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Big East 2015-16 Season Preview: Providence Friars

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Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars will look to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season for the first time since 1974. The Friars will rely on National Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn to get them there in 2015-16

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 Record

22-12 (11-7), fell to Villanova in the Big East Tournament semifinals; Lost in 2nd Round of NCAA Tournament to Dayton; First back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990.

Coach

Ed Cooley enters his fifth season at Providence and has amassed a record of 79-56 since taking over the Providence program following the 2010-11 season. The 2015-16 season marks Cooley's 10th as a head coach with his other stop being at Fairfield University from 2006-2011. Cooley will look to turn the tide on his career record as a head coach in the Big East. Entering the season he is 34-38 in league play while at Providence. Cooley has 2 NCAA Tournament appearances and 2 NIT appearances as a head coach.

Key Returnees

  • Kris Dunn (15.6 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.5 RPG, 2.7 SPG,  47.4 FG%, 34.0 MPG)
  • Ben Bentil (6.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 43.6 FG%, 21.5 MPG)
  • Jalen Lindsey (3.8 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 33.0 3FG%, 17.9 MPG)
  • Kyron Cartwright (3.5 PPG, 2.6 APG, 1.6 RPG, 38.0 FG%, 18.8 MPG)
  • Junior Lomomba (1.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 32.6 FG%, 11.1 MPG)

Notable Departures

  • Paschal Chukwu (Transferred to Syracuse; 2.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 66.0 FG%, 9.9 MPG)
  • Carson Desrosiers (Graduated; 6.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 44.9 FG%, 25.1 MPG)
  • Tyler Harris (Graduated & Transferred to Auburn; 9.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 42.1 FG%, 26.7 MPG)
  • LaDontae Henton (Graduated; 19.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 44.6 FG%, 33.9 3FG%, 37.0 MPG)
  • Ted Bancroft (Exhausted Eligibility; 1.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 4.3 MPG).

Additions

  • Rodney Bullock (redshirt sophomore; suspended for 2013-14 season, tore ACL and missed 2014-15)
  • Ricky Council II (3 star recruit)
  • Drew Edwards (3 star recruit)
  • Ryan Fazekas (3 star recruit)
  • Quadree Smith (3 star recruit).

MoreBECB Season Preview Hangout #7: Providence

Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup

  1. Kris Dunn
  2. Junior Lomomba
  3. Jalen Lindsey
  4. Rodney Bullock
  5. Ben Bentil

Key Non-Conference Matchups

  • Nov. 14th  vs. Harvard (NCAA team from a year ago)
  • Nov. 18th vs. Illinois (Gavitt Tipoff)
  • Nov. 26th vs. Evansville (neutral site game; Wooden Legacy)
  • Dec. 5th at Rhode Island (in-state rivalry game)

Last Season at a Glance

The 2014-15 season marked the potential for Providence to make back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990 and senior LaDontae Henton was the most experienced member of a team he was destined to lead for the final time in a Friar uniform. Henton was joined by a healthy but rusty Kris Dunn who was coming off his second shoulder surgery since arriving in Providence as a freshman in 2012. Also returning were Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris, both in their second season at Providence after transferring from ACC schools. Despite losing Rodney Bullock for the second straight season before the first game -- this time to a torn ACL -- Ed Cooley felt good about his veteran team that had experienced a Big East Tournament championship the year before and was one of the biggest teams in America.

The season started out with Henton carrying the load while Dunn attempted to shake off the rust. The Friars squeaked out a season opening win against Albany -- a team that would go on to the NCAA Tournament -- and rattled off 5 more wins to begin the campaign at 6-0. Included in that undefeated start was an exciting game against Notre Dame at Mohegan Sun in which Henton scored 38 points en route to a 1 point win.

Trouble began after the Friars defeated Yale on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The next contest would be against #1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena on national television 2 days later and it was a bloodbath. Kris Dunn, not fully recovered from an ankle sprain he suffered in that Notre Dame win, turned the ball over 10 times in the Friars' 20 point defeat. That drubbing could have been shaken off as a game the Friars weren't supposed to win but then they fell at Boston College their next time out and inexplicably dropped a game at home to Brown -- a basement-dwelling Ivy league squad. Sitting at 6-3 the Friars' season was on the brink as too many non-conference losses had a chance to derail their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Friars righted the ship against rival Rhode Island behind 22 points from Dunn and didn't drop another game the rest of the non-conference to finish that portion of their schedule at 10-3. Harris was removed from the starting lineup in favor of freshman Ben Bentil after Providence's win against Stony Brook on December 13th.

Providence started the Big East schedule 6-2 through their first 8 games with the losses coming at Marquette and home to St. John's. An impressive and gritty win at Butler, two overtime wins at home against Georgetown and Xavier and a triple-double by Dunn against DePaul highlighted the winning side of that 8 game stretch. The final 10 games were played at .500 with road losses at St. John's, Xavier and Villanova. Providence had a chance to beat Butler at home on Senior Day -- the final day of the Big East season -- and finish as high as 2nd in the league standings but they fell to the Bulldogs and finished 5th in the regular season standings.

That 5th seed meant that Providence had to face the 4th seeded St. John's team that won both regular season games against the Friars in the second round of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Friars would cruise to victory with double-figure scoring from Henton, Dunn and Harris. That set up another matchup for Providence against a team they hadn't beaten during the regular season in Villanova. The Wildcats finished the regular season at 29-2 with their only two losses coming in Big East play. They defeated Marquette in their first Big East Tournament game and were looking to reach the tournament finale for the first time since 1997. The game was tight throughout and would ultimately go Villanova's way after a questionable foul was called on Bentil who was guarding Ryan Arcidiacono's drive to the basket with 3.1 seconds remaining. Providence had done enough to earn a 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and they were sent to Columbus, Ohio to await the winner of an 11 seed play-in game played by Boise State and Dayton at Dayton's home arena. The Flyers beat the Broncos and made the short trip north to Columbus for their tilt with the Friars in the NCAA Tournament's Second Round. With a heavily pro-Dayton crowd the Friars got off to a slow start and never really turned things on as they fell to Dayton, 66-53.

2015-16 Outlook

Providence lost a number of key, experienced pieces from last season's team though Kris Dunn made the surprise decision to buck a likely lottery selection in the 2015 NBA Draft for one more go-round in Providence. Dunn is widely considered one of the best players in college basketball for the 2015-16 season and will be looked upon to carry this young team as far as he can. Rodney Bullock returns from his ACL injury and looked very impressive in the team's only public exhibition game against Division II Stonehill on October 31st, leading the Friars with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Ben Bentil will have to play lots of minutes up front for Ed Cooley since Paschal Chukwu decided to transfer to Syracuse in late May.

The key to this season will be Dunn. He has to cut down on his turnovers and show an improved shooting stroke for Providence to have any chance of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the 3rd straight season, a feat this program hasn't accomplished since 1974. There will be a lot asked of the freshmen to supplement the lineup where necessary and Cooley has stated he wants to play a much faster and uptempo style with his current roster makeup.

Projection

Even with Kris Dunn being one of the best players in America this season the Friars will struggle too much early to find the right lineup combinations and I expect them to drop at least 3 non-conference games. Any more losses than that before Big East play and the Friars will likely have to win the Big East Tournament to get an NCAA Tournament bid. Cooley has shown that he will adapt his style and system to the players he has that season and combined with the new 30 second shot clock and elimination of the 5 second closely guarded rule I think Dunn's numbers could be insanely good. More possessions and the ball being in his hands for longer each possession spells success for him. The thing that will work against Providence this season is that they will struggle to rebound as a team and they will be forced to lean on some very young and inexperienced players. I predict an NIT bid for the Friars with an outside chance of running the table at MSG in mid-March because of Dunn and Providence's ability to get a few shooters hot. I think 19 wins is probably where they'll end up though.