Big East Season Preview: The Dark Horses (#4-#6)

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 10th, 2015

Part two of the Big East season preview highlights three teams that could be dark horses this year. All return key pieces from last season and figure to compete at a high level throughout the regular season. While the contenders (profiled tomorrow) look like near-locks to lead the pack and the outsiders (profiled yesterday) are likely going to stay near the bottom, this is the group (plus Marquette) whose season could go in either direction.

6. Seton Hall

Isaiah Whitehead will be given the keys to the ship. (USA TODAY Sports)

Isaiah Whitehead will be given the keys to the Seton Hall ship. (USA TODAY Sports)

Nobody can deny that the losses of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina hurts Seton Hall, because they most certainly do. Gibbs in particular provided a scoring punch nearly impossible to replace; his decision to transfer to Connecticut was yet another blow to Kevin Willard’s efforts to build cohesion. It leaves the Pirates in the hands of three sophomores with undeniable talent and an encouraging amount of chemistry. Former high school All-American (and saviorIsaiah Whitehead will assume leadership duties, with Willard hoping he can play a bit less frenetically and run a more efficient offense. Joining him in the backcourt is breakout guard Khadeen Carrington, who surprised many last season by showing an uncanny ability to finish around the rim. Rounding out the trio is Angel Delgado, Big East Freshman of the Year and the league’s leading rebounder. The Pirates also add two transfers, welcome a few recruits (including, most notably, the versatile Veer Singh) and return some fringe contributors, but those three sophomores are expected to take on significant responsibility this season. Given the collective talent on the roster, Whitehead’s impending NBA departure and Willard’s hot seat, this is a make or break year in South Orange.

5. Providence

With Kris Dunn on your team, chances are you'll be right in the mix of things. (USA TODAY Sports)

With Kris Dunn on your team, chances are you’ll be right in the thick of things. (USA TODAY Sports)

Providence is another team whose season could take on any number of directions. The Friars lost three starters from last season — including leading scorer LaDontae Henton — and promising 7’2″ freshman Paschal Chukwu transferred away. On the good side of things, the team returns NBA lottery prospect Kris Dunn, who is receiving many preseason accolades as the best player in the entire country. Is the attention merited? Probably. After spending most of last season under the radar, Dunn’s abilities finally caught the national spotlight in March. He is a walking triple-double and when not using his spidery-long arms to grab rebounds, he’s poking the ball away from unassuming opponents. There is no questioning Dunn’s talent and he’s the clear reason why Providence has a chance to remain in the running for the Big East crown this season. The question marks on this team, however, come at every other position on the floor. Sophomores Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey demonstrated starter material in spurts last year (albeit in limited minutes) and highly-touted forward Rodney Bullock is returning from an injury and has yet to play in a single collegiate game. For a repeat of last season’s NCAA Tournament berth to occur, the Friars will need a few things to break right: Bentil and Bullock must seamlessly take over the team’s frontcourt duties; Lindsey has to become a trusted sharpshooter; and Dunn needs to live up to all the preseason hype.

4. Xavier

Jalen Reynolds Will Lead Xavier This Season

Jalen Reynolds Will Lead Xavier This Season

What a season. Seriously. For a team that started last year with four ugly losses, the Musketeers found their rhythm just in time for a Big East championship run and another Sweet Sixteen appearance. While assist creator Dee Davis and 40-year-old Matt Stainbrook have graduated, there is still plenty of reason for optimism in Cincinnati. For one, the progression of 6’10” frontcourt monster Jalen Reynolds will eventually result in very specific game plans to neutralize him from opposing teams. Backcourt shooters Myles Davis and Remy Abell are back, and the hope is that sophomore Trevon Bluiett will become an even more efficient scorer. The tenacious 6’5″ forward became too trigger-happy at times last season, so expect Chris Mack to rein in his talented wing a bit more this year. The biggest question mark concerns who will fill the shoes of Davis, one of the best caretakers in the country last season. That responsibility is likely to fall into the hands of sparingly used sophomores Larry Austin and Edmond Sumner, meaning that their effectiveness will be a major key to Xavier’s success. The school’s modus operandi has always been to fly just under the radar, but this could be the year all of that changes. If it does, Reynolds may be the player to thank for the transformation.

Justin Kundrat (112 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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