Know Your Big East Opponent: Providence

This season figures to end more happily for Kadeem Betts. - USA TODAY Sports

Providence may have been overlooked in a loaded conference last year, but their incoming class and strong returning players could mean a jump to the next level.

A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.

I'm not sure what comes to your mind when you think of the Providence Friars. Is it Rick Pitino? God Shammgod? I mention those two names because it's been awhile since one of the most nondescript programs in the nation made much noise. After an Elite Eight trip led by Pete Gillen and Austin Croshere back in 1996-97, the Friars have played in the NCAAs exactly twice, crashing out in the first round both times. Last year, with Providence native Ed Cooley at the helm, the college made the NIT quarterfinals to round out only their sixth postseason trip of the last 16 years.

Coach/Style:

That lack of postseason experience doesn't mean the Friars haven't been good, especially not last year. Ed Cooley led the Friars on a slow paced assault that landed them with a tempo of 66.2. That tempo, which was still much faster than Xavier's, led to an offensive efficiency of 107, good for 74th in the nation. Their average possession length of 18.8 seconds speak to a desire to get a better shot, rather than quick one. After that shot goes up (and with an effective fg% of 45.9%, it's usually a miss), the Friars hammer the offensive glass to the tune of 37.4%, 25th in the nation. That kind of commitment reflects the coaching staff's emphasis on second chance points.

Defensively, Providence is something of a mixed bag. While they also ranked 74th in defensive efficiency, they did it by forcing misses from the field, not by blocking shots or forcing turnovers. Teams shot 29.6% from deep against Providence, and only 46.9% from inside the arc. Had the Friars ranked above 216th in steal percentage or 218th in block percentage, they'd have had an elite defense rather than just a very good one.

Departures:

If there is one thing that makes a high efficiency, slow tempo offense click, it's an experienced point guard. Coach Cooley lost his when senior guard Vincent Council graduated. Council was a truly miserable shooter, but his astounding 42.9 assist rate was fifth in the nation and will surely be missed. Other than that, the Friars only lost shooting guard Ricky Ledo, a headcase who never played and then left for the NBA. Ledo landed with the Dallas Mavericks and left behind a rather irate contingent of fans in Rhode Island.

The 6-10 Sidiki Johnson played only 11 games before being felled by injury but only shot 35% from the floor (and 31% from the line) in that time. He did, however, crush the offensive glass at what, had he played enough, would've been a nation leading 18.5% rate. Johnson has since left the team for personal reasons, enrolling at Wabash Valley College this year.

Returnees:

6-1 guard Bryce Cotton will come back for the Friars, and he'll bring his 123.3 ORtg (32nd nationally) back with him. Cotton went for 19.7/3.6/2.9 on a .437/.364/.793 shooting line made the more impressive by the fact his usage rate was only 22.5%. Joining Cotton will be second leading scorer, 6-9 forward Kadeem Batts. Batts threw up 14.8/7.2/1.0 on a .478/.000/.692 line. Worth noting is that Cotton is actually better (.548 to .482) inside the arc than his larger teammate and also that Cotton launched an incredible 269 threes last year, good for a shocking 8.4 attempts per game.

Those two star caliber not all the Friars bring back though. 6-6 swingman LaDontae Henton returns after scoring 13 per game last year. Henton also crashed the defensive glass at an 18.8% DR rate, made 81% of his free throws, and played nearly 85% of the minutes on offer. Kris Dunn stands to take some of the time at the point with Council departing. Dunn played 27 minutes a game last year and racked up 3.2 apg with a 22.3% assist rate. He is, however, an atrocious shooter who managed a .398/.286/.690. The 6-3 guard will give Coach Cooley some interesting choices to make.

Down low the 6-10 Sidiki Johnson and 6-9 Lee Goldsbrough will both be looking to increase on last year's output. Goldsbrough played 13 minutes and only managed 1.8/2.5/.4 in that time. His 49% from the floor makes him a bit more useful, but he'll struggle to contribute. He, most likely, will see a marked increase in minutes. [ed. note: Sidiki Johnson committed to Wabash Valley College after leaving Providence. That's three schools in three years for the itinerant Brooklyn native].

Incoming players:

For starters, Providence has a massive 2014 class coming in. That has, in some ways, diminished the hype around the two freshman coming in this year. That's a mistake. 6-6 forward Brandon Austin turned down UConn, Texas, Florida, and many others to choose the Friars. Not much of a shooter, Austin has handle like a guard and will relentlessly attack the rim. 56th on the ESPN100 and 12th at his position, Austin is a nice get. Joining him is 6-7 swing Rodney Bullock. Bullock who plays less athletically than Austin, but may be a better shooter. Rail thin at 185 pounds, he still likes to get inside and work the glass.

7-0 center Carson Derosiers joins the team after a transfer year. In his last season at Wake Forest Derosiers managed 4.8/4.4/.7 but augmented that by blocking 1.9 shots per game. 6-8 forward Tyler Harris has also transferred in after averaging 1.8 points for NC State. Harris struggled to impact games at all for the Wolfpack, but is returning to Providence, where he credits his relationship with the coach for making him feel much more comfortable.

Input from the inside:

The internet is a hovel most of the time, but there are a lot of decent people doing good work out there. One of them is Daniel James (@thewarriorfriar) who covers Providence for Friarblog. Daniel read this original article, then chimed in with his thoughts:

"Sidiki won't be playing for us this year, so you can cross him off. [Got it] There's also very high expectations for Austin and now Bullock, given the reports that he's going to surprise a lot with his skills in the frontcourt. Harris is generating interest and becoming a fan favorite already it seems."

It should be noted that Harris has been rumored to have a sweet left handed stroke. Whether he translates that and his new comfort level in to production remains to be seen, but he's certainly not without talent.

Outlook:

Providence may not have made noise in awhile, but that could end this year. In a conference not nearly so top loaded and with a good deal of incoming talent, the Friars could very well make a long run. The NIT quarterfinals were a nice consolation prize last year, but this team will be focusing only on the NCAAs.

Closest A10 comp:

Providence finished 65th in the KenPom ratings last year, squarely between Dayton at 67th and Temple at 62nd.

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