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2019-2020 Providence Friars Season Preview

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The Friars took a step back last season for the first time in a long time. Can they get back on track this year?

NCAA Basketball: Siena at Providence Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Following a school-best run of five straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Providence Friars came into the 2018-19 college basketball season with high hopes and great expectations. They returned a lot of talent and had superstar freshmen A.J. Reeves and David Duke coming in. The Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll was equally high on the Friars, projecting them to finish third in the conference.

As you know, they don’t play games on paper. The Friars were significantly hamstrung by Reeves suffering a foot injury that cost him six weeks of his season. Once the freshman returned to action, he never seemed fully comfortable, averaging just 6.9 points and 19.4 minutes per game in his 15 post-injury games, compared to 14.2 points and 27.7 minutes per game in his ten games before the injury occurred. At the time of the injury, Reeves was Providence’s second-leading scorer, and the Friars were never able to find a consistent scoring option when he was out, leading to offensive issues throughout the year.

This year, though, Reeves is back and better than ever. We’ll touch more on him in a bit, along with the rest of Providence’s squad heading into the season.


Head Coach

Ed Cooley, ninth season at Providence (162-110 with the Friars, 254-179 overall)

It’s hard to believe that we’re entering Cooley’s ninth season at the helm of the Friars already. The days of Keno Davis and Tim Welsh are nothing but distant memories. Cooley’s 162 victories has him third all-time among Friar coaches, trailing Dave Gavitt and Joe Mullaney, respectively. Cooley is also the only coach to take Providence to five straight NCAA Tournaments, and is tied with Gavitt as the only two Friar coaches to take the team to five NCAA Tournaments, in general.

Cooley will look to continue to rise the ranks of Friars coaches this year and for years ahead, as it seems abundantly clear at this point that’ll be a Friar for life.


Backcourt

Providence’s forte over the last decade has been their backcourt. That isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

The Friars come in with a wide assembly of talent at guard. Those aforementioned star freshmen Duke and Reeves are back again for their sophomore seasons. Reeves will hopefully be able to play out a full season after competing in just 21 games as a frosh. Duke is the more seasoned of the two, as he partook (and started) in all 34 games last year.

While the Friars won’t have Drew Edwards or Makai Ashton-Langford around this year, Maliek White is chief among them.

Going down the ladder, you also have the likes of Luwane Pipkins. The UMass Minutemen transfer was one of the best guards in the Atlantic 10 while he was playing in Amherst. He averaged nearly 16 points per game (15.7 to be exact) while dishing out an average of 3.7 assists and hauling in an average of 3.5 rebounds. He put up 16 points and 5.2 assists a season ago, and fell just a touch shy of five rebounds per game, with a mark of 4.9. Suffice it to say, Pipkins is quite good and will add a very solid presence in the Providence lineup this year. He’s won’t start the year feeling 100 percent, but when he makes his arrival he’ll likely make an impact.

Once again, if we know anything about the Friars, it’s that their guards tend to excel. With the lineup they have doled out this year, it’s likely that they shine again.


Frontcourt

Providence comes into the year with one of the more intriguing frontcourts in all of the Big East. Big East Preseason All-First Team standout Alpha Diallo (16.0 points, 8.1 rebounds per game last season) looks to end his collegiate career with a bang, as he was one of the conference’s most consistent and dominant players last season. If he can build upon that strong season, there’s no telling what the ceiling is. Diallo is coming off a very good junior season, in which he led the team in Min%, Poss% and DR%. He also was one of their best assist men and their second-best pick pocketer behind the departed Isaiah Jackson.

As mentioned above, A.J. Reeves played a vital role for Providence when healthy last season. That will remain true this season, as Reeves and Diallo are the Friars’ two best scoring options. While Reeves didn’t dominate the glass like Diallo did last year, he held his own with four rebounds per game.

Maybe the most intriguing Friars player coming into this season, though, is Nate Watson (11.7 points, 5.2 rebounds per game last season). Watson saw an increase in minutes in his sophomore season and responded with an increase in output, by a large degree. By the time Big East play began, Watson was Providence’s starting center, a role he likely would have held all year this season, but he suffered an MCL sprain over the offseason and is sidelined indefinitely. Greg Gantt Jr., a four-star recruit who could have likely been a starter in place of Watson, has an injured Achilles.

As a result, things will likely be touch and go at the center position until Watson is able to return. One possible option is senior Khalif Young.

Young made the most of his limited action last season, grabbing four rebounds per game, but scoring just 3.8 points per game.


Nonconference Schedule

Providence’s nonconference schedule is pretty rigorous. Right now, they’re either tasked with or possibly tasked with:

  • 1 team within the Top 20 on KenPom (#12 Florida)
  • 2 teams within the Top 40 (#12 Florida, #32 Texas)
  • 4 teams within the Top 100 (#12 Florida, #32 Texas, #83 Rhode Island, #87 Northwestern)
  • #80 Wake Forest in the second round of the Wooden Legacy
  • #24 Arizona in the final of the Wooden Legacy

The alternative options in the Wooden Legacy aren’t too shabby either. UCF, Pepperdine, Penn all rank no worse than 112th on KenPom to start the year, and are all possible opponents in the final. Not to mention they have a matchup with Penn at home locked up on the schedule as it is. The College of Charleston Cougars could await them in the second round if they get through Wake Forest, and they rank 147th. And if that happens, that would give them another team in the Top 150, joining the above teams and the NJIT Highlanders.

The only true “cupcakes” on their schedule are the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who they open with on Tuesday, the Saint Peter’s Peacocks, the Long Beach State 49ers, the Merrimack Warriors and the Stony Brook Seawolves. Even then, Scared Heart is projected to finish near the top of the NEC and Stony Brook should be competent enough this year in the America East.