PC Basketball

Big East Breakout Contenders

Every season in college basketball, the top programs in the country seem to have new players take control of their team or make major unexpected contributions to vault them to another level. This can be the difference between being an NIT team and an NCAA tournament team by the end of the year. As is the norm with the current college basketball landscape, the Big East conference lost several key seniors to graduation and even a few underclassmen that left school to pursue professional basketball careers. Although Villanova is the clear favorite to win the conference this upcoming season, there are several contenders in the league that will have a chance to surprise everyone if some players blossom into stars. This is a list of five players who can give their respective teams a major boost if they can have a breakout year.

Kris Dunn, PG (Providence)- Ask any Providence Friars fan what the one key to another successful season will be and the answer should be unanimous: Kris Dunn. Coming off of his second shoulder surgery in as many years, he is looking to bounce back and show the country why he was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school. He will try to pick up where Bryce Cotton left off, running the show for the Friars. Although they are mirror opposites of each other at the point guard position, Dunn will look to duplicate Cotton’s consistency and leadership on the court. His teammates will enjoy having him back on the floor as well due to his natural ability to distribute the ball, run in transition and most importantly, play defense. If the Friars hope to defend their Big East title and make a run to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season, they will rely heavily on Kris Dunn to have a breakout year.

Rysheed Jordan, SG (St. John’s)- There may not be a more gifted athlete in the Big East than St. John’s Rysheed Jordan. He will team up with point guard D’Angelo Harrison to make up the most explosive offensive backcourt in the Big East this season. Jordan is a natural scorer that can create his own shot any time he wants. If he keeps improving his outside shot, his defense and his decision making on the floor, he can be an All-Big East talent by the end of the year. There is no denying the talent that the Red Storm possess on their roster, it is just a matter of how well they play together. There would be stretches during the year last season where it seemed like a lot of individuals playing on the court for themselves. It is up to coach Steve Lavin to get the most out of Rysheed Jordan and the rest of the team in order to contend for a Big East championship of their own.

Jalen Reynold, F (Xavier)- There was a ton of attention paid to explosive guard Semaj Christon (left early for NBA draft) last season whenever an opponent would play the Xavier Musketeers, but he was not the only eye-popping athlete on the floor. Jalen Reynolds had a very impressive freshman season and is looking to build on that in his sophomore campaign. He is an incredibly physical rebounder and can finish with the best of them around the rim. Along with senior center Matt Stainbrook, they will surely make up one of the most powerful and imposing frontcourts in the Big East. He has the size and athleticism at 6’10 to be a solid NBA prospect in the future if he improves his post moves and shooting touch. Look for him to have a strong season and help make Xavier a contender in the conference.

Joshua Smith, C (Georgetown)- After only playing 13 games last season for the Hoyas due to poor academics, Joshua Smith is expected to have a rebound year. The UCLA transfer is by far the most physically imposing center in the conference. When he gets it going, it is tough to contain him because of his massive size. However, there have always been conditioning and effort questions surrounding him. Smith has had some big games, but often seems to disappear for stretches, which has frustrated coaches and fans at both UCLA and Georgetown. However, he is down about 30 pounds entering this season and the Hoyas expect him to have an extremely productive year. If this is the case, he can help Georgetown compete with Villanova as one of the top teams in the league.

Josh Hart, G (Villanova)- The Big East favorite, Villanova, returns four of its five starters from last year’s regular season championship squad. They have a ton of talent including All-Big East caliber players in Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston. However, one of its most important players this season could be sophomore wing player Josh Hart. He will replace James Bell in the starting five for Jay Wright’s Wildcats this season and could help vault the team into national title contenders if he has a breakout year. Coming off the bench last year as one of their key reserves, he had a very strong freshman year, averaging almost eight points and four rebounds per game. He is a long guard who can defend well and can help stretch the floor for their other star players when he is knocking down the three-ball. Expect him to improve on his three-point shooting and fill James Bell’s starting spot quickly this season to help Villanova become one of the premiere teams in the nation.

Friars’ 2014-15 roster shaping up nicely

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The Providence College Men’s Basketball team won its first Big East title in 20 years on March 15 with a 65-58 win over Doug McDermott’s Creighton Blue Jays.

With gained experience and encountered success on their newly updated résumés, there’s no reason to think that the Friars don’t have a legitimate shot of repeating as Big East champions again next season. Ed Cooley’s squad will return eight players from this season’s roster, five of whom have played legitimate minutes at this level and have been difference makers. Add to that one of the best incoming recruiting classes that we’ve seen around here in a long time, maybe ever, and that should equal a recipe for success.

With the recent signing of left-handed point guard Kyron Cartwright out of Compton High School in California, Cooley has added another contributor to an already impressive incoming freshmen class. A freshmen class that will include 7’1” center Paschal Chukwu (#61, ESPN100), who was recently selected for the Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game to be played next Friday at the Barclays Center, 6’7” Huntington Prep small forward Jalen Lindsey (#84, ESPN100), and 6’8”, 225-pound combo forward Ben Bentil.

ESPN has Cooley’s incoming class ranked 24th in the nation, while Rivals.com ranks Providence 22nd (without Cartwright), and Scout.com 21st.

Any way that you slice it, even though Providence will be without Bryce Cotton, the Friars should have a much deeper team than the six-man rotation that was continuously rolled out this season. Cooley will even have the luxury of having options for a starting lineup, something that he didn’t have this season.

Projected starters in bold (at least to start season)

Guards
Kris Dunn
Josh Fortune
Junior Lomomba
Kyron Cartwright
Casey Woodring

Forwards
LaDontae Henton
Tyler Harris
Jalen Lindsey
Ben Bentil
Rodney Bullock

Centers
Carson Desrosiers
Paschal Chukwu

Cotton’s 36 not enough in loss to Tar Heels

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Providence’s season came to a shocking end in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night to North Carolina, as the Tar Heels erased a three point deficit with just over a minute left to edge the Friars, 79-77.

The teams came out on fire trading baskets back-and-forth in the first 10 minutes of the half, a pace that ultimately caught up with the Friars, allowing the Tar Heels to establish a lead. However, in the later portion of the first half the Friars started to dictate play, slowing down the game in the half court, a pace that’s proved to be beneficial for the Friars in the past. As a result, the Friars cut their deficit to 39-36 behind 13 points and three assists from Bryce Cotton.

In the second half, it was the Cotton show. He single-handedly shredded apart the Tar Heel defense en route to a 36 point performance, three points shy of Austin Croshere’s school record of 39 in an NCAA Tournament game in 1997.

On the back of Cotton, the Friars established a substantial lead of seven, with Kadeem Batts finally chipping in with two straight baskets under the five minute mark.

But the Tar Heel’s advantage on the glass all game long proved to catch up with the Friars. After a wild drive by Tyler Harris near the two minute mark that was essentially a turnover, North Carolina began their comeback, eventually resulting in a three-pointer by Marcus Paige near the one-minute mark to tie the game at 77-77.

James-Michael McAdoo then grabbed an offensive board on the last possession of the game and got fouled. He hit the first free throw then missed the second, grabbing another offensive rebound and icing the game by drawing another foul in the final seconds.

Cotton had one of the all-time great performances by a Friar in NCAA Tournament history, scoring 36 points to go along with eight assists and five rebounds.

LaDontae Henton also had a solid game for the Friars, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for a double-double.

With the loss, the Friars capped off a season in which they won their first Big East championship in 20 years and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years.