Ever since becoming the Providence Friars head coach in 2011, Ed Cooley has enjoyed a lot of success. They have made the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive seasons, and won a game in the “Big Dance” last season for the first time since reaching the Elite Eight in 1997. His most cherished moment with the team may have come in 2014, when his Friars were crowned Big East Tournament Champions for the first time since 1994. The energy Cooley brings to his team is unlike any other coach in the nation.
But this season, Ed Cooley and company will be in a much tougher situation than the one they were in last season, as a lot of talent is gone.
Kris Dunn. Two-time Big East Player of the Year. Terrific point guard. Defensive juggernaut. One of the best players to ever wear a Friars jersey.
Ben Bentil. One of the most improved players in the nation this past season, averaging 21.1 points per game. He and Dunn made up for one of the best duos in the nation.
Junior Lomomba. Started all 31 games last season. Tyree Chambers. Quadree Smith.
Gone, Gone, Gone.
So where will Cooley look for production this coming season? The biggest X-factor for Providence’s season is Kyron Cartwright. The upcoming junior averaged 5.5 points per game last season, but showed flashes he could be destined to lead this team once the incredible duo of Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn is history. He will likely fill in for Dunn as the team’s starting point guard, as he was his main backup in their Round of 32 run in the 2015-2016 season.
The only other player to record double-digit points per game last season for the Friars was Rodney Bullock. Averaging 11.5 points per game, the soon-to-be junior was terrific as a third asset to Cooley’s team. But can he lead a Big East team? It’s debatable, but don’t count out Bullock to prove once again he is a legit scoring option.
The other man who fills up Providence’s backcourt is Jalen Lindsey. He was a threat from deep last season, but was extremely inconsistent. He averaged 7.2 points per game and shot just 27.8% from deep, shooting 35-126 beyond the arc. He’s had showings where he poured on 30 points and went 6-9 from deep against St. John’s, but also had performances where he had just five points and made just one of five treys in 39 minutes in their first tournament game against USC.
Returning players who will help contribute to the backcourt include Drew Edwards, Ricky Council, and Tom Planek. Overall, that makes up for a pretty solid backcourt.
But the frontcourt? Oh boy. It could be a disaster.
Providence’s tallest player will be incoming freshman Kalif Young, standing 6’9”. Yes, a three-star, 6’9” freshman will be the tallest player on Ed Cooley’s roster this season.
Other players who could potentially be the tallest player on the court this season include Bullock, Jalen Lindsey, Tom Planek, transfer Emmitt Holt, Ryan Fazekas, and freshman Alpha Diallo. All of these players are 6’8” or shorter. Bullock, Lindsey, and Planek were the only players to receive playing time as a forward under Ed Cooley last season. Bullock stands at 6’8”, Lindsey at 6’7”, and Planek at 6’6”.
Yes, a disaster indeed.
So this season, there will be no more dominance in post play from Ben Bentil. There will be no more out-rebounding teams like they did last season, finishing with a -0.9 rebounding margin. Instead, Providence will have five athletic guys on the court for most of the game, and Cooley will have to adjust.
However, Ed Cooley and his Friars should never be counted out. Coaching either Ladontae Henton or Ben Bentil every year he has been the coach, Cooley has never been in this position before. But the game is changing, and throwing five guys out there who can all shoot threes and play athletic defense may not be a bad thing after all. Sure, it’ll be tough, but expectations are nowhere near where they were entering last season for the Friars, and there could be something special in the making at Friartown.