Providence: The Big East’s Darkhorse

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 23rd, 2014

With Villanova grabbing national headlines, St. John’s maintaining a Top 25 ranking, and both Butler and Georgetown wavering in and out of the polls, much of the focus on the Big East this season has naturally shifted towards them. Meanwhile, Ed Cooley has quietly pieced together a 10-3 season with five Top 100 wins, most notably against Notre Dame and Miami. While Providence found themselves in the Top 25 earlier this season, an unsurprising 20-point loss at Kentucky knocked them out, and a shocking home loss to Brown has kept them out. But college basketball, and the tournament selection process, are about a team’s body of work. Led by LaDontae Henton, the Big East’s leading scorer with 20 points per game, the Friars deserve more respect than they are getting.

With Henton Leading Them, Providence Is A Contender In The Big East

A quick review of Providence’s schedule shows the team has apparently gone through a number of phases. The first was the Henton-dominated early season schedule, where the Friars knocked off Florida State, Notre Dame, and Yale in just one week and Henton scored a combined 91 points in those games. Then came a down phase in which Henton scored just 28 points combined in the next three contests, all of which the team lost. Now, following a win over the previously-ranked Miami, the Friars appear to be back on the upswing. It’s a dangerous recipe, relying on one player to shoulder the scoring load, but the Bryce Cotton-led tournament team from last year would beg to differ. Henton is a dynamic player with an array of post moves and outside shooting as well as a lethal combination of strength and quickness makes him a mismatch on the perimeter and in the post. This versatility causes a tough match-up for any team, and his cold shooting nights this season appear to be more a function of his own doing and less one of getting flustered by defenses.

Against Miami in Brooklyn on Monday night, Henton was unguardable in the low post and added two three-pointers on his way to a 25-point, five-rebound performance. “Henton is very good going to his left, he’s good at posting up, he can hit threes and he’s good in transition,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said, “[Henton] is a serious contender for Big East Player of the Year.” Henton’s second half scoring outburst was the jump start Providence needed to separate itself in the game. With 6:12 remaining and their team down 16, the orange and green crowd slowly began filing out of the Barclays Center. For a game that was supposed to be neck-and-neck, Providence clearly demonstrated that it was the better team.

Henton is not the only significant piece on this Providence team. With Tyler Harris underperforming thus far in his junior season, sophomore Kris Dunn has emerged as a stat-sheet stuffer and offensive coordinator. The 6’4″ point guard has been virtually unstoppable in transition and leads the conference in assists with 7.0 per game and steals at 2.9 per game. The success for the Friars has come when Dunn is able to stay on the floor without getting into foul trouble to play alongside Henton. Against Miami, this pairing excelled: Dunn scored 15 and dished out 13 assists, finding Henton all over the floor. Moreover, the Friars’ height gave Miami’s smaller guards a fit, causing a group that shot 40.3% from beyond the arc this season to shoot just 5-of-27.

Following losses to Brown and Boston College, Providence has understandably been overlooked at this point in the season. But with Dunn’s continued improvement, Henton’s pure scoring ability, and the possible emergence of Harris or freshman Jalen Lindsey, it would be woefully ignorant to exclude Ed Cooley’s group from Big East contender discussion. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team with how we’ve responded… I thought we played a complete game,” Cooley said after the game. “Was it our best game? No, we still have so much improvement.”

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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