Though some might say it is not what is used to be, the Big 5 is still a competitive conference. Even with Villanova's recent streak of dominance, the other four teams still boast high caliber talent.
On the heels of last week's thrilling game between Penn and Temple, we asked four writers in DP sports their opinions on the best player in the Big 5 outside of Villanova.
Shizz Alston Jr. - Sam Mitchell (Associate Sports Editor)
After a close win over Penn last weekend, Temple men’s basketball will look to propel that momentum into an upset win over No. 9 Cincinnati next weekend. The team’s successes this season, including wins over KenPom top-100 teams SMU, South Carolina, Clemson, and Wisconsin, are in large part due to the high level of play from junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr.
Alston is a sharpshooting guard and a dynamic, all-around athlete that has started every game this year for the Owls since being named the Big 5’s Most Improved Player at the end of last season. He shoots over 40 percent from three on 97 attempts this season, leading his team in three-point percentage and points scored from beyond the arc.
The talented shooter also leads the American Athletic Conference in free throw percentage, shooting 92.3 percent from the line. In addition to being an accurate shooter, Alston can pass and create offense for his teammates as well, putting up the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio on his team.
Although some players, like sophomore forward Ryan Betley of Penn or senior forward B.J. Johnson of La Salle, may fill up the stat sheet with more overall points and rebounds than Alston, and although he’s dwarfed in size and power by his teammate senior forward Obi Enechionyia, Alston more than makes up for it with his ability to create offense and use his athleticism and shooting prowess to hit critical shots when it counts.
B.J. Johnson - Danny Chiarodit (Associate Sports Editor)
La Salle’s B.J. Johnson is the the best player in the Big 5 outside of Villanova's Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Standing at 6 feet, 7 inches and possessing the ability to handle the basketball, the redshirt senior out of Lower Merion High School is a tough matchup for any team.
Johnson, who is playing in his second season for the Explorers, was highly touted entering his freshman season at Syracuse University in 2013, but did not receive much playing time for the Orange. Since his arrival at La Salle, however, the Philadelphia native has been a force both slashing to the basket and from long range. This season, Johnson leads the Big 5 (including Villanova) in both points and rebounds per game, averaging 20.9 and 8.5, respectively.
He has been a difference-maker in Big 5 play thus far and was the key to La Salle’s double overtime victory over Penn at the Palestra, dropping 20 points and 14 rebounds en route to victory. For reference, Penn’s Ryan Betley was held to 14 points and hauled in just one rebound in that matchup.
Johnson isn’t just padding his stats against cupcake teams either. The small forward has been just as impressive against the nation’s best teams. Versus Villanova, the No.1-ranked team in the country, Johnson totaled 21 points and seven rebounds. Earlier in the year, he notched 16 points and 16 boards against Miami, another solid team.
Temple’s Shizz Alston Jr. and Obi Enechionyia, though solid players in their own right, just don’t have the same combination of size and skill that makes Johnson the best player in the Big 5 beside Brunson and Bridges.
Obi Enechionyia - Marc Margolis (Associate Sports Editor)
In the early part of last season, Temple forward Obi Enechionyia looked like a potential NBA first-round draft pick. Now, it’s unclear whether he’s even the best player on his team. Though his NBA draft stock has taken a hit, this should not blind people’s perception of one of the best players in the Big 5.
At 6’-8'', the lanky power forward impacts the game on both ends of the floor. For the past two seasons, Enechionyia has paced the Owls in rebounds while also stretching the floor, shooting 34.8 percent from the three point range this season. Additionally, the Owls' big man leads the Big 5 in blocks per game with 1.7, outpacing Villanova’s Omari Spellman (1.5), and Mikal Bridges (1.3), and Penn’s AJ Brodeur (1.2).
Arguably the Big 5's best defender and a matchup nightmare on offense, the only player that matches him in two-way impact outside of Bridges is B.J. Johnson. However, Johnson's numbers are inflated playing on a sub-.500 La Salle squad, while Enechionyia's numbers are hindered as a result of sharing the offensive burden with teammates Shizz Alston Jr. and Quinton Rose.
Ryan Betley - Yosi Weitzman (Sports Editor)
I know Penn men’s basketball has lost all three of its Big 5 games so far and I know that other players average more points, but to me, the answer is clear: Ryan Betley is the best player in the Big 5 (outside of Villanova).
Just look at what he’s done in the Quakers biggest wins. 26 points and 55 minutes (that’s not a typo) against Monmouth, 14 points on the road against Dayton, 21 points and 40 minutes against Princeton — the list goes on.
Overall, Betley is leading the Quakers in both minutes and points, and he’s third in rebounds. You’re not going to find another player in the Big 5 whose team relies on them more.
Perhaps it’s Betley’s stats in Penn’s two most recent Big 5 losses that demonstrate his importance the most, though. In the Quakers’ loss against No. 1-ranked Villanova, Betley put up only 11 points on 4 for 14 shooting. This past weekend, he scored just 12 points on 5 for 15 shooting. Neither of those are particularly bad games, but it just goes to show how important it is that he gets involved in the Red and Blue’s offense.
To put it simply, Penn thrives when Betley thrives.