Veteran Leadership and its Success in the Big East

In a college basketball landscape that features prolific one-and-done freshman stars year in and year out, the Big East continues to thrive on player development and veteran success. The last one-and-done to attend a Big East School was Henry Ellenson of Marquette in 2015-16. Ellenson was drafted 18th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft to the Detroit Pistons. He is the only player to truly be one-and-done in the Big East since the conference’s realignment in 2014-15.

Chris Mack, the former Xavier Head Coach, who currently coaches the Louisville Cardinals of the ACC, once told the Washington Post, “Player development has certainly been a hallmark of this conference…Just being able to make a guy better, own his skills and still think team-first, I think, has been a trademark of our league and something that, at least in our program, we’re really proud of.”

In regard to the Big East’s ability to develop players, it should be recognized that many of these players who stayed until their Junior or Senior years have thus become household names in the NBA. Josh Hart, a Villanova alum, currently averages 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game for the New Orleans Pelicans. Doug McDermott, a Creighton alum, is in his 8th NBA season and is averaging 10.4 points per game for the Indiana Pacers. Also, another Villanova alum, Eric Paschall, is playing exceptionally well in his rookie season, averaging 13.5 points per game for the injury-stricken Golden State Warriors. Who will be the next?

This brings us to the current 2019-20 College Basketball season. You do not have to be a die-hard fan to have heard about the shocking parity that has taken over the college basketball season. Five teams who have been ranked number one in the AP Poll this season have lost, most of them suffering surprising losses against teams they were expected to beat. The Baylor Bears of the Big 12 are currently the number one team in the country and hold a record of 20-1.



Despite the parity, there is one common theme with many of the successful teams thus far. That theme is veteran leadership and the need for experience in difficult games and situations. Just take a look here at what well-known college basketball analyst, Jon Rothstein said:



This topic grows even larger in scale when looking at the wild Big East landscape.

In a SportingNews article, Jay Wright, Villanova Head Coach, additionally said, “This is an extremely unique year…I don’t even know who’s in 10th place right now, but I can guarantee whoever is in 10th probably has a great chance to be an NCAA Tournament team based on how they’ve done this year.”

Myles Powell. Markus Howard. Collin Gillespie. Kamar Baldwin. Naji Marshall. If you are a Big East basketball fan, then it is almost certain that you know these household names. The one commonality between all these star players is that they are all upperclassmen at their respective schools and have made great strides year after year to improve. Out of the top then scorers in the Big East this season, there are only two underclassmen, Mac McClung of Georgetown and Marcus Zegarowski. The two leading scorers, Markus Howard of Marquette and Myles Powell of Seton Hall are also preseason All-Americans and frontrunners for National Player of the Year.



Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard also referenced the league’s veteran leadership in an interview with SportingNews, saying, “I think the depth and the fact that the league has gotten older and more mature from last year — last year we were a younger league — I just think every night you’re going to go out there and it’s going to be a six-point game, five-point game.”

The Big East is as strong as it has been in years. Villanova, Seton Hall, Butler and Creighton are all currently ranked in the AP Top 25 and appear to be dangerous heading into March. In his latest “Bracketology”, Joe Lunardi has the Big East getting only five teams into the tournament, after a few have fell off in recent weeks. Fox College Hoops and CBS Sports both currently have six teams getting into the tournament. Marquette, Xavier, Georgetown and St. John’s have all made appearances on the bubble.



Look at the past. It is no secret that veteran leadership has been a key factor in winning the NCAA Tournament in past years either. Just take a look at Virginia’s squad from last year. The Cavaliers were led by third-year studs, De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. The year before that, Villanova won it all. They were also led by upperclassmen, by the names of Mikal Bridges, Donte Divincenzo, Jalen Brunson, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Even in 2016-17, UNC used its development of talent to their advantage and won the championship thanks to their upperclassmen. The likes of Justin Jackson, Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson helped them defeat Gonzaga that year.



So, in a year of uncertainty and lack of a powerhouse team, why shouldn’t we be taking a closer look at the teams with talented and experienced upperclassmen? There are plenty in the Big East including Villanova, Seton Hall, Butler and others. College basketball is an absolute battle so far and come March, it’ll only get crazier with circumstances getting larger. Fifteen seconds remaining in a Final Four matchup, would you rather have an inexperienced freshman taking the shot or a Senior guard who has been in the tournament the last three years? This year, the choice might be simple.