These eight soon-to-be sophomores didn’t have an extensive role during their freshman seasons, but will be crucial if their respective teams want to contend for the Big East title.
The sophomore leap is one of college basketball’s time-honored traditions, as widely referenced as Syracuse’s marshmallow non-conference schedule or bigs flourishing offensively under Bo Ryan. This article is part one of a two-part analysis of the Big East’s second-year players who should play a more significant role in 2014-15.
It’s worth noting: players like Deonte Burton, Jalen Reynolds, or even Josh Hart aren’t on this list — each was instrumental as frosh, and will be included in the second breakdown. The purpose of this post, then, is to illuminate the players who were essentially role players as newcomers, or even rode the bench, and how they could help their teams with increased minutes.
Jaren Sina, Seton Hall: Other than Creighton and Providence, no team lost more offensive production than Seton Hall. The quartet of Brian Oliver, Gene Teague, Fuquan Edwin, and Patrik Auda combined for more than 50% of the Hall’s field goal attempts last season, and the squad’s offensive makeup has to shift if Kevin Willard and the Pirates hope to make their first NCAA tournament appearance. Other than Sterling Gibbs, Sina, who had committed to two other schools before settling on SHU, is the only backcourt returnee (Brandon Mobley shifts between the 3 and the 4), and though the recruiting class is guard-laden, both Isaiah Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington are still freshmen encountering college-level defenses for the first time.
Sina showed significant improvement once he moved back into the starting lineup in mid-February. Sina’s best attribute is his shooting touch. He made 43% of his threes during the last nine games, and scored more than a point per spot up possession over the entire year. Sina’s style makes him a perfect complement to the often hard-driving Gibbs, whose ability to find a crease on the court, slingshot off a pick, and then draw a foul in the lane is unheralded. Turnovers were a bugbear for Sina, one he’ll need to fix to receive increased minutes, and his shooting touch should create the necessary half court spacing to allow SHU to exploit mismatches with unique roster combinations (only three Pirates are 6’8″ or taller).
Andrew Chrabascz, Butler: The preseason injury to Butler guard Roosevelt Jones postponed whatever offensive formula new coach Brandon Miller planned to implement in 2013-14. The Bulldogs looked fine during non-conference play, but once the Big East tipped, their offense looked like a Rock N’ Jock episode gone terribly wrong. Points came only when Butler converted broken plays, corralled offensive rebounds, or ran isolations, which meant Butler had the second-least efficient offense in conference play. Chrabascz, however, is primed to break through as Butler’s low post scorer. The 6’7″ forward is skilled moving throughout the paint without the ball, and his offensive rating — 124.5 — is astounding considering what he was able to accomplish with regards to his percentage of minutes on the court (less than 50%). He doesn’t turn the ball over, so Butler could run elements of their offense through the block, and Chrabascz excels when using his heft and surprising athleticism to get a defender off-balance before making his move. He doesn’t have a pick and pop game yet — he only took eleven threes as a freshman — but he did make 46% of those attempts, and should Miller expand the duties of the Butler’s rolling bigs, Chrabascz’s shooting touch would, if only momentarily, shift the defense’s attention from Kellen Dunham (which is all the time Dunham needs).
Kris Jenkins, Villanova: Though Jenkins’ frame — 6’6″ and roughly 250 pounds — suggests he’d be more comfortable on the block, his talent shines brightest when he is showcasing his innate shooting touch. Jenkins is firmly a shooter either on the break as a trailer or operating within Jay Wright’s four-out offense. The most efficient reserve in 2013-14 (nearly one point per possession in just twelve minutes per game), Jenkins made 42% of his threes during Big East play, and rarely attempted a shot within the arc (though that could change if Jenkins adds a pump fake and expands his mid-range game). While Hart will likely inherit the majority of James Bell’s minutes, Wright can further spread out the court thanks to Jenkins’ outside shot, which in turn creates more room for JayVaughn Pinkston and the other ‘Cats to seamlessly operate in the halfcourt.
R.J. Curington, DePaul: The only reason to use the term ‘hot seat’ is for click bait, but the truth is Oliver Purnell has struggled rebuilding the DePaul program. His 2013 recruiting class is the one that will define his tenure. Luckily for Purnell and his staff, Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton have shown flashes as future all-Big East performers, but Curington, a 6’4″ guard, is the group’s enigma. Before late January, Curington only left the bench for two-minute stretches, but when suspensions affected the team’s depth, Curington was given the chance to showcase the scoring ability that enticed Purnell on the recruiting trail. Over the course of five games, Curington made 46% of his twos and 33% of his threes. Those are not sterling numbers by any means, but still, an indicative of his shooting range and athleticism meaning Curington could potentially shoulder a portion of the Blue Demons’ offensive load.
Jajuan Johnson, Marquette: When Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asked Duane Wilson to pinpoint how the coaching styles — when it came to summer practice — differed between Buzz Williams and new coach Steve Wojciechowski, Wilson was blunt: “It’s a lot different. We’re doing stuff we’ve never done before. I really like it a lot because most of the players on our team are skill players and we need to do skill development.” Perimeter shooting, specifically, is the one skill Wojo hopes his players quickly digest — Butler was the only other Big East team to shoot worse from beyond the arc than the Golden Eagles, and MU only took 480 threes all season. Johnson came to Milwaukee with a rep as a lights-out shooter with a fairly funky motion — the ball starts out left of his headband before curling in line with the basket — but Johnson struggled to find consistent minutes and was MIA during much of Big East play. When he was on the court, he showed promise. He was the only non-Golden Eagle big to make more than 40% of his twos in the half court. The combination of Todd Mayo’s recent abdication and Wojciechowski decree that his guards attempt 500 shots a day this summer could mean a significant jump in Johnson’s playing time.
Zach Hanson, Creighton: The 6’9″ Hanson played so infrequently his first season that he didn’t even generate a KenPom profile, but without Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott, the Bluejays are in need of height. Nearly three-quarters of Creighton’s post touches ran through McDermott, but Hanson, who only received the ball on the block a dozen or so times, was extremely proficient when executed a move (1.2 points per possession). He also has the highest effective field goal percentage of any returning Bluejay — Hanson shot 70% in the halfcourt per Hoop-Math.
Reggie Cameron, Georgetown: When Cameron enrolled at Georgetown, the 6’7″ was forecast as a typical John Thompson III wing. Acting as a distributor as well as scorer, he’d operate ably at the wing and in the paint. As the season progressed, though, it became clear Cameron needed more time to adjust to the college ranks. Minutes weren’t a problem — he saw consistent playing time for about a month of Big East play — but sharing the ball in a backcourt-dominated offense didn’t help Cameron with his shooting consistency (and Cameron was known for his perimeter touch as a recruit). D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera returns for his junior season and the squad has the Big East’s best incoming freshman class, but Cameron now has the benefit of experience. He has also likely worked on coming off screens, his best attribute last year — Cameron made more than 1.2 points per curl, which led the Hoyas.
Junior Lomomba, Providence: Lomomba is the only player on the list who didn’t actually play in 2013-14. The ex-Cleveland State guard used his transfer season to learn PC’s system, and will likely be Kris Dunn’s backup at point guard. Since Dunn has unfortunately been riddled with injuries throughout his PC career, Lomomba’s role could often vacillate. He wasn’t an offensive focal point at CSU, and struggled with his ball control, but coach Ed Cooley has praised Lomoba’s energy and defensive tenacity. Even if Dunn is healthy, PC is lacking backcourt depth, and Lomomba will have to contribute if the Friars intend to battle Villanova for the conference’s top spot.
Matt Giles covers the Big East conference and other programs for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Matt on Twitter @hudsongiles