Five guys to watch in next season's Big East Player of the Year race

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

The graduation of Doug McDermott means the race for next season's Big East Player of the Year is wide open. Here's five players to keep your eye on to make a run at the award.

The Frontrunner: D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (Georgetown)

Despite a disappointing 2014 season for the Hoyas, Smith-Rivera was able to burst onto the scene as one of the best young players in the nation.  The sophomore guard finished sixth last season in the Big East in scoring (17.6 PPG), and made a huge leap from his freshman season in which he averaged only a hair over 7.0 points. Smith-Rivera was able to fins this success even in a crowded backcourt with Markel Starks and Jabril Trawick.  Starks was a senior, so he will be gone in 2014 and the keys will officially be in Smith-Rivera's hands. And there's no reason why his numbers should not be more impressive next season on his way to a Big East POY.

The Young Gun: Isaiah Whitehead (Seton Hall)

Whitehead was a major get in recruiting for the Pirates this year, and looks to be an early favorite for Big East Freshman of the Year along with the possibility of being the best player in the conference.  Whitehead is a five-star recruit out of Brooklyn, N.Y. and was ranked by ESPN as the 14th best recruit in this year's class.  He is an extremely smooth ball-handler and can abuse opposing defenders in the open court. He also has a deadly mid-range jumper to go along with elite explosiveness to the rim as well.  As a senior, Whitehead averaged 23.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game and can do it all on the court.  Look for him and Sterling Gibbs to form one of the deadliest backcourts in the entire conference next season.

The Senior Leader: D'Angelo Harrison (St. Johns)

Harrison has been of the key cogs in the Red Storm machine ever since coming to NYC as a freshman in 2011.  In every season of his college career, he's has averaged at least 16 points per game.  Now, while last season actually saw a decrease in his point average down to 17.5 points from 17.8 points in 2013, Harrison still had one of the best seasons of his career.  He set career highs last year in both three-point shooting percentage and free throw percentage, as he improved his efficiency on offense. He also set a career high in rebounding (4.9 rebounds per game) and a career low in turnovers (1.5 turnovers per game), becoming one of the best leaders in Big East.  Next season the success of the St. John's team will ultimately be on him, as the top-returning scorer in the conference. Also worth noting is that the past four seasons, the conference POY has been a senior three times, so even with all of the young guns in the Big East, this could be Harrison's year to make his name as the best player in the league.

The Great Player on a Bad Team: Kellen Dunham (Butler)

Butler may have had a rough first season in the Big East, but Dunham did not go through those same struggles. With an ever-changing lineup due to injuries and transfers, Dunham was one of the few constants.  The sophomore shooter led the Bulldogs in scoring last season with 16.4 points per game. He was also third on the team in rebounding (4.0 rebounds per game) as he showed the ability to hit the glass while also transforming into an all-around offensive threat.  He's extremely lengthy, standing at 6'6, but he is so dangerous because he has such a smooth jumper that allows him to force larger defenders to guard him on the perimeter as well. Dunham is the best returning offensive threat that Butler has on the outside, so look for him to produce in bunches next season.

The Dark Horse: Todd Mayo (Marquette)

When it came to offense for the Golden Eagles last season, much of it came from inside the paint with the big bodies of DeVante Gardner and Jamil Wilson. So often times, Todd Mayo was the forgotten third wheel in the offense.  With Gardner and Wilson both departing though, Mayo will now have a chance to shine this season and looks to be the No. 1 option scoring wise for new coach Steve Wojciechowski after averaging only 11.3 points last season.  It looked like he would get some help from incoming freshman Ahmed Hlll, but Hill de-committed upon the departure of Buzz Williams, so now it seems like the offense will be solely on the shoulders of Mayo. Mayo as an explosive shooter from outside, and when he gets hot, he's as dangerous of a scorer as anyone in the conference. It'll be interesting if he can handle the increased offensive workload, but if he makes the transition smoothly, look for him to make a serious run at Big East POY.

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