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Way-Too-Early 2016-17 Big East Player of the Year Candidates

After a season that saw Kris Dunn notch the award for the top player in the conference, who's in position to take home the same honor next year?

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Six months. That's the time frame separating college basketball junkies from the start of the 2016-17 season. Thus, although these predictions might be a tad premature, let's dive into who could snag the Big East Player of the Year accolade in the ensuing campaign.

Additionally, a handful of these players declared for the NBA draft, but none of them hired agents, providing the assumption that they'll return to school. Following the combine from May 11-15, Ben Bentil, Josh Hart, Isaiah Whitehead, Kris Jenkins, Trevon Bluiett and Maurice Watson Jr., along with others from various programs, have until May 25 to announce their respective decisions.

Nominees:

1. Ben Bentil: Many fans assumed Providence would struggled without a go-to scorer to pair alongside Kris Dunn. Yet, Bentil greatly exceeded expectations, averaging 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-9 sophomore excelled with his back-to-the-basket and his jumper from inside the arc, too, shooting 51.7 percent from two-point range.

While he could stretch the floor occasionally, his three-point percentage sat at 32.9 percent, leaving room for improvement. Furthermore, Bentil only shot 36.8 percent in the NCAA tournament. Without Dunn, who'll likely be selected in the top-10 of the draft, the forward, who led the conference in scoring last season, has a strong chance to develop into a superstar in Friartown.

2. Josh Hart: As Providence faltered down the stretch, folks believed the 6-foot-5 Hart may steal the award from the do-it-all guard. Even though that never materialized, the guard flourished in the Big Dance, producing 15 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest, along with shooting 52.9 percent from the field. In the Final Four against Oklahoma, he looked like the top player on the hardwood, posting 23 points and eight boards.

Upon Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu's graduation, the junior should grasp the burden of an increased scoring load.

3. Isaiah Whitehead: The sophomore stud led Seton Hall to its first Big East tournament title in 23 seasons, knocking off Villanova in a wire-to-wire affair. Late in the action, Whitehead converted an and-one, leading to the Pirates' victory. In fact, in the seven games prior to March Madness, he averaged 25.3 points per game, displaying plenty of finesse around the rim. Plus, he showcased creative ways to find his teammates, tacking on 5.1 assists per contest.

In the NCAA tournament, though, the 6-foot-4 Whitehead stumbled, manufacturing just 10 points on 4-of-24 from the field against Gonzaga in the first round. He'll need to polish up his 38.9 percent clip from the field in order claim the coveted prize at season's end.

4. Kris Jenkins: If one struggled to enjoy Jenkins' game prior to the Big Dance, his rendition in the tournament should've done the trick. The forward notched double figures in each of the six contests, culminating with his triple at the buzzer to knock off North Carolina in the national championship game.

Following a sophomore season, where he averaged 6.3 points in under 19 minutes per contest, the junior replaced Jayvaughn Pinkston admirably, scoring 13.3 points per game and shot 37.1 percent from downtown. If the 6-foot-6 Jenkins was to seize what the seniors left in the points category, he might be the one carrying 'Nova on another title run.

5. Trevon Bluiett: The Indianapolis native exhibited a newfound level of confidence from three-point land, shooting just under 40 percent, along with averaging 15.5 points per contest. Yet, his overall field goal percentage actually took a dip from his freshman season, dropping from 43.2 percent to 42.9. Moreover, against Wisconsin in the round of 32, Bluiett only tallied seven points on 3-of-11 shooting.

For the 6-foot-6 guard to acquire the trophy, he must develop some consistency with both his mid-range jumper and ability to attack the rack.

6. Maurice Watson Jr.: The transfer from Boston University was arguably the third best point guard in the conference, supplying 14.1 points and 6.5 assists per contest for Creighton. The 5-foot-10 Watson arrayed crafty moves around the rim and was rarely slowed down in transition.

James Milliken and Geoffrey Groselle wrapped up their careers at Crieghton, which puts more pressure on freshman guard Khyri Thomas, sophomore forward Cole Huff and Watson to score. Huff showed his promise in the Big East tournament, scoring 35 points in a loss to Seton Hall.

Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after his departure from Kansas State, will give Watson another option to deliver the ball to. The guard averaged 12.5 points per game in his sophomore season and holds two years of eligibility left.

Provided that Watson returns with extra touch from the outside, he could take a sizable jump in the race.

7. Kelan Martin: Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, two of the top scorers from Butler a season ago, said their goodbyes to the program with a loss to Virginia in the round of 32. Now, Martin obtains the keys to the team, but his emergence shouldn't be startling.

The 6-foot-6 forward stepped into the starting lineup in late-January and took flight after the first matchup, averaging 19.7 points per game. He shined from all areas on the floor, but can the sophomore keep up his torrid pace without consistent options around him?

8. Edmond Sumner: A 6-foot-5 freshman guard, who can explode at the basket? Yes, please. Sumner provided many memorable dunks last season, as well as other monumental milestones, including his 19 points and nine assists in Xavier's upset of No. 1 Villanova. Overall, he posted a respectable 11 points per contest.

Expect his shot to evolve into a reliable one, and if Bluiett departs for the NBA, fans around the country will recognize his name within the first few weeks of the season.

9. Jalen Brunson: In spite of the fact that the former five-star recruit failed to eclipse double figures during his freshman season (9.6 points per contest), he only attempted seven shots per game. Also, the 6-foot-3 Brunson will control the backcourt sans Arcidiacono, offering him plenty of chances to produce points for him and his teammates.

Watching him throughout high school, the guard possesses terrific vision and a sweet lefty stroke, too. Suspect that Brunson may take the most substantial leap of all the Wildcats and represents the dark horse to win the award.

10. Haanif Cheatham: Beyond Henry Ellenson, who's leaving Marquette following a breakout season, no one was as reliable down the stretch as Cheatham. The freshman registered 14.7 points per game over the last ten matchups and provided the Golden Eagles with a very gritty defensive presence versus opposing backcourts.

The 6-foot-5 guard even shot 48.9 percent from the field, validating that he could grow into the No. 1 threat within head coach Steve Wojciechowski's system.