Providence Friars – LaDontae Henton
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Big East sleepers beginning to beckon

The NCAA Men’s Basketball conference tournaments are only a few weeks away. Soon, the madness that has defined March will ensue, with many favorites taking care of business while a few underdogs enjoy a moment in the sun.

When you think upset, one of the places least likely to produce has been the Big East over the past 25 years. Sure, a team like the Providence Friars in 2014 can become a darling on occasion, but generally the conference was dominated by big-boys such as the Syracuse Orange, Georgetown Hoyas, Villanova Wildcats, Louisville Cardinals and Connecticut Huskies.

However, with massive realignment two years ago, the Big East has been reinvented. Villanova still gets top-billing with Georgetown a distant second, but the teams behind them is what makes Madison Square Garden a place to watch moving forward.

The Associated Press poll has the Butler Bulldogs ranked 23rd with Providence sitting 25th. Butler became a tournament power under former head coach Brad Stevens, reaching the title game in consecutive seasons back in 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs missed out on the dance last year but are rebounding nicely with a 20-8 mark, including wins over the North Carolina Tar Heels, St. John’s Red Storm and Georgetown.

Butler is sound defensively, allowing only 61.2 points per game. Offensively, the Bulldogs rely on sharpshooter Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Dunham is a junior guard averaging a team-high 16.6 points per game and has scored in double-digits in every game but two this campaign. Jones, a 6’4 forward, provides quickness on the perimeter and to the basket. Also a junior, Jones is playing 35.1 minutes and totaling 13.0 points/game, providing extra punch.

Providence is another Big East member which could do damage both in the conference tourney and in March Madness. The Friars are seeking their second consecutive NCAA Tournament bid, something the school has not done since 1989-90. The last time Providence won a game in the tournament was 1997, losing to the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite 8.

The Friars have a laundry list of impressive victories, most notably coming over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Miami Hurricanes, Xavier Musketeers, Butler and Georgetown. Providence is paced by senior forward LaDontae Henton, amassing a team-high 20.3 points and 5.9 rebounds/game. Henton has been irrepressible over the last four games, scoring at least 22 points in each contest.

With the Marquette Golden Eagles coming up following by the Seton Hall Pirates and then a home date versus Butler, the Friars have a good chance to go into the Big East Tournament on a roll.

The once-behemoth Big East is no longer the deepest or most lauded conference, but it has a couple contenders beyond the well-known Wildcats. Providence and Butler are lurking the shadows, hoping to make a substantial run deep into March.

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