For those of you who are unaware of the Big East Postseason Awards, they come in a few varieties: Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Sixth Man, and Sportsmanship.
Yeah, it’s already a lot. Like, a lot a lot. And it doesn’t help that so many awards end up having shared recipients (3 players split Player of the Year last season, for crying out loud) (spoiler alert).
But hear me out on this one, please. It’s 2022, the transfer portal as we know it now will continue to be a reality, and it’s time to start taking recognition of players that are non-traditional newcomers to the conference, as we’ve seen in this year alone multiple players dominate the Big East who just last year were in different conferences or even different levels of collegiate basketball.
The leadoff here is the cover photo athlete, one Justin Minaya of Providence. Having spent four years in Columbia, South Carolina, the grad transfer big man elected to take his COVID year up to the Ocean State, where he’s turned into arguably the best on-ball defender in the conference (another claimant to this hypothetical may like a word, as would one of two returning co-Big East Defensive Players of the Year in Posh Alexander) while playing a staggering 88.8% of the available minutes in conference play.
Oh, and just for kicks, he’s stupidly efficient from the floor, is a strong shot blocker, and is a fantastic offensive rebounder.
Super fun to stumble into a borderline All-Big East talent in a grad transfer year, especially one who played for a few very underwhelming South Carolina teams and flew very much under the radar as a transfer (at least to me). Everyone knew about a few of the other guys discussed below coming in and being expected to make a big impact. He was the odd one out. He’s improved his three-point shot and now looks to lead the Friars to an NCAA tournament-protected seed and a possible (probable?) Big East regular-season title.
Marquette has a panoply of transfer talent, but the two big names that would be in the conversation for this award are Daryll Morsell and Tyler Kolek. Kolek is leading the conference in assists and is the key cog in Marquette’s dominant pick and roll ball movement scheme. He’s also not too shabby at putting a hand into the cookie jar to nab steals here and there.
Morsell is a fearsome defender in his own right (he’s the challenger to Minaya in best on-ball defender in the conference I referred to earlier) while finding his offensive game and transitioning from reigning Big Ten Defender of the Year into one of two “go get a bucket” style, guys, for the Golden Eagles.
Morsell followed former Maryland assistant DeAndre Haynes to Milwaukee and has completely revolutionized his game. His career-high had been 19 at Maryland, and he’d never shot better than 33% from 3 (15 for 45) and had two absolutely dismal years at Maryland from behind the arc. This year he’s crested the 20 point mark 5 (!!) times in blue and gold while shooting 37.2% (32-86) from three. A complete transformation from the player he has been his entire career.
Oh, and Marquette stumbled into shot-blocking aficionado and pick and roll screener extraordinaire Kur Kuath, too.
Jack Nunge commands the paint for the Xavier Musketeers and is probably the best center in the league (or at least equal with Nate Watson). He’s a strong rebounder, incredibly efficient from the floor, and makes you respect his range even if he’s not hitting at quite the rate you’d really want him to. Thankfully he’s not in love with hoisting threes, so it’s not harming the team too much. He’s strong in the post and great at drawing fouls (top ten in the conference in fouls drawn per 40 minutes) while not fooling himself, and he’s a great free throw shooter for his size. Yes, I know, I just assume every 7-foot lanky guy not named Kevin Durant is a bad free-throw shooter. Sue me.
Ryan Hawkins came up from D2 to be an elite stretch 4 /small ball 5 for the Creighton Bluejays, and he’s delivering. A perfect compliment to freshmen stars Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma, Hawkins is lethal from distance, careful with the ball, generally is one to not make mistakes, and is crafty and skilled enough to scare in about a thousand different ways. Oh, and he’s not half bad at dunking on people either. Sorry BYU. That was brutal.
And that’s not to mention Joel Soriano and Montez Mathis at St. John’s, Brandon Johnson at DePaul, Al Durham at Providence, and Kaiden Rice at Georgetown, among all others. The era of the transfer has been upon us for a while, and I think it’s very brutal to not have an award that acknowledges when a new player joins the conference and competes at a high level who may not quite crack the All-Big East teams (which sometimes feel like favoritism over actual impact) and who are not eligible for Rookie of the Year.
My pick this year? It’s a three-way tie between Morsell, Minaya, and Nunge (I’m non-committal and indecisive I’m SORRY). Morsell and Minaya have taken squads that had been severely underrated in the preseason (Providence 7th, Marquette 9th) to the top of the conference. I mean, the Friars are 8-1 in the conference and 18-2 overall. No one could have guessed in a thousand years that was coming except maybe our very savvy (and optimistic) Friar Faithful. Marquette feels like even more of a shock, considering Shaka Smart brought in 10 new faces and only had 3 returning players in Milwaukee. It was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Marquette’s won seven straight in the conference, including one in Finneron Pavilion against Villanova. Shaka laughs at your rebuild. Meanwhile, Nunge is a key piece alongside Paul Scruggs in Xavier getting back to the tournament for the first time since Chris Mack was head coach. You know, eons ago, when he was the best possible hire for the Louisville job.
Okay, I’ve rambled enough. Look, the point is, there’s a ton of transfer talent in the Big East this year, and all of them are making the Big East look like the best basketball conference (or second best, at minimum) in the country. This is a conference sending 6 at least, maybe 7 teams to the tournament. That wouldn’t be possible without these transfers, and many of the guys doing these ridiculous things won’t get their due at the end of the season because they don’t qualify for Rookie of the Year and may not quite be All-Big East caliber because (gestures broadly at Gillespie/Moore/Scruggs/Watson/Lewis/JFL/Posh/Champagnie/Rhoden/Aiken/you get the point).
So I want to give them a shoutout, and I’ll probably come back to this topic come Big East tournament and NCAA tournament time. Until then, may the best transfer win.