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2018-19 Big East Season Preview: Providence Friars

The Friars have with them a loud arsenal of talent as they head into this season.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Charlotte Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

BIG EAST SEASON PREVIEW: PROVIDENCE FRIARS

Coach

Ed Cooley

  • 144-94 record at Providence
  • 64-62 in Big East play
  • 5 NCAA Tournament appearances (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018)

Last Season at a Glance

  • 21-14 record
  • 10-8 vs. Big East
  • T-3rd in Big East
  • Lost to Texas A&M in Round of 64 of 2018 NCAA Tournament

Departures

Player Stats Reason
Player Stats Reason
Rodney Bullock 14.3 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 43.5% FG% Graduation
Kyron Cartwright 11.8 PPG, 5.8 APG, 42.7% FG% Graduation
Jalen Lindsey 8.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 39.5% 3PT FG% Graduation
Dajour Dickens 2 PPG, 1 RPG, 60% FG% Transfer

Returnees

Player Stats
Player Stats
Alpha Diallo 13.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.3 APG, 46.6% FG%
Isaiah Jackson 7.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 37.1% FG%
Nate Watson 6.8 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 59.5% FG%
Kalif Young 4.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 54.1% FG%
Makai Ashton-Langford 4.2 PPG, 1.7 APG, 37.9% FG%
Maliek White 4.8 PPG, 44.2% FG%
Drew Edwards 2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, 33.3% FG%

Arrivals

Player Notable Facts
Player Notable Facts
Dave Duke 4-star recruit, #47 recruit in America, #1 in MA
AJ Reeves 4-star recruit, #48 recruit in America, #2 in MA
Jimmy Nichols 3-star recruit, #5 recruit in SC
Kris Monroe 3-star recruit, #18 recruit in NC

What Happened Last Year

The Providence Friars was 9-4 before conference play started. A solid record to be sure, but one that was absent some quality victories. Their best wins were against the Boston College Eagles, Belmont Bruins and Washington Huskies. None of the three went on to make the NCAA Tournament, with two (BC, Washington) making the NIT. Given that they defeated not a single NCAA Tournament team, they had to pick up serious ground in Big East play.

That’s exactly what they did. The Friars beat every team in the conference at least once, except for the pesky Seton Hall Pirates. They scooped up home victories over the Xavier Musketeers and Villanova Wildcats. Couple those with wins over the Butler Bulldogs and Creighton Bluejays, and the Friars had themselves a resume to be proud of. But work had to be done. At 19-12 with a 10-8 conference record, moves had to be made in the Big East Tournament.

Big East Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

So guess what happened? Providence made waves. They played in three straight overtime games at The Garden, defeating Creighton and Xavier en route to the Big East Tourney Final. Yes, they lost to Villanova, but there’s no shame in that whatsoever. The Friars were happy to hear their names called on Selection Sunday for the fifth consecutive season, an unprecedented feat and an accomplishment worthy of heavy praise.

It didn’t end well for the Friars once again, though. They were bounced in their first Tourney game for the fourth time in this five-year run by the Texas A&M Aggies. That being said, it’s important to look at the big picture. It’s one that offers plenty of reasons to believe that big things could be on the horizon.

Key Nonconference Matchups

The Friars have plenty of matchups that will draw eyeballs this year. They play four teams ranked inside the KenPom Top 75 and seven against teams ranked no worse than 152nd. The big matchup is their last non-con game of the season against the Texas Longhorns. That one will be at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, so it will be a big ol’ road test before Big East play starts.

Elsewhere, the Friars will play Markis McDuffie and the Wichita State Shockers down in Annapolis, Maryland on the first Friday of the season. They’ll face Chris Silva and old friend Tre Campbell on Saturday, November 17 in a matchup pitting them against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Uncasville. Ky Bowman and the Boston College Eagles await them in Chestnut Hill on December 4 and, of course, three days before that they play their in-state rival, the Rhode Island Rams.

Others you might want to keep your eye on are games against the Iona Gaels and Massachusetts Minutemen.

Reasons for Optimism

USC v Providence Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Welcome Back, Holt

Emmitt Holt missed all of last season with an abdominal injury. But it appears that Holt is back and ready to go. After averaging 12 & 6 two seasons ago, Holt will look to make the most of this 2018-19 campaign. Against Bowie State, he played 26 minutes and got 12 and 9, so he looks ready to roll to say the least. If the Friars get similar contributions from him that they got two seasons ago, they should be able to compensate for the losses of Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey and Rodney Bullock.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Charlotte Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Leader of the Alpha Club

Alpha Diallo is expected to do big things this season. Diallo was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team after a solid sophomore season. He averaged 13.2 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 46.6 percent from the field. If you want to look at advanced statistics, Diallo was undoubtedly one of the best players on the team. He was 2nd on the team in PER among qualifiers, tied for first in win shares and 3rd in Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Basically, there’s a lot to like about him, and going forward, expect big things from him.

Freshmen! Freshmen! Freshmen!

Have we talked about Providence’s recruiting class? Because it’s a damn good one. Ed Cooley has a four-man class coming into Friartown this year led by Dave Duke and A.J. Reeves. Duke and Reeves were the top two high schoolers in Massachusetts and both were Top 50 recruits, as well. Duke figures to challenge Makai Ashton-Langford for the point guard spot while Reeves is more of your traditional shooting guard with range. Don’t overlook Jimmy Nichols and Kris Monroe, though. Both should provide needed presence down low and on the wing this season for a team that might very well go 12-deep.

Reasons for Pessimism

Compensating for Loss

It’s true that Providence has a lot of depth. But they will be asking a lot of them this season. Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey or Kyron Cartwright are no longer around anymore. That’s three of Providence’s top four scorers from last season. We mentioned Diallo, yes, but the second-leading returning scorer is Isaiah jackson at 7.4 points per game. There’s plenty of talent to go around and having Emmitt Holt will help them. But Bullock, Lindsey and Cartwright were damn good pieces and they will be hard to replace.

Point Guard Issues?

The pedigree at point guard that Providence has had is obviously hard to ignore. But should we be concerned about what’s to come this season? With Cartwright gone, they will be leaning heavily on either Ashton-Langford or Maliek White at first. MAL and White had a combined 71 assists a season ago in limited action. Kyron Cartwright, meanwhile, had a robust 196. Finding a distributor for the basketball will be a fascinating watch and hopefully it can be done quickly. Otherwise it COULD be an issue going forward. But again, who are we to doubt PC at this point?

Perimeter Shooting

The Friars lost their best 3-point shooter to graduation in Jalen Lindsey. The leading 3-point shooter who returns this season is Isaiah Jackson, who shot just 36 percent from beyond the arc. Last we saw Emmitt Holt, he shot 34.4 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Given how the game has changed, Providence is going to have to hope for a lot of progression in this specific area. Otherwise they could run into problems against some of the more potent offenses in the land.

Best Case Scenario

The Friars pick off Wichita State and South Carolina on neutral floors. Then, they go on to beat Ky Bowman and the Eagles in Chestnut Hill and defeat URI and UMass along the way. Their only nonconference loss is to Texas, meaning they’re 11-1 heading into Big East play. They start off 4-0 with wins over Creighton and Villanova at home, as well as a road win at Georgetown. They fall to Marquette and Xavier before bouncing back, going 4-0 until losing on the road to St. John’s. They fall again, this time to Villanova, putting them at 8-4 in conference play.

They go 4-2 down the stretch, putting them at 12-6, giving them a record of 23-7 heading into the Big East Tournament. They get to the Tournament final again and grab a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, and get to the second weekend. Alpha Diallo is All-Big East at the end of the season and Emmitt Holt gets on the All-Big East Second Team. And one of Reeves or Duke challenges Jahvon Quinerly for Freshman of the Year. Makai Ashton-Langford has steady improvements at point guard and holds down the fort, splitting time with Duke.

Worst Case Scenario

The losses of Cartwright, Lindsey and Bullock are too big to overcome. The Friars struggle once again from beyond the 3-point line and struggle to score in general. The freshmen don’t play up to snuff and they struggle to replace Cartwright at the point. Diallo succeeds, but the complementary pieces around him don’t come up to his level.

They lose their big nonconference games (vs. Wichita State, vs. South Carolina, vs. Texas) and to Rhode Island and BC as well and enter Big East play at 7-5. They go 9-9 in Big East play to make them 16-14, and miss out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.

Prediction

All told, this Providence team is deep, fun and has a lot of promise. There’s a reason why people are picking them to finish in the top half of the conference, and I would not be surprised if that’s how it went down. I see this Friars team being good enough to earn a Top 4 finish in the Big East and get one of their highest seeds in the NCAA Tournament in recent memory.