Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #11 ProvidencePosted by Will Tucker on October 18th, 2012
Friars coach Ed Cooley made waves in the national recruiting scene last summer when he snagged five-star point guard Kris Dunn out from under Jim Calhoun and other elite suitors. Providence looked like a Big East Contender days later, when Cooley convinced Ricardo Ledo to shun offers from the likes of UConn, Kentucky, Louisville and Syracuse in favor of the hometown program. But that blockbuster recruiting class may never materialize on the court, after Ledo was ruled ineligible to play next season by the NCAA and Dunn had shoulder surgery that could sideline him for most of the season. Despite these disappointing setbacks, Cooley fields a team that managed to beat vulnerable Louisville and UConn teams last year, and acquitted themselves well in several close loses. Bryce Cotton, Vincent Council, and highly touted Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson will carry the load until Dunn arrives.
2011-12 Record: 15-17, 4-14
2011-12 Postseason: None
The Friars benefit from a manageable non-conference schedule, highlighted by UMass, Mississippi State, Boston College and Rhode Island. Cooley’s squad should enter a brutal Big East schedule with an attractive record, but early losses against Louisville and Syracuse in the first half of January will temper their confidence. Despite a scheduled home-and-home with Syracuse, Providence’s conference slate has limited exposure to this year’s heavy hitters. Winnable two-game series against Seton Hall, UConn and Villanova punctuate the 2012-2013 schedule.
Preseason First Team All-Big East point guard Vincent Council (39 mpg, 15.9 ppg, 7.5 apg) is complemented by productive upperclassmen LaDontae Henton (37 mpg, 14.3 ppg) and Bryce Cotton (39 mpg, 14.3 ppg). That nucleus should give the Friars the physical tools and experience necessary to anchor a serviceable Big East team. The returning starters are complemented by blue chip Connecticut point guard Kris Dunn, who could become conference Rookie of the Year despite being sidelined early in the season by rehab from shoulder surgery. 6’5” 3-star Hampton, Virginia sharpshooter Josh Fortune brings additional length to the Friars’ wings. But Cooley’s greatest recruiting coup to date also happens to be the roster’s biggest question mark; Providence’s prodigal son and major NBA prospect Ricky Ledo is academically ineligibility this fall. If his NCAA appeal goes well and he gains eligibility in the second semester, Providence could easily finish strong and break into the top half of the conference. PC also gains an injection of frontcourt talent in Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson. A promising 4-star power forward recruit out of high school, Johnson only played seven cumulative minutes before getting in hot water for a violation of team rules and eventually transferring. Johnson remains an unproven commodity, which is a common thread when looking over Providence’s frontcourt.
The Friars lose a significant contributor in Gerard Coleman (34 mpg, 13.2 ppg, 5 rpg), and a limited role player in Bilal Dixon. Although Dixon’s minutes and production have steadily decreased over his three years at Providence, his exit exacerbates an ominously thin frontcourt. The departures of Dixon and Coleman mean Cooley losses two of his top five scorers from a year ago, and 23% of his last season’s rebounding. Although it’s easy to be lulled by a young roster that returns almost everyone, it’s important to remember that there wasn’t a great deal of frontcourt substance on last year’s squad.
Whom to Watch
Providence fans can expect a steady contribution from its returning upperclassmen, although it will interesting to see if Council can play more efficiently as a senior after shooting 39% at high volume last year. 6’9” 250-pound Kadeem Batts must become more assertive in the paint in order for Providence’s frontcourt to not regress from a year ago. But the successful integration of newcomers Kris Dunn, Sidiki Johnson (and possibly Ricky Ledo) will help dictate whether Providence can lift itself out of the Big East gutter. If Ledo doesn’t step on the floor this season and Dunn’s shoulder rehab goes less than swimmingly, PC will likely continue to languish in the bottom third of the conference.
Ed Cooley positively distinguished himself from Keno Davis last year, demonstrating his recruiting acumen and coaching abilities with impressive wins over UConn and Louisville. An influx of talented freshmen is just what Cooley needs to resurrect Providence into a Big East contender. Were it not for Ledo’s NCAA issues and Kris Dunn’s untimely shoulder injury, this could have been the year that Providence ascends from the bottom rungs of the Big East. But given those twin developments, it’s hard to imagine Providence breaking out of the bottom half of the league for at least another season.