Friar Basketball

Examining the Non-conference Schedule

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Providence closed the non-conference portion of the schedule 10-3 and won’t take to the court again until it hosts Creighton on Dec. 31. Despite losses in winnable games against Wichita State and Massachusetts, Ed Cooley will take a 10-3 mark that includes road victories over Boston College and Texas.

According to Ken Pomeroy, Providence enters Big East play with the 75th ranked offense in the country and 64th rated defense. Entering the season, the two biggest question marks surrounding this club were its inexperience at point guard and outside shooting ability.

The Friars are shooting nearly 39% from 3-point range through 13 games, a mark that ranks 30th in the country and far exceeds any expectation of this group in the preseason. Freshman AJ Reeves leads the team in both three point makes (24) and percentage (.453), despite missing Providence’s last three games with a foot injury.

The marked improvement of Alpha Diallo (21 threes on 42%) and a boost from Maliek White (14 threes, 40%) and Isaiah Jackson (19 threes, 44%) have been key. Even non-shooters like Makai Ashton-Langford and David Duke have provided a bonus at times. Ashton-Langford is 4-5 from deep over the last three games after going ten games without a 3, while Duke started the year by making 5-11 in his first four games.

As well as PC has shot from deep, they sit at 248th nationally in free throw percentage (67.3%) and shot below 48% on attempts from inside the arc (241st).

The Friars have been good scoring out of spot-up situations (.976 points per possession — 67% nationally), but have seen their efficiency in post-up situations dip (.808 PPP — 44th%). I expected PC to be a more efficient post-up team considering how effective Diallo and Nate Watson were last year, combined with the expected return of Emmitt Holt that hasn’t come to fruition. Watson still ranks in the 66th percentile nationally, but Diallo has gone from the 92nd percentile to 35th this year.

A Rundown of Individuals in Non-conference Play

Alpha Diallo: There’s not much the junior hasn’t done for Cooley this season. He’s among the top scorers in the Big East (17.4) and leads the league in rebounds per game (8.5) while dishing out 3.4 assists. His 3-point shooting has jumped from 21% to 42% and his 21 made 3s are nearly as much as he made in his first two seasons combined (24). Diallo has four double doubles already and six games of 20+ points. He has generally shot the ball well at the free throw line, with the exception of a 6-13 night against Wichita State and 9-14 at Texas. Those are the only games in which he has missed more than two freebies.

AJ Reeves: How Reeves returns from a foot injury could determine this team’s prospects in March. White and Ashton-Langford have elevated their games in Reeves’ absence, but Reeves is a game-changing outside threat. Cooley has harped on his defensive woes at times, which have been there, but the coach may also have been doing what he could to slow the hype train. Hype that has been well deserved. Reeves’ 29 point debut smashed Gerard Coleman’s PC freshman record of 17, and Reeves more than endeared himself to Friar fans by tying the BC game late with a 3 in the closing seconds. Put simply, it is hard to remember a Providence freshman who has been this ready to score over the past 15-20 years.

Nate Watson: Watson flashed his scoring potential as a freshman, and he’s starting to develop into an all-around presence for the Friars. In just over 21 minutes a night he’s scoring over 10 points per game and grabbing 5.4 boards. The rebounding numbers a big jump from a season ago. Speaking of jumping, Watson looks more explosive getting off of the floor this year. He’s ranked 30th in the country in fouls drawn per minute and Watson is shooting over 56% from the field. After scoring in double figures in eight of nine games (he had 9 points in the one game he fell short), Watson didn’t get as many looks against Albany (3 FG attempts) or Texas (5). Still, he put the Longhorns away with an offensive rebound and put-back with 30 seconds left. Watson dominated Boston College with 19 points and 10 boards. Cooley continues to bring him off of the bench, and sends him to the pine if he picks up an early foul — it appears as though the coach is doing all he can to keep Watson available and out of foul trouble for when he needs him most. 

Isaiah Jackson: Jackson is steadying presence on a team that graduated three senior starters last spring. Like Watson, Jackson comes off of the bench, but finds his way onto the floor in critical moments. He’s shooting nearly 80% from the line and over 44% from deep. Speaking of steady, Jackson has just 15 turnovers in 350 minutes, grabs five boards a game, and is a double figure scorer (10.1). His steal at the end of the Texas game sealed that victory, as did his free throws late in overtime at BC. 

Maliek White: The junior guard has brought a veteran hand to a backcourt that has been in need of one at times. White was quiet early (13 points in PC’s first four games), but has emerged since the calendar turned to December. His 10 points against Boston College were critical, notably a reverse layup with under five minutes to play and a layup and free throw to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. The BC game seemed to ignite White who followed that up with eight points against UMass, and then outputs of 18, 16, and nine points with Reeves out of the lineup. White also has 19 assists and just four turnovers in the last four games. He is currently playing the best basketball of his PC career.

David Duke Jr.: It’s hard to knock averages of 7.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists for a freshman point guard playing a starter’s role. Duke was tremendous in PC’s win over South Carolina (20 points) and played a very good floor game on the road at BC (9 points, 9 assists). His numbers have dipped since a four game spurt against Wichita State, Holy Cross, South Carolina, and Michigan in which he 50 points and knocked down 5-11 from 3. One thing to remember on Duke, he did not play much point guard two years ago at Cushing, so this is a sizable transition. He seems to be playing less on instinct and thinking his way through games. Once those instincts kick in we’ll see the spectacular athleticism and crafty finishes at the rim. 

Jimmy Nichols: Those who don’t follow PC’s program closely will wonder why Friartown is so infatuated with a starter averaging just over four points and three rebounds a game. There have been flashes of brilliance from the freshman — four blocks against Michigan, and a three play sequence against BC in which he scored on a reverse layup, buried a corner a three, and threw down a wild tip dunk come, for instance. There isn’t much Nichols won’t be able to do in a year or two between his shot blocking prowess, athleticism, and ability to stretch the floor. Nichols doesn’t back down from physical or verbal interactions as well. Under Cooley, freshmen like Diallo and Ben Bentil emerged in late January and February. It wouldn’t be shocking to see it come together similarly for Nichols. 

Kalif Young: Young may have been at his best against Texas. He had eight rebounds and kept a massive UT frontcourt off of the glass with aggressive box outs (PC surprisingly won the rebounding battle). He added three steals and two assists for good measure. Young has kept it simple this year, maxing out at six field goal attempts in a game, and making two shots from the field in eight straight contests — not bad for a big man who typically takes 3-4 shots a game. Young features a decent face-up jumper from 15 feet. He and Watson give Cooley a solid interior duo to alternate between. 

Makai Ashton-Langford: The sophomore point guard seemed to have lost all confidence in November and early December. He didn’t see the floor against Iona or Massachusetts and played just two minutes at BC, six against URI, and six versus Holy Cross. Since the loss of Reeves, Ashton-Langford has seen his minutes and confidence rise. He had eight points and five assists against Central Connecticut, 7-5-3 versus Albany, and after sitting the opening ten minutes of the second half against Texas he played well enough that Cooley went with him the rest of the way down the stretch. In those last three games Ashton-Langford is shooting 8-14 from the field and 4-5 from beyond the arc, while dishing out 11 assists with four turnovers. He’ll be one of the more intriguing players to watch going forward. He was somewhat fearless early in his freshman year, and a return to the attacking type point guard would be a welcome addition come conference play. 

Incomplete: Drew Edwards, Emmitt Holt, Kris Monroe, Andrew Fonts. Holt hasn’t played since a six minute spurt versus Iona on November 24 — that’s seven DNPs in a row. After Holt missed all of last season following a life-threatening stomach surgery, Cooley had hopes that he would return to some semblance of form come March. Cooley even said in October that they would need Holt to contribute if the team were to get to where they wanted to come March. The freshman Monroe looks to be caught up in a playing time jam on a deep team, while Edwards can still be a valued defender. He scored four points off of the bench in six minutes.

Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

One Comment

  1. Derec Lamendola

    January 1, 2019 at 4:35 am

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