Eric Hoffses of BCI goes “Behind Enemy Lines” to learn more about the Providence Friars with Kevin Farrahar of FriarBasketball.com
Hoff: Is this Providence team expected to compete for the Big East title this year?
Kevin Farrahar: The general feeling is that there are three teams competing for the top spot in the Big East -- Villanova, Xavier, and Seton Hall -- with a crowded 4-8 in the next tier down (Providence, Creighton, Butler, St. John's, Marquette).
The league's coaches picked PC to finish fourth, but that was prior to Emmitt Holt missing time following abdominal surgery. Holt, a senior big man who started his career at Indiana, could be lost for the season, which is a huge blow. Rodney Bullock was 2nd Team All Big East last year, but for my money Holt was the better player and scorer. He's an inside-out threat, and now Providence is leaning heavily on freshman Nate Watson and sophomore Kalif Young inside. Holt was a great back-to-the-basket player and shot 3s around 35%.
Two weeks into the season, Creighton has separated themselves with wins over a pair of top 25 teams. They have the look of a top 25 team themselves. Right now, I have PC the fifth best team in the league. Marquette doesn't defend, Butler is in transition, and St. John's is the wild card. The Johnnies have a terrific starting five, little depth, and Chris Mullin remains a questions mark on the bench. Their guards could make them dangerous in March.
Hoff: How does this team stack up talent wise against the other PC teams that BC has went against the last few years?
Farrahar: The biggest difference BC fans will notice is the depth of the Friars. If Holt does come back this year they'll return all five starters from an NCAA Tournament team. That group includes Kyron Cartwright, an All Big East Performer who was fourth in the country in assists last year. He was Kris Dunn's understudy for two seasons and is the tone setter for this group. He's just a tough kid and a competitor.
I mentioned Watson earlier. He's a freshman power forward that is as talented as any big man Cooley has brought to Providence. Cooley compared him to Craig Smith in the preseason. Watson is 6'10, 250 and was a top 60-75 prospect out of Virginia. Freshman point guard Makai Ashton-Langford is the highest rated recruit Cooley has brought in since Dunn. The Worcester native was a top 40 player in the class of 2017 and committed to PC in the spring after de-committing from Connecticut. In a sign of the depth Cooley has built, both Watson and Ashton-Langford come off of the bench. Both are still trying to find their niche, but have had key moments early.
On sheer talent, Providence doesn't have any single player as dangerous as Dunn, Ben Bentil or Bryce Cotton. The depth will eventually be a strength, but through the first five games of the season it has been a feeling out process for Cooley. It's a good time to catch PC.
Hoff: Can Cooley still pretty much write his own check each year? Is there any part of the fan base that is growing impatient with PC hitting that next level?
Farrahar: The hope in Providence is that Cooley's group can make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament this year after reaching four straight tourneys. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year (PC was picked 9th in the ten team Big East by the league's coaches), but they closed with six straight wins to sneak into the dance. Most of Cooley's tourney losses have been understandable -- UNC twice, against a talented USC group last year, but the one that stung was Dayton when the Friars had a very good core (Dunn, LaDontae Henton, Bentil, etc.)
Providence fans have great perspective in regards to Cooley. This program was in the gutter prior to his arrival, both on the court and off. They weren't competing on the floor and had a number of low character players that embarrassed the college away from it. If anything, PC fans feel as though the true breakthrough is a year or two away. Sophomore Alpha Diallo was a top 100 guy out of Brewster Academy, and he has terrific upside. I mentioned Watson and Ashton-Langford, and Cooley's 2018 haul includes top 60 guards AJ Reeves and David Duke. Both are potential pros. Duke is a 6'5 point guard from Providence who has drawn comparisons to Dunn. That's the type of talent that simply hasn't been at Providence since the 90s. The current group is deep, but the future core has much more upside. That's when the pressure will amp up a bit.
With four tournaments in his first six years and this level of talent on the way, Cooley has the keys as long as he wants them. If anything, the biggest fear in Providence is Cooley potentially leaving one day.
Hoff: Who is the X-Factor on this PC Team?
Farrahar: It's so difficult to pick one because they play ten men. Senior wing Jalen Lindsey transformed from a 27% 3-point shooter into a 46% shooter from deep as a junior. He's capable of stringing together 3-4 threes in a game to break it open. He's shooting with a lot of confidence early this season after missing all three exhibition games and the season opener with a sore knee. Lindsey is a good defender with size (6'7, 230) when healthy, but he's not moving well on that side of the ball yet.
Hoff: PC Wins If? BC wins If?
Farrahar: If this were a game of pickup Robinson and Bowman would very likely be the first two players taken. That's what makes this one so dangerous for Providence. The loss of Holt means PC lost its best interior scorer, but they have a number of players in the 6'6-6'8 range comfortable scoring inside (Bullock, Diallo, and Isaiah Jackson). If I'm Providence, I try to punish BC inside and slow this one down.
Providence had a lot of trouble stopping straight-line drives when Minnesota came to town last week. Robinson and Bowman could cause them a lot of problems. And let's face it, PC hasn't been very good against the Eagles under Cooley. I expect this one to come down to the wire. BC's backcourt could be as good as any PC sees this year, and I know they've upgrade the frontcourt as well. It seems like BC is turning a corner.