Friar Basketball

Options Abound in New-Look Backcourt

Makai

There wasn’t much Kyron Cartwright didn’t do for Providence last season. The program’s biggest question mark was supposed to be how they could possibly replace lottery pick Kris Dunn, a two-time Big East Player of the Year and Ed Cooley’s transformational recruit at PC.

Cartwright was more than up for the challenge in a junior season in which he finished fourth in the country in assists per game, while upping his 3-point percentage to 39%.

The junior point guard’s impact went beyond the numbers. In a season in which the Friars were picked to finish 9th in the Big East by the league’s coaches, Cartwright offered an edge and a touch of cockiness to a team that spent a few months seeking its identity before a march to the NCAA Tournament.

Yet, while Cartwright answered questions as to who Providence could lean on in the wake of Dunn’s departure, an argument could be made that the Friars were too reliant on Cartwright to create for them.

Providence didn’t have another player on its roster that averaged an assist and a half per game — a first under Cooley.

That will very likely change in 2017-18.

Cooley’s backcourt will have a different look this year, with additional depth and a bit more versatility.

Freshman point guard Makai Ashton-Langford arrives as the highest rated recruit at Providence since Dunn stepped foot on campus in the fall of 2012. He’ll spend a year learning under Cartwright before being handed the keys for the rest of his Providence career. Ashton-Langford will also spend time playing alongside him.

When paired together, PC will have backcourt speed that can match any duo in the country. My first look at Ashton-Langford came in December 2014 — early in his prep career at Cushing Academy — and I was blown away by his speed on that afternoon (he finished with 17 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 5 steals in an 84-82 win over Marianapolis).

Speed alone isn’t what will make this duo a particularly difficult matchup. Yes, they can play at a fast pace, but they are also difficult to speed up. Press this team at your own peril.

Cartwright earned the trust of the coaching staff early in his freshman season thanks to his low turnover rate, and turned himself into a viable scoring threat as a junior. He scored in double figures in 13 of Providence’s 18 conference games last year, while balancing being the lone distributor of last year’s group.

In Ashton-Langford, Cooley adds a guard capable of bursting past defenders, but one comfortable playing at any pace. He changes speeds very effectively, draws and kicks well, and will surprise those who haven’t seen him with his craftiness scoring around the basket. He’s a difficult layup taker and maker whom most defenders at the prep level had difficultly staying in front of.

While Cartwright and Ashton-Langford share some of the same strengths, Cooley will have two other backcourt options whose games run counter to each other’s.

Sophomore Maliek White is a 6’2 guard out of Virginia who flashed at times last season. He’s an athletic, well-built scorer who could play as more of a combo guard this season.

Cooley also welcomes back redshirt sophomore Drew Edwards, who missed virtually all of last season after offseason knee surgery.

In baseball terms, Edwards is the steady .280 hitter, whereas White swings for the fences. As a freshman, Edwards was a sturdy hand playing in a backcourt that included both Dunn and Cartwright.

He’s a capable 3 point shooter who attacks the paint when the opportunity arises. Not insignificantly, he simply doesn’t turn the ball over. In 342 minutes as a freshman he turned it over just seven times.

White may have more upside as a scorer, but that came at the expense of ball security last year.

He finished some very difficult shots at, or around, the rim last year, and is a better outside shooter than his numbers indicate. Like many freshmen, it looked as though he struggled to find his niche at times last season, turning the ball over at inopportune times and overthinking a bit in regards to when he should look for his offense.

Playing as more of a combo guard this year may turn the mental green light on for White, allowing him to become more of a scorer rather than a scorer/facilitator. There very well could be a game or two this year in which he knocks down three or four tide-turning 3-pointers.

Cooley will also have the option of going big with Alpha Diallo in more of a backcourt role. The 6’7 sophomore out of New York is primed for a breakout season. He began to emerge in late-January, most notably with 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists versus St. John’s, and 18 more against #4 Villanova two games later. He closed the season with 17 points at St. John’s, 10 in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals, and eight points against USC.

Diallo consistently played 25-35 minutes over the final month of the season, and will allow Cooley some flexibility depending on if he’s feeling better about his backcourt depth, or a wing group that includes Jalen Lindsey, Isaiah Jackson, and possibly Rodney Bullock as well.

Versatility will be the name of the game in Providence in 2017-18, and Cooley has far more backcourt flexibility available to him now than he did eight months ago. The secret is out on Cartwright. He should push for 1st Team All Big East honors as a senior, but the arrival of Ashton-Langford, return of Edwards, and freeing up White to be more of a scorer makes this a group with far more upside than what we saw a season ago.

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

Email: kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

3 Comments

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