Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Big East guards Ponds, Powell and Howard in Mix for Wooden Award, Big East Player of the Year Award
By ADAM ZAGORIA
The Big East Conference currently features three of the best guards in the nation in Marquette’s Markus Howard, St. John’s Shamorie Ponds and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell.
Howard set a Big East scoring record Wednesday night when he went for 53 points in an overtime win against Creighton. He eclipsed his previous career-high of 52, which was tied with former Providence guard MarShon Brooks for tops in Big East history.
Powell went off for 31 points in Seton Hall’s victory over Butler later Wednesday night.
Ponds, meantime, is coming off a 23-point outing in a loss at Villanova on Tuesday, and has scored 30+ points four times this season, including two games of 37 points.
On Wednesday, all three guards were named to the Wooden Award Midseason List. They were the only players named from the Big East, and they should be the three main contenders for the league’s Player of the Year Award come March.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen three guards that can take over a game like the three guards in our conference,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said of the trio. “No one wins a game single-handedly because it’s a team game but the performances that those guys are capable of having are just incredible. And I hope the fans of the Big East and people who watch and support our league appreciate what they’re seeing because guys like that don’t come around very often.”
It’s no surprise that the trio of juniors are the top three leading scorers in the country with Howard averaging 25.8 points, Powell at 22.8 and Ponds at 20.6. Howard ranks fourth nationally in Division I in scoring, Powell is 17th and Ponds is 35th.
But they are also creating for others. Ponds leads the Big East in assists at 6.0, Howard is fourth at 4.3 and Powell is 23rd at 2.6.
“I think the Big East has always been known for great guards,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “I think these three really keep the great tradition of great Big East guards, and I think the three of them are three of the best in the country.”
Wright then added a plug for his redshirt junior guard Phil Booth, who is averaging 17.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists and is coming off a 23-point, 7-rebound, 4-assist game in Tuesday’s win over No. 24 St. John’s.
“I think Phil Booth is right up there with all three of them,” Wright said. “I think our conference arguably has the best guards in the country.”
Ponds and St. John’s have already beaten Howard and then-No. 16 Marquette once, while Powell and Seton Hall own a win over St. John’s.
On Saturday, Seton Hall will travel to No. 21 Marquette and Howard and Powell will battle it out.
Both will be coming off big scoring games, but no one ever scored more in a Big East game than Howard did.
“Markus is playing as well as any guard in the country,” Wojciechowski said. “I think we’re past the point of being surprised. Markus is capable of hainvg magical moments as a player and certainly [Wednesday] night in Omaha was as good a performance as I’ve seen from a player. He’s a very special young man and he’s an outstanding player.”
Asked if he had seen Howard’s record-setting performance, Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard said, “Unfortunately, I have.”
He added: “First of all, he has a tremendous motor. For the amount of minutes he plays, he doesn’t dog it on defense. The kid works on defense. He has a tremendous motor and he’s never standing skill….What’s made him unbelievably tough to defend is he’s really starting to shoot the ball going to his right much better than he did last year. I think in years past you could shade him to his right a little bit and you could get away with him shooting a tougher jump shot than him going to his left but I’ve been so impressed with him shooting just as well going to his right just as good as he does going to his left.”
Still, the Marquette coach is also impressed by Powell, who was not even named to the Jerry West Watch List before the season began and is now on the Wooden Midseason list.
“I think he’s playing as well as anyone,” Wojciechowski said. “Obviously, his scoring is elite but I’ve been so impressed with his decision-making. Teams have tried a lot of different ways to take him out of the game and teams haven’t been able to take him out of the game.
“When teams commit one or two defenders on him, he’s still making really good decisions and raising the level of the guys around him. Boy, from the time he got to Seton Hall to where he’s at now, I just have the utmost repsect for how he’s improved and it speaks to obviously the job Kevin done, but it also speaks to how hard that kid must work because he’s one of the best guards in the country. There’s no question about that.”
Willard said you have to guard both Howard and Powell “when they get off the bus.”
“They’re both very willing to pass the basketball,” he added. “Just because they have it, doesn’t mean they’re going to shoot it.”
As for Ponds, Wright called him a closer who can not only score but is becoming increasingly adept at creating for others.
“What makes Shamorie so effective is not just his talent but the shooters he has around him,” Wright said. “It’s hard to stop him as it is but you leave those guys and he’s finding people and they’re hitting shots. They’re as difficult to guard as anybody we’ve played.”
Every Big East opponent for the rest of the way will have their hands full with Howard, Ponds and Powell — and it should make for a fascinating race for Big East Player of the Year.
“It’s a real challenge as a coach to figure how to stop those guys and you’re not going to stop them,” Marquette’s Wojo said. “But to make life harder on them is a Rubic’s Cube that I’m not sure anybody’s completely figured out.”
Follow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd Like ZAGS on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.