It's all recruiting all the time here at Banners during the summer, and yesterday we mentioned that guard CJ Walker had enjoyed his visit to the Xavier campus. That prompted this response from our guy XUKeith on Twitter:
@BannersParkway he's good but small and perhaps mid majorish— Keith Walker (@xukeith) June 8, 2015
On the surface I want to reject the idea that Walker's size means he's a mid-major player, but I thought maybe a little extra digging would be worth something. Besides, it's June and there's not a ton else to occupy the portion of my day devoted to college basketball. I identified six guards listed at 6' or shorter that participated in any meaningful sense in the current configuration of the Big East. Here's what I found.
Austin Chatman (6'0", 180)
Chatman played his junior and senior years in the Big East. He both a scorer and a point guard for Creighton, but he's interesting for how effective he was. As a junior, he posted a 114.3 ORtg while playing alongside Doug McDermott. Thrust into a more prominent role as a senior, his efficiency dropped to 103.8. His free throw shooting improved, but he saw his 2P% drop from 45.1% to 42.1% and his 3P% fall from 38.9% to 31%. His assist rate and TO rate stayed fairly stable despite having less to work with around him as a senior.
Dee Davis (6'0", 170)
You guys remember Dee Davis, right? Like Chatman, he saw his usage rate rise as a prolific teammate moved on. Davis's ORtg took a step down from 108.2 to 104.3 in his second year in the league, but his assist rate of 33.5% as a senior was elite. Davis actually improved his 2P% as a senior, but his 3P% dropped from 37.1% to 32.1% and his FT% fell from 84.7% to 72.1%. His TO rate always flirted with being unacceptably high but never got so far out of control that he was a liability.
Alex Barlow (5'11", 187)
Ugh, this guy. Barlow is an interesting case in that he posted ORtgs of 106.8 and 106.1 in his two Big East seasons, but he was a low-usage ball distributor as a junior and a low-usage scorer as a senior. His EFG% jumped 6 points to a very respectable 52.1% as a senior, driven entirely by his 2P% rising from 35.2% to 45.6%, making him good for a fairly efficient 8.9 PPG. He also put up good rebounding numbers for a dude who stands 5'11". Even after he graduated, Alex Barlow continues to confound me.
Jackson Aldridge (6'0", 187)
Aldridge was a four-star recruit out of Australia who was supposed to be an excellent shooter and a force in transition. Instead he basically turned into a hot pile of nothing for Butler, posting minutes percentages of 14.4% and 6.9% in his two years in the Big East. There's nothing to really see here, but he technically fits the parameters of the study.
Aaron Simpson (5'11", 152)
Simpson is a JuCo transfer who had first committed to Illinois State before going the two-year route. DePaul brought him in last year on the strength of his 23/4/2 line as a sophomore. He played decent basketball as a depth guard, posting an ORtg of 98.2 while being a mediocre shooter from inside the arc, outside the arc, and at the line. His assist rate wasn't good and his TO rate was a bit high, but I guess that's how you end up at DePaul in the first place. Interestingly, he got called for 4 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time.
Kyron Cartwright (5'11", 185)
Cartwright was a three-star recruit from Compton before crossing the continent to play at Providence as a freshman last year. A ball distributing lefty, he posted an impressive 26.2% assist rate as a freshman. He shot a respectable 47.7% from inside the arc and 74.2% from beyond it, but his efficiency was dragged down by a dreadful 4-33 (12.1%) showing from deep. He also put up a TO) of 25.5%, which you don't need me to tell you isn't good. He put up 2.6 APG in 18+ MPG off the bench as a freshman, which isn't bad at all.
Two things jump out at me here. One is how few meaningful players listed under 6' (which is usually code for 5'10") were in the Big East in the past two years. I know that having only two years in the current configuration is necessarily going to limit the sample, but I figured there would be more than half a dozen. Maybe that's the old A10 mentality talking.
The second is that, of the six players listed here, exactly one was recruited out of high school to play in the Big East. Four of the players (Aldridge, Barlow, Chatman, and Davis) we recruited to schools that were competing in lower-level conferences at the time. Simpson came to the Big East from a junior college, and it's worth noting that DePaul isn't exactly the top tier of conference competition. That leaves just Cartwright as a freshman joining a team that knew it was bringing him in to play in the Big East.
To get back around to the initial thrust of this discussion, should Xavier continue pursuing these diminutive 2016 guards? I don't think six players over two years is enough of a sample to say whether or not small guards can be significant contributors in the Big East, so I'll just say that Walker and/or Simpson would certainly be bucking the current trend if they ended up doing so.