The nation's deepest and most talented league features some of the game's premier players. Here are the Best of the Beast:
1. Luke Harangody - Is this one a surprise to anyone? Harangody leads the Big East in scoring and is second in rebounding. What truly separates him from the rest of the pack is his quickness. He can fool just about anybody in the low post, and he can limit teams from scoring in the paint on transition offense. Because he's such a great scoring threat, the defense will collapse around him anytime he touches the ball, and can then dish it back out to Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, or Tory Jackson. Harangody does face a lot of competition this year in getting another Big East Player of the Year award, but he should at least finish in the top three.
2. Jonny Flynn - This guy is arguably the best point guard in the Big East. His 18.1 ppg is good enough for 8th in the Big East. He excels at creating his own offense through great shooting and quick drives to the rim, but with 5.0 assists per game he also runs the offense for the other 4 guys like a good point guard should. The Orange have come across adversity recently, as 2-guard Eric Devendorf could be suspended for the rest of the season after deciding it would be a good idea to strike a female. This could put a lot of extra weight on Flynn's shoulders, who hopes to lead his team to a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
3. Sam Young - As good as Young was last year, averaging 18.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and shooting over 50% from the field.. he's improved across the board this winter. In less than 30 mpg, Young's scoring average is up to 20.6, putting his per 40 minutes average at 28.4, good for 6th in the entire country (and ahead of Big East rival Harangody). Last year, one of Young's statistical faults was assist/turnover ratio where he had twice as many turnovers as assists (never a good thing), but he's reversed that trend and he's been stroking the 3 better than ever before. In his last 8 games, Young has hit 46% of long-range attempts. And to top it off, Pitt is undefeated currently and ranked 3rd in the country. Yoing might not have the NBA pedigree of a Thabeet, or even his teammate DeJuan Blair, but he gets the job done on a nightly basis.
4. Hasheem Thabeet - The UConn center from Dar Es Salaam is an absolute beast in the paint, and is 6th in the NCAA in blocks with 3.8/game. There are two things I really like about this player. One, he's shooting 67% from the field, which says that he mostly takes smart shots, and doesn't try to be too flashy. The other is his attitude. Thabeet has received a lot of hype recently but is very humble. When asked about his performance against Miami, when he had 19 points, 14 boards, and 7 blocks, he said "It's not about me hitting the first shot or the last shot. I give credit to my teammates and my coaches for executing the plays." At 7'3 and 265 pounds this kid has great size and a good chance at being yet another of Coach Calhoun's big men to have a productive NBA career.
5. Jeremy Hazell - The Pirates would be dead in the water, pun intended, without Hazell. A lot of critics thought he was too lanky to perform well at the college level, but they certainly have been silenced. He's leading the Big East in scoring with 22.4 ppg (30% of Seton Hall's ppg), and is getting a ton of game time at 33 minutes per game. At 6'5 and 185 lbs. his frame is a bit light for a physical Big East conference, but gets around it by having excellent shooting range, and limiting how often he drives the lane. Hazell has been a godsend for Bobby Gonzalez thus far, and has put the Pirates in a position to upset a powerhouse team in any given game.
6. Wes Matthews - Marquette's biggest advantage has been its trio of experienced guards over the last two years. Of those three, Matthews has generally been labeled as worst, given the amount of attention that Dominic James and Jerel McNeal get. Not anymore though, as Wes has made a dramatic improvement from last year, scoring 9 more points per game over last year (19.6, 4th in the Big East). Along with this, he's shooting 87% from the charity stripe (4th in the Big East) and is 10th in the conference on steals with nearly 2 per game. There may not be an NBA career in Matthews's future, but you'd never tell given his production this year.
Rising Star - Dejuan Blair. There are a lot of players in the Big East who could fill this spot, including Greg Monroe, Dante Cunningham, and Tory Jackson, but Dejuan Blair stands out in my mind as the best player with the most potential. He's filled in nicely as Pitt's big man since Aaron Gray's departure, and is even a little quicker than Aaron was. Last year was a solid freshman campaign for him, and since has improved from 11 and 9 per game to 14 and 13 per game. One thing that I feel separates him from a lot of the player in basketball today is the amount of passion he has for playing the game. Most players who are worth their salt have their sights set on that first big NBA contract, but Blair enjoys just being out on the court and playing, something that seems to be an old-school mentality these days. Look for this kid to be part of the top 5 in next year's version of this article.
Biggest Disappointment Thus Far - Scottie Reynolds. Now I'll say this, Scottie is a very solid player for the Wildcats, and has played a pivotal role in this season's success. My disappointment lies in the fact that his stats have been flat since his freshman year. He was the heart and sole of Villanova his first year, but hasn't shown any improvement since then. He's scoring slightly less (13.9 ppg vs. 14.8 in '06-07), and his slightly-above-average shooting percentages haven't changed a bit. The one area he is improving in is running the offense, and has 2 more assists/game than he did last year; this is due to the improvement of the players around him, mainly Dante Cunningham and Corey Stokes. Regardless of whether or not he's become more of a passing guard than a scoring guard, there's no reason he shouldn't be putting up 20 points per game.