Big East: 5 freshmen to watch

Who knows what the future holds for Big East basketball? But for now, it’s still one of the top conferences in the nation, and it brings in some of the top recruits. Here are five I’ll be watching.

Chris Obekpa, St. John’s: It’s hard to put a finger on what St. John’s fans are in for this season. Steve Lavin was wildly successful in year 1, and then the Johnnies struggled last year as Lavin dealt with off-court health issues. Their most talented player went to the NBA. And their big recruiting class is peppered with JUCO, transfers, and traditional freshmen. The most intriguing is 6-9 C Chris Obekpa, who enters St. John’s completely raw on the offensive end, but desperately needed on the defensive end. He won’t be putting up stats that will call attention, but how well he takes to his shot-blocking role will be a huge factor in whether or not St. John’s bounces back.

Related: ACC freshmen to watch

D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown: The bullish 6-3 guard is drawing comparisons to the former Georgetown star Austin Freeman. Smith-Rivera is solidly built, and is able to use that size to push around smaller players. He’s not the most athletic person on the court, but he’s a lights out shooter. His high school coach said, “He is a smart player—he’s cerebral and understands the game. On top of that, he’s physically ready to compete, and some freshmen aren’t. He’s better than advertised, and most kids that come out of high school are not. D’Vauntes, he doesn’t really have any weaknesses.” The Hoyas only really return two guards who saw significant playing time, so Smith-Rivera should could earn significant minutes.

Steven Adams, Pitt: Is it possible to be a little-known consensus top-10 recruit? Adams has proved that it is. With only one year in the States, the 6-11 Adams was mostly unknown until he left New Zealand for Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, MA. There, his coach referred to him as the “Dos Equis man.” He’s everything you want in a big man. He’s fluid and athletic, he’s strong, he’s explosive. And he’s just learning the game, having only played basketball for five years. If Jamie Dixon is going to prove that last season was a one-year anomaly, then it starts with Adams. At the very least should be a rebounding machine. But Pitt fans are expecting more, and so am I.

Trevor Cooney, Syracuse: A 6-4 gym rat who smartly redshirted last season rather than sitting behind a stacked back court. His minutes will largely be determined by how well he understands the zone, and how well he shoots the three. Syracuse had five players who attempted at least 100 3s last season, and three of them are gone. Cooney used that redshirt season to get stronger and develop his offensive skills. With so many departed perimiter shooters from the Cuse roster, Cooney will get the opportunity for a big freshman year.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova: Highly touted, but the 6-4 point guard missed most of the past year with an injury. Villanova, meanwhile, lost their backcourt when Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek both left after their junior seasons. Then Nova went out and grabbed transfer Tony Chennault from Wake Forest, who is a capable player, but certainly not the point guard you’d want for a high level team. He’d be more valuable off the bench. This leaves Arcidiacono. Will he be ready? Running the point as a freshman is no easy task, especially for a player who missed a year of development. He’s definitely the point guard of the future, but more interesting is whether he’s the point guard of the present.