Jayden Pierre and the Friars face some key tests early this season
By KEVIN McNAMARA
So now that the histrionics and bluster of Big East Media Day are over, it’s time to focus on the start of yet another college basketball season. At last.
Think about all that has transpired in the world of Providence College basketball since the last time the Friars dribbled and shot in a real game. On that mid-March night in Greensboro, N.C., the Friars were overwhelmed by Oscar Tshiebwe and Kentucky, 61-53, in a game that wasn’t that close. I like to say that the NCAA Tournament is where the rubber meets the road and also is the moment when an elite player can dominate so much that he can ruin an opponent’s season. That was certainly the case in this game as the Wildcat All-American ripped down 25 (!!) rebounds and made the Friar frontcourt cry.
Just three days later, a few tears were shed in Friartown as Ed Cooley said goodbye after 12 seasons. We’ve written extensively about the Providence native’s exit, which certainly was not a smooth one. Did Cooley (or his representatives) begin negotiating a landing at Georgetown too early? Did personal issues and challenges of being the Friar coach for a dozen years weigh him down? Was the opportunity for a personal and professional change – plus a lucrative multi-million dollar contract – in a program and city where he’d be comfortable too much to ignore?
Yes, yes and yes some more.
“I just think overall, change,” Cooley said at Media Day. “I’ll always be a kid from Providence. I miss the beaches. I miss the clam chowder down there. I miss the people. But at the same time, what I don’t miss is not giving myself an opportunity to experience change. I think all of us have changed in our life, it’s just I’m under more scrutiny because of the narrative.”
Within days of Cooley’s exit, Kim English was hired at Providence. He quickly went about recruiting many of Cooley’s leftover players and fortifying the group with some of the talent he was leaving behind at George Mason. Some recruiting wins and losses followed, as did a productive summer trip to Spain for the new coach and lead dogs like Bryce Hopkins, Jayden Pierre and Rafael Castro.
Now it’s time for English’s first season at Providence and in what promises to be an even more rugged Big East than usual. There are three teams ranked in the AP Top 10 and a fourth (Villanova) inside the Top 25. Marquette (5th), Connecticut (6th), and Creighton (8th) are all Final Four good and the talent on display at media day – on multiple teams – said it all.
Providence will need to find answers for the following duos: Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro (Marquette), Donovan Clingan and Alex Karaban (UConn), Kadary Richmond and Dylan Addae-Wusu (Seton Hall), Joel Soriano and Jordan Dingle (St. John’s), Justin Moore and Eric Dixon (Villanova) and Desmond Claude and Dayvion McKnight (Xavier). Oh, and everyone is shaking in their boots over the foursome of Trey Alexander, Steven Ashworth, Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman out in Omaha.
So you get it. The Big East is loaded. The Friars may have some good talent, but so does virtually everyone else. Scratching and clawing to 10 Big East wins against a bevy of Quad 1 and 2 opponents will not be easy.
Tyler Kolek and Marquette are the Big East’s pre-season pick
But before the fun begins Dec. 19 with a visit from the Big East’s pre-season number one (Coaches Poll) pick – Marquette – the Friars have a lot of work ahead of them. The non-conference is where they’ll need to accumulate enough quality wins to make sure they are slotted where you need to be in the NCAA’s NET rankings. The opportunities are there.
None of PC’s opponents are ranked in the Top 25, although a game against No. 13 Miami is possible at the Baha Mar event in the Bahamas. Wisconsin (20 in Kenpom.com), Kansas State (25) and Oklahoma (48) all offer major opportunities for resume-type wins. Throw in a game against Miami and if the Friars can go 2-2 with, say wins over Wisconsin and Kansas State, they’ll take it.
There is a steep drop-off in the Friar’s other opponents, per Kenpom pre-season rank, for whatever that’s worth. Let’s just say that the Friars cannot lose to anyone else on the schedule and would benefit if Rhode Island (193), Brown (199) and Milwaukee (230) enjoy plenty of success and land safely between 100-200 on the NET. Columbia, Lehigh, Wagner and Sacred Heart fill out the schedule, all at the AMP.
PROVIDENCE’S NON-CONFERENCE SLATE
|Mon. Nov. 6||Vs. Columbia|
|Sat. Nov. 11||Vs. Milwaukee|
|Tue. Nov. 14||Vs. Wisconsin (Gavitt Games)|
|Fri. Nov. 17||Kansas St. (Baha Mar)|
|Sun. Nov. 19||Miami/Georgia|
|Fri. Nov. 24||Vs. Lehigh|
|Tue. Nov. 28||Vs. Wagner|
|Sat. Dec. 2||Vs. Rhode Island|
|Tue. Dec. 5||At Oklahoma (Big 12 Battle)|
|Sun. Dec. 10||Vs. Brown|
|Sat. Dec. 16||Vs. Sacred Heart|