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2021-22' Big East Conference Preview
Our round table goes over the NBA prospects you should keep an eye on in the Big East.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter group think. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Nathan Grubel: Justin Moore. Do not sleep on this Villanova junior to crash draft boards as the year goes on. While currently absent from ESPN's Top 100, the Wildcats should once again be in the middle of the Big East race led by a three-level scoring guard who embodies everything Jay Wright tries to instill in his teams. Moore could break out and cement his name in early second round territory, and possibly even higher if he lives up to the praise I've given him in private circles.
Evan Wheeler: I feel St. John's junior Julian Champagnie has to be the answer for me. As Nathan pointed out, Champagnie would've been a borderline first-round talent in 2021 so it was surprising to see him return to school. Two-way wings that average nearly 20 points per game don't grow on trees, which should have Champagnie pushing to be a lottery selection in 2022.
Tyler Metcalf: I'm lower than most on Julian Champagnie, but he's the answer for this. He has a mature scoring repertoire that could make him one of the best scorers in the country this season. Champagnie isn't a great athlete which makes his sub-par motor look worse. His defense also needs a ton of work as his footwork is lazy and off-ball awareness is erratic. With that said, he can flat out score which could be more than enough to put him in first-round consideration.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Kadary Richmond. The Big East isn't exactly overloaded with first-round talent this year, but I think that Richmond could have a huge season after leaving Syracuse for Seton Hall. He was fourth in the ACC in steals last year despite coming off the bench; he's an absolute menace on the defensive end of the floor. With Sandro Mamukelashvili now in the NBA, there will be plenty of offensive opportunity for Richmond as well, and he could work his way into the middle of the first round if all goes well.
Alex (Draft Film School): Kadary Richmond. It's nice to see I'm not the only one on the bandwagon! I think Kadary is in for a big breakout season at Seton Hall. I wasn't a fan of the limited playing time and overall usage at Syracuse so I am excited to see him hopefully get a bigger role offensively this season. What really impressed me at Cuse though was his defensive ability as a disruptor (4.5 steals & 1 block per 100poss.). Can easily see him play himself into the first round.
Corey Tulaba: Julian Champagnie. After winning Big East MIP last season, I think he has another jump in him as he enters into his junior season. He’s got legit size and shot making ability and having gone through the draft process, he’ll know what kind of improvements that NBA teams will want to see from him this season.
2. Admittedly, one of the most satisfying parts of analyzing the draft is being able to look back and say “psh about time you guys took notice of him. I’ve been hyping him up for ages.” Who is the prospect that you are irrationally high on?
Nathan Grubel: Julian Champagnie. I would've taken him with an early second-round pick in 2021, and now he returns to gain another year's worth of experience hopefully making a name for himself in areas of the game other than shooting. His brother Justin has earned a role with the Raptors because of his rebounding and defensive versatility. If Julian can show more effort on that end, I really believe he should be a selection in the first round in 2022.
Evan Wheeler: Georgetown freshman Aminu Mohammed is easily Patrick Ewing's best-recruiting get in his four years helming the program. I will be curious to see if Mohammed can play his way into the first-round discussion this season while with the Hoyas, and ultimately end up being the best NBA talent out of the conference.
Tyler Metcalf: I have been on the Zach Freemantle hype train for some time now. The Xavier center can stretch the floor, score in the post, and rebound. I think he should get more love than he does, which is essentially zero, and will be a huge reason Xavier contends for the conference title.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Justin Lewis. I'll take the optimistic approach here. He's gotten some preseason hype as a first-round pick that he might fail to live up to, but he's got great size on the wing and a polished scoring game. He could falter as the focal point of a middling Marquette squad, but he could also stand out and maybe even solidify himself as the prospect to watch in this conference.
Alex (Draft Film School): Given I already used Kadary Richmond, I will go with Paul Scruggs here. Just a tough nosed guard who does everything but shoot the ball. Yeah he is going to be 24 at draft time but he's a great defender who is versatile enough to guard 1-3 position at least. His offensive game is underrated given the inconsistent jumper, but he can get to the rim and playmake for others.
Corey Tulaba: Look out for Justin Moore this season. Nova has been developing NBA level role players like nobody’s business the last few years and Moore could be next. He’s strong as an ox, defends, and can score in a variety of ways. The kid’s got moxy. He won’t be a star, but he has tools that should get him drafted.
3. Unfortunately, there are two sides to that coin, and they do not have equal probabilities. Which prospect do you like but think has the most likely chance of failing to meet expectations?
Nathan Grubel: Justin Lewis. Already listed ahead of Champagnie in ESPN's preseason draft rankings, the 6'7" Marquette freshman boasts an intriguing combination of size, length and scoring ability. I'll be curious to see if he can actually impact the game for a Golden Eagles squad that isn't projected to be a power player in college hoops this year. If he can break out in a big way however, then I will look foolish for including his name here. But I want to see the film for myself.
Evan Wheeler: I'll agree with everyone here and say, Marquette sophomore Justin Lewis, is the answer. I don't really have anything insightful or intriguing to add, that my teammates haven't already touched on with why he might fall short of the first-round hype he's receiving going into this season.
Tyler Metcalf: I'm a Justin Lewis fan, but unfortunately I think he's the answer here. I've seen Lewis get some first-round buzz and I think that is far too high. Lewis will likely be the focal point of a Marquette team that lost a lot of talent from last season. I think Lewis is better off as a complementary piece and if he's the focal point, it very easily could do a disservice to the type of player he is.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Julian Champagnie. I'm not all the way out on him, but I'm getting pretty close at this point. His shooting is clearly elite, but I always find the rest of his game to be lacking in rather concerning ways. Hopefully he can prove that he has some defensive chops (as his brother has for Toronto early in the season), but I'm more than a little concerned about what Champagnie can be at the next level.
Alex (Draft Film School): This was the toughest question for me because I don't think there are a ton of high expectations for the Big East prospects but I will go with Julian Champagnie, who you will see below is my top returning prospect as well (outside of Kadary Richmond). Champagnie has gotten some first round buzz so I'm just picking him on the chance that his scoring doesn't translate as well as it needs to in order for him to be successful in the NBA.
Corey Tulaba: It’s early but it feels like Paul Scruggs. I’ve already seen draft Twitter start to hop on board the Scruggs train. Don’t get me wrong, I like Scruggs and think he’ll produce. He kinda reminds me of a less bouncy Isaac Okoro with a more fluid looking jumper. But dude is going on year five and he’s more of a jack of all trades, master of none type of prospect. Sometimes it’s hard for those type of prospects to stick or gain meaningful traction.
4. The shiny new thing is always the most enticing to go after, but there is always a ton of value in older prospects. Based on their previous college seasons, which returning player are you most excited to watch and has the best NBA potential?
Nathan Grubel: Collin Gillespie. I've never been the biggest fan of how his game could translate in the pros, but I think he deserves to be on radars vs. not be on them at all. He's a combo guard who has been a triple-double threat for Villanova while leading one of the top programs in the country. They aren't the same players, but Ryan Arcidiacono earned his cup of coffee in the league and Gillespie should get the same consideration so I'll mention him here.
Evan Wheeler: Julian Champagnie is the guy at St. John's no question, but sophomore Posh Alexander deserves some love too. The 2021 Big East Freshman of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year embodies New York basketball and if he can improve on his 30 percent shooting clip from beyond the arc a season ago, he should be on the draft radar in no time.
Tyler Metcalf: I am begging for Paul Scruggs to just show an acceptable outside jumper. If he can simply shoot over 35% from three this season, I fully expect him to be on an NBA roster this time next year. Scruggs proved last season that he can run an offense, create for others, get to the rim with ease, and defend the best opposing wing. He just needs to shoot the damn ball at an average level.
Nick Agar-Johnson: Paul Scruggs. There have been plenty of prospects over the years with the "if only he could shoot" label, and Scruggs certainly fits that bill. He can defend at an elite level, he can get to the rim, he can create for others—all in all, he has a great skillset but he would rocket up prospect rankings if he could just find a decent jump shot.
Alex (Draft Film School): I already picked Kadary as my top prospect (have I mentioned him enough?) so I'll skip him for this and go with Julian Champagnie. The Big East's leading scorer from last season is back for St. John's and I cannot wait to watch more of this kid. Such a naturally gifted scorer with NBA ready size but what I really need to see from him is a step up on defense and show some more pop athletically. Wouldn't surprise me if he was the Big East POY and the top prospect coming out of the conference.
Corey Tulaba: Kadary Richmond! His flashes were freaking awesome last year, but they were flashes. Can he do it consistently? When he’s got you on an island his burst and change of speed can be devastating. I want to see what he can do with some offensive freedom. Defensively he’s a pest. He’s got an NBA frame and plus athleticism. Richmond could certainly be a draft Twitter favorite this year. As an aside, shoutout to Evan for bringing up my guy Posh.
5. Whether it’s Anthony Edwards dropping 37 points against Michigan State or Austin Rivers ripping the heart out of UNC fans or De’Aaron Fox vs. Lonzo Ball, fans are provided with mesmerizing matchups and performances every season. Which matchup, whether team vs. team, player vs. player, or player vs. team, are you most looking forward to?
Nathan Grubel: For all of the reasons I've outlined here, St. John's and Villanova will be one hell of a matchup from a draft perspective. I'm excited to watch two well-coached squads with plenty of draftable players battle it out. Don't forget about St. John's guard Posh Alexander as someone to keep an eye on. A breakout year for him could also catapult himself into the second round conversation.
Evan Wheeler: St. John's vs. Seton Hall on January 22 in the Garden could be fun. Kadary Richmond versus the duo of Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander should be thrilling.
Tyler Metcalf: I agree with Nathan and think that St. John's vs Villanova will be really informative. I'm going to need some convincing to fully buy into Champagnie and this matchup is a great starting point. Facing a well-coached Villanova team with a lot of experience and talent should be a good signal to how Champagnie will handle organized defenses and if his defensive effort has improved.
Nick Agar-Johnson: St. John's vs. Villanova. Not to be boring here, but Villanova will be the best chance for Champagnie to prove that my concerns about him are unfounded. On the Villanova side, Collin Gillespie will be interesting to watch among others on the prospect front.
Alex (Draft Film School): UConn vs. Nova. Being a UConn alum, I feel like I have to pick one of their matchups, and I didn't mention any prospects from either school so will show them some love by putting them here. Special shout out for Corey Floyd Jr. who was a late get for UConn and I will be keeping a close eye on this season.
Corey Tulaba: Nova vs St.John’s. I’m a Johnnies fan and Villanova will always have a special place in my heart as I spent many a summer in my childhood attending camps there. From Steve Lappas to Jay Wright, those camps taught me a lot about the game. Disregarding sentimentality for a minute, these games should just be good old fashioned Big East basketball with a handful of NBA prospects worth scouting.