"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, October 11, 2019

Providence Preview

Providence Friars
January 7, fiserv.forum; February 22, Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence RI

Coach: Ed Cooley (162-110 at Providence, 254-179 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 52.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 67.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 23

Projected Starters: PG Luwane Pipkins (5'11" RS Sr), SG David Duke (6'5" So), SF A.J. Reeves (6'6" So), PF Alpha Diallo (6'7" Sr), C Nate Watson (6'10" Jr)

The Friars had a respectable non-conference season, despite an upset home loss to Luwane Pipkins' Massachusetts team. Then came the injury to freshman scoring star A.J. Reeves. Reeves was averaging 14.2 ppg before his injury. Reeves missed 9 games in the middle of the season that included a 2-4 start to conference play and after getting back he only scored 6.9 ppg the rest of the way. They finished 7-11 in conference play, but had leads in the second half or overtime of 7 of those losses. Providence was constantly the team that had chances to win and couldn't get it done, which led to them missing the NCAA and accepting a NIT bid.

Ed Cooley returns the majority of last year's team. Diallo is long, do-everything forward that will be expected to carry the load, but he has a lot of help. Watson averaged double-digit scoring and Reeves looked like a go-to scorer in flashes. Transfer Pipkins, who was instrumental in the Friars' upset loss a year ago, is reminiscent of the point guards Cooley has thrived with; guys like Kyron Cartwright, Bryce Cotton, and Vincent Council. He's a quick, heads-up guard that can score and distribute. The question will be if his offensive skills (averaged 18.9 ppg/4.5 apg the last two years at UMass) will translate to the Big East. The other question mark is who the fifth starter will be. Duke seems to be the safe bet, but if Emmitt Holt is healthy, he could be a difference maker. The 6'7" forward was granted a sixth season and, if he's back to his 2017 form, could give the Friars the most complete starting five in the league.

Cooley's offense is predicated on the transition game. He wants his teams to force turnovers and press the attack quickly. They look to drive first, but will kick it out to open shooters and continue pressing the secondary break. Their fluid passing means a lot of assists. Cooley generally runs through a ball-dominant point guard. Last year's lack of success largely came down to not having that guy. Consider this, in Cooley's first seven years at PC, his lead guard had a top-20 in the nation assist rate every single season. Lots of ball movement, lots of passes, and one maestro pulling the strings. On the other end, pressure is the name of the game. Friar defenders will guard tightly and seek to get into passing lanes. They try to take away the dribble and force opposing teams to pass the ball, which allows their long defenders to get into those lanes, create turnovers, and start the attack.

The consensus on the Friars seems to be bottom half of the Big East, fighting for a spot on the bubble. The real outlier is T-Rank, which has them 23rd in the nation. Personally, I think the Friars are very underrated. In a league where few teams have senior leadership, Pipkins and Diallo figure to have the ball in their hands a lot. Both Reeves and Watson have proven themselves to be reliable complimentary scorers. And while it's a big if, if Emmitt Holt comes back and is anything like what he was in 2017, they would be adding a proven, physical 23-year-old Big East big man. Ed Cooley is widely regarded as one of, if not the best coaches in the league outside Jay Wright. His team has athleticism, length, scoring, and experience. This team looks like a comfortable NCAA team, and if healthy, they could be a surprise contender for the Big East title and protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Marquette Memory: The lights went out and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" belted out over the Bradley Center sound system. Phone screens sprang to life, creating a concert like atmosphere in the building, where just moments before, a basketball game had been going on. Most of the fans first realized what was going on when Providence forward Sidiki Johnson fell to the ground, flailing away from a bat flying around the court. Shortly thereafter, players were swinging and throwing towels at the bat. Ed Cooley was shrouded in a towel. The refs tried to resume the action, but there was no deterring the bat until it was serenaded out of the BC by Whitney. After it finally flew through the roof, the game resumed and Marquette finished off an 81-71 victory over the Friars. It was one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of that building.

No comments: