Looking Ahead: Providence Friars

It's never too early to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Providence Friars.

Per the norm, the collegiate landscape shifted in April. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker led Wisconsin to the Final Four and then turned pro. Duke's three elite freshmen -- Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones -- were all selected in the first round of Thursday's NBA draft. Other powerhouse programs also suffered significant losses.

Others, however, were blessed with gains that altered the 2015-16 landscape.

In late April, Kris Dunn announced he would return to Providence for his junior season. Dunn could have been a first-round pick Thursday. If Rashad Vaughn, Larry Nance Jr., Terry Rozier and Jerian Grant could all secure guaranteed contracts in the first round of the NBA draft, then it's safe to assume Dunn, had he decided to enter, would have also landed a multimillion-dollar deal last week.

The talented guard wanted more time with his teammates and a degree. That was a crucial decision for a young man who was hindered by injuries in his first few seasons with the program.

“I am excited about next season,” Dunn said in a statement released by the school. “I have seen this program accomplish a lot over the last three seasons, and I would like to be part of some more success. I really enjoy being around my teammates, coaches and all the friends and family I have in Friartown. Lastly, I am looking forward to continuing my growth, improving as a basketball player and earning my diploma.”

Right now, it's difficult to identify an icon for the 2015-16 season. Rattle off a list of preseason Wooden Award candidates. That was an easy task the past summer. It's more complicated today.

Maybe it's Georges Niang. Or Ben Simmons. Or Skal Labissiere. Or Perry Ellis.

Dunn should be mentioned within that group, perhaps as the frontrunner. Dunn, the previous season's co-Big East player of the year, might be the best player in America.

He'll have an advantage in the race. Providence's hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament will center solely on Dunn's production. Dunn's individual numbers were crazy. He averaged 15.6 points per game the past season but would've increased those, had he exceeded his 68.6 percent clip from the free throw line (172 attempts) and reduced his 4.2 turnovers per game. He collected 7.6 assists per game, second in the country. He added 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game, along with a 35 percent mark from beyond the arc. He led the country in assist rate and finished fifth in steals rate.

Yet Providence coach Ed Cooley might need even more from his talented guard in 2015-16.

What the immediate future holds: Providence finished 22-12 overall and 11-7 in the Big East after losing to Dayton in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

LaDontae Henton (19.7 PPG), the team's leading scorer, is gone. Tyler Harris (9.9 PPG), the team's No. 3 scorer, transferred to Auburn. Paschal Chukwu, a 7-foot-2 center, will play elsewhere next season.

Providence will add three four-star recruits: Alex Owens, Ryan Fazekas and Drew Edwards. Rodney Bullock has missed the past two seasons of action -- 2013-14 due to a sexual assault investigation and 2014-15 because of a knee injury -- but will return in 2015-16. Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey should be in the mix too.

Providence finished in the 40s in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency the past season, per kenpom.com. Those marks will be difficult to maintain without another wild year for Dunn.

That's why Providence remains one of the country's most intriguing teams.

Yes, the Friars lost a lot. But they still have Dunn.

If anyone in America can pull this program into Big East title contention and a third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, it's Dunn.