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On A Wing and A Prayer

You would think that if I described to you a Big East team wearing navy blue that graduated a veteran point guard and that will be calling upon a junior wing to provide the playmaking next season, it would be easy to know exactly which team I'm talking about.

This season, two teams fit the bill.

UConn's Andre Jackson and Xavier's Colby Jones are some of the Big East's biggest facilitators. The 6'6" wings will be tasked with taking on even bigger roles this year.

Jones averaged as many assists as Big East Player of the Year Collin Gillespie a year ago, finishing in a tie for 12th in the Big East with 3.2 per game. Jackson finished just behind him, averaging 3.1 in a tie for 15th. Despite both finishing in the top fifteen, neither led their team in passing. Paul Scruggs and R.J. Cole, for Xavier and UConn respectively, each notched 4.2 assists a night and finished tied for 4th in the conference. Both had assist rates just shy of 25 percent and finished in the top 200 players in the country in assist rate, and both played the traditional point guard position.

Both coaches looked to the transfer portal to find replacements. Dan Hurley found a former AAC foe in East Carolina's Tristen Newton, while Sean Miller nabbed the UTEP and San Francisco product Souley Boum. Don't expect either newcomer to be asked to shoulder the full load of running a Big East offense.

Jackson will be sidelined to start the season, but he is expected to be UConn's primary ball-handler when healthy.

He'll be asked to take his game to a new level. No returning Husky had a higher turnover rate last year, a statement true heading into last season as well. Jackson dropped his turnover rate from 32.6 percent to 26.2 percent from his freshman to sophomore years. Another improvement along those lines will be expected and needed for the Huskies to have a chance at competing for the Big East crown.

For the Musketeers, Colby Jones will be asked to tackle a bigger role with a new coach. "I want to be the focal point of the offense," said Jones when talking about a conversation he had with new head coach Sean Miller this summer.

Miller described Jones as a someone who is a "very good passer and plays the team game" at Big East Media Day, singing the praises of the 6'6" Alabama-native. Jones knows the second-term Xavier head man will want him to have the ball in his hands more this season. Ball-handling has been a point of focus for the wing as he prepares for his junior year.

"It really gives the offense a different look," said Jones on playmaking from the paint and the wing.

Jones hasn't had the same turnover issues that have plagued Jackson, but he is still not close to putting up clean sheets. His assist rate of 17.9 percent only barely outpaced his turnover rate of 17.1 percent. For the Musketeers to be holding a different trophy in Madison Square Garden next spring, Jones will need to have a little more buffer there.

His regular season finale may have been a sign of things to come. Against Georgetown, Jones tied a career high with 7 assists with just a pair of turnovers as the Musketeers coasted to a 97-75 win. It was their highest-scoring game of the season, and Jones was a big reason why.

As a member of the Preseason All-Big East First Team, Jones received high praise from around the conference. Miller said that Jones has the potential to be not just "one of the best players in the Big East Conference, but maybe in college basketball." It is clear that expectations for his third season are massive.

For two teams ranked at the top of the Big East to start the season and with championship aspirations, development from within is crucial. Both UConn and Xavier are relying on their junior wings to take another step forward while also guiding the team around them.


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