The Providence Friars are one of the more interesting teams in the Big East this year.
They lost LaDontae Henton, their leading scorer and rebounder last year, Paschal Chukwu, a big man who looked to continue his development this year and Tyler Harris, a solid scoring option, transferred to Auburn.
In spite of all this, the Friars aren't hopeless in the Big East this season. They still have a great coach in Ed Cooley and one of the best players in the country in Kris Dunn.
Heading into the season, the Friars look firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. They aren't on the top tier with Villanova, Georgetown, Butler, or Xavier, but they're firmly on the second tier with Marquette.
Thus, for teams on the bubble like the Friars, conference play carries a ton of weight.
Let's take a game-by-game look at the Friars' Big East schedule.
Butler (December 31, Indianapolis, IN)
Woof. The Friars get thrown to the dogs (or, dawgs) right off the bat. The good news for the Friars? They're 2-0 at Hinkle Fieldhouse since Butler joined the Big East.
Last year, Butler had no answer for Kris Dunn. Dunn had 25 points on 8-15 shooting, eight rebounds, and six assists.
LaDontae Henton added 18 points of his own, though, and Providence won 66-62.
Let's say, for argument's sake, Dunn puts up 25 on the Bulldogs again. That's all well and good, but do the Friars have a guy that can replicate Henton's 18 on this year's roster? The jury is out.
The nice thing for the Friars? One of your toughest road games is out of the way, and the next game is much easier.
St. John's (January 2)
There aren't many games on a conference schedule that you can look at and nearly guarantee a winner. This is one of those rare games.
St. John's is a mess. They'll be a mess all season. They'll be good in the future, but it's going to be a rough year in Queens.
The Red Storm lost their top SIX guys from last season! Top six! They only played seven or eight guys usually!
Providence will win this game easily. A nice bounce back for the Friars if they take a loss in Indianapolis.
Marquette (January 5)
This is a nice early season treat in the Big East schedule. If the Big East sends five teams to the NCAA Tournament this season, the fifth team will be one of these two.
Marquette comes to Providence armed with a great recruiting class (five guys who should all see quality playing time) and a coach on the rise.
The Friars lack of size down low could prove costly when trying to stop Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer, but Marquette's inexperienced backcourt could have some issues stopping Kris Dunn.
This game is a toss-up. I'll give the Friars the edge solely because it's in Providence.
Creighton (January 12, Omaha, NE)
Odd scheduling quirk here for the Friars. After opening Big East play with three games in six days, they get a nice little break for a week before heading to Omaha to face the Creighton Bluejays.
The Friars have played two memorable games in the two seasons Creighton has been in the Big East.
In 2014, the Friars faced the Bluejays on Creighton's senior night. Doug McDermott scored a career-high 45 points against the Friars to get him over the 3,000 point mark for his career.
Then, in 2015, the Friars made their trip to Omaha look like a walk in the park. Creighton scored the first basket of the game, led for 34 seconds, then Providence's Ben Bentil made a layup to make it 2-2. The Friars never trailed again in that game.
What should Friar fans expect this season in Omaha? Certainly something in the middle of the last two results. Neither team has enough (or not enough) to blow the other out. This should be a fun back-and-forth contest at a packed CenturyLink Center.
Seton Hall (January 16)
This could have been a battle of two of the best point guards in the country in Kris Dunn and Sterling Gibbs, but Gibbs transferred to UConn over the offseason.
Providence beat Seton Hall both times they faced off last year, though both games came near the end of the season when Seton Hall was on a stretch where they lost nine of ten games.
The Friars should have what it takes to knock the Pirates off. Isaiah Whitehead will be playing point guard for Seton Hall, and Kris Dunn should be thrilled about that matchup, as Whitehead averaged three turnovers per game last season as a shooting guard.
Butler (January 19)
Providence and Butler get their two games out of the way within the first three weeks of the season. I never really like when the schedule works out that way, but with the double round-robin, it is bound to happen once in a while.
I feel like Providence is a good enough team to split with Butler, so if they win at Hinkle, they'll likely lose this one, and vice versa.
Villanova (January 23, Philadelphia, PA)
The Friars first look at the unanimous Big East favorite comes on a big stage, as this game has a noon tip-off on FOX.
Providence has struggled with Villanova, losing their last five contests dating back to their February 2013 victory over the Wildcats.
If Providence wants to make a run towards the NCAA Tournament, this game could be looked at as a signature win for them.
Unfortunately, that's no easy task. Villanova has the edge here on paper.
Xavier (January 26)
The Friars host the Musketeers in the midst of one of the toughest four game stretches in all of Big East play (Butler, @ Villanova, Xavier, @ Georgetown).
Dunn will likely be thankful for this matchup. Dee Davis, a longtime thorn in the side of most Big East guards, has graduated, and Ben Bentil should benefit from the departure of Xavier big man Matt Stainbrook.
For the Friars to have a chance to compete in the Big East, they need to win at least two of these four games. I think this is one they certainly could take.
Georgetown (January 30, Washington, DC)
The first matchup of the year between Kris Dunn and D'Vanutes Smith-Rivera. If you enjoy great point guard play, this is a matchup for you.
The Hoyas look to build off of what their great recruiting class started last season, but have some concerns with depth in the backcourt. If Dunn is able to draw a couple early fouls on DSR, the momentum drastically swings in favor of the Friars.
If the Friars go 2-2 in this four game stretch, with the two losses being @ Georgetown and @ Villanova, there's really no shame in that.
DePaul (February 2, Rosemont, IL)
Kris Dunn in Providence's two games against DePaul last season: 24 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 7.5 APG, 3.5 SPG. The Blue Demons had no way to stop Dunn last year. In the contest in Providence, Dunn recorded the ninth triple-double in Big East history.
In the game in Rosemont, Dunn had 21 points (11 from the free throw line), en route to Providence's 84-57 victory.
The Blue Demons haven't beat the Friars in Rosemont since 2008. I don't see that changing this year.
Villanova (February 6)
Playing Villanova twice in two weeks might be a blessing in disguise for the Friars.
If you see a weakness Villanova has a couple weeks prior, chances are they haven't been able to fully fix it. You can use that weakness to your advantage.
I'm trying the best I can to put a positive spin on this, because playing Villanova will be tough for every Big East team all season, but Providence could fare better in this game than if it was to be played on, say, March 6.
Marquette (February 10, Milwaukee, WI)
Going off of my Villanova example above, Providence could see a very different Marquette team than they saw in their first game on January 5. Henry Ellenson will have continued his development, and the Golden Eagles may very well be in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament spot.
Providence will likely be hunting for a spot as well. It all depends how weak or strong the bubble, outside of these two teams, ends up being.
As a rule, I really never like to pick the home team in mid-week road games. So I think Marquette wins this one.
Georgetown (February 13)
Similar to facing Villanova twice in two weeks, the Friars face Georgetown twice in two weeks, as well.
As noted, this can be very advantageous when facing top-level competition. The Friars will have been able to see what match-ups worked and which did not against the Hoyas, and adjust accordingly.
Unless these two teams meet in the Big East Tournament, this will be the final collegiate matchup between Kris Dunn and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, which is a shame. It's been a joy watching both of them over the past couple years.
This also is one of those games that could go a long way in helping Providence's status on the bubble, where they'll likely still be at this point, because Georgetown should be safely in.
Xavier (February 17, Cincinnati, OH)
This is a tough back-to-back for the Friars, but after this game, their schedule gets way easier.
The Friars are 0-2 at Cintas Center in Xavier's short time in the Big East, however, last season, the Friars took a 40-34 lead into the half before being outscored 44-29 in the second half.
Jalen Reynolds and Trevon Bluiett combined for 38 points for the Musketeers, and they're both back this season. Providence will have to find a way to slow the two of them down if they want to compete in this one.
Seton Hall (February 25, Newark, NJ)
This is the beginning of the final four games of the season for Providence that are, for all intents and purposes, pretty easy.
Full disclosure: We have absolutely NO IDEA what Seton Hall will look like come February. They, along with their neighbors to the south, St. John's, are the two most puzzling teams in the entire Big East. Seton Hall may surprise everyone and this game may mean something for the Pirates.
I'm of the belief that that won't quite be the case, and Providence should be able to take care of business and grab a big win down the stretch.
DePaul (February 27)
Last time DePaul came to Providence, Kris Dunn had a triple-double.
Don't need to say too much more about this. DePaul will be improved from last year, but still not quite ready to hang with more established teams like the Friars.
The only concern I have is the Friars play Thursday (25th) then Saturday (27th) instead of the general Wednesday/Saturday split. Fatigue could be an issue in this game, but I still think they take care of business.
Creighton (March 2)
It's poetic, in a way, that Providence hosts Creighton in what will likely be Kris Dunn's final home game. As noted above, the Friars went to Omaha for Doug McDermott's final home game and McDermott scored a career high 45 points.
McDermott and Dunn are, hands down, the two best players we've seen in the short history of the "New Big East".
Dunn will look to give the Friar faithful one last memory as he takes the court for the final time, and it comes at a great time for Providence, who will still be looking to rack up wins and ride momentum into the Big East Tournament.
St. John's (March 5, New York, NY)
Fittingly enough, the Friars end their journey in the same city in which the next journey will begin.
As I noted, we have no idea what St. John's will look like at this point. For all intents and purposes, they'll probably be ready to close the books on a tough and trying first season for Chris Mullin.
Providence will benefit from this, as they'll pick up their fourth straight win, and possibly help themselves out in terms of Big East Tournament seeding.
Congratulations! You've made it to the end of this article! Now I suppose you're wondering where I think the Friars will be in the Big East by the end of the season.
I think they split their first four games (2-2), beat Seton Hall (3-2), then split their four games against Butler/Xavier/Georgetown/Villanova (5-4), following that four game stretch, they'll beat DePaul (6-4), and then fall to Villanova and Marquette (6-6), the Friars then fall to Georgetown and Xavier (6-8), before winning their final four conference games to finish the regular season at 10-8.
Big East Tournament aside, going over .500 in conference play is always something you should shoot for. If the Friars take a bad nonconference loss, or something, they may find themselves needing to win a Big East Tournament game or two to get off the bubble, but as it stands, I think Providence will be NCAA Tournament bound this year, thanks largely to Kris Dunn.