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2018-19 Providence College Hoops: The Kids Are Alright

Discussion in 'College Sports' started by CouchsideSteve, Oct 6, 2018.

  1. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
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    With the calendar turning to October, it's time for a new thread. Providence College basketball returns in a few short weeks, and the future looks bright. The team recently moved into a gleaming state of the art practice facility, is fresh off 5 straight NCAA tournament appearances, and will introduce a top-25 recruiting class to fans this fall. Whether or not the program's momentum translates into deep tournament runs in the future, it's hard not to admire what Coach Ed Cooley and AD Bob Driscoll have accomplished.

    A quick recap of last season, before we turn the page. The 2017-2018 team had high expectations, returning every meaningful contributor from the previous year's tournament squad. Those expectations were immediately called into question with a very shaky non-conference performance. But the team got better in January and February, as Cooley's teams usually do, including regular season wins over top-10 opponents in Xaiver and eventual national champion Villanova. Still, PC had work to do entering the Big East tournament to stamp their ticket to March Madness. Cooley and the senior class answered that call, producing OT wins against Creighton and Xavier, capped off by an OT loss to Villanova where the team battled back from a double-digit deficit. The Friars were tournament bound and arguably playing their best basketball under Cooley to date. Alas, as has been too often the case, they ran into a bad first round match-up, making their tournament stay a brief one. We'll remember the senior class of Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock, Jalen Lindsey & Tom Planek fondly.

    What are reasonable expectations for 2018-19? Who knows. The Big East is as wide open as it has been since the re-organization. Villanova is elite, Marquette should be good St. John's should be better (finally), and DePaul is bad. Finishing anywhere from 2nd to 9th would not surprise me. Here's what I think the squad will look like:

    Projected Starters: Makai Ashton-Langford, Soph (PG); Maliek White, Jr (SG); Alpha Diallo, Jr (F); Isaiah Jackson, Sr (F); Nate Watson, Soph (C)

    Key Contributors (ordered by projected role): Emmitt Holt, Sr (F/C); David Duke, Fr (G); AJ Reeves, Fr (G/F); Kalif Young, Jr (C); Drew Edwards, Jr (G/F)

    Limited Role or Uncertain: Jimmy Nichols, Fr (F); Kris Monroe, Fr (F); Andrew Fonts, Soph (G)

    One can quibble with my role forcast. In fact, Jon Rothstein notably tweeted that he expects Duke, Reeves, Diallo, Nichols and Watson to start after visiting campus in August. Three possibilities for that tweet, in my humble opinion (from most to least likely): A) Jon is off-base; B) Cooley planted the idea with Jon in hopes of lighting a fire under MAL, White & Jackson; C) The Freshman are really *that* good, and it's going to be party time in Friartown very soon. What's certain? Diallo and and Watson have all-conference upside and are rotation stalwarts, while Jackson provides versatility and experience that should keep him on the floor during crunch-time. Otherwise, the rotation could be fluid -- though Cooley famously shortens his bench by February.

    Major questions heading into the season:

    1) Where does the shooting come from?
    Let's not sugarcoat this: The exhibited 3pt shooting talent of returning players can largely be categorized as non-existent or poor. The list of guys who have shot well at the college level begins and ends with White and Jackson. Now those fears could be assuaged with the insertion of Duke, Reeves and Nichols, who are all billed as plus shooters. But they're also Freshman. This team can't succeed without Diallo, Holt and at least one of the Freshman revealing themselves as 3pt threats.

    2) Speaking of which... how good are the Freshman, really?
    Duke and Reeves were major recruiting coups for Cooley as top-50 prospects in his back yard, and reports from practice suggest Nichols may not be far behind. These kids are legitimately talented, but that doesn't always translate in Year 1. In the out-of-conference, Cooley extends a lot of opportunity to young players, so they'll have their chances. Are they going to be on the floor against Villanova in February?

    3) Do the Sophomores take "the leap"?
    MAL and and Watson are both really talented young players. The former struggled as a Freshman, while the latter exceed expectations. Often, a player makes his biggest jump from Year 1 to Year 2, so I'm genuinely intrigued to see how they develop. I think MAL is an under-the-radar breakout candidate. While he shot poorly last year, I thought he was a surprisingly capable defender. Expect Cooley to give him the starting PG job out of the gate, but he should have a fire under him knowing that Duke, White and even Edwards could put a dent in his minutes.

    4) Whither Emmitt Holt?
    Arguably the best player on the 2016-17 tournament team, Holt is back following an abdominal surgery that forced a medical redshirt last season. When healthy, Holt is a long and versatile defender who blocks shots and rebounds well. He also has enough of an outside shot to stretch the floor and is a great finisher at the rim. If you told me the guy of two seasons' ago was returning, I would tell you he's both the Friars best offensive and best defensive player... but we just don't know.

    5) What's the ceiling for Alpha Diallo?
    Diallo propelled himself into the starting lineup midway through his Freshman year, and has been rock steady since. He's a deceptively smooth ball-handler who can drive to the rim and pass, while also contributing above average defense at multiple positions. The question is whether he can develop an outside shot (15-70 from 3pt last year), which would be enough to propel him from memorable 4-year starter to NBA prospect.
     
  2. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

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    230
    The season tips off on Tuesday night hosting Siena, followed by a neutral site tilt versus Wichita St. on Friday. KenPom predicts the Friars to roll in the opener and pegs them as a slight favorite in Game 2.

    While pre-season results aren’t necessarily predictive, I thought it was notable how impressive and athletic the team looked in exhibitions. It’s also somewhat remarkable that PC was picked 3rd, behind Nova & Marquette, in the Big East coaches poll — this after being picked to finish in the bottom half the last few years and consistently exceeding expectations. In a mild surprise, Diallo was voted to the pre-season First Team, with David Duke sharing pre-season Freshman of the Year honors (alongside Nova’s Jahvon Quinerly).

    The rotation remains a bit of a mystery, though it wouldn’t surprise me if the starting five from the final exhibition game — Duke, White, Diallo, Holt & Watson — starts Tuesday.
     
  3. Clears Cleaver

    Clears Cleaver Lil' Bill SoSH Member

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    10,898
    outside of Nova (who is also down, but still going to be competitive), the Big East is way down this year, at least perception-wise. no one else in the top 25, only a handful of teams receiving votes (including PC). Xavier, Creighton and Butler are down.
     
  4. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
    230
    I think it's fair to say the league is down perception-wise, mostly because it's likely to be a single *elite* team this year with Xavier taking a step back. That said, the bottom of the conference is going to be stronger, so I don't think it's crazy to imagine 8 teams being in the bubble conversations come March. KenPom projects the Big East as the 4th strongest conference this season (after finishing 3rd in the previous three), behind the Big 12, ACC and Big Ten. And for what it's worth, the pre-season Sagarin ratings love the Big East, rating Nova 2nd, Marquette 12th, Providence 21st and Butler 27th. Time will tell.

    Two interesting articles I saw today:
    • The NBC College Basketball Talk guys predicted Alpha Diallo would be favored in the Big East PotY race come Feb as part of their 12 bold predictions article (a piece about all of college basketball, not just the Big East)
    • Good season opener preview from Kevin McNamara of the Projo, who does a great job covering the team all season long (he also does a podcast with Bill Koch in-season that is worth listening to)
     
  5. Deathofthebambino

    Deathofthebambino Drive Carefully SoSH Member

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    26,629
    The Freshman guard from Roxbury, AJ Reeves, got the start tonight, and is lighting it up. He's 4/5 from 3, and has 16 points with 4 minutes left in the first half. PC has a 14 point lead on Siena.
     
  6. Deathofthebambino

    Deathofthebambino Drive Carefully SoSH Member

    Messages:
    26,629
    Well Steve, in your initial post, you had questions under #1 and #2, and AJ Reeves appears to be the answer to both, where will the shooting come from, and will a Freshman make an impact. He finishes 10/13 from the field, including 7/9 from deep, for 29 points and the Friars win by 10. Wow...What would it mean for this team if he's that kind of a player?
     
  7. NoLastCall125

    NoLastCall125 Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
    818
    Just got back from the game. They won by ten but after the first five minutes it felt like they were up 100. This team is noticeably more athletic than any team in recent memory and is so deep (pretty sure they had 11 different guys play decent minutes in the first half alone). Their legs are going to be fresh if Cooley can count on that kind of rotation. And they cruised while Duke and Holt were practically nonexistent. Plus the physical/mental development of some guys is significant. Watson has filled out. Young has shed even more baby fat. MAL doesn't look timid and was playing far more confident. There may not be that consistent go-to (Reeves looked fantastic, but I always assumed it'd be Diallo if anyone), but everyone on the court needs to be guarded and it could lead to big nights for different guys every single game. This team is going to be a lot of fun and I can't wait to see how they gel once the Big East schedule hits.
     
  8. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

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    230
    I’m trying not to overreact to a single game... but damn did Reeves looked good Tuesday night. Though somewhat prone to hyperbole, Joe Hassett tweeted that Reeves is the best “pure” shooter he has seen in 33 years on the Friars broadcast. Plaudits aside, it seems clear at least that Reeves is the starting SG. If he’s averaging 28min/game at the start of conference play, then that probably does raise my expectations a little, if for no other reason than he’s taking minutes from guys like White & Edwards, who are quality but limited upside rotation players.

    I was also very encouraged to see Diallo show an improved outside shot, as well as Jackson shooting the 3 without hesitation. When those guys are on the floor together, there is almost always a favorable offensive matchup, because of how well they both can take shake larger defenders off the dribble. (Most PFs can’t follow them out to the perimeter.)

    PC opens as a 4.5pt favorite against Wichita St down in Anapolis tomorrow. There are plenty of opportunities in the non-conference schedule, but this is one they should have.
     
  9. Deathofthebambino

    Deathofthebambino Drive Carefully SoSH Member

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    And they blow it tonight, 83-80 against Wichita St.

    The good news: Diallo went for 27 points and 10 rebounds, including 5/9 from deep. And AJ Reeves doesn't appear to be a fluke. He scored 19 on 7/10 shooting (2/5 from 3).

    The ugly: They went 13/26 from the foul line, 50%. Diallo went 6/13. If he is going to shoot like that from the foul line, they are going to have serious problems with him being their primary scorer. Their three point defense wasn't very good either, as WSU went 12/22 from the behind the arc, and also shot an even 50% from the floor.
     
  10. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
    230
    They blew it, indeed. Really frustrating loss after being up 10 early.

    I’m not going to fall into the habit of quibbling with Ed Cooley’s coaching, because he is exceptional at his job. But the 11-man rotation, with Holt evidently feeling under the weather, is not suited to these competitive games. It’s a tough position to be in, because he has a lot of guys he needs to keep happy and invested, but I don’t understand why Kris Monroe was out there last night. And I just don’t see how Edwards fits, given that Reeves is clearly the team’s second best player after Diallo.

    Reeves and Diallo (FT shooting aside) were great again last night, while Watson and Nichols had some costly lapses. The front court just has to be better defensively.

    It’s also interesting to me how much Duke has dominated the PG minutes so far, and despite lacking polish, is so clearly ahead of Ashton-Langford in commanding the offense.
     
  11. CouchsideSteve

    CouchsideSteve Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
    230
    Lucky to escape with a 70-61 win over Holy Cross tonight, after trailing for a good portion of the game.

    Offense was mediocre, due largely to sloppy turnovers and another bad night at the FT line. Those issues are correctable, I think. Defense was atrocious in the first half, forcing Cooley into zone in the second. The bigs lack either the awareness (Watson/Nichols) or the athleticism (Young) to defend stretch 4s & 5s out to the 3-point line, and they’re getting killed out there. Duke and Reeves are still learning to play D in their own right. That’s going to be a problematic combination, and the only solution I can think of near-term to go super small with Diallo/Jackson as the 4/5.

    Again, trying to remind myself not to overreact to tiny samples with a young team like this, but the last two games have really underwhelmed.
     

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