Five Big East Players Poised to Breakout Next Season

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, these five guys were overshadowed by other go-to players, but with those players now gone, 2014-15 will be these new guys' time to shine.

In 2013-14, the Big East was responsible for some of the better individual players in all of college basketball, including National Player of the  Year Doug McDermott. Much of this talent was made up of seniors, and as a result seven of the top 10 scorers in the conference from a season ago are gone. Therefore, it opens up opportunities for a new crop of conference superstars.

Here are five guys that are primed to make a major leap from obscurity to making major impacts on their respective teams next season.

Josh Hart (Villanova)

Hart is one of the main reasons that the Villanova Wildcats will not miss a beat going into next season.  Last season, he averaged only 7.8 points as a freshman for the Wildcats, but that number's flawed due to his lack of minutes, as he averaged just 21.4 minutes per game. This was further shown by his offensive efficiency rating of 126.8.  For all of last season, Hart sat behind the Cats' leading scorer in James Bell, and therefore saw those very limited minutes. But now, Bell is gone, and someone will need to step into the starting lineup and immediately produce offensively. And that guy is Hart, who shined at times such as the upset against Seton Hall, when he had a team-high 18 points.

Hart is an elite athlete and really knows how to attack the hoop on a consistent basis. He can also rebound extremely well especially for a shooting guard as he averaged 4.4 rebounds a season ago. In that aspect he is almost a mirror image of Bell, but what separates Hart is how smooth and fluid he is with the ball, and if he plays up to his true potential he can singlehandedly help Villanova fans forget all about Bell's departure.

Will Artino (Creighton)

Out of all the teams in the entire nation, the Creighton Bluejays may be the team that is ravished the most by graduation. Just with the departure of last season's starting frontcourt in Ethan Wragge and Doug McDermott alone, Creighton is losing 46.9 percent of the offense. Therefore, it's obvious that someone in next year's frontcourt needs to turn into a go-to guy on the offensive end of the court to make fans forget about Dougie McBuckets and Wraggebombs. Nicknamed "Big Swag", Will Artino showed signs of life when he got his shot, including a 14-point performance against Georgetown, a contest in which he matched the production of McDermott.

One thing Creighton supporters will need to adjust to with Artino is a big man that doesn't rely on the three-point shot whatsoever. As opposed to McDermott, and especially Wragge who seemed to only shoot three-pointers, Artino relies more on his inside game and has yet to attempt a single 3-pointer in his college career. He is extremely efficient on offense though and shot nearly 67.0 percent last season. Therefore, if he can continue that next season, with so much more offensive pressure on his shoulders, he can give the Bluejays the inside presence that they lacked last year.

Tommy Hamilton Jr. (DePaul)

Hamilton gets hurt nationally because he plays for a bottom-feeding Blue Demons team but he was quietly one of the better freshman in the entire conference. He had most of his success at the front end of the season, and really benefited from having Cleveland Melvin one the team. Once Melvin was dismissed from DePaul back on February 10, Hamilton really struggled, and failed to reach double figures even once after Melvin's dismissal.

Not only did Hamilton have to transform into a go-to scorer but he also had to assume Melvin's leadership role as a freshman.  It seems like much of his end of the year struggles had a lot to do with not being ready to be the man offensively. Now, with an entire offseason to prepare to be the guy, he has a shot to mold into one of the best underclassmen in the nation. He already has the talent, and he transformed into a young leader last season as well.

Josh Fortune (Providence)

Much was made about Friars' superstar Bryce Cotton, especially after the Big East Tournament's Most Outstanding Player's 36-point performance against UNC, so it's easy to forget about anyone else. But one of these players was Josh Fortune, who really shined down the stretch.

Fortune averaged 12.7 points over his final 12 games. That may not seem like a ton of production, but you have to remember that he played with Cotton, who averaged over 20 points a night, so he was never the first option. With Cotton's graduation, Fortune will be expected to lead a two-headed offensive monster with himself and forward LaDontae Henton, who is the leading returning scorer from last season's squad.

Jalen Reynolds (Xavier)

Like many of the other players on this list, Reynolds will be expected to fill a scoring void for his team left by a graduating senior. For the Musketeers, that's recently departed NBA hopeful Semaj Christon who racked up 17 points during the 2013-14 season. Reynolds does not play the same position as Christon, but will be expected to take on some of his scoring load. Last season he also showed the ability, when called upon to fill up the cup at a rapid rate. The best example of this was a 17-point performance against St. Johns to go along with 16 rebounds.

The main issue for Reynolds is his inability to stay out of foul trouble on a consistent basis. Despite averaging only a little over 12 minutes over the entire season, Reynolds found a way to average 2.5 fouls per game. This includes the final eight games of the season in which Reynolds racked up four fouls in 50 percent of the contests. Reynolds definitely has the talent to transform into a star, but his lack of discipline seems to be the main issue holding him back. That's something Chris Mack can handle though, and if Reynolds can overcome this foul trouble, he can become a superstar in the Big East.

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