Big East basketball needs a new wave of star talent. Just how deep is the rising sophomore class?
Twenty different players have been named to the All-Big East basketball teams over the past two seasons. Only five of them are still in the league for the 2021-22 season. With that in mind, a new crop of stars is bound to rise up in the near future. And with the strength of the conference’s sophomore class, it seems as though the Year 2 player list is where many of the rising stars will be discovered.
Posh Alexander (St. John’s) and Chuck Harris (Butler) are the leaders of this group. Both are returning unanimous selections to the All-Freshman Team, with the former also notching Rookie of the Year honors. Big East basketball did not feature a single one-and-done player this offseason, which sets the tone for returners to emerge nationally.
Either in the form of breakout stars or quality role players on very good teams, there is an impressive depth of talent in the conference’s sophomore class.
Now, without any further ado, let’s dive into 15 of the best rising sophomores in Big East basketball as an introduction to what might be the next wave of stars in the nation’s best basketball-centric league.
Posh Alexander | G | St. John’s
Posh Alexander was electric as the Big East’s Freshman of the Year last season. Not only did he take home that hardware, but he also notched Defensive Player of the Year honors. He became the first true freshman to do so since Allen Iverson in 1994-95. Alexander’s tenacity at the point of attack fits perfectly in head coach Mike Anderson‘s system.
The 6-0 guard ranked 14th nationally in steal rate at 4.5 percent. With how well Alexander’s defense-first, aggressive playing style matches up with the coach and the city, he can be a culture-defining player. Offensively, he posted 10.9 points and 4.3 assists per game. The big key is if he can improve his efficiency, particularly from outside the lane.
Alexander has his sights set on guiding SJU to the NCAA Tournament this season for just the fourth time since 2003.
Chuck Harris | G | Butler
Butler was ravaged by injuries last season, losing multiple key pieces for several games. There were few bright spots from the campaign, but Chuck Harris was exceedingly brilliant. The 6-2 guard emerged as a viable scoring threat from the opening tip of the year and he only improved over the coming months. Harris became the first Butler freshman to lead the program in scoring since 1979-80 and was a unanimous selection to the Big East All-Freshman Team.
Instead of stumbling as the grueling schedule progressed, head coach LaVall Jordan put more responsibility in his hands and he responded. Harris averaged 18.1 points (.414/.419/.871), 5.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game over Butler’s final seven games. He notched three consecutive games of at least 20 points during this stretch. This included 20 in an upset win over Villanova and 21 (all in the second half) in a Big East Tournament victory over Xavier.
Harris blossomed with a higher usage rate, and it will be intriguing to watch his game develop in Year 2. He was already the Big East’s best freshman shooter last season – by a significant margin – and could emerge as Butler’s go-to scorer this time around. If takes another jump, the Dawgs could be in for a resurgent year.
For more on Harris’ star potential in Indianapolis, I’ve already written a deep dive on his game this offseason.
Adama Sanogo | F | UConn
Adama Sanogo started in UConn’s final 19 games last season. He was especially efficient in early March, averaging 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in wins over Seton Hall, Georgetown, and DePaul; he recorded an offensive rating above 120 in each game.
Sanogo averaged just 17.0 minutes per game but was highly effective in those minutes. He, along with Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton, helped the Huskies dominate in the paint. UConn ranked fourth nationally in offensive rebounding rate and 10th in block rate as a team. Sanogo contributed greatly in those aspects.
With Josh Carlton transferring to Houston after the season and Bouknight turning pro, Sanogo will take on a bigger role this season. He should play more minutes and could be a more featured piece offensively. He averaged 10.4 points in 13 games with over 16 minutes played. The 6-9 big was one of four returning All-Freshman players last season and has a bright season ahead.
Dante Harris | G | Georgetown
I’m not sure there was a single more under-appreciated freshman in the country last season than Dante Harris. The 6-0 guard blossomed into the team’s full-time starter at point guard after Jalen Harris‘ injury. He averaged 34.8 minutes per game over the final 21 contests of the year.
Most notably, he was a huge boost in Georgetown’s trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas had a minimal shot at dancing without winning the Big East Tournament, but they were able to do so thanks in large part to Harris’ superb play. He was named the Big East Tournament MVP after posting 47 points, 19 rebounds, 13 assists, and seven steals in total (four games).
Despite his strong overall season, Harris was left off the conference’s All-Freshman Team. He was the biggest snub from the selections and could be out for revenge in Year 2. Georgetown experienced its fair amount of roster turnover this offseason, but Harris is back as the team’s floor general.
Colby Jones | G | Xavier
Xavier’s Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle are positioned to be All-Conference players this year, but Colby Jones is coming off a highly underrated season. Jones was an All-Freshman performer in the conference last year and saw his role increase throughout the campaign. He also hit one of Xavier’s biggest shots of the season with a game-winner over Providence.
There’s simply no denying how he became a featured part of the team as the season progressed. The Musketeers only went 2-5 over the final seven games, but Jones set the stage for a potential breakout sophomore season. He finished around the rim worse relative to earlier in the season but blossomed as a shooter:
Jones’ 6-5 frame is superb and he boasts the combination of shooting and playmaking to be a star in the league. His feel and versatility are tremendous.
Ryan Kalkbrenner | C | Creighton
Creighton is returning only 18.2 percent of its total minutes played last season. While the Bluejays’ incoming recruiting class is elite, they are going to be extremely young overall. With their prior stars now having departed, sophomore big man Ryan Kalkbrenner might be poised for a massive leap, at least in role. He was a Top 100 recruit out of his school and showed some solid flashes last season.
Kalkbrenner was a reserve throughout his first season, averaging 5.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game. While the 7-footer was a complete non-threat outside of the paint or at the foul line (48.9 percent), he was very good around the rim (65.7 percent). The younger generation of the conference is not particularly loaded at the big man spot, and Kalkbrenner could be a breakout player as a result.
Kalkbrenner played for Team USA at the FIB U19 World Cup this summer as well. He averaged 5.9 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 11.0 points per game at the event. He shot 18-for-29 (62.1 percent) from the field.
Justin Lewis | F | Marquette
Marquette will feature a lot of new faces this season. Most notably, the Golden Eagles hired Shaka Smart as their new head coach, but they also added several transfers and incoming freshmen. The best returning piece, though, is sophomore forward Justin Lewis. A four-star recruit out of high school, Lewis instantly emerged as a strong rebounder last season. He ranked in the Top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding rate (11.7 percent) and was also a strong shot-blocker at 6-7. He missed six games in conference play due to injury but still put up good numbers for the year.
Lewis finished the season with averages of 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 20.9 minutes per game. Perhaps his best performance of the season came against rival Wisconsin in early December. He scored 18 points in that contest, including the game-winner, while chipping in eight boards and two blocks. That was his season-high in points. With Dawson Garcia and Theo John both departing this offseason, Lewis will become more of a frontcourt focal point as a sophomore. He should be among the team’s leading scorers and will make a big impact on the glass.
Lewis only started one game last season but that will change this time around.
Kadary Richmond | G | Seton Hall
Kadary Richmond is one of the top transfers joining the conference this year. The former Top 100 recruit comes to Seton Hall via Syracuse, having played a solid role there. He averaged 6.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.6 steals in 21.0 minutes per game. Those marks would have ranked very well compared to freshmen in the Big East. His 4.5-percent steal rate ranked 13th in the entire nation.
Richmond is also joining a team that needs a breakout star. Seton Hall lost Sandro Mamukelashvili to graduation this offseason, and that is a lot of production to replace. Jared Rhoden figures to be the team’s go-to guy this season, but Richmond should be a stellar sophomore. He brings great size to the guard spot at 6-5 and could leap into averaging double-figure points per game.
Myles Tate | G | Butler
Myles Tate was thrown into the fire last season amidst roster-wide injuries. While Tate struggled with efficiency (.324/.231/.729) throughout the year, he also showed some flashes of brilliance. Most notably, he put up a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds in an overtime home victory over Creighton. Tate impressed with his confidence to take and make some very important shots. He is coming off an ACL tear in Butler’s final game of the season but should still play a critical role this season. He is a tad undersized but is an energizer bunny defensively; his in-conference steal rate (3.1 percent) ranked fifth in the Big East.
Tate is a proven winner, having captured four state titles in high school. He is also just a 3-point resurgence away from being an elite contributor.
Andre Jackson | F | UConn
Andre Jackson is one of the most athletic players in the country. A dynamic 6-6 wing who was nearly a Top 50 recruit, Jackson saw reasonable playing time last season. He managed to post 2.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in 16.1 minutes per game. Entering his sophomore campaign, a starting spot might be on the table now that James Bouknight has departed. He should see a massive increase in his offensive role, plus he has the makings of a potential All-Conference defender. The Huskies have high hopes for this season, and Jackson is arguably their most important ceiling-raiser.
Tyler Kolek | G | Marquette
Tyler Kolek was one of the conference’s most underrated additions this offseason. The 6-3 guard is coming to Marquette after being named the A10 Rookie of the Year at George Mason. He averaged 10.8 points and 3.6 rebounds in 30.7 minutes per game for the Patriots, showcasing an excellent 3-point stroke along the way. Kolek connected on 53 of his 148 attempts (35.8 percent) from beyond the arc and should add some much-needed spacing to Marquette’s offense. While his star potential might be a tad lower than some others on this list, he is a rock-solid player who can score and create from the off-guard spot.
Eric Dixon | F | Villanova
Eric Dixon was the No. 71 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class. After redshirting his first season at Villanova, he played 8.2 minutes per game this past season. With two seasons in the program already under his belt, he is the most experienced sophomore on this list. In the absence of Jeremiah Robinson-Earl this season, Dixon should be thrust into a much bigger role. He is a small-ball big man at 6-8 with excellent rebounding skills. A potential matchup nightmare with his inside-out game, Dixon could be the “forgotten man” that emerges to play a major role on a Top 10 team in the nation.
Dwon Odom | G | Xavier
Dwon Odom started 11 of 19 games as a true freshman last season. His 21.5-percent assist rate ranked 13th in the Big East while his 9.6-percent turnover rate filled the third-best spot. With that said, his assist numbers seriously dwindled as the season progressed; he averaged 6.8 assists per 40 minutes over his first 11 games but just 2.9 per 40 over his final eight. He projects as a key backcourt piece along with Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson this year. As a non-threat from 3-point range (2-for-13 on the season), he will look to thrive in the pick-and-roll.
Jalen Terry | G | DePaul
Jalen Terry finished second in Michigan’s Mr. Basketball voting out of high school, then proceeded to play sparingly with Oregon. Once Will Richardson returned from injury, he was essentially pushed completely out of the rotation. For the season, Terry averaged 2.9 points and 1.1 assists (0.6 turnovers) in 11.6 minutes per game. He projects as DePaul’s starting point guard this season and could carry a heavy load now that Charlie Moore has moved on. He is a tad undersized but will be the guard to lead the Tony Stubblefield era of the program.
Alyn Breed | G | Providence
Alyn Breed was an unheralded recruit out of high school, ranking at No. 329 in the class. And while he had a bit of an up-and-down freshman season, there were some strong flashes. Perhaps most notably, he had an excellent two-game stretch in January in which he posted 33 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists (to two turnovers) in matchups against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents in Creighton and Villanova. All in all, he started 13 of 23 games for the Friars. Providence returns AJ Reeves and Jared Bynum, while also bringing in Al Durham this offseason; that could make it tricky for Breed to see an increase in role. He averaged 5.0 points and 2.1 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game as a freshman.
All in all, the Big East boasts a very impressive group of sophomores. At the very least, both Posh Alexander and Chuck Harris figure to be among their team’s leading scorers this season. We could also see major breakouts from guys like Andre Jackson, Eric Dixon, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Myles Tate. And while the returners are the familiar faces, newcomers Tyler Kolek and Kadary Richmond will do their best to make an early impression.
It is impossible to know which of these guys will develop into the stars of tomorrow, but at least a few of them are bound to emerge. These players might already be household names on their respective campuses but they are poised to make their marks on the national stage sooner rather than later. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.