The Providence Friars open their 89th basketball campaign on Saturday against the Harvard Crimson. The Friars enter their game against Harvard with a 77-11 record all-time in season openers, including a record of 80-8 in home openers. Providence and Harvard have played five total times with the latest matchup being in November 2007. Providence is 5-0 against the Crimson and are 2-0 against them at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.
Enough with the game notes. Here are 3 key points to keep an eye on during Saturday's game:
1. Dunn Gone Wild
Harvard's best returning player was supposed to be their point guard Siyani Chambers. Unfortunately, Chambers tore his ACL over the summer and is lost for the entire 2015-16 season. The loss of Chambers means Kris Dunn will have an even larger advantage with Tommy Amaker being forced to throw freshman Tommy McCarthy right into the starting lineup to face one of the best players in college basketball. McCarthy played 31 minutes in Harvard's 5-point win over McGill in an exhibition game on November 7th but the competition will be a bit better against the Friars backcourt. I'm expecting Dunn to have a huge opening night and put the nation on notice that the preseason hype was for real.
2. Bullock for Real?
After Dunn there aren't a ton of known commodities for Cooley's Friars. One such player that has shown potential but never played in a college basketball game is Rodney Bullock. Bullock played in one exhibition game his freshman season before being suspended and missing the entire 2013-14 season. He played in a few more exhibition games last summer during Providence's team trip to Italy. Bullock was putting up impressive scoring numbers -- albeit against weak overall competition -- and that created some buzz heading into the 2014-15 season. Bullock tore his ACL during one of the team's first practices last October and would miss his second straight season.
Bullock is fully healthy and on the cusp of making his official college basketball debut on Saturday against Harvard. He put up an impressive 26 points on 10/14 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds against Division II Stonehill in Providence's exhibition game on October 31st but now he will have to back that effort up against better competition in games that count. This might be the biggest storyline to watch all season long besides Dunn's march to validating his preseason honors.
3. Providence's Press
Providence has a much different roster composition in 2015-16, especially along the front line. A season ago the Friars were imposing coming off the bus with a pair of 7-footers in Carson Desrosiers and Paschal Chukwu but both are no longer at Cooley's disposal -- Desrosiers lost to graduation and Chukwu to transfer (Syracuse). Ben Bentil being the biggest player on the team -- listed at 6'9 -- means the Friars will need to adjust their style of play. Cooley has said he wants to play more uptempo and has a desire to press -- both because of the smaller frontcourt and the shorter shot clock of 30 seconds. The press the Friars displayed against Stonehill was not very good. Cooley called it "3rd grade" after that game but he said he's hoping to have it be a college press by the time Big East play rolls around. I would keep an eye on Providence's press in these early season games, particularly against Harvard's young backcourt.