Kemba Walker tops weak Big East crop

Kemba Walker is a blur with the ball. David Butler II/US Presswire

The Big East may have four teams ranked in ESPN's Top 25, but as far as NBA draft prospects go, it has one of its weakest classes in recent history.

Last season the Big East produced two lottery picks - Wes Johnson and Greg Monroe. This year the conference doesn't have a prospect ranked in the top 20. And it was a stretch to find five prospects in the top 60.

I spoke with a number of NBA scouts to get a take on five players they'll be scouting closely this season. Here's the breakdown:

1. Kemba Walker, PG, Jr., UConn

ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 21

Walker may be the best upperclassmen point guard prospect in the country. His blinding speed in the open court, combined with his ability to get to the basket whenever he wants, and a solid pick-and-roll game will always draw NBA scouts' attention. Walker also improved as a shooter last season but scouts want to continue to see more consistency, especially from behind the arc. Scouts are also watching Walker closely to see if he can cut down on mistakes and improve his shot selection.

Walker will have his hands full with one of the weaker UConn teams in recent memory. But if he can have a big season, he has the potential to be a late lottery pick.

2. Kris Joseph, F, Jr., Syracuse

ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 37

NBA scouts love big-time athletes, and Joseph fits the bill. Joseph flies up and down the floor and can finish way above the rim in transition. He excelled in the shadow of Johnson last season, but now his coach and NBA scouts are expecting more.

To move up in the rankings, Joseph is going to have to prove that he's more than just an elite athlete. His jump shot, in particular, needs a lot of work. So does his overall basketball IQ. The move from athletic energy guy to go-to player is a difficult one. If Joseph can make it, he'll soar up the draft rankings. If he continues to be more of an upside type of prospect, he'll continue to be considered more of a second-round project.

3. Maalik Wayns, PG, So., Villanova

ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 39

Villanova has had plenty of big-time point guards over the years -- but Wayns has the potential to be the most successful one since Kyle Lowry. Players like Scottie Reynolds and senior Corey Fisher have gotten more press, but Wayns quietly captured the attention of scouts in limited minutes last season. With Reynolds now graduated, scouts expect Wayns to have a breakout year.

Wayns is one of those rare point guards who has both strength and speed. He really knows how to push the ball up the floor and is an excellent finisher at the rim. Scouts are waiting to see if he turns into more of a floor leader with more time. While Wayns can be a blur, his game doesn't always hold up well in the half-court game.

If Wayns has a big year, he has the physical tools to be a first-round pick. But until he can prove it in bigger minutes, he's ranked as a second-round prospect.

4. Fab Melo, C, Fr., Syracuse

ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 50

Two Melos in Syracuse in the same decade? It's happening. While scouts don't expect Fab to have the same impact that Carmelo Anthony had in his freshman year, he definitely has NBA size and toughness.

Melo is more advanced as a defender and rebounder. He's big, physical and isn't afraid to crash the boards. As an offensive player, he's a bit more of a work in progress. Melo is pretty raw in the post and doesn't quite have a go-to move yet. He's better on the perimeter than you might think, but that's not where his coach or NBA scouts want to see him play. Conditioning has also been an issue in the past with Melo. If he can come into the season in great shape, he should dominate the paint.

While scouts expect Melo to take at least two years before he makes the jump to the NBA, if he shows significant progress this season, some risk-taking GM might be willing to gamble on him in the first round. There are few legitimate prospects his size on our draft board at the moment.

5. Mouphtaou Yarou, C, So., Villanova

ESPN.com NBA Draft Ranking: 51

Yarou was far from dominant as a freshman, but he possesses the size and strength to be a NBA big man down the road. He's still raw but showed glimpses of potential as a freshman, especially when it came to cleaning the offensive glass.

Yarou is still learning the game and it shows at both ends of the floor. But if he continues to improve (his basketball IQ may be weak but he's a smart, hard-working kid) he has the potential to become a first-round pick.