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Nothing But Net: Rounding up the Big East's best shooters

Who are the conference's best specialists from behind the three-point line?

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

1986. Keep that number in mind for a second.

It's weird imagining the game of basketball without a three-point line painted along the perimeter of the key, eclipsing the half-court, bending the game out towards the margins. The sport today is defined by pace and, perhaps more importantly, space, but this wasn't always the case.

The NCAA didn't adopt the three-point shot until 1986, a full seven years after the NBA introduced it on the largest stage. Hell, even the NBA was late to the party; smaller professional leagues like the ABA had been playing with a three-point line for over a decade in 1979. Today, the three-point shot has put the doubters of yore to bed. The three-pointer is no gimmick, and when used correctly, it can swing the difference between a good team and a great one. Guys at the professional level have made entire careers from their ability to score from deep, because there's nothing like having a dead-eye in your lineup, regardless of their limitations elsewhere.

The Big East is no different, and though the conference is known more for its grit and coaching talent, there's no shortage of skilled shooters floating around the rosters. Sadly, six of last year's top ten players in three-point percentage are gone as guys like Matt Carlino, Jabril Trawick and Sterling Gibbs were lost to graduation and transfer. However, the others are back for another (rapidly-approaching) season, including four of last year's top five on that list. So, as the clock continues to tick down to the 2015-16 season, who can we expect to be the best shooters in this year's Big East?

*All stats from ESPN

Josh Hart, Guard (Villanova)

In no particular order, we'll kick things off at the top of last year's list. Hart, who shot a league-best 46.4 percent from deep last season as a sophomore, may not have shot a ton from the perimeter, but look at who he was sharing the floor with. Darrun Hilliard took his talents to the NBA's Detroit Pistons in the second round of this summer's draft, and Dylan Ennis transferred to Oregon in the off-season. Hart and Ryan Arcidiacano are the most proven shooters the Wildcats have left at this point, so we expect to see Hart's three-point attempts (justifiably) trend upward.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Hart's performance last season was his exponential growth as a shooter, jumping all the way up from a disappointing 31.3 percent from three as a freshman to tops in the conference. He's found his footing, and with an opportunity to step into an even larger offensive role this season, Hart should be right near the top this time next year.

Kellen Dunham, Guard (Butler)

Dunham, a senior this season, may have the most overall shooting talent of anyone on this list, with a knack for filling it up behind the arc and in the mid-range. His stroke is smooth, his trigger quick, with shoulders that seem to square up with the basket regardless of whether he's shooting off-balance or not. With the most three-point attempts last season of any returning player in the Big East (176), Dunham is going to get his shots up, and while his selection isn't always perfect, we're talking about a guy that shot 41 percent behind the line as a junior.

He'll be playing with the closest thing he's had to a "pure" point guard in his Butler career this season with N.C. State transfer Tyler Lewis, which should help him find more open looks along the perimeter. Opposing defenses know that Dunham is the guy you have to stop if you want to out-duel the Dawgs, so the spotlight will be on him as both the key cog in the Butler offense and as a guy who could see himself in the second-round NBA Draft conversation next summer with another good season.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Guard (Georgetown)

After head-faking the NBA and deciding to return for one last college campaign with the Hoyas, Smith-Rivera should get to show off his jack-of-all-trades status as one of the conference's most talented scorers. As a junior, DSR shot just below 40 percent from three with just a handful fewer attempts than Dunham, and even showed off his clutch gene a few times during what was, at times, an up-and-down season for the Hoyas. Along with Trawick, he made up potentially the conference's best shooting duo last year, and the stage is set for him to be the centerpiece of the Georgetown offense.

All eyes will be on Providence's Kris Dunn when the season begins, but DSR should look to put himself squarely in the same conversation as a college player and worry about his professional merits later. As a senior, he'll be watched closely for both the top honors in the Big East and the national level as well.