Friar Basketball

Four Early Questions for the Friars

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No Providence season preview would be complete without speculation over some sort of missing piece.

It started in Ed Cooley’s second season at Providence, when Kris Dunn separated his shoulder in the offseason, Vincent Council injured his hamstring in an exhibition game, and freshman Ricky Ledo was deemed academically ineligible.

The following year saw the Big East title return to Providence, albeit without Dunn and freshmen Rodney Bullock and Brandon Austin — all expected to be critical pieces in what would have been an impressively deep team.

The years passed, the challenges continued (the late transfers of Josh Fortune and Paschal Chukwu, the knee injury to top 100 big man Alex Owens come to mind), but Cooley just continues to win.

Now entering his sixth season at Providence, Cooley has turned Providence into the program many hoped it would become, but few believed it could.

Cooley has notched four straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history, welcomes a freshman class that is ranked among the top 20 nationally, will have a crop of recruits coming in next year that is ranked even higher, and has the practice facility he’s long wanted set to debut in 10 months.

Since taking over this program in 2011, Cooley has continually preached culture. Culture has become a bit cliche in sports today, but the culture change is real in Providence, and nothing is more emblematic of that change than the expectations heading into the 2017-18 season.

Three months ago many were hoping that senior forward Emmitt Holt would emerge into the team’s go-to scorer after an impressive junior year. He very well could be lost for the season, but the panic that used to consume Friartown has been replaced by the assumption that Cooley will figure it out.

Jalen Lindsey’s knee is acting up? Drew Edwards has back spasms? The Friars will rely on three inexperienced big men to defend the paint and control the glass?

Cooley’s got this.

That confidence isn’t solely rooted in the fanbase’s faith in its head coach. Kyron Cartwright proved to be one of the top point guards in the country last year. His backup, Makai Ashton-Langford, is the highest rated recruit to commit to Providence since Dunn was an All American at New London High School.

Alpha Diallo is our little secret right now, but he won’t be much longer. The sophomore from New York City looks primed to break out after flashing late last season.

Rodney Bullock is an All Big East performer, the versatile Isaiah Jackson is a throwback to Cooley’s Boston College days, Maliek White will win the Friars a game or two with hot shooting off of the bench, and Lindsey turned into a knockdown 3-pointer shooter who will bring four years of starting experience when he returns to the lineup.

Nate Watson could be one of the most productive interior freshmen in the East, Kalif Young is an active big body, and Drew Edwards lends the backcourt another steady hand.

There’s a lot to like about this group, and last year was the greatest example of Cooley making his doubters look foolish. Yet, questions remain.

Here are a few of them:

Will the long-awaited depth materialize? Seemingly every summer Friar fans are questioning who the odd man out will be on a team filled with options. By November that never seems to be an issue.

Assuming Lindsey returns to health, the Friars are stacked on the wing. Lindsey, Diallo, and Jackson are not only talented, but their skill sets complement one another. Lindsey is a sharp-shooting defender, Jackson the jack-of-all-trades weapon, and Diallo a slashing scorer with upside as both a passer and rebounder.

How deep the backcourt goes will depend on if Edwards can A. shake off the rust he’s shown in the preseason, and B. stay healthy (which he hasn’t be able to do in two plus years so far).

The other factor here is White, who seems at a bit of a crossroads. Does he turn into a sudden impact scorer off of the bench? If so, he’ll have to learn to pick and choose his spots better than he did a year ago. He was solid when he asserted himself, but seemed caught up between trying to run the show and seek his offense. Can he straddle the line between aggressive and over-eager?

The interior is where the most critical questions lie. Providence has no choice but to put their faith in the young trio of Watson, Young, and Dajour Dickens. It’s a difficult spot for the first year players. Ben Bentil provided solid minutes as a freshman, but not until the calendar reached January. And he was a two-and-done player.

Without Holt, the Friars lose their best interior scorer and one of their better pick and pop options. Holt’s rebounding prowess has been a bit overstated since he went down, and PC could actually improve on the glass if Young takes a sophomore leap and Watson catches on quickly. They are young, but men physically.

Does Diallo break out? Diallo went from promising prospect to potential star when he went toe-to-toe with Villanova All American Josh Hart last season. Diallo showed his full game that night, bouncing a behind-the-back pass to Young for a dunk, scoring on drives to the basket, and burying a game-tying 3 with under three minutes to play.

He has been Providence’s best player in the preseason, but he’s still a sophomore on a senior-laden team. The talent isn’t a question, and Providence will need Diallo to emerge into a star if they are to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The question becomes to what extent does a sophomore assert himself on a team heavy on seniors?

Can Bullock find consistency? Our Craig Leighton made a great point to me in a recent conversation about Rodney Bullock. We would have signed up for a 2nd Team All Big East nod in a second when he signed with PC out of high school.

He’s scored nearly 1,000 points in just two seasons at Providence and has been a key cog in two NCAA Tournament teams (including a game-winning layup against USC in the 2016 Tournament), yet there remains a sense that Bullock has been a bit of a tease.

Look no further than last season.

The good: 27 and 8 at Ohio State, 17 and 5 vs. URI, 26 and 10 vs. UMass, a five-game Big East stretch in which he scored 18-22-22-17-20 in January, and another stretch in which he scored 19-12-16-10-20-13 in all six February games. Bullock closed the season with 17 and 7 versus USC.

But there’s also this: 2 points on 1-11 at Xavier, 6 points on 3-13 vs. Creighton, 6 points on 3-11 vs. Villanova, 3 points on 1-8 in the Big East Tournament against Creighton.

All told, Bullock had fewer down stretches than I’d imagined last year. He scored in double figures in virtually every game last year, but with low shooting percentages from the field (43% and 31% from 3).

The bad shooting nights are inevitable, but in the games in which his shooting numbers dipped, his rebounding rate didn’t rise. The next step in his game will be having an impact when the shot isn’t dropping.

What will we know by Dec. 3? By then Providence will have games under its belt against #15 Minnesota, projected Atlantic-10 favorite URI, a Boston College team with one of the most underrated backcourt tandems in the country, and potentially Virginia Tech at Madison Square Garden. They also take on a Belmont team that has won its conference nine times in the past twelve years.

The Big East will have eight teams realistically vying for an NCAA Tournament bid this season, so the Friars need to get to work early.

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

Email: kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

 

2 Comments

  1. Derec Lamenxola

    November 7, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    Friar Basketball Get Redey And We Are Redey And Im Am SO Redey We Need The All Team.Back.TO Numal Linsdey iS Coming Back im Redey And Derec Lamendola iS Coming Next Modant Getig The Team Redey We Need Emmitt Holt Come Back And Linsdey iS Coming Bsck Im Am SO Extied Linsdey Will.Be Back.His Senior Year Makai Ashton Langford

  2. Pingback: Friar Starting Five: Thursday Edition - Friar Basketball

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