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2023-24 Big East Conference Preview
The No Ceilings crew continues their Conference Preview round tables for the 2023-24 season with the Big East.
The college basketball season is just around the corner, and the NBA season is off to a roaring start. While many of the rookies from the 2023 NBA Draft are making headlines, the 2023-2024 NCAA season will show prospect evaluators who might be joining this year’s rookies in determining the NBA’s future.
Before the college season gets underway, we simply had to gather the No Ceilings collective for a roundtable and discuss some of the top prospects and players who might be primed to break out and establish themselves on the draft scene. Today, we continue our conference previews with the Big East.
1. Ignore “consensus” boards and Twitter groupthink. Who is the best NBA prospect in this conference?
Stephen: Donovan Clingan. One of the sweethearts in the draft community last season, and arguably one of the best-returning players, Clingan was believed to have gone in the mid-to-late first round last season. Getting more minutes means more production and a chance to flash more of his game, right?
Corey: UConn’s Stephon Castle is that dude. I think he’s going to be a Top 5 pick in June. Castle is a 6’6” guard who can run the offense, score the rock, switch defensively, and compete physically. I adore the pace that he plays with; he just never gets sped up. He’s definitely more of a shot maker than a shooter at the moment but he’s not someone you just leave open. I’ll be interested to see what his off-ball spot-up percentages look like because I think he’s going to be a guy you can play at either guard spot and with versatility and lineup malleability being so valuable at the next level, Castle has the making of everything you want out of the guard spot.
Maxwell: Let’s not overthink it for now—it’s Donovan Clingan. The man is a force on the court. Offensively, he’s like a freight train rolling down the tracks when he dives to the rim. He’s uncontainable on the offensive glass. On defense, his 14.3 BLK% was absurd. He swallows up players with his size, but he knows how to use angles and force players into bad spots, too. His BPM of 11.4 was a preposterous mark for a freshman, and it’s typically only associated with very high-level prospects. Plus, he took a couple threes, AND MADE THEM, on UConn’s overseas tour. I cannot wait to see what he does in year two.
Evan: The answer is Stephon Castle for me. As Corey mentioned above, the pace he plays with is well beyond his years. He can score at all three levels with ease and is arguably the best shot creator in this draft. I also believe people are vastly sleeping on his playmaking ability, something that hopefully will get a chance to flourish fully under Danny Hurley’s guidance this season. The pick-and-roll game between him and big man Donovan Clingan will be a tough guard for any team in the country. Castle’s skillset is reminiscent of former NBA All-Star, Brandon Roy, in my opinion. For a class that doesn’t have any clear-cut lock to be the number one pick, don’t be surprised to see his name in that mix come next June.
Nick: This is almost a toss-up for me between two exceptionally talented UConn prospects, but I’m going to go with Donovan Clingan here. He was absurdly effective in a limited role last season, and profiles as the kind of big man who can change a team’s trajectory–especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Rucker: Many are going to point their fingers in the direction of UConn big man Donovan Clingan but it’s going to become his freshman teammate that will start to turn some heads. Stephon Castle is a flat-out dawg on the court. He’s going to be a sensational addition for the Huskies as they look to defend their national championship. Castle plays the game at his own speed and has great size as a talented ball handler. He has the ability to hit a switch and take over a game when he wants, not just with scoring, but his impressive feel for the game. If the outside shot is consistent, Castle is going to be a name that should be at the top of numerous big boards throughout the year.
Metcalf: Either UConn prospect works for me. Between Clingan and Castle, I’m not sure there is a wrong answer yet. It’s Clingan for now on my board, but both should be in for a huge year as they should be a devastating pick-and-roll combination while being surrounded by a plethora of shooters.
Rowan: There are few more attractive prospect archetypes than jumbo self-creating wings, and that describes what Stephon Castle is to a T. He can get to the rim with ease, has plus positional size as a guard or wing, and still has a ton of room to grow, making him an easy selection here.
Albert: Stephon Castle for me. Clingan will be entering the season with a ton of attention on him, but I think Castle will outshine him over the course of the season. To be a guard at his size, with his passing, shot-making, and defensive versatility, we call that special. I’m really excited to see him run the pick and roll with Clingan and create open looks for their knockdown outside shooters in Alex Karaban and Cam Spencer.
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?
Stephen: As far as where he is viewed with other freshmen, I am very interested in Jayden Ross for UConn. He isn’t a consensus underclassman, but he has a very smooth, all-around game. Possessing prototypical wing size, Ross has a buttery jumper, and is a ton of fun in transition. Playing time isn’t a guarantee for him but, should he find playing time, he has the type of game that will flash. Just keep an eye out for him.
Corey: Chase Ross, man. Dude is an absolute dog on the floor. When I was scouting Marquette live for OMax last year, Ross was the guy that really popped. Marquette has him listed at 6’5”, he’s probably closer to 6’3”, but he’s got real plus length and he’s strong as an ox. He was an absolute pest at the point of attack, stifling ball handlers and blowing up ball screens. The defense passed the eye test and was backed up by his 3.9 STL% and 1.0 BLK%. The questions come on the offensive side of the ball but I buy the form and expect the percentages to rise with more consistent minutes and an off-season of work. How much he rounds out the periphery of the rest of his game will determine just how much he could rise, but his baseline as a 3&D complimentary guard with real athleticism should be intriguing enough to heat his name up in draft circles.
Maxwell: I’m going with RJ Luis on St. John’s. At 6’7”, he’s supremely skilled for a player his size. He dribbles like a guard and can really create for himself. As the year went on last season, he cut his turnovers and increased his assists. He knows how to guard the ball and defend within a team concept. All he needs is to increase his shooting volume from deep and smooth out his jumper. Everything else he does looks like a pro.
Evan: I was really impressed with the flashes I saw from Marquette’s Ben Gold last year. He made the most of limited opportunities for Shaka Smart’s squad as a freshman, and he seems primed to see a bigger role in his sophomore season. The 6’11” New Zealand native has all the skills you’d want to see from a modern big man. His mobility and length are very fluid, allowing him the ability to guard on switches defensively. On the offensive side of things, Gold’s got a silky stroke and can even attack closeouts off the dribble. He’ll need to showcase an improvement in his physicality and defensive awareness, but Gold should catch the attention of NBA evaluators as the season progresses.
Nick: I’m going to go with another UConn prospect here in Alex Karaban. I tend to also be too high on tall guys with shooting touch, and Karaban fits the bill there. He had plenty of impressive moments in UConn’s title run last season, and he should be able to feast as an off-ball spacer around the Stephon Castle-Donovan Clingan pick-and-roll duo.
Rucker: Like Maxwell said above, RJ Luis is going to be a popular one to watch out for. But I’ll shake things up and pull a rabbit out of the hat for fun. Xavier sophomore guard Desmond Claude is one to keep an eye on this year. The Musketeers are going to need someone to step up with the loss of Colby Jones. Claude is slithery with the ball in his hands and can get downhill and attack with aggressive intentions. At 6’6”, Claude has the frame to do some damage on the court and plays with great change of gears. The outside shot will need to come around, but Claude could become a name to watch out for during the 2023-24 season.
Metcalf: Trey Alexander is the easy one for me, but he isn’t exactly an unknown name. Garwey Dual is also another name that you need to become very aware of, but he too has built an exciting reputation heading into the season. Instead, I’ll go more in the weeds and say Lazar Djokovic from Xavier. Djokovic was sensational for Serbia this summer at the U19 FIBA World Cup. He’s a skilled player who can stretch the floor and defend. With Zach Freemantle’s injury, Djokovic could be in line for a much bigger opportunity than initially expected.
Rowan: Despite the many other talented players on his team, Trey Alexander quickly stood out on the Creighton Blue Jays, and it’s time that everyone else starts paying. attention. He’s a smooth athlete horizontally and vertically, can get to his shot from anywhere on the floor, and is primed to take the torch for the team on their quest for their first Final Four appearance. Don’t say I (and other No Ceilings writers) didn’t warn you!
Albert: I like Alex Karaban more than I should, which is why he’s my pick here. I love tall guys who can shoot, and that’s what Karaban offers. Obviously, I love the outside shooting, but I’m hoping he puts up more volume this season and I also want to see him continue to influence the game beyond just his outside shooting. He’s a pretty good rebounder who can help on the offensive boards and create second chances. I think he’s a good off-ball cutter as well, which should pair well with their new playmaking maestro Stephon Castle.
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?
Stephen: I think this could be Oso Ighodaro. With O-Max Prosper now in the NBA, even more emphasis will be placed on Oso’s defensive capabilities. With his frame and limited scoring versatility, Ighodaro’s stock could take a substantial hit if his defense isn’t at the level it will need to be–no matter how solid of a playmaker he can be out of the high post.
Corey: I think it could be Trey Alexander. I think Alexander is a really solid college guard. He posted good numbers last year and he was good when I saw him in person. He knocked down shots, he played with good pace, and the length looked legit. But I think scouts may hope for a Kobe Bufkin-like rise from him and I’m not there with him. As a potential late first/early second round guy, I’m in, but I’d be very wary of placing higher expectations on him because I think he’s someone who is pretty good at a lot of things but doesn’t really have a standout skill. At a position that is so loaded in the league, I just don’t know how valuable that is.
Maxwell: Alex Karaban is a guy I’ve seen on a lot of boards, and I like him, but I don’t know that he’s going to have a lot more opportunity this season. Clingan is going to get more reps, Stephon Castle is going to assume some of Andre Jackson’s role, Tristen Newton is still here, and Cam Spencer is in the mix now, too. I think he could be worth investing in for an NBA team given his size and skill, but I don’t know that he is going to “show more” than he did last year. The breakout may take longer than some anticipate given the circumstances and that he’s more of an eater than a chef in terms of creation.
Evan: I’m going to pick both Donovan Clingan and Garwey Dual. This isn’t really an indication of how I feel about either of them personally as prospects. However, I’m just not sure either player will live up to the Top 5 pick hype that many in the space have placed upon them going into the year.
Nick: I’ve never been quite as sold on Trey Alexander as some of my colleagues, so I’m worried that he might not live up to the high expectations that have been placed on his shoulders after his breakout season last year. He has a well-rounded game and I don’t expect him to take a step back by any means, but I’m not sure that he has another breakout season in him this year.
Rucker: I’m in agreement with Stephen for this one, it’s Oso Ighodaro for me. It’s not that I don’t like Oso. I think he’s got the tools to be a potential steal at the next level if he lands with the right team. Ighodaro has the versatility you look for in a big and offers the potential to be a mobile big man who can defend multiple positions. The offense is going to need to take a big step forward if he’s going to make a march up boards. It could happen, but unlike the 2023 draft class, this is shaping up to be a year in which there could be some depth when it comes to the bigs.
Metcalf: I have to go with Oso. I just don’t know what to do with his evaluation at this point. I’m concerned that he’s just going to be an awesome college player and that his game won’t necessarily translate to the NBA. He’s going to be one that I’ll have to obsess over all season.
Rowan: There’s a lot to like about R.J. Luis’s game, especially under the watchful glare of Rick Pitino. Due to Pitino’s arrival, however, there’s more turbulence around the Red Storm than usual, as the team will try to accommodate multiple transfers and freshmen under a new head coach. Add in a broken left hand, and Luis could find himself lost in the eye of the storm before his season can get underway.
Albert: I think it’s Donovan Clingan. I like him, I think he would have been drafted pretty high if he came out last season, I just don’t know if he’ll live up to the hype that’s on him coming off of a solid freshman season. I actually think he might have been better off coming out last year even though this year’s class is perceived as being weaker. It’s always easy to project that he’s going to be better, but what if he actually doesn’t exceed his production from the tail end of last season and what he did in a backup role during their tournament run. Some guys shine as supporting guys and end up short of the mark when they’re asked to be the star. I’m not hoping for him to come up short, but it’s possible.
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?
Stephen: I cannot WAIT to watch Kam Jones for Marquette. His film aged very well over the break, and I think his offensive skill set puts him in a prime position to garner much more draft buzz throughout the season.
Corey: I’m excited for Tyler Kolek’s senior season. I’m not positive he has the best NBA potential because he has some athletic limitations, but I strongly believe he is going to play in the league. Kolek looks like the most annoying frat guy you ever met but he can really hoop. I love the pace he plays with and the control he has of the offense. He can pass that rock and he’s trustworthy doing it. Kolek averaged 7.5 assists a game with a 3-1 Ast/TO ratio last season. Kolek’s junior season went a bit under the radar. Look at the list of guys that had a BPM>8, TS%>57, AST%>35, STL%>3 and you may just go yeah, dude is gonna get a cup of coffee in the league.
I think there’s room for Kolek to make a mini-leap this year. If he can boost his three-point volume and prove that he’s willing to punish you as a scorer as well as playmaker, he could be an ideal bench guard.
Maxwell: Trey Alexander. I’ve long been higher on him than consensus. He has an enormous wingspan, defends with fervor, he’s a highly intelligent creator, and is a knockdown shooter. Creighton’s roster turnover will allow him to act as a lead guard, and he’s always over-delivered in that role. He’ll get to show that he’s more than a solid, on/off guard, but someone who genuinely has the chops to run an offense while also being a fantastic catch-and-shoot target.
Evan: Rick Pitino is trying to revitalize the St. John’s basketball program this season. Between recruiting and the transfer portal, Pitino has done a complete overhaul of the roster in hopes of making them an immediate contender in the Big East. At the forefront of that rebuild will be Oregon State transfer Glenn Taylor Jr. The 6’6” wing is a jack-of-all-trades, high-energy player that should get into the draft discussion this year. Defensively, he’s got good length and instincts. While offensively, Taylor Jr.’s motor shines on the offensive glass, his off-hand finishing is awesome, and he’s showcased some really intriguing flashes as a slasher. The main swing skill for him will be the shooting and cleaning up his mechanics overall. If he can do that, I fully expect Taylor Jr. to land on more draft boards sooner rather than later.
Nick: I tend to be a sucker for big men who can really pass, so I’m going to go with Oso Ighodaro here. Yes, the defense is certainly a concern, but it’s a joy to watch Ighodaro orchestrate the offense on the other end of the floor. With Olivier-Maxence Prosper off to the NBA, it will be fascinating to see how Ighodaro adjusts to not having O-Max to lean on when things get tough.
Rucker: It’s Trey Alexander and I’m ready to go to war for him. I’m not sure what else Alexander has to do in order to storm up some boards. He’s a talented guard with great size that can play on or off the ball. Alexander also is shifty and understands how to allow lanes to develop in order to get to his spots. It’s going to be difficult for him to be as efficient as he was last year, especially with him taking on a bigger role for this Creighton team this year. But if he takes another step forward while keeping the percentages up, buckle the heck up.
Metcalf: Year three of me trying to get Trey Alexander drafted is underway. Alexander improved across the board last year and posted some bonkers efficiency numbers. He can play on or off the ball, and he is a pest on defense. Wouldn’t be surprising if he’s in the running for player of the year in the Big East.
Rowan: He might not have the absolute best pro potential, but Bryce Hopkins deserves some love for the breakout year he had last year. Hopkins achieved the rare feat last season of taking more shots and increasing his efficiency, as he developed into a solid shooter from deep while also attacking the rim with ferocity. Another year in the driver’s seat should put him safely into draft or two-way conversations in 2024.
Albert: I don’t necessarily believe he has the best NBA potential, that guy would be Trey Alexander, but I can’t be the 12th guy in this segment to talk about Trey. I want to talk about Oso Ighodaro. I like Oso’s game, I like that he’s big and can move the ball. I think he offers a ton of defensive versatility, everyone likes that stuff. The offense last season was far away, but who knows what happened over the summer. Maybe he’s added more juice and isn’t as limited on the offensive side anymore. If that’s the case, we’re talking about a really fun prospect. He also needs to become more active on the boards, rebounding is important for the tall guys.
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?
Stephen: UConn is going to be the jewel of this conference, but I think the race for second place could be fascinating. January 10th: St. John’s vs. Providence looks to be a great matchup. With the addition of Dual to Hopkins and Carter, the Friars have a lot of momentum coming into the year. St. John’s added a deep crop of transfers, along with the hire of Rick Pitino. Sign me up!
Corey: From a team and multi-prospect viewing perspective it’s got to be Marquette vs UConn. From a prospect vs prospect perspective, give me Providence vs UConn. Castle is my favorite prospect in the conference and I want to see how he deals with his potential matchup against Garwey Dual. Dual was one of the standouts at the Nike Hoop Summit practices, displaying lightning-quick hands and two-way competitiveness. I can’t wait to see how the patient pace-driven Castle approaches the twitchy athlete in Dual. Those battles are going to be pure prospect bliss. As a born and bred New Yorker I’m also contractually obligated to shout out any St.John’s matchup. Looking forward to seeing if Sim Wilcher can disrupt the convo on this crop of Big East guards.
Maxwell: I’m going to unfairly snub UConn here, because that’s too easy. How about Marquette vs. St. John’s? There are loads more proven commodities like Tyler Kolek, Oso Ighodaro, and Joel Soriano. Then, there are sleeper targets like David Joplin, Kam Jones, Chase Ross, RJ Luis, Jordan Dingle, and Simeon Wilcher. There’s simply a lot of talent, both in terms of established names and younger upstarts. Up and down the positional spectrum, there will be plenty of exciting matchups.
Evan: UConn vs. Marquette is my choice. I believe they’re the two best teams in the conference this season, and both have loaded rosters filled with potential NBA talent. Their two meetings in February and March will be must-watch matchups.
Nick: Another vote for UConn vs. Marquette here. This matchup is full of potential NBA prospects, and watching Donovan Clingan against Oso Ighodaro and Marquette’s front line will be an intriguing test for both sides of the contest.
Rucker: It’s Providence vs UConn for me. Garwey Dual and Stephon Castle going toe to toe should have the attention of every NBA scout. Trey Hopkins and Donovan Clingan matching up also has the chance to be basketball nirvana.
Metcalf: Providence vs UConn. See above.
Rowan: It’s hard not to list UConn’s entire schedule due to their glut of talented prospects, but watching them clash against Trey Alexander’s Bluejays and Garwey Dual and Bryce Hopkins’s Friars is must-see television. On the more speculative side, seeing which St. John’s players will emerge to match Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro will be informative for their potential pro futures.
Albert: Give me UConn vs. Marquette as well, Shaka Smart is a good coach and I think that squad can give the Huskies some headaches. As much as I like this UConn team, they’re not perfect and some of their weaknesses could be exposed going up against a well-coached team like Marquette.