Nearing the end of an incredible nonconference slate for the BIG EAST, we’ve already seen a bunch of eye-popping individual feats: Kris Dunn dropping a triple-double and near quadruple-double, Roosevelt Jones adding to his list of game-winning buzzer beaters and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera knocking down five first-half threes en route to his first 30-point game since his sophomore year.
These are household names we’ve come to expect big nights from. But there’s a new wave of players in the BIG EAST this season – players who didn’t receive any preseason recognition or show up in the stat leaders last year. This group has their own share of buzzer beaters and highlight-reel dunks and has been a major reason why the BIG EAST has arguably been the most impressive conference in college basketball so far this season.
Here are five players who have been the most surprising in nonconference play.
Ben Bentil, Providence
Entering the season, there was a lot of chatter about how far National Player of The Year candidate Kris Dunn would be able to carry Providence. After losing LaDontae Henton, the league’s top scorer last year, the Friars were picked to finish fifth in the conference’s preseason poll.
Fast-forward two months and the Friars are 12-1 and the 10th-ranked team in the nation. Dunn isn’t leading the team in scoring – it’s sophomore Ben Bentil.
The 6-foot-9 forward leads the BIG EAST in scoring and has nearly tripled his average from last season, going from 6.4 points per game to 18.8. He’s also boosted his rebounding from 4.9 per game to 8.0. Bentil has been a huge defensive presence in the paint and has single-handedly kept the Friars in games when Dunn has struggled or been in foul trouble. Entering conference play, he’ll be coming off a monster game against UMass, where he erupted for a career-high 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds.
Geoffrey Groselle, Creighton
Much of the buzz about Creighton this year revolved around newcomers: the addition of talented transfers Cole Huff and Maurice Watson Jr. and the return of sharpshooter Isaiah Zierden, who missed much of conference play with a knee injury.
But one of the Bluejays’ most impactful players has been there all along: senior center Geoffrey Groselle. The 7-footer has nearly doubled his scoring and tripled his rebounding from last season, going from 5.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game to 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in just 21 minutes per game. He erupted for a career-high 27 points on 8-of-9 shooting in Creighton’s rout of North Texas Monday.
Groselle’s astounding 71 percent mark from the field leads the conference and defensively, he’s doubled his shot blocking efforts this year. He’ll be a huge factor in conference play for the Bluejays, who will look to make some noise in the BIG EAST after dropping seven conference games by four points or less last season.
Bradley Hayes, Georgetown
There may not be a more head-scratching story in all of college basketball than that of Bradley Hayes. The 7-foot senior entered this season with 30 career points. That’s not a typo. 30. Teammate D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has scored at least 30 points in a single game four times in his career.
Hayes is now the Hoyas' third-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game and also leads them in rebounding with 8.2 boards per game. He was the difference maker in the upset of longtime rival Syracuse, posting 21 points on 8-12 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds.
He has quickly filled the void left by Joshua Smith, Georgetown’s leading rebounder and second leading scorer last season. As the Hoyas look to turn the page on what has been a disappointing non-conference showing, much of their success may depend on how Hayes holds up against top BIG EAST forwards like Daniel Ochefu and Jalen Reynolds.
Kelan Martin, Butler
I predicted Kelan Martin would have a breakout season, but I can’t say I expected him to be quite this good. At times, the sophomore has looked like the best player on a Butler team with not one, but two preseason All-BIG EAST First Team members in Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.
The 6-foot-6 forward has been on a tear recently. In his last five games, he's averaging 17.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, while shooting 59 percent and 56 percent from three. What’s most impressive is that he posted those numbers in just 22 minutes per game. Instant offense.
He has already been named a BIG EAST Player of the Week after not even making the cut for the All-Rookie Team last season. He has nearly doubled his scoring and tripled his rebounding from last season, going from 7.1 points and 2.1 rebounds a game to 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He adds a different element to this Butler team and is a big reason why the Bulldogs are ranked No. 9 in the country and will vie for a BIG EAST title.
Edmund Sumner, Xavier
Every college basketball expert had one question about Xavier this year: Who would replace Dee Davis at point guard? Redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner quickly answered that. With the hype around freshmen Jalen Brunson (Villanova) and Henry Ellenson (Marquette), not many people even knew Sumner existed heading into the season.
On a Xavier team loaded with talent and ranked No. 6 in the nation, the 6-foot-6 Sumner has emerged as the second leading scorer at 11.7 points per game and also leads the team in assists with 3.3 per game. With his speed, athleticism and size, the current BIG EAST Freshman of the Week is a dangerous matchup and has proven his ability to knock down threes or throw down monster dunks.
With the addition of Sumner and the vast improvement of big man James Farr, who has more than doubled his scoring from last season, the Musketeers will look to make a serious run at their first BIG EAST title this year.