Sometimes you just have to be bold. That's what we've done here, with the eighth installment of the Big East Summer Q&A series.
We have placed the Providence Friars third in our preseason Big East power rankings. Yes, those Friars - the lowly bottom dwellers of the past six or seven seasons. As head coach Ed Cooley enters his third year at the helm, Providence is built for a season of resurgence.
The signs were there at the end of 2012-13 when the Friars won seven of their final ten conference games, and made a surprise run to the NIT where they won two games before falling on the road to Baylor in the quarterfinals.
Providence loses dependable guard Vincent Council to graduation and and promising youngster Ricky Ledo to the NBA but return the Big East's scoring champion from a season ago in Bryce Cotton, along with upperclassmen Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton.
We have the pleasure of welcoming a full panel consisting of Daniel James of FriarBlog and Kevin Farrahar, Craig Leighton, and Craig Belhumeur of FriarBasketball.com. We've extracted a few of the best Friars scribes in one space, and are excited to give them the Rumble's floor. Find out why Kobe Bryant has to thank not one, but two former Friars for his greatness, where to roam around the Dunkin Donuts Center before a game, and more.
Rumble In The Garden: Explain where the Friars fit in the national hierarchy - imagine you're talking to a hoops newbie who knows Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina exist, but the person doesn't watch the tournament or really know conferences' reputation. Who is Providence? Think: "What is our team known for?" or "Why might someone have heard of the team?"
Daniel James: I'd probably give them the Troy McLure style treatment for this answer. "Hey there, Providence College here! You may have heard of our basketball team from highlights such as Rick Pitino coaching the 1987 Final Four team with guard Billy Donovan, competing in the Big East Conference (which we helped form twice), and most recently hiring a hometown coach who's already making noise on the recruiting scene!"
Craig Leighton: Providence College is a program with a very strong tradition which had fallen on hard times in recent years. During the 70's PC was the preeminent basketball program in the East. Unfortunately at the time Dave Gavitt was forming the Big East PC was in a down period and has only had occasional success since then. Under current head coach Ed Cooley not only is PC once again knocking on the door to basketball relevancy, they are about ready to break that door down.
Kevin Farrahar: For fans under 30 outside of New England, their knowledge of the program is probably scant - and for good reason, the Friars have struggled for quite some time. They've made the NCAA Tournament just twice since an Elite 8 run in 1997, and haven't been to the tournament since 2004.
We're in the midst of the longest NCAA Tournament drought for Providence since the Big East began.
RITG: Add a fun fact about the school or the program - something that would impress a person who is loosely familiar with the school.
Craig Belhumeur: Kobe Bryant was quoted in saying that John Linehan (Providence College 02') was the toughest defender he had ever faced. Here is the Sports Illustrated quote from the February 2002 issue:
One NBA player already familiar with Linehan is Kobe Bryant. He and Linehan traveled the country as AAU teammates during the summer of 1995. One afternoon they played a game of one-on-one, and Linehan made a lasting impression. When asked during the playoffs last season who was the toughest defender he had ever faced, Bryant replied, "You may laugh, but it's a guy named John Linehan."
Daniel James: Allegedly, Kobe Bryant was taught his crossover dribble by none other than Providence's God Shammgod. The crossover is named after him.
RITG: How do you feel about the new Big East - being in the conference, worries about the future? What are you most excited about/ to see? What worries you?
Craig Leighton: I think the new Big East Conference is the best of all possible solutions for the original basketball schools in the old conference. Getting around $4 million a year in TV revenue seemed like a pipe dream only a short time ago. Having a conference of like-minded basketball schools with similar goals and aspirations was the only way to go. It was great to see some basketball schools fight back and say realignment does not have to be all about football.
Craig Belhumeur: My biggest concern, one that I share with many, is the situation with Madison Square Garden (ed. note: other conferences want to use MSG; and MSG may have to move in ten years). With the exception of two years, I have gone to the Big East Tournament at MSG every year since seventh grade. The tradition of attending each and every year was started by my father and his close friend but I began getting the invitation when I was twelve. Walking into any other venue is unfathomable for me. Keeping the Big East in MSG is an absolute must.
RITG: Which other Big East team are you most excited to see in action next year?
Kevin Farrahar: St. John's. There are a few programs that could make or break the first season of the Big East and there is just so much potential there with JaKarr Sampson, Chris Obekpa and D`Angelo Harrison. Obekpa could turn into the best shot blocker in the country, Sampson is already very good and if they get Harrison back on board, or if Rysheed Jordan can go right away then this team will be a very tough out come March. I love their length and athleticism.
Craig Belhumeur: I am most excited to see how Butler handles the departure of Brad Stevens. It seemed as though Butler was the greatest beneficiary of conference realignment and with Stevens at the helm, the Big East provided them the opportunity to escape from the world of mid-major programs. Instead, just two days after the University held a Big East celebration in downtown Indianapolis, the promising young coach announced he was taking the vacant coaching position with the Boston Celtics.
It will be very interesting to see if Butler's recent success was in large part due to the work of Stevens' or if he built a strong enough foundation that recently promoted Brandon Miller can continue to thrive on.
RITG: What does next season look like? Who leaves the program? Who is new? Who returns? Who is expected to be the on-court leader(s)?
Daniel James: The Friars lose two players - senior Vincent Council to graduation and Ricky Ledo to the draft. Council is a tough loss because he had such great potential, but he suffered two years under Keno [Davis] that really hindered his growth. Ledo a hot topic right now, but the simple fact for the matter is that for all that talent he didn't play a single game for Providence, so who knows how good he would've been here.
Providence maintains 90% of the players that did play, and have some big additions both with eligibility from transfers Tyler Harris and Carson Desrosiers, and freshman in Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock. For on court leaders I would expect Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts to take the reigns, but I also have to acknowledge that Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton could develop into leaders in their own right. That's what's most exciting about this team - the Friars are [finally] deep and they have a ton of experienced players, so it seems set in stone but it's also wide open. Make sense?
RITG: In 100 words or less, explain your last season (or last three).
Kevin Farrahar 2012-13 was encouraging for the Friars, who ended on a high after losing Council and Dunn for the first half, while Ledo was ineligible. What looked like a 10-12 win team on paper after Council and Dunn went down held up in the out of conference portion and came on late, winning seven of eight prior to losing the season finale at Connecticut.
A 19-15 (9-9) finish seemed impossible when they were 10-11 (2-7) in late January, but Cooley kept this team together throughout their struggles and they take that positive momentum in this season.
RITG: What's the big concern about next season?
Craig Leighton: There are two major concerns for me entering next season. First, everyone has to remain relatively healthy. Any severe injury to a key player could derail what is looking to be a very promising season. Second, for the first time in several seasons the Friars are going to be a deep team, playing a rotation of 9 or 10 players. However, several newcomers who will be heavily counted on will have to blend into the system fairly quickly for the Friars to have the success expected of them next year.
Craig Belhumeur: My biggest concern for next season is Bryce Cotton's health. Despite averaging 37.8 minutes per game, it still seemed as though rumors were swirling that he wasn't 100%. In mid April, Cotton had surgery on his partially torn knee so hopefully that will do the trick and he can remain healthy for the season's entirety.
RITG: Bonus question: Give a reason to visit the area around the school's campus/ arena.
Daniel James: You want some amazing craft beer? Well guess what mate, Trinity is right across the street and they brew all their own beer!
Craig Leighton: Federal Hill, which is just up the street from the Dunkin Donuts area is nationally known for having some great Italian restaurants. It is a must stop if you are visiting Providence, and rest assured all the Big East coaching staffs already know where it is.
Thank you to these four gentlemen for joining us to discuss Providence basketball in this installment of the Big East Summer Q&A series. They have high hopes for their Friars in 2012-13, and we're joining them. Are you confident Providence will make a jump up the Big East standings?