Providence followed up a magical run to a Big East Tournament title in 2014 with a solid showing in conference play last season, owing much of the work for their 11-7 record to the efforts of Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton. They fell into the unfortunate circumstance of having to play a road game in the NCAA Tournament, and the season ended in Dayton with the Friars having built on the excitement of the year before. Now Ed Cooley is tasked with replacing several very valuable pieces and relying on Dunn to keep the program's momentum heading in the right direction.
What Providence did last season was attack the paint incredibly well. When one considers that they only shot 31% from three point range last year, it is not hard to see why. Taking care of the ball, getting it to Henton, and attacking the glass were all staples of their approach on the offensive side of the ball. Dunn assisted baskets at the best rate of anyone in the nation and Henton was incredibly efficient for someone with his volume, so it is hard to say that there was any better way to get points.
If taking care of the ball and hitting the glass were going to help Providence win on offense, they were equally as committed to not allowing their opponents to do the same. The Friars forced turnovers well last year, kept second chances to a minimum, and blocked a lot of shots on their way to quietly becoming one of the top 50 defenses in the nation. Dunn was once again the catalyst, ranking in the top 5 in steal rate and leading the way from the front while 7-footers Carson Derosiers and Pascal Chukwu prowled the lane blocking shots. However, with a new look roster, the mindset is set to change on both ends of the floor in Providence.
Obviously the Big East co-Player of the Year and co-Defensive Player of the Year is the headliner here. Kris Dunn was also named the preseason Big East Player of the Year this year and will be looking to prove himself as the nation's premier point guard this season. 15.6/5.5/7.5 are numbers that pretty much speak for themselves as to the level Dunn played at last season, but with teams no longer forced to key on Henton, Dunn will have to find a way to do it himself, at least early on this year.
Underneath the basket, much of the load will be carried by 6'8" Sophomore Ben Bentil, who grew into an increAsingly effective third option last season. Bentil is efficient on the boards at both ends and was an efficient, if not frequently used, scoring option towards the end of last season, dropping back to back 16 point games at Georgetown and Xavier. He was good for 6.4/4.9/0.6 last year on .436/.300/.695 shooting in 21 minutes per game, but is the most experienced returning post player. Joining Bentil as a rising Sophomore is 6'7" wing Jalen Lindsey, who Providence will be hoping will be able to make his presence felt more than last year. Lindsey was good for 3.8/1.5/0.2 last year on a pretty pedestrian .361/.330/.556 shooting line. Lindsey did not have a double digit scoring game in conference last year, and struggled to get consistent minutes due to his inconsistent production, averaging 17 a game.
Providence's other rising Sophomore who will be familiar to fans is Kyron Cartwright, who spent last season spelling Lindsey and Dunn at the guard positions. Cartwright is not a player who looks for his own shot on the perimeter, preferring to drive or distribute, which is not necessarily always successful either. His assist and turnover rates are both high, meaning he takes risks with the ball, and he shot 4-33 from beyond the arc last season, which means you really want to leave him open out there. The fact he only stands 5'11" hurts him against the bigger, more physical guards he runs up against, but he managed to contribute 18 minutes and 3.5 points per game to the cause last year. The Friars only other real contributor from last year is Junior Lomomba, a 6'5" guard who got 11 minutes a game as a part time starter. Lomomba's rate stats don't paint a pretty picture in any area, with his rebounding not being a particular strength, him not forcing a lot of turnovers, and his ridiculous 11.4 usage rate on offense. Although he is long and lean, he simply does not make a quantifiable contribution in any aspect of the game.
The headline grabber here will be First Team All-Big East selection LaDontae Henton, who led Providence in minutes, scoring, rebounding, and free throw percentage last year. Any program would miss 19.7/6.5/0.9 and Dunn's spurning of the NBA Draft will not be enough to soften the blow. Henton is joined in departure by graduation by 7'0" Carson Derosiers, who made up for any lack of particular basketball skill set by being super tall. His 6.7/4.4/0.8 will not be missed nearly as much as his 2.5 blocks per game, a vital cog in Providence's defense last season.
Perhaps the hardest hits will be the unforeseen departures of Tyler Harris and Pascal Chukwu who left the Big East for Auburn and Syracuse respectively. Who knows why. Harris was Providence's 3rd leading scorer, coming in with 9.9/4.0/1.0 in 27 minutes a game. He helped keep things clicking and was seen as the third option for most of the season, as well as a solid rebounder and dependable defender. Chukwu contributed 2.6/2.4/0.1 as a Freshman, but looked like Derosiers' heir apparent, standing 7'2". Chukwu actually outperformed Derosiers in almost every category rate-wise, but was a fouling liability and struggled to keep himself on the court.
Attempting to replace the departing talent was going to be difficult anyway, but Providence managed to lose their star recruit, Alex Owens, before the school was even in session. Owens failed to qualify, didn't enroll, and landed at a juco. That leaves Ryan Fazekas as the top incoming player. The #29 power forward in the nation according to ESPN stands only 6-7, 180, but can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court and score in the lane. His defense is a liability, but he could have games where he scores in bunches.
Drew Edwards, a 6-3 guard, is also a four star recruit. Edwards is a combo guard who will take some of the ball-handling strain off Dunn and can shoot well enough to play off the ball. He's not an elite athlete and not a great defender, but he's good enough to play as a freshman. Quadree Smith and Ricky Council both joining the program as post graduate players. Smith is short for a forward at 6-7 but he weighs essentially 300 pounds, so he's not going outside. He's quick for a big guy and he can pass, but that bulk limits his usefulness. Council is a tall point man with the ability to score and shoot from deep. He makes an interesting piece as an understudy to Dunn. BECB is high on him, but there's a reason he was a three star with every major recruiting site.
Finally, Rodney Bullock may actually play for the Friars this year. He was the #35 small forward in the 2013 class, but he hasn't played a game since. Back then, he was considered a premier athlete with room to work on his jumper. What he is after two years of injuries is anyone's guess.
The coaches picked Providence to finish fifth in the Big East this year. The Friars have a legitimate star in Kris Dunn, but no other high usage players are returning. The star of the recruiting class is long since gone, and the other incoming players are good, but not really complete packages yet. With good coaching, this could be a very good team again, but nothing will come easily for the Friars this year.