshon - Providence; Douby, Quincy - Rutgers; Flowers, John - West Virginia; Gray, Aaron - Pittsburgh; Green, Jeff - Georgetown; Hansbrough, Ben - Notre Dame; Hill, Herbert - Providence; Johnson-Odom, Darius - Marquette; Knowles, Preston - Louisville; Kuric, Kyle - Louisville; Kurz, Rob - Notre Dame; Lamb, Jeremy - Connecticut; Napier, Shabazz - Connecticut; Nichols, Demetris - Syracuse; Padgett, David - Louisville; Rautins, Andy - Syracuse; Summers, DaJuan - Georgetown; Theodore, Jordan - Seton Hall; Wanamaker, Brad - Pittsburgh; Wright, Cashmere - Cincinnati.

What DJO did that did not hit the stat book to become part of Value Add
Second, as precise as Value Add is at calculating how many points a player impacts the score of the game through the stats we can record, in DJO’s case there are a lot of things you cannot measure. We can measure how good opposing defenses are overall, but we can’t measure all of the double teams that DJO saw as coaches knew they could not match up. When I was at the LSU game I remember noting how they started to abandon the offensive boards – our Achilles Heel – because they were so scared of DJO beating them down the court on a quick release.

So as big a stat guy as I am, there was no stat for Crowder finding seems for lay-ups because DJO drew so much attention. Or for the additional offensive rebounds Marquette would have given up if opponents could have pounded the boards instead of getting back to avoid a thunder dunk by DJO on the other end. The reason I run rankings purely with Value Add is that I can’t make those adjustments for DJO, when I don’t get to see Louisville, Georgetown and Syracuse play every week to see who on their teams might be doing things that do not show up either. So I certainly hope that the most exciting player MU has seen play since Wade (DJO) and the guy who put up the single season greatest numbers since Wade (Crowder) are both rewarded later this year with great paychecks.


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