Slowly but surely, Ed Cooley’s Providence Friars are gaining on the top tier of the Big East. The Friars played in a fifth straight NCAA Tournament a year ago, something that only national champion Villanova and Xavier can claim among Big East teams. The Friars made it to the Big East Tournament title game, knocking off the Musketeers in the process. Yet another first-round crash in the NCAAs (to Texas A&M) left PC fans wanting more.
That may not come right away, but this year’s Friars have as much pure talent as any Cooley team. Much of that talent is young, however, and will need time to mature. A top-20 recruiting class is pumping excitement into a strong core of returnees led by All-Big East candidate Alpha Diallo. If Cooley and his Friars keep knocking on the door, they believe March success will someday follow.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Ed Cooley
2017-18 RECORD (BIG EAST): 21-14 (10-8)
2017-18 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Texas A&M 73-69 in the first round
F Rodney Bullock (14.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
G Kyron Cartwright (11.8 ppg, 5.8 apg)
F Jalen Lindsey (8.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
At first glance, the Friars lost a ton when Rodney Bullock and Jalen Lindsey graduated after playing key roles for four years. While they’ll be missed, both were wildly inconsistent and ultimately not the leaders the group needed.
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That leadership and consistency void could be filled if Emmitt Holt returns close to full health. The 6'7" Holt was stricken with an infection last fall, underwent abdominal surgery and never recovered. He lost more than 40 pounds, was redshirted and spent the spring and summer trying to regain his form. If he pulls it off, Providence will have one of the more valuable weapons in the Big East, plus a sweet comeback story.
Cooley hopes Holt can help squeeze the sizable talent out of sophomore big man Nate Watson, junior Kalif Young and springy freshman Jimmy Nichols.
At the other forward is Diallo, a rising star who increased his scoring from 5.7 per as a freshman to 13.2 as a sophomore. The 6'7" junior was the team’s most dependable performer last season and is only a 3-point shot away from vaulting up the NBA Draft charts. He owns triple-double-type versatility and can guard anyone from point guard and power forward.
The Friars need someone to make 3-pointers up front. Holt owns a soft stroke, but if Nichols or fellow freshman Kris Monroe can knock them down, they will play.
Nagging injuries slowed Kyron Cartwright’s senior season, and now it’s time for a new quarterback to run the ship. Sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford should blossom with the opportunity to improve on his 13 minutes of action per game.
David Duke Jr., a Providence native and top-50 recruit, will get a chance to run the team and combine with Ashton-Langford in an attacking guard set. Duke plays with great speed and is versatile enough to guard three positions on the perimeter.
Juniors Maliek White and Drew Edwards are other experienced pieces who will figure into the mix, with White a potential starter at the off-guard spot. He averaged 4.8 points off the bench as a sophomore.
No Friar shot better than 40 percent from the 3-point line last season. That needs to change. White should help, as will fifth-year veteran Isaiah Jackson. Cooley is also high on freshman shooting guard A.J. Reeves, a top-flight scorer from Boston who was also a top-50 national recruit.
The Friars won 11 games by five or fewer points last season, including three in overtime. That can be attributed to veteran poise, with a tip of the hat to Cooley and his staff, but the 21-win team was far from a juggernaut. Three key seniors are replaced by stud additions in Duke, Reeves and Nichols, and the Big East knows how dangerous Diallo and Watson can become.
Big East teams always seem to be rebuilding, but don’t place Providence in that class. The Friars own enough talent to remain an upper-crust entry.
Postseason Prediction: First Four
Big East Prediction: 5th