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Big East Preseason Profile: Providence Friars

The Friars might be the most overlooked team in the conference.

Wendell Cruz

Providence 2019 Record: 18-16, 7-11 Big East (NIT 2nd Round, lost to Mike Anderson’s Arkansas)

2020 Returning Minutes percentage: 75.1%

Graduated Seniors: Isaiah Jackson (F)

Early departures/ transfers: Makai Ashton-Langford (PG), Drew Edwards (SG)

Incoming talent: LuWane Pipkins (PG, UMass transfer), Greg Gantt, JR (F)

Likely top 5: LuWane Pipkins (SR), AJ Reeves (SO), David Duke (SO), Alpha Diallo (SR), Nate Watson (JR)

Providence last season:

The Friars under Ed Cooley are steady, even as the personnel changes. The offense is consistently unspectacular, avoids three-point shots and draws fouls. The defense is physical and effective. Last year’s offense was a tad worse, which kept Providence from their yearly late-season surge.

Fun fact! Their final five wins of the season, and their only wins after February 1st, were:

  • St. John’s
  • St. John’s
  • Butler
  • Butler
  • Butler

Huh.

Providence hopes that the addition of a grad transfer point guard will juice the attack, and the rising sophomores find a second gear; they showed talent.

In order to learn more about the Friars, the Rumble chatted with Kevin Farrahar of Friarbasketball.com.


Rumble: College basketball writers and fans seem to be fairly high on this Providence team. What do you think is the ceiling for this team? Also, what are Friar fans reasonably expecting out of this team?

The ceiling for this group is likely third in the league. They are a tier below Villanova and Seton Hall, and until they prove they can score with any consistency, it’s hard to envision them making a run at the regular season title.

Providence was, by far, the worst offensive team in the league last year, and have to hope that a return to health for sophomore AJ Reeves and the arrival of high scoring graduate transfer point guard Luwane Pipkins (formerly of UMass) will make the difference. Both Alpha Diallo and Nate Watson are established offensive options in the front court, but the backcourt has to improve.

There is a growing sense in Providence that this team could play its way into the second weekend of the NCAAs, but that’s ambitious until a number of question marks are answered -- namely outside shooting, if sophomores Reeves and David Duke (both top 50 recruits) emerge, and health.

PC already has a number of health concerns.

Watson injured his knee and is out indefinitely, Pipkins is currently sitting out with a hamstring issue (and missed time earlier this fall with a knee), and freshman Greg Gantt, a top 75 recruit, is coming off of thumb surgery and is now out with an achilles injury. Power forward Emmitt Holt has missed the last two years after life threatening abdominal surgery, and he’s hoping to make an impact. Holt was a huge JUCO pick up after Ben Bentil turned pro after his sophomore year.

Rumble: What allows Providence to be such a strong defensive team each seasons? What type of player fits best in Ed Cooley’s defense?

PC really hasn’t had a true shot blocker since 2015, when seven footer Carson Desrosiers graduated and then-freshman Paschal Chukwu transferred to Syracuse. Still, they’ve managed to stay a consistent top 50 defense due to length across the board.

Duke was brought in as a 6’5 point guard and they’ve generally had long, physical wings. The style they play offensively doesn’t hurt. They grind away on offense and try to turn games into slow, physical grinds. Every possession is a grind on both ends.

Rumble: Last season the Friars struggled shooting from beyond the arc. Do you foresee those issues to subside this season? If so, why will this team be better at shooting the three?

Reeves was terrific before his season was derailed with foot injury in December. He was named Big East Freshman of the Week three of the first four weeks of the season, scored 29 points on 7-9 shooting from 3 in his debut against Siena, and was shooting nearly 50% from deep prior to the injury. That number dipped to 38% by season’s end. He was one of the best scoring guards in the class of 2018, and will need to turn into a big time scorer for this team to make noise in the Big East.

Pipkins is wired to score, and how he fits in could well make or break the 2019-20 Friars. He had some monster offensive nights at Massachusetts, including 30 against #6 Nevada, 44 versus LaSalle, 36 against Harvard, 30 on the Friars two years ago, and 38 versus VCU.

Providence’s point guard play was awful last year, and a healthy Pipkins could completely change that. That being said, he has the reputation as a gunner, and there are a lot of mouths to feed on this team.

Diallo is a 1st Team All Big East preseason selection, Watson is a junior who should make a run at all league honors, and Reeves is a scorer whose name is popping up on mock drafts for next spring -- he’ll need his shots. Can Pipkins balance giving the backcourt a scoring boost with making plays for others?

Rumble: Which player on this roster is poised for a breakout year?

Reeves on the offensive end, while Duke could turn into one of the league’s best defenders.

Rumble: Which player does Providence most need to see development from?

If healthy, it all comes down to the backcourt. Providence could have a potentially deep group with Pipkins, Reeves, Duke and senior Maliek White. The 6’2 White is a more than solid defender who swung between both guard spots last year.

Reeves is the biggest wild card on this team, and potentially one of the biggest in the league. Beyond his injury last year, he really struggled defensively. If he returns to his pre-injury offensive form and finds his way on defense then the Friars could crack the top 3-4 in the league.

He’s talented enough to carry them for a few days in MSG come March, much like Kyron Cartwright did in 2018 and Bryce Cotton had in 2014. He has prototypical size at 6’6, a pure stroke, and is more than a jump shooter.

Rumble: Do you have any win-total prediction for this year?

Watson may not be back until Thanksgiving, at the earliest. Without him, the front court suddenly has huge question marks. If healthy, this team has the depth and versatility to push for a top 3-4 finish. A year ago, the coaching staff really struggled to form a consistent rotation with a number of bodies available.

They couldn’t settle on a point guard between Duke, White, and the now departed Makai Ashton-Langford (a top 40 recruit who didn’t live up to the billing and has since transferred to Boston College). They started freshman 6’9 forward Jimmy Nichols for a majority of the season, but he fell out of the rotation after long stretches of non-production come conference play. The entire season just felt disjointed.

It’s going to be a crowded roster again. Pipkins came here to play and play a lot, Duke and Reeves will see big minutes, and White is a four year player who has done enough to see time.

Fine, so maybe they can go with a three guard lineup? Potentially, but the wings and froncourt are crowded as well.

Diallo and a healthy Watson will combine for nearly 60 minutes, Nichols is coming off of a freshman season in which he started, the highly regarded Gantt didn’t come to PC to sit his freshman year, and then you factor in the returning Holt and senior center Kalif Young, who has started games in all four years at Providence, and there are options, but also questions about how to pull it all together.