Friar Basketball

Six Questions Facing the 2019-20 Friars

6 Questions Image

With the start of the college basketball season just days away, here is a look at some of the biggest questions facing the 2019-20 Providence Friars.

1. How long will it take until Ed Cooley has his full complement of players?

It sure feels like Cooley has been snakebitten at times during his Providence tenure. Cooley saw the first two seasons of Kris Dunn’s career all but eliminated due to multiple shoulder surgeries, lost Rodney Bullock to suspension and then knee surgery in his two first years, and most recently was without AJ Reeves for a good chunk of last year after Reeves won Big East freshman of the week in three of the season’s first four weeks.

This fall has not been much kinder to PC. Cooley’s top priority in the spring was finding a capable point guard, and he more than did so in landing Massachusetts graduate transfer Luwane Pipkins. An explosive scorer, Pipkins has been sidelined for much of the offseason due to knee, and later, hamstring injuries. He returned to the lineup in last week’s scrimmage against Purdue and should be good to go for the season opener on Tuesday. Injuries hurt Pipkins’ production last season, making this a situation worth monitoring.

Top 70 freshman Greg Gantt missed the second half of his senior season of high school following thumb surgery, and has sat much of this fall thanks to an achilles injury. Gantt is inching closer to a return.

The biggest question mark, however, surrounds the knee of Nate Watson. Watson was injured in practice and remains out of the lineup for at least the first few games of the season. Watson is as good an offensive player in the post as there is in the Big East, and was Providence’s most efficient scorer as a sophomore last year. Watson will need to be back to form relatively soon after his return, as the non-conference schedule turns tough in late November.


As we saw with Reeves a year ago, and in Dunn’s freshman year, a return to the floor does not guarantee an immediate return to form.

2. What sort of leap do David Duke and AJ Reeves take as sophomores?

The Reeves we saw in November combined with the offensive upside of Pipkins would help Providence transition from a program that struggled to find backcourt scoring to one with a pair of game-changing snipers. There’s no bigger fan of Reeves than yours truly. This program has not had a shooting guard with his offensive potential in the past two decades. Reeves’ shooting chart from a year ago very much reflects modern basketball — with virtually all of his attempts coming from either beyond the 3-point arc or in the paint. He was particularly lethal shooting corner 3s, where he made them at 59% from one corner and 45% from the other.

AJ Reeves' Freshman Year Shot Chart

AJ Reeves’ Freshman Year Shot Chart

Reeves’ offensive upside is matched by the defensive potential of Duke — a long limbed, athletic 6’5 guard. Duke gave All Americans Markus Howard and Myles Powell issues last year, and he was ranked in the 83rd percentile of all defensive players in points per possession against (.747 ppp). Playing off of the ball should free him up to attack, but it would not be a surprise to see him log minutes at point guard as well.

3. How close is Emmitt Holt to the player we saw two years ago? 

Expectations for Holt have been, justifiably, tempered after he missed the past two seasons following abdominal surgery. The absence of Watson turns Holt’s return from feel good story to necessity, however.

Senior Kalif Young is more than capable of holding it down defensively and on the glass, but Holt is the only member of the frontcourt capable of replicating the interior offense of Watson during his absence.

Holt impressed with 17 points and 13 rebounds (on 7-8 shooting) in the exhibition opener against D2 Stonehill, but perhaps more encouraging was his 10 point, 22 minute effort versus a big Purdue team last weekend.

4. Will Providence run?

This horse has been beaten, but the biggest question surrounding the 2019-20 Friars is the state of the offense. Upgrades at point guard and the experience of a year ago will help, but Providence will have to outscore teams at some point this season. With Pipkins in the fold it would only make sense to pick up the pace, and Cooley has publicly said he has always wanted to do so.

I took a deep dive on the offense earlier this week:

5. What does a senior year leap look like for Alpha Diallo?

On the surface, Diallo had a terrific junior year. There were only a dozen players across the country who averaged over 15 points, eight rebounds, and three assists per night. He was one of them.

His shooting numbers dipped as a junior, however. A 73% shooter from the free throw line over his first two seasons, Diallo made just 67% at the stripe last year, while his field goal percentage dropped from nearly 47% to 42% last year as he transitioned from complementary piece to focal point. He did see a big spike beyond the arc, going from 24% to 33% last season.

Diallo finished second in the Big East in rebounding and first in double doubles.

The “leap” for Diallo does not necessarily mean taking games over with his scoring. With his ability to rebound and defend, Diallo is already one of the most versatile players in the Big East, if not the country. With added efficiency (cutting down on turnovers and bumping his free throw percentage to around 75%) Diallo can become a steadying force on a great team — the type that doesn’t need the ball in his hands much to be the best player on the floor.

6. Is there an opportunity for underclassmen Jimmy Nichols, Kris Monroe or Greg Gantt to emerge?

The most likely candidate of the three is Nichols, the rangy sophomore who started 18 games as a freshman (a young freshman at 18 years old last season). He reportedly gained 20 (much needed) pounds in the offseason, and will see minutes early in Watson’s absence.

The 6’8 Nichols is a good athlete with tremendous length, who apparently shot the ball well in practices prior to last season, but that shooting acumen did not show when the lights turned on. His production fell off once conference play started (8 games started, 1.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, .308 from the field, .222 from 3, .286 from the free throw line in Big East games). Regardless of his offensive development, perhaps no one on this roster has as much defensive upside as Nichols. He tantalized with glimpses of his shot blocking ability last year.


Fellow sophomore Kris Monroe was recruited to help stretch defenses, but he was a non-factor as a freshman. That was not a surprise, as Monroe seemed to have been brought in as a developmental prospect. His shooting numbers were poor last year, but his minutes were so limited that it is impossible to make any judgements from what we witnessed. If PC continues its struggles from deep (last in the Big East last year), Monroe could find an opportunity. Let’s not forget, the NCAA 3-point line is moving back a bit this year.

Gantt is a ferocious competitor, as well as a good rebounder and passer, but rare is the freshman who makes a big impact at PC. Sitting out so much of the past eight months has not helped his cause. Scouts in the Carolinas have lauded his intangibles and character, and some believe he will be an all league defender down the road.

Twitter: Kevin_Farrahar


  1. Wally

    November 3, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Go Friars baby and look forward to visiting the Dunk Tueday!!!

  2. piper2020

    November 4, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Friar Basketball Finally Back!

  3. Marty Aproian

    November 4, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s opener

  4. Cashman

    November 4, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Anxious for a great season. Scoring points is the only way to win.

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