"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

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Providence Preview 2023-24

Providence Friars

December 19, 2023 at Amica Mutual Pavilion and February 28, 2024 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Kim English (34-29 overall, 0-0 at Providence)

Three-Year NET Average: 55.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 50.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 41

Projected Starters: PG Jayden Pierre (6'2" So), SG Devin Carter (6'3" Jr), SF Garwey Dual (6'7" Fr), PF Bryce Hopkins (6'7" Jr), C Josh Oduro (6'9" 5th)

Bryce Hopkins battled Tyler Kolek for Big East Player of the Year honors last year

Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith | Getty Images

Providence fans were treated to a roller-coaster ride last season. At their height, they were 17-5, tied for first in the Big East at 9-2, ranked #17 in the AP Poll, and Bryce Hopkins looked like a lock for Big East Player of the Year. Then the wheels started to come off. They went just 4-5 down the stretch in conference play and lost their opening games in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Fans wondered what happened for all of three days before it was officially announced that the Pride of Providence, Ed Cooley, was leaving for conference rival Georgetown. Amidst all the venom spewed at the Hilltop, which included allegations of infidelity, both in his marriage and in his handling of the Providence program, Cooley also poached four-star recruit Drew Fiedler from the Friars. Providence moved on to George Mason coach Kim English, who retained much of Cooley's roster and brought along some transfers of his own to reinforce a Friar team that is motivated and fanbase that is bitter.

Kim English challenged his likely starting point guard, Jayden Pierre, to a game of one-on-one when the freshman considered transferring. English won the game and convinced Pierre to stay. As a freshman, he showed flashes of the type of game-controlling maestro Cooley always favored at the position. He'll be joined in the back court by one of the league's most tenacious defenders in Devin Carter, who averaged 13.0 ppg/4.9 rpg for the Friars while earning honorable mention All-Big East honors. Perhaps the biggest recruiting win was keeping top-40 freshman Garwey Dual, who has already received some one-and-done buzz. Dual is a long, athletic guard that has the skillset of a point guard in the frame of an NBA wing. Up front, the Friars are led by Bryce Hopkins. He averaged 15.8/8.5 last season and was a First Team All-Big East honoree that looked like a future NBA player after transferring in from Kentucky. The starting lineup will be rounded out by George Mason transfer Josh Oduro, who posted 15.6/7.9 for English in the A-10 and will likely need to log major minutes for a thin front court. The bench is highlighted by another GMU transfer. Davonte "Ticket" Gaines started 23 games for English last year but was wildly inconsistent, showing the ability to dominate a game or disappear depending on the night. Redshirt sophomores Corey Floyd and Rafael Castro will likely round out the rotation as the next most experienced returnees from the Cooley era.

It's hard to know exactly what to expect from English, but given his history they will likely run a 4-out-1-in system around Oduro, who was a two-time All A-10 First Team player. Everyone else on the roster will be capable of stretching the floor and getting to the rim. English preaches either getting a shot up immediately or moving the ball on. His players will either catch and shoot or drive, but don't expect many head fakes, shot fakes, or jab steps. This doesn't necessarily mean they will play fast, but they will work for the best open look and take it as soon as it's there. Defensively, English aimed to chase teams off the three point line, challenge every shot, and hammer the offensive glass. George Mason sacrificed turnover creation in order to reduce extra possessions by securing rebounds, which was helped heavily by having two excellent rebounders in Oduro and Gaines. Hopkins will only help in those efforts as he's a monster rebounder. It will be interesting to see how he deploys Carter, who is an excellent ballhawk. Cooley often used him as a one-man press, siccing Carter on the opponent's best offensive guard, similar to how Shaka Smart would sometimes deploy O-Max Prosper. It will be interesting to see if English follows suit, or if he uses Carter more as a man defender the way he did his entire lineup at GMU.

If Ed Cooley was coaching this team, a NCAA bid would seem to be likely and this feels like it would be a team with the ability to stay in the top-25 all season. It's a bit less clear what they will be with Kim English. In his first year, with a roster that was largely experienced together with a few high-level upperclassmen transfers, he actually posted a worse win/loss record than what got Dave Paulsen fired the year before. In his second year, the record improved but the efficiency declined against a bad A-10 despite 5 members of his 8 man rotation returning. The general consensus is that English is a rising star in the coaching ranks, but the last time he stayed in one place for more than two years was as a college player at Missouri from 2008-2012. As a professional player or coach, he's never settled down long enough for anyone to get an accurate bead on him. On paper, this should be a tournament team that is in the mix for the top-half of the Big East, but it's hard to project a long-term positive trajectory when the leader's career has been so capricious.

One Man's Opinion: I have the Friars finishing 5th in the Big East. Kim English gets a huge boost in having Devin Carter, Bryce Hopkins, and a stud freshman like Garwey Dual on his first Friar roster. While I don't know what to expect from English, I do think even he will get this team into the top half of the league and the NCAA Tournament. By the end of the year, I fully expect Friar fans to have their chests puffed out and to be proclaiming English to be the next great Big East coach. I'm not at all convinced they will still feel that way in the years to come, but Ed Cooley left a very full cupboard for his replacement and for at least one year, I expect English to benefit greatly.

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