What a time to be alive for the Big East. The AP Top 25 is littered with teams from the conference, bracketology experts have five teams in the fold and Xavier and Villanova are leading the way in the national RPI rankings.
However, with all the national publicity, there are still some that are flying under the radar. This is bound to happen. There are more than 340 Division I teams after all. However, we at Big East Coast Bias are not bogged down by those other 330 or so. With that in mind, its time for the players that are being unfairly ignored to get their due. Here is just a sampling.
Billy Garrett, Jr.
Long the butt of jokes, DePaul has not exactly thrived in the Big East, both the new or the old. Still, there have been some talented folks to wear the Blue Demon logo on their chests. Billy Garrett is one of the best. The 6-foot-6 junior got along just fine in his first two seasons, but he is playing in an entirely different stratosphere this season. His career-best scoring average (14.6 PPG) is a nice place to start, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Garrett has been the type of offensive weapon that any team would kill for. Skilled in both scoring from deep and in close (and everywhere in between), Garrett is shooting nearly 50 percent from inside the arc and 34.7 percent from outside of it. He also makes every trip to the free throw line a painful one for the opposition, sinking 81.4 percent at the line.
That charity stripe rate is particularly intimidating considering just how often Garrett appears at the top of the key for a couple freebies. Frequent and fearless drives to the hoop have led Garrett to the second-most foul shots attempted (86) and foul shots made (70) in the Big East. That's nothing new for anyone that's been paying attention, as Garrett led the conference in free-throws a year ago (158).
Taking such excellent advantage of each free chance has been a big reason that Garrett's efficiency numbers are through the charts and why he is deserving of a place in, admittedly early, Big East All-Conference talks. Garrett has a PER of 20.3, a true shooting percentage of 57.7% and an effective field goal percentage of 50%, all career-highs. His PER is two points higher than Trevon Bluiett, who is busy being the best player on the floor for one of the best Xavier teams ever assembled.
Sure, the Blue Demons are just 6-9 and likely headed to another empty postseason, but that doesn't mean Garrett isn't one of the best players in the conference.
Creighton appears to be on the bounce-back trail which is good news for all across the Nebraska region considering the Cornhuskers days of glory were short-lived. The Bluejays have already won 11 games this season after managing all of 14 victories a year ago. How to account for their rise to (close to) the top? Man, Maurice Watson is non-stop. (Hamilton reference for the win).
The former Boston Unviersity Terrier looks better in blue. His play-making ability is excellent, as he scores and dishes with equal fervor. For a team that seems to always have a litany of shooters, a point guard like Watson, one who thrives when he can set up teammates and score when he has to, is a perfect fit. Averaging 6.2 assists per game, he is second in the Big East in dimes and 10th in the country. But don't tell anyone that he is just a passer, especially Georgetown, which endured a 27-point magic act from Watson on Tuesday in a 79-66 loss.
With true shooting and effective percentages in the mid-.600s, Watson's individual efficiency is a site to behold. While he was slicing and dicing Georgetown, he made 9-of-13 shots, improving his PER to 29.2, which just happens to be better than guys like Ben Bentil and Roosevelt Jones. Perhaps those names ring a bell?
A year ago, it would have been crazy to think a strong season from Whitehead would be going largely unnoticed. Whitehead was the crown jewel of Kevin Willard's recrutiing career and the so-called savior of a long dormant program. However, a disappointing fall to mediocrity by the Pirates and a messy breakup with former Pirate Sterling Gibbs led Whitehead and the Hall to largely be pushed into the recesses of the Big East contender rankings.
Even with a 12-3 record through the first half of the season, the Pirates and Whitehead still aren't getting any respect. They were 14.5-point underdogs to Villanova on Wednesday and didn't garner a single vote in the national polls on Monday. You can't blame anyone for remaining cautious with the Pirates. After all, over the last three seasons they have gone 12-2, 10-4 and 12-2 in the first 14 games, only to finish 15-18, 17-17 and 16-15, respectively. Losing to 'Nova on Wednesday didn't help assuage the doubts.
However, Whitehead's play this season has been exceptional and regardless of whether or not Seton Hall is for real, he deserves at least a little credit. Now the primary playmaker with Gibbs no longer around, Whitehead has shed his reputation as a scorer and scorer only and become a much better distributor. He is handing out 4.5 assists per game and has produced 236 total points this season. Last year, he produced 272 for the entire season. Of course the scoring is still there, he's averaging 15.5 a game and had 20 in Wednesday's loss to 'Nova. It doesn't hurt that some of the players around him have taken a nice step forward as well, including Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington.
Garrett, Watson and Whitehead are far from the only talented players in the Big East, which has made a case as the best basketball league in the the country. So, this weekend, when everyone is salivating over Kris Dunn or talking up Henry Ellenson, remember there are some other players out there spreading the Big East gospel.