Providence is drawing a lot of attention as this year's dark horse team, with the return of Sharaud Curry. Now that Cincinnati has taken some hits to its roster, Provy is really the only candidate for that role, because nine other teams are being projected into the NCAA field and the rest of the pack is simply not that talented. Their MO is great guard play without much up front, and it appears that will continue into 2008-2009. They are the kind of team that can get on fire in terms of scoring against almost any defense, and thus are very dangerous. They have a great chance to make an argument for the Big East in the Anaheim Classic. Saint Mary's, Wake Forest, Baylor, and Arizona State are all receiving votes in preseason polls but none is so strong that Providence couldn't upset them. A strong showing, or even a victory, in this tournament by the Big East's supposed tenth strongest team would plant and early and strong image.
15-16 Overall, 6-12 Big East (12th)
Lost 1st round Big East tournament (West Virginia)
No postseason tournament
Chris Baudinet F
Marston Brooks G/F
Charles Burch F
Luke Burchett G
Sharaud Curry G
Weyinmi Efejuku G
Ray Hall C
Randall Hanke F/C
Jonathan Kale F
Alex Kellogg F
Geoff McDermott F/G
Brian McKenzie G
Jamine Peterson F
Dwain Williams G
Jeff Xavier G
Burch was a non-factor up front last season, but Williams contributed 11 points per game. Those points should be easily replaced by a healthy Sharaud Curry, and his impact could be yet greater.
Trey Anderson G
Bilal Dixon F
I actually have only seen Anderson mentioned at one source; can any PC fans confirm? As for Dixon, I don't think he is enough to fix the problems up front...but he could make a difference between having no inside presence and having a small one. Will he be both ready to contribute and able to stand up to some of the big-time players in the conference?
Nonconference Games: Northeastern, Dartmouth, Sacred Heart, Maine, Baylor (Anaheim Classic, other possible opponents include: St. Mary's, UTEP, Wake Forest, Cal State-Fullerton, Arizona State, Charlotte), Brown, Rhode Island, Jackson State, Boston College, Bryant
Providence has an excellent opportunity, or a tough challenge, depending upon point of view. The Anaheim Classic could tell us a lot about whether they are ready to make a move. Only BC really looks like a challenge outside of the tournament, though.
Two-Time Opponents: Cincinnati, Villanova, Rutgers
This is a very good slate for a team trying to move up the conference standings. They get an injured Cincy squad, a weak Rutgers team, and Villanova is a similar team. Not bad at all.
Remaining Roadies: Georgetown, Seton Hall, Connecticut, West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville
Home Games: St. John's, DePaul, Marquette, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
It is also key to the Friars' hopes that they avoid dangerous trips to Pitt and ND. They do travel to Louisville and UCONN, but they won at Connecticut last year. All in all, they have exactly the schedule they need to surprise some folks IF they can execute.
Best Case Scenario:
Six players (Curry, Efejuku, Hanke, McDermott, McKenzie, and Xavier) average double figures, and Kale, Kellogg, Peterson, and Bilal rotate well enough to constitute effective forward play. They shock everyone by winning the Anaheim Classic and finishing the OOC slate undefeated. They take a few lumps in Big East play, but finish in the top half of the league...perhaps as high as sixth. They run with that in the Big East tournament, solidifying a good NCAA seed with a good showing there. Once in the NCAAs, they win one or two to cap a very successful season.
Worst Case Scenario:
Curry struggles to rediscover his form, and the weakness in the frontcourt is exploited many times. The guard play isn't enough to get past Baylor, so they wind up in the 4th/6th place game in the Anaheim Classic. Boston College takes them down, and they add another loss in the noncon to a weaker opponent. Once Big East play starts, they find themselves in over their heads, and slip as far as 11th or 12th place. They don't win enough in the BE tourney to land much credit, missing the NIT and ending in the CBI.
This is essentially the same team that finished 12th in the Big East last year. Yes, the league overall is stronger...but the very bottom is weaker. The Friars stand almost no chance of finishing worse than last season, and should be at worst the tenth place team. They have the kind of talent to make an NCAA run, and the key difference from last year is that a healthy Sharaud Curry replaces Dwain Williams. They have questions to answer in the frontcourt, and only Hanke has shown much, BUT they have four options to rotate and match up. They really could make a run based on their schedule, because their repeat opponents are not overwhelming and the nonconference features a mostly easy slate with one chance to make a very big statement. They do not belong in the same conversation as the botom feeders in the Big East, but I'm not yet convinced they should be classified with the nine teams many are projecting into the NCAA field. Just a few games will make the difference for them between a top half finish and the NCAA tournament and a 9 or 10 finish and an NIT invite, I believe. I think they are one of ten teams in the conference that will be among the 65 best in the nation, but at least one of those ten will be left out...my guess is the Friars will be the odd man out on Selection Sunday.