Entering the 2016-2017 season, the main storyline surrounding the Providence Friars will be the departures of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already heard enough of that. Let’s turn our focus to Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, and the rest of Ed Cooley’s new group and their early season match-ups.
Vermont (November 14)
The Friars open up their 2016-2017 season by welcoming in the Vermont Catamounts to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Returning four out of their top five scorers from last season, the Catamounts are looking to improve upon their third place (23-14) finish in the American East Conference last season.
Vermont will also have a game against Quinnipiac under their belt prior to facing the Friars. With junior guard Trae Bell-Haynes leading the way, the Catamounts may prove to be a tough opening opponent for Ed Cooley and the Friars. I’ll still go with Providence in this one by a slim margin.
Ohio State (November 17)
The first road game of the year for the Friars comes against the Ohio State Buckeyes as a part of the annual Gavitt Tipoff Games. This will without a doubt be one of the Friars’ most trying nonconference games as the Buckeyes are returning their top five scorers from the 2015-2016 season. Coming off a 21-14 year, Ohio State seems to be the Big Ten’s most popular sleeper pick.
Bringing in two four-star big men gives the Buckeyes some quality length to go along with their already present scoring punch. With loads of returning talent, Ohio State will provide the Friars a huge early season test. If you’re looking for a highlight game out of Providence’s nonconference lineup, this has to be towards the top of the list.
Bottom line: I’d be surprised if Providence comes out of Columbus with a win.
Emerald Coast Classic
Next up for the Friars is the Emerald Coast Classic. One of the hidden gems among early season tournaments, the Emerald Coast Classic features the likes of Iowa, Memphis, and Virginia. The Friars will play home games versus Grambling and St. Francis (Brooklyn) before heading out to Destin, Florida where they’ll play their final two games of the tournament against Memphis and Iowa/Virginia.
Grambling (November 19)
Grambling finished last season at 7-24 while taking home last place in the SWAC. This should be a lock for the Friars. If it turns out not to be, Ed Cooley could be in for a long season.
St Francis Brooklyn (November 21)
The second and final game of the Friars’ Emerald Coast Classic homestand welcomes St. Francis Brooklyn to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The Terriers consistently sport one of the tougher nonconference schedules in the NEC, and this year is no different. Before coming to Providence, St Francis will face NC State and Virginia, so they’ll be battle tested.
Finishing at 15-17 last season and losing two out of their top three scorers puts the Terriers in a tough spot. Look for the Friars to go 2-0 to start off the Emerald Coast Classic.
Memphis (November 25)
Now comes the fun part. First, the Friars get a matchup against Memphis. In returning their top scorer, sophomore Dedric Lawson, the Tigers have an offensive leader. But losing guys like Shaq Goodwin, Trashon Burrell, and Ricky Tarrant Jr. really hurts Tubby Smith’s team. Youth will be the motto in Memphis, as the Tigers have no seniors with any legitimate experience.
But this isn’t a team to be overlooked. With Tubby Smith at the helm, I have no doubt this will be a tough matchup for the Friars. The Tigers’ stellar 2015 recruiting class has another year of experience under them and will keep this team well afloat. Still, I like the Friars in a close one here.
Iowa / Virginia (November 26)
Depending on the outcome of the November 25th matchups, Providence will either face Iowa or Virginia to round out their trip to Destin, Florida.
Fran McCaffery’s young group is a question mark going into this season. Losing four seniors forces 2017 senior Peter Jok to step into the spotlight. This is his team now. Much like the Friars, the Hawkeyes have lost an important portion of last year’s team. Now both fanbases have to wait and see.
Losing the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey puts the Cavaliers in a similar situation. Regrouping after losing the core from the year before is not an easy thing to do, but the Cavaliers will have to do so fast as they boast a difficult nonconference schedule again this year.
UVA represents another difficult power conference matchup that will be one of the Friars’ tougher early season games. My point of interest here is Kyron Cartwright vs. London Perrantes. I’m curious to see how Cartwright does against a phenomenal and experienced point guard in Perrantes. It will be his first major test with the keys to Ed Cooley’s offense.
Regardless of the opponent, the Friars’ Emerald Coast Classic finale will be a tough one.
New Hampshire (November 30)
When the Friars return from Florida they’ll welcome the Wildcats of New Hampshire to the Dunk. Returning their top four scorers after going 20-13 last season, the Wildcats look to improve upon their fourth place finish in the American East. Junior Tanner Leissner will be the focal point for the Wildcats this season. The 6-7 forward will likely be matched up against Rodney Bullock or Isaiah Jackson.
I like Friars here, but it may be closer than you think.
Rhode Island (December 3)
If you’re a Friars fan, you know this game is much more than an A-10 - Big East matchup. This is often the most anticipated nonconference game for both teams when the schedules are released each spring. The Rhode Island rivalry has not disappointed over the last few years.
Last season, the Friars traveled to the Ryan Center to face a depleted URI squad missing their best player E.C. Matthews due to a season ending knee injury. But as this rivalry has exhibited again and again, home court advantage matters. The Friars snuck out a 74-72 win thanks to a buzzer beating tip-in by Ben Bentil. Ed Cooley’s team was head and shoulders better than Dan Hurley’s Rams, but that tends to take a backseat to passion in this annual matchup.
This year’s game features a role reversal. URI is the loaded squad entering this season, returning the bulk of their production from last year while welcoming star E.C. Matthews back into the starting lineup. It’s now URI’s turn to play the role of the superior road team. The crowd will be ruckus as always, but can the Ram’s prevail on the road like the Friars did last season? I say they do. URI in a close one.
If I had to pick a game out of the Friars’ nonconference schedule to key in on, this is it.
Brown (December 6)
Three days later the Friars welcome another in-state opponent to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Brown finished in the basement of the Ivy League last year with an 8-20 record. They’ll rely on seniors Tavon Blackmon (13.3 PPG) and Steven Spieth (10.9 PPG) to lead the charge. The Bears are still a little undermanned this season, but Coach Mike Martin always manages to play the Providence tightly. The Friars should avoid the upset here and defeat the Bears.
Massachusetts (December 10)
The Friars dismantled the Minutemen in Amherst last December just as they were hitting their stride. Despite losing key guard Trey Davis (18.7 PPG), UMASS should put up more of a fight against Cooley’s new group. Bringing in Zach Lewis (transfer from Canisius) helps to fill the void from Davis’ graduation, but I still give the Friars the nod here at the Dunk.
Wagner (December 17)
The Seahawks had a successful 2015-2016 season finishing with a record of 23-11, qualifying for the NIT, and knocking off No. 1 seeded St. Bonaventure in the first round. Wagner will be led by guards Corey Henson (13.3 PPG) and Michael Carey (12.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG). Averaging a well balanced 70.3 PPG last season, Bashir Mason looks to continue his successful offensive track record.
Size and length remains an issue for the Seahawks. Look for Kalif Young and Emmit Holt to expose Wagner inside. I’ll take Cooley’s bunch.
Maine (December 20)
The Friars final home game of their nonconference schedule comes against the Black Bears. Maine struggled last year with a record of 8-22. Lacking size and a much needed scoring punch, there’s not ton of potential for improvement this season. I see the Friars winning this one handily.
Boston College (December 23)
Providence concludes their nonconference schedule by traveling to Conte Forum to face the Eagles. Going 0-18 in the ACC and 7-25 for the regular season means it can only get better for Jim Christian’s team. The one bright spot on the Eagles’ roster last season was guard Eli Carter. He’s now gone, so the team will need to find another scoring punch. As much as the Friars could blow this one open, I can see this being an unfortunately close game, as many BC-PC matchups are.
Friars win here in a close one.
I think Providence will surprise some people this year as they seem to be getting overlooked in some Big East previews. It all depends on Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock as they’ll be looked at to lead the way for Ed Cooley. I can see the Friars struggling with some of their early opponents like Ohio St and Iowa/Virginia, and maybe slipping up in one of their should-be wins, but overall, Ed Cooley should have his guys in good shape by the time Big East play comes around.
My final pick: Friars finish their nonconference schedule at 9-4.