5 Freshmen to Watch in Big East Tournament

Tyler Grote@@GroteTCorrespondent IIMarch 4, 2014

5 Freshmen to Watch in Big East Tournament

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    The new Big East tournament will take place in just over a week at the familiar Madison Square Garden.

    Year 1 of the new Big East has been top-heavy with Creighton and Villanova separating themselves from the pack early. The middle of the conference is where a massive logjam of teams clog the standings.

    There are plenty of prolific contributors to discuss going into the tournament, but there are freshmen who could make all the difference at MSG.

    Here are five freshmen to watch out for heading into the Big East Tournament.

Villanova: Josh Hart

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    Villanova has staked its claim atop the Big East and will have a chance to put that on a banner this week as the regular season concludes. It leads Creighton by just a half-game and will put the top spot in the Big East on the line this Thursday against Xavier at the Cintas Center.

    Villanova isn't short on stars who headline this conference, but we cannot forget about Josh Hart. While he's been quiet as of late, barring a 13-point contribution in 'Nova's recent win over Marquette, there was a span from December to January in which the freshman dropped double digits in eight straight games. 

    He averages just over seven points per game on the year and, per Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com, is the No. 2 freshman rebounder in the Big East.  

    This kind of production off the bench makes Villanova a daunting matchup considering its top contributors, but 'Nova hasn't carried that single-digit ranking next to its name all season for no reason. 

Seton Hall: Jaren Sina

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    Jaren Sina is a dangerous deep threat for a surprisingly dangerous Seton Hall Pirates team. While just 6-11 in Big East play, the Pirates are 15-15 overall and have season sweeps over both Georgetown and Xavier. 

    Sina is top 10 in the Big East for three-point field-goal percentage (No. 9) and has scored double digits in three of Seton Hall's last five games. He was named Big East Rookie of the Week back in November.

St. John's: Rysheed Jordan

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    St. John's Red Storm are 9-8 in Big East play and sitting atop a fragile bubble floating into Selection Sunday, and Rysheed Jordan has a lot to do with it. Jordan is No. 3 on the team in scoring (nine points per game) and leads the Red Storm in assists, exactly what a team wants from its starting point guard. 

    Per BigEast.com, Jordan is the only other freshman besides DePaul's Billy Garrett to crack the top 30 in Big East scoring (No.30). On top of that, he's top 15 in assists and steals, and his assist to turnover ratio is top 15 in the conference as well. 

    He has also made Big East Rookie of the Week honors on more than one occasion. His contribution to the team was instrumental in St. John's recovery from an 0-5 Big East start.

    It's doubtful anyone at St. John's is surprised as Jordan was a solid 5-star recruit, according to ESPN. The freshman gives St. John's a chance to have a player win Big East Rookie of the Year for the third consecutive time.

Xavier: Jalen Reynolds

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    Upon first look at Jalen Reynolds' numbers, you may be wondering how he made this list. But Reynolds is one of the hottest Musketeers in uniform right now. This highly touted recruit had to redshirt last year and was having trouble accruing minutes on the floor this season as he tried to learn Xavier's system.

    That was before last week.

    In Xavier's huge road win over St. John's, the 6'9" freshman had 17 points and 16 rebounds. In Xavier's next victory over Top 10 Creighton at Cintas, Reynolds had six points with nine rebounds. 

    Expect his role to increase significantly following what looked like a painful season-ending knee injury to junior center Matt Stainbrook in Monday's loss to Seton Hall. Stainbrook was a significant contributor to the Musketeers.

    What are the tradeoffs between the two?

    Reynolds will offer a paint presence that Stainbrook simply cannot—his reach, his accessibility to the rim, his jump are all better than Stainbrook's. But Stainbrook was smart, knew his assignments and was a rebounding machine. Plus, he had nice touch around the rim.

    Reynolds is the only way the Musketeers can survive the loss of their starting center. 

DePaul: Billy Garrett

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    I doubt many teams are sweating DePaul. With a tough conference record of 3-14, most teams will probably be looking past the Blue Demons. But watch out for freshman Billy Garrett.

    The freshman point guard has been instrumental in the three Big East wins garnered by DePaul. He dropped 22 on Butler in a grueling DePaul win in double overtime, 21 on St. John's and 15 in a win over Seton Hall.

    Billy Garrett is No. 19 in Big East scoring, per stats on BigEast.com, and he's one of two freshmen to crack the top 30 in that category.

    Garrett has not gone unnoticed. This freshman has won Big East Rookie of the Week on five different occasions.