Big East Player Rankings - Small Forward

September 23rd, 2006
Two factors complicate efforts to rank the returning small forwards in the Big East.  One is that some teams use a three-guard lineup in which one of the three guards has to be considered a “3” even if he doesn’t fit the classic image of a small forward and would normally be considered a shooting guard.  Another consideration is that it is sometimes difficult to determine whether certain players would be more accurately designated as a “3” or a “4.” 


Additionally, there is also the question that hounds every ranking by position, which is, “Will that individual play that position this season?”  For example, at Notre Dame, will Tory Jackson be good enough to earn the starting point guard position?  If so, then Kyle McAlarney would likely play the “2,” Colin Falls the “3,” and Russell Carter the “4.”  If not, then McAlarney would man the point, Falls would start at off guard, and Carter would start at small forward.


Despite these built-in hazards, I’ve ranked “small forwards” based on certain assumptions of which players on their respective teams would likely start at various positions.  I envision 13 returning players starting at the “3,” with the three other teams starting a player at that position who is “new” to the league.



1 - Curtis Sumpter (Villanova) 15.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg in 2004-2005:  Reportedly Sumpter is ready to go after missing last season with a torn ACL.  If even close to 100%, Sumpter should contend for Big East Player of the Year, and, at the very least, be an all-conference selection.  Offensively, Sumpter, if healthy, is perhaps the most versatile player in the league.  He can drive.  He can post up.  He can pull up and hit the mid-range jumper.  He can drain the trey (43% on three-pointers in 2005).  He is, in essence, a defender’s worst nightmare.  He is also a very solid defender, both on the interior and on the perimeter - unless he has lost some lateral quickness.  The 6’7” senior is also one of the top rebounders in the league as he combines athleticism and tenacity.   Had Sumpter been available last season, the Wildcats may now be cast in the role of defending a national title.  There is neither a national championship nor a conference championship in the picture for Villanova this year, but a healthy Sumpter should lead Coach Jay Wright’s team back to the NCAA Tournament.

P-5 score* = .768 (2004-2005)


2 - Jeff Green (Georgetown):  11.9 ppg,  6.5 rpg,  3.3 apg.   Green could just as easily be included among the power forwards.  In fact, most analysts view him as a 4 more than a 3.  However, the two forward positions in the Hoyas’ Princeton-style offense are almost indistinguishable.  When Green played alongside Brandon Bowman, it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine which would be designated the 3 and which the 4.  Also, freshman Vernon Macklin, who is primarily an interior player and significantly less perimeter-oriented than Green, could start at the other forward position.  Fellow freshman, DaJaun Summers, who could start on the front line with Green instead of Macklin, doesn’t have Green’s all-around offensive game either.  Regardless of where he plays, Green is almost as versatile as Sumpter.  He’s not as accurate from behind the arc (32%), but he is a more accomplished passer.  Green may well be the second-best all-around player in the conference.  In a few games last year, however, he seemed to lose somewhat passive on offense.  He scored only two points against Providence last year in 27 minutes, two points against Marquette in 29 minutes, and two points against Northern Iowa in the NCAA Tournament in 37 minutes.  For the Hoyas to reach their potential this year, he needs to avoid those kinds of performances. 

P-5 score = .751


3 - Demetris Nichols (Syracuse):  13.3 ppg,  5.8 rpg.   Nichols has become a dangerous three-point threat (36% from behind the arc), so defenses have to honor his long-range shooting ability.  Plus, it’s not like he takes only an occasional three-pointer as over half (52%) of his field goal attempts last year were treys.  It won’t be easy for Nichols to improve his scoring average, even with the loss of guard Gerry McNamara.  Super frosh Paul Harris will likely pick up where McNamara left off.  Plus sophomore Eric Devendorf will almost certainly boost his average a bit as he learns when to shoot and when not to.   Nichols’ rebounding stats may decline bit since Harris is an excellent rebounder for his height while McNamara was pretty much a non-factor on the glass.  Consequently, Harris will grab some boards previously snared by members of Syracuse’s frontcourt.  What Coach Jim Boeheim would like to see from Nichols is greater consistency.  At times last year, he was able to dominate portions of a game, yet at other times he seemingly disappeared.  If he can avoid the occasional slumps he had last season, Nichols could vie for all-conference honors.

P-5 score = .674


4 - J. R. Inman (Rutgers):  8.6 ppg,  5.2 rpg.   Inman could easily wind up playing the 4 for the Knights this year if Courtney Nelson can take over at point.  That would allow Anthony Farmer to play off guard and Marquis Webb to play the 3, with Inman remaining where he played last season, at power forward.  However, Inman is more of a natural 3 than a 4.   If Ollie Bailey can regain the starting power forward position he earned as a frosh but lost last year, Inman will find himself on the perimeter rather than around the hoop.  Inman can put the ball on the floor and drive, and he can hit both the mid-range and the long-range jump shot (39% on treys overall and 46% on treys in the conference).  He can also post up smaller defenders.  Offensively, Inman is more effective working in space than he is around the blocks.  Defensively, the 6’9” sophomore is an excellent shot blocker as he averaged 2.2 blocks per game in Big East play and twice blocked five shots in a game.  He can use his length and quickness on the perimeter as effectively as he did defending in and around the paint where he generally matched up with stronger, more physical players.   

P-5 score = ,629


5 - Karron Clarke (De Paul):  10.0 ppg,  5.2 rpg,  1.2 apg.  Clarke is the Demons’ most consistent outside shooter (43% on three-pointers).  He also has a respectable mid-range shot.   However, he needs to diversify his offensive game a bit, particularly attacking the hoop.  He took only 2.0 free throws per game, which is unusually low.  He needs to get to the line more often, especially since he’s a 76% free throw shooter.  His rebounding is solid, especially for a wing player.  Plus, 38% of his rebounds were on the offensive boards. Still, Clarke’s primary contributions this season will be on the perimeter.  Because there is no other dangerous three-point shooter on the roster, opponents are likely to zone the Demons, daring them to knock down the trey.  Clarke is coach Jerry Wainwright’s best hope to make other teams pay for employing that defensive strategy.  Clarke has the size and athleticism to become a solid defender, but in order for that to happen he has to be more consistent than he was a year ago.

P-5 score = .608


6 - Wesley Matthews, Jr. (Marquette):  8.6 ppg,  3.9 rpg,  2.1 apg.  Matthews was overshadowed by fellow freshmen teammates Dominic James and Jerel McNeal last year, partially due to a stress fracture that caused him to miss eight conference games.  Though it took him awhile to regain his groove, by the end of the year he gave Marquette fans a glimpse of what they might expect from him this year.  Over his last four games Matthews averaged 13.0 ppg and shot 55% from the field (18 of 31).  The 6’5” sophomore is an excellent athlete who can get to the hoop with his quickness or pull up for a mid-range jumper and elevate over defenders with his superb leaping ability.  Yet he can also hit from behind the arc as his 44% on three-pointers last year illustrates.  With James and McNeal able to break down defenses off dribble penetration and kick out, Matthews has to look for the perimeter shot more often.  Finally, Matthews is a solid defender though not quite in the class of the other two of the “Three Amigos.” 

P-5 score = .670


7 - Terrence Williams (Louisville):  8.4 ppg,  4.7 rpg,  2.1 apg.  Williams fits the mold of a typical Rick Pitino wing player – quick, skilled, and versatile.  Williams had a respectable freshman season, but considerably more is expected of him as he matures.  He can drive, and he has a nice mid-range game.  However, he sometimes forces shots instead of being patient and letting the game come to him.  He also sometimes settles for three-pointers, which is not the strongest part of his game (31% from behind the arc overall but only 25% in conference games).  He has to use his athleticism to drive to the basket and draw fouls.  He shot only 49 free throws last season in 33 games or 1.5 per game.  Williams has the potential to be an excellent defender, but he has to maintain focus and intensity on a more consistent basis.  Williams’ scoring average should rise into at least the 10-12 ppg range, and his rebounding stats should climb a bit also.  One goal should definitely be to raise his free throw percentage from a rather anemic 61%. 

P-5 score = .676


8 - Anthony Mason, Jr. (St. John’s):  8.4 ppg,  4.9 rpg   1.3 apg.   Like classmates Inman, Matthews, and Williams, Mason had a very respectable initial season of D-1 ball.  His averages are comparable to theirs, though his P-5 score is a bit lower.  Mason does a bit of everything on the court, though he is not outstanding in any one area.  He needs to become more aggressive attacking the basket as he is sometimes too comfortable camping out on the perimeter.  Last year, for example, he took 45% of his field goal attempts from behind the arc, despite only moderate success (32% on treys overall and 30% in conference games).  One side effect is that he didn’t get to the line very often; in fact, he took a paltry total of 24 free throws (making 16) in 24 games.  A player like Mason, who combines decent athleticism, strength, and respectable skills, should average more than one free throw attempt per game.  With the additions of talented freshmen forward Qa’rraan Calhoun, Mason may get fewer than the 28.2 mpg he earned last year.  Still, his scoring average should climb into double figures. 

P-5 score = .554


9 - Melvin Buckley (South Florida):  12.7 ppg,  5.5 rpg.  Buckley has always had a reputation as a very good three-point shooter.  Last year, he hit on 37.4% of his trey attempts, definitely a respectable figure.  However, his percentage inside the arc was only 37.6%.  In essence, Buckley is one-dimensional on the offensive end of the court as nearly six of every 10 shots he took (58%) were from three-point territory.  He has to attack the hoop more often.  Buckley has improved as a rebounder, but his figure of 5.5 rpg is somewhat inflated by the fact he averaged over 35 mpg.   Extrapolated to 30 mpg, the figure would be 4.6 rpg.  In fact, on a per minute basis, Williams, Matthews, and Mason all have better rebounding stats.  With James Holmes and Solomon Jones gone, Buckley will have to take on not only a greater scoring load this season, but also a greater leadership role.  If he doesn’t, a difficult year for USF could become a disastrous year.

P-5 score = .529


10 - Colin Falls (Notre Dame):  13.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.7 apg:  Anyone who follows Big East basketball knows that Falls is a prototypical off guard.  However, for more than half of most games last season Falls played alongside two smaller guards in Chris Quinn and Kyle McAlarney, relegating Falls, at least on paper, to the 3 spot.  The same fate could await Falls this year if freshman guard Tory Jackson turns out be the best option at point guard.  It is tempting to put Falls higher on this list because he is the third leading returning scorer (14.8 ppg) in the league for conference games.  The problem is that Falls is one-dimensional.  He is an excellent three-point shooter (40%) .    However, perhaps the most amazing statistic is that 80% of all of Falls’s field goal attempts came from behind the arc.  The bottom line is that as good a long-range shooter as he is, Falls is a not much of a rebounder, an average passer, and, at best, a mediocre man-on-man defender.  If he can develop a second dimension to his game, let alone a third, Notre Dame’s fortunes this year will be considerably brighter.

P-5 score = .540


11 - Brian Laing (Seton Hall):  5.8 ppg,  3.6 rpg.   This former Top 100 recruit is a decent athlete, one of the best on the team.  Plus, he has respectable skills.  He is going to have to raise his scoring average significantly this year because the Pirates do not have a reliable scorer at the 4 or the 5.  Laing can shoot from behind the arc (39% in conference games though only 31% for the season), but he’s going to have to also attack the basket.  A year ago, he was at best the fourth option on offense; this year he could be the second option. 

P-5 = .527


12 - Charles Burch (Providence):  4.8 ppg,  3.1 rpg.  Burch could find himself starting at the 3 and getting significantly more minutes than the 20.3 mpg he earned last year.  Yet, he could also find himself coming off the bench if either of two freshmen guards, Dwain Williams and Jamal Burney, can grab a starting spot.  Last year in January Burch averaged 10.7 mpg and scored a total of five points for the month; in February he averaged 26.0 mpg, 6.3 ppg, and 5.4 rpg.  Only time will tell which of these months foreshadows his role this season.

P-5 score = .455


13 - Marcus Johnson (Connecticut):  3.8 ppg,  1.5 rpg.   After January 3, Johnson played in only seven games for a total of 21 minutes.   Though this former Top 100 recruit (# 51 on RSCI) is both skilled and athletic, he may find himself coming off the bench, especially by the start of the conference season.  Coach Jim Boeheim could choose to start three guards.  However, it’s even more likely that one of two talented freshmen forwards – 6’9” Stanley Robinson or 6’8” Curtis Kelly – could end up at the 3, relieving a log jam at power forward.  Johnson will have to fight for every minute of court time he gets.

P-5 score = .791


Non-Returning Players Note: I expect transfer Mike Cook to start at small forward for Pittsburgh, freshmen Da’Sean Butler to start for West Virginia, and one of two junior college transfers – Marcus Sikes or John Williamson – to start at the 3 for Cincinnati.)


* A P-5 score (Potential Point Production & Prevention Profile), which I devised, is calculated by adding a player’s points, rebounds, assists (times 2), steals, and blocks, then subtracting the number of turnovers. This total is then divided by the number of minutes the individual played. The higher the P-5 score, the more productive statistically the player was. Of course, like all statistical analyses, the P-5 score does not present the entire picture of a player’s contributions to his team.