|Providence G Vincent Council, a preseason All-Big East selection, leads a young but talented Friars' squad in 2012-2013. The Friars have missed the postseason in the last three season. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Providence Friars
Last year: 15-17 overall, 4-14 Big East (15th), didn't qualify for the postseason.
Coach: Ed Cooley (2nd year, 15-17; 7th year overall, 107-86)
Projected starters: PG Vincent Council, Sr. (15.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 7.5 apg); SG Bryce Cotton, Jr. (14.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg); SF Josh Fortune, Fr. (n/a); PF LaDontae Henton, Soph. (14.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.1 apg); C Kadeem Batts, Jr. (6.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.4 apg).
Top newcomer or Top Newcomers: Freshman G Kris Dunn. The McDonald's All-American can provide a major boost to an already talented backcourt. Dunn, though, suffered a shoulder injury while training with the U.S. Men's Under-18 National Team this summer in Colorado. The 6-3, 180 pound point guard is expected to be out until at least mid-December. Dunn is regarded for his athleticism and ability to penetrate into the lane. Sophomore forward Sidiki Johnson, a transfer from Arizona, has the potential to break into the starting lineup when he becomes eligible at the end of the first semester. Johnson, 6-9, 235, is an exceptional athlete, who is developing his game with his back to the basket. Fortune, a 6-5 freshman, will provide another weapon on the perimeter with his sweet stroke from the outside. In the Friars' 76-52 exhibition win over Rhode Island College on Nov. 3, Fortune drained six 3-pointers en route to a team-high 22 points.
Key loss or key losses: Ricardo Ledo has yet to don a Friars' jersey, but the freshman guard instantly became the team's biggest loss when the NCAA ruled him a partial qualifier in September. The 6-6, 180-pound guard from Providence can still practice with the team but is ineligible to play in 2012-2013. Ledo's prowess for scoring inside and outside helped him earn the No. 6 ranking overall by Rivals.com in the Class of 2012. It also might explain why CBSSports.com College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman ranked Ledo No. 36 on his list of top 101 prospects for the 2013 NBA Draft. Goodman placed Ledo ahead of Preseason First Team All-American G Trey Burke of Michigan (No. 41), ultra-athletic swingman Mike Moser of UNLV (No. 45) and bruising power forward Trevor Mbakwe (No. 47) of Minnesota. The Friars also lost G Gerald Coleman, who averaged 13.2 ppg while starting 21 games.
What you need to know: When Cooley landed both Ledo and Dunn, the excitement level surrounding the program arguably reached the highest point since Los Angeles Clippers F Ryan Gomes led the Friars to the NCAA Tournament in 2004. The loss of Ledo and the injury-bug, however, have dampened the enthusiasm. In the preseason win over the Anchormen last week, the Friars were so beset by injuries that only seven players received minutes. Cooley rested Cotton (thumb), while Batts played through a shoulder injury.
Mark the calendar:
- Dec. 6 vs. Rhode Island: The rivalry should intensify after the Rams' hiring of the Hurley Brothers. The early-season matchup has vast recruiting implications.
- Feb. 6 vs. Cincinnati: The Bearcats arguably have the top backcourt in the conference in veteran guards Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker. The matchup could provide a measuring stick for the Friars' young guards.
- Feb. 9 at UConn: With the close proximity of the two New England schools, it's typically the most anticipated game of the Friars' schedule. A win in the regular season finale could give Providence momentum heading into the Big East Tournament.
Biggest question: How much impact can Dunn and Johnson have in their first seasons with the Friars? If Dunn is hampered by the shoulder injury, it could significantly hinder the progress of Cooley's youthful squad. Johnson is talented, but carries a risk after being suspended at Arizona and dismissed from the team at Oak Hill Academy.
Best-case scenario: Council, one of the most underrated players in the conference, takes his game to the next level and carries the inexperienced team. Dunn progresses quicker than expected and earns a spot on the Big East All-Rookie team. Johnson, Cotton and Fortune all excel in complementary roles. The Friars become one of the most surprising teams in the nation and win a game in the NCAA Tournament.
Worst-case scenario: As Dunn struggles to recover from the shoulder ailment, his teammates falter in his absence. Cooley's message to hunker down on defense is ignored. A Friars team that ranked 13th in the conference in scoring defense last season ranks near the bottom again. Providence misses the postseason.
Reality: Council's leadership and unselfishness wears off on his teammates. Providence makes a late run in March and earns one of the final bubble spots for the NCAA Tournament.
Season opens: N.J.I.T, Nov. 10, 2:00 p.m. ET
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.