The Providence Friars are coming off a dream season in which they won the Big East Conference Tournament for the first time since 1994. With the loss of Bryce Cotton and the additions of Paschal Chukwu and Jalen Lindsey through recruiting the Friars look ready to defend their title. Before that, however, they must navigate through a tough non-conference schedule. Let's get to the rankings for the hardest tests that Providence will face this upcoming season outside of the Big East.
1. Kentucky Wildcats (November 20; Lexington, Kentucky)
Coach Cal's bunch are back and maybe even better than they were a year ago. Many experts are projecting last year's runner's-up as the No. 1 ranked team again to start this season. The Harrison Twins, who made clutch shots throughout the NCAA Tournament last year, are back along with four, yes four, McDonald's All-Americans joining the team. Without saying much more it is clear to see how this matchup would be tough for anyone, especially the Friars since they have to play the Wildcats at ruckus Rupp Arena.
2. Massachusetts Minutemen (December 20; Providence, Rhode Island)
There is no doubt that this game against UMass will be the toughest non-conference home game for the Friars. The Minutemen had 24 wins last year in an Atlantic Conference that sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, UMass' rebounding ranked 26th in the nation while Providence ranked 79th. This could give the home team some problems in this game. The Minutemen also played tough on the road last season too, which means the Friars are going to have a real fight on their hands in this one.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (December 22; Brooklyn, New York)
The Hurricanes had a letdown year last season after taking the ACC by storm the year before led by point guard Shane Larkin. For this upcoming year, Miami has brought in three players from recruiting that could help turn this team around. Guards Ja'Quan Newton and James Palmer along with the addition of center Omar Sherman could cause some trouble for a Friars team that lost Bryce Cotton. These new recruits that will be donning the green and orange will have had some experience already, which should make this another tough matchup.
4. Florida State Seminoles (November 22; Uncasville, Connecticut)
Last year the Seminoles finished their season in the NIT and are looking to get back to the "Big Dance" this season. Power forward Phil Cofer, the team's biggest addition in recruiting, could help to turn Florida State around. Even though most would consider last year a "down year," Leonard Hamilton's team still won 22 games in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference. In early non-conference competition last year they defeated a solid Virginia Commonwealth team in a neutral site game. A better Florida State team will be ready to give the Friars fits in this one.
5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (November 23; Uncasville, Connecticut)
Speaking of ACC teams that are coming off of a down year, the Fighting Irish are up the very next night for Providence. Notre Dame is relying on the emergence of their own power forward recruit Bonzie Colson Jr. to lead the team back to prominence. The Irish last year ranked 37th in assists and showed the ability to play great team basketball. They certainly did that in their upset win over Duke. After the Friars battle FSU, they will have their hands full with the Irish in these back-to-back "Tip-Off" games.
6. Boston College Eagles (December 5; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts)
The ACC theme continues as we move ahead to a December matchup with Boston College. The Eagles are also trying to find their way back to relevance in the conference. In the opener last year, BC took the Friars to overtime at the Dunkin Donuts Center. In the rematch, we will see two improved teams face off and I believe that the Eagles will make it difficult if they shoot well from the field. Ask Syracuse. The team from Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts went up to the Carrier Dome and knocked off the No. 1 Orange last year. They could do it again if the Big East Champions struggle in this game at home.
7. Rhode Island Rams (December 10; Providence, Rhode Island)
Just five days later Providence takes on another team that tested them last season. The Rams of Rhode Island lost a tight, one point game to the Friars last year at home. On the road this time around the Friars should be able to handle Rhode Island better, but do not be surprised if the Rams make it tough on them again. Friar's fans can hang their hat on the fact that the Rams only won three road games all last year so if recent history is any indication Providence should be able to win this one.
8. Holy Cross Crusaders (November 28; Providence, Rhode Island)
Providence's schedule starts to ease up as they take on the Crusaders of Holy Cross at home. They had a very good record last year against weaker competition. They finished in third place in the Patriot League and went 10-7 on the road a year ago. The Crusader offense has had its moments as well so they have a chance, but Providence is the clear favorite.
9. Albany Great Danes (November 15; Providence, Rhode Island)
The Great Danes made the NCAA Tournament last year as a 16 seed and lost to Florida in a game that was closer than it should have been. They have a team that can play defense, but should struggle to defend the Friars, especially at the Dunkin Donuts Center. I like the Friars to care of Albany in this one.
10. Brown Bears (December 8; Providence, Rhode Island)
Brown tested Providence in a four point loss last year, but with the game being at home for the Friars and the fact that they are more talented, I like them to take this one comfortably. It would be a major upset if the Ivy Leaguers win this one, but do not be surprised if the Bears test Providence. However, with the Friars being the hosts it should be an easy win for them.
11. Stony Brook Seawolves (December 13; Providence, Rhode Island)
Another home non-conference game that should be an easy win for the Friars. The Seawolves picked up 23 wins last years in the American East Conference, but did not play many tough competitors. When they do play the Friars they will have trouble stopping them on offense and if they cannot score it will be over quickly.
12. Navy Midshipmen (November 20; Providence, Rhode Island)
The Midshipmen only won nine games last year and it does not seem like they are going to improve any time soon. They simply do not have the talent to keep up with a team like the Friars who may even improve this season. Providence's talent and home court advantage should be more than enough to win this one.
13. Binghamton Bearcats (November 17; Providence, Rhode Island)
Binghamton had seven wins last year and the majority of them came in conference play. There seems to be no way they can travel to the Dunkin Donuts Center and expect to compete with the Friars. This one should not be close at all and is likely the easiest game Providence plays this season.
Many Big East teams have very intriguing matchups this upcoming season. For Providence, they have many non-conference games that will challenge them. They should be able to win the majority of these games and I only see four teams: Kentucky, UMass, Miami (FL) and Florida State, who could beat the Friars.
All ten Big East teams will be tested before they even play each other and as we know it only gets tougher in conference play. The Big East Champions will have to earn it if they want to repeat.