College basketball season kicks off with a matchup of conference champions Saturday night. Ed Cooley’s Big East Conference defending champion Providence College Friars begin the 2014-2015 season against the two-time defending America East champion University of Albany Great Danes at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, RI. Here are three things to look for at the Dunk Saturday night.
Life without ICE
It’s impossible to overstate Bryce Cotton’s contribution to the Friars last season. He led the team in points (21.8 ppg), assists (5.9 apg) and minutes (all the minutes), hit every big shot, and was the emotional leader and seasoned veteran for a PC team that exceeded expectations. Obviously filling his void is a big task for the upcoming season, and that test starts Saturday night.
Much of the ball handling duties will be left to Kris Dunn. Dunn, the oft-injured former McDonald’s All-American will see his first regular season game action in almost a year Saturday night. Though he’s not known as an outside scoring threat, Dunn has shown flashes of playmaking brilliance and defensive mania in his time on the court. Look for Dunn to use his athleticism to attack the rim Saturday night.
Big East vs. America East
Albany’s best hope to stick with the Friars will be to outplay them on the perimeter. They’re led by guard Peter Hooley and forward Sam Rowley. Hooley averaged 15.5 points per game last season, and was named America East Tournament Most Outstanding Performer after pouring in 23.7 per game in the tourney. If Hooley gets hot from deep, Providence could be in for a frustrating night. At 6-foot-6, Rowley is a quintessential mid-major "big" man. He’s tough, and amasses rebounds and buckets against similarly sized America East competition. Unfortunately for Albany, Providence is not America East sized.
Providence may have one of the deeper frontcourts in the Big East this season, and that should definitely pay dividends Saturday night. Forward LaDontae Henton (14 PPG, 7.9 RPG) provides leadership, tenacious rebounding and an unflappable cool in crunch time while 6-foot-9 Tyler Harris is a nightmare matchup on the wing. With 7-footer Carson Desrosiers in the middle, and freshmen big men Ben Bentil and Pascal Chukwu bolstering the paint off the bench, Providence should have a clear rebounding advantage against an Albany team that features a bevy of 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 forwards. While Providence has relied on a lot of perimeter scoring in recent years, look for them to use their size to establish a consistent interior scoring threat.
Are the new guys ready?
Ed Cooley’s time at Providence has featured a few recruiting teases. First there was Ricky Ledo, who has Providence listed as his college in his Dallas Mavericks bio even though he never played a minute of college basketball. Last season, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock were both expected to contribute on the court immediately. Both were eventually suspended for the season amidst a sexual assault investigation.
Fortunately, the freshmen tides may be turning. Jalen Lindsey is the third highest ranked Cooley recruit ever, behind Dunn and Ledo. Although he dislocated his finger last month, he played in Providence’s exhibition against Stonehill and should provide a consistent scoring punch all season. The 6-foot-7 small forward possess tremendous athleticism, and may also have the best outside shot on the team.
Kyron Cartwright was a late addition to this Friars squad, but could be very important to the team’s backcourt. Cooley played him extensively on the team’s summer trip to Italy, and the team has been impressed with his ball handling and decision-making. Cleveland State transfer Junior Lomomba will also see his first true action as a Friar Saturday night.
Cooley relied on a 6-man rotation all of last year. Cotton and Kadeem Batts graduated, and Josh Fortune transferred to Colorado. With only three returning contributors, Cooley will have to rely on the team’s youngest players if the Friars are to return to the NCAA Tournament. That begins Saturday night.