Friar Basketball

Providence with Talent to Dance in 2014


Ricky Ledo may be gone, but there’s no reason why the 2013-14 Friars can’t make the NCAA Tournament next season. In fact, there’s more than enough reason to believe that they will dance come March.

While Friartown spent the better part of the past week sweating out Ledo’s decision, they got an equally significant (albeit much quieter) measure of positive news on Tuesday night when Kadeem Batts announced that he was returning for his final season. Paired with 1st Team All Big East guard Bryce Cotton, Batts makes up half of an inside/out duo that will be as experienced and productive as any in the Big East in 2013-14.

Will Providence make the NCAA Tournament next season? Here are five reasons to believe they will.

1. New conference, new opportunities. Playing in the revamped, ten team Big East next season, the Friars’ conference schedule will lighten some without the likes of Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut – teams that have combined for four national titles in the past decade.

Providence finished 5-3 against teams that will be making the jump with them to the new Big East, including sweeps of Villanova and Seton Hall. The mark very well could have been 6-2 had they not lost to DePaul at home – their only home loss to a member of the new Big East.

They finished 4-6 against the rest.

2. Returning award winners. Assuming Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter enters the NBA Draft, Cotton will be the only 1st Team All League player making the transition from the current Big East to the new conference.  Butler, Creighton and Xavier will all bring award winners from their respective conferences, and certainly Creighton’s two-time All American Doug McDermott would be the preseason Player of the Year if he returns to school, but Batts and Cotton will be two of the more proven commodities in the Big East next season.

The only 2nd Teamer from this past year making the transition from to the newly-aligned Big East will be Marquette’s Vander Blue, while Villanova’s JayVaughn Pinkston is the the lone representative from the 3rd Team.

Four Honorable Mention Players from this year will play in the new Big East, including Batts, Marquette big man Davante Gardner, St. John’s freshman JaKarr Sampson and Seton Hall’s Fuquan Edwin.

Providence and Marquette will be the only schools returning two players named to either the All-Conference or Honorable Mention teams.

A name to watch for next season? Xavier point guard Semaj Christon, the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. He and shooting guard Myles Mack, who had to sit out this past season, will form a terrific backcourt.

3. Frontcourt versatility. The return of Batts was essential. Batts and Marquette’s Gardner may be the two best big men in the league next year, while PC junior-to-be LaDontae Henton will be the league’s leading returning rebounder.

Lee Goldsbrough filled in admirably in the second semester, but the Friars were thin up front once again this season.  That shouldn’t be the case in 2013-14.

7’0 Wake Forest transfer Carson Desrosiers gives Ed Cooley something he didn’t have a year ago – another option at center. When Batts got into foul trouble the Friars got small, but Desrosiers gives Cooley an option to alternate, or accompany Batts with. The New Hampshire native has already started 38 games at the high-major level and finished his freshman season fifth in the ACC in blocked shots. An improvement similar to those that Batts and Goldsbrough made this past season would make Desrosiers a fine complement to Batts.

Perhaps no other Friar could swing their fortunes next season more than Tyler Harris. Like Desrosiers, Harris provides length that Cooley didn’t have a season ago. The 6’9 sophomore has the skill set to play small forward, and the length to play the 4 against smaller opponents. His presence could allow Cooley to go with a frontcourt featuring three players all 6’9 or over.

Harris isn’t just long, he’s skilled. The left hander is a good shooter from both beyond the arc and in the mid-range, while finishing consistently at the stripe.

Reports on incoming freshman Rodney Bullock are encouraging. The 6’7 combo forward was selected 1st Team All State in Virginia and was named his district’s player of the year ahead of top 50 foes Anthony Barber (NC State) and Troy Williams (Indiana). With the projected depth, PC can bring him along slowly, or benefit if he surprises and contributes early.

Brice Kofane brings an additional shot blocker off of the bench.

Add it all up and the Friars could well have the depth they’ve long lacked on the interior.

4. A mix-and-match backcourt. The emergence of Kris Dunn over the final month of the season helped answer questions about replacing Vincent Council, but until he takes over the reigns full-time questions will exist. Still, Cooley has a few ways he can go here.

Cotton often played his best basketball last season in the absence of Council.  How much he plays with the ball in his hands next year remains to be seen, but we saw glimpses of the first semester Cotton in the NIT against Baylor, and he was tremendous in scoring 23 points. While Dunn should see significant time at the 1, Cotton’s experience would allow Cooley to alternative the two depending upon match-ups.

Brandon Austin is a top 60 player in the class of 2013 according to most major publications, and while some project him as a point guard he’ll need time to be allowed to be a freshman regardless of position.  Friar fans need look no further than national runner-up Michigan, who got inconsistent, and at times non-existent, production from Mitch McGary and Spike Albrecht before both elevated their play, and their team, in March.

Austin brings a similar versatility to the backcourt that Harris does the frontcourt.  He can handle, shoot and play multiple positions, but like Harris, it’s all conjecture at this point.

On paper, a foursome of Cotton, Dunn, Austin and Fortune is sound.

Even before Ledo announced his departure the feeling here was that Providence would target another guard for next season. They recently contacted Rutgers de-commit Shane Rector, a point guard out of South Kent.  As PC learned when Dunn and Council went down last year, you can’t have enough lead guards.  Expect them to bring one in this spring.

5. Shooters. Providence could range from an average to very good shooting team depending upon how the season breaks for a few players. They should have more options next season regardless.

Cotton is already the single-season record holder for three pointers at Providence and will be among the best in the country next year.

After him?  Questions abound, but potential exists.

This is again where Harris could be a swing player for the Friars. He has a terrific stroke and can beat defenses from different levels. Does that translate into game action next year?

Is Josh Fortune the shooter that single-handedily won a road game at Villanova by hitting five 3 pointers, or the inconsistent shooter we saw for stretches afterwards?

Is Austin more scorer than shooter? He didn’t touch the rim on six free throws when I saw him play against Chester in December, but was hit or miss from deep on that night.

Is LaDontae Henton more the 39% three point shooter of his freshman season, or the one who struggled this past year?

Desrosiers started to let it fly late in his Wake career, making seven 3s in his last four games. Will he continue to trend that way and give PC two big men who can shoot from outside?

And while Batts isn’t a three point threat, he proved to be a very good face-up jump shooter this season.

Questions abound, but the Friars have more potential shooting options than entering the 2012-13 season.

* * *

Options, experience, and talent will be available for Cooley across the board in 2013-14, and if they can find cohesion and stay healthy this is a team that should hear their name called on Selection Sunday.



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