Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Underdog players to watch for in the 2017 Big East Tournament

The second week of March means the tradition and pageantry of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden for the 35th consecutive year.

Players like Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing, Ray Allen, Allen Iverson and Kemba Walker have made names for themselves over the years on the biggest stage in basketball.

With the tournament beginning on Wednesday night, here are four players under the radar who could leave an impact on their respective teams:

Butler guard Kamar Baldwin (6-0, 170 lbs, Freshman)

2016-17 season stats: 10.1 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game and 1.7 steals per game and 38.5 percent from three-point range

The Butler Bulldogs were in transition this season with their top two scorers gone to graduation in Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, but have used a combination of players to make up for the loss, highlighted by Kamar Baldwin.

Baldwin was named to the Big East All-Freshman Team on March 5 after finishing the regular season with a team-high 1.7 steals per game and Butler coach Chris Holtmann praised the accomplishments in Monday’s Big East teleconference.

“Kamar has been as instrumental in our success as any other freshman has been in the country for his team,” Holtmann said.

“He has been instrumental from day one and impacted our team from a significant way. More so, than I think any of us anticipated. Kamar is very deserving of the honors that came his way and needs to improve in some areas still, but he has embraced the challenge.”

Marquette guard Andrew Rowsey (5-10, 180 lbs, Redshirt Junior)

2016-17 season stats: 11.2 points per game, 2.3 assists per game and 45.5 percent from three-point range

UNC-Asheville transfer Andrew Rowsey’s addition has paid dividends for the Marquette Golden Eagles this season.

Rowsey led the Big East and is second in the country in the free-throw percentage department at 94.3 percent. Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski praised the league’s sixth man of the year.

“As the year has gone on, (Andrew) has continued to get better and that’s helped our team improve,” Wojciechowski said.

Marquette guard Katin Reinhardt (6-6, 210 lbs, Graduate Student)

2016-17 season stats: 10.9 PPG, 2.2 assists per game and 38.3 percent from three-point range

On a team loaded with shooters like Rowsey, Markus Howard and Sam Hauser, the straw who stirs the drink happens to be Katin Reinhardt. Marquette’s run to 10 wins in Big East play for the first time since the 2012-13 season has been in part to Reinhardt’s sharp-shooting off the bench.

The Golden Eagles are likely to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that campaign and Reinhardt’s experience on the big stage at UNLV and USC over the previous four seasons have played a big part.

“Katin has been a huge part of our season as his addition to our program has been a big one as he is a guy who has had experience in the postseason at his previous stops,” Wojo said.

“He gives us great versatility off the bench and obviously we are happy that Andrew (Rowsey) won the sixth man of the year award and I think Katin is a guy who could have been right up there with him given how well he has played with us. His versatility helps us because we are able to play him at the frontcourt or we can play him on the perimeter and is an outstanding all-around offensive player.”

Villanova guard Donte DiVincenzo (6-5, 205 lbs, Redshirt Freshman)

2016-17 season stats: 7.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG and 44 percent field goal percentage

In a season where the Villanova Wildcats have played six or seven-man rotations on most nights, Donte DiVincenzo has embraced the challenge off the bench from coach Jay Wright.

Named to the Big-East All-Freshman team on March 5, DiVincenzo’s 25 minutes per game have proven to be valuable, despite some hardship in a 74-72 loss at Marquette on Jan. 24.

“(Donte) is a great example of taking advantage of an opportunity,” Wright said.

“If Omari Spellman and Phil Booth were playing this year, he would not have played as much and been thrown into situations like he as. (Donte) had a game at Marquette where he had a tough game and the crowd was all over him as he shot a couple of air balls. The way Donte handled that scenario impressed his teammates and developed a mental toughness in him that has allowed him to become a big time player for us.”

Do not be surprised to see one or more of these players named to the All-Tournament team on Saturday night.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.