2019-20 Providence College Hoops: Just Add Shooting

CouchsideSteve

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 16, 2013
259
New York, NY
The Friars tip off their first exhibition game against Stonehill this afternoon, which was my cue to fire up a new thread.

Let's briefly recap last season: A young, athletic team was vying for the program's sixth straight NCAA tournament appearance; they came into the season with relatively high expectations (picked third of ten by the Big East coaches); but they fell far short, finishing the season 18-16 overall and 7-11 in conference play. If we're being honest with ourselves, most suspected PC didn't have "it" after losing to a mediocre Wichita State team in early Nov, and those suspicions were confirmed after blowing a 20-point lead and losing at home to lowly UMass in Dec. Ugh.

While there are any number of variables at play in a season that goes off the proverbial rails, last year's team had one glaring, fatal flaw: Shooting. The Friars were 290th in the nation in eFG% and last in the Big East during conference play. And not just last by a little bit. Consider: The gap between #10 Providence (45.3%) and #9 Seton Hall (49.7%) was nearly as great as the gap from Seton Hall to #1 Marquette (54.4%). You can't win like that, even if your defense is good and you limit turnovers, like the Friars were able to do.

(Ed Cooley's flirtations with the heading coaching job at Michigan, which ultimately went to Juwan Howard, seem like ages ago. While it did result in a contract extension, Cooley is more ambitious than folks around Providence might realize, so I do think his years at the helm are numbered, whether for a bigger job or something in TV. Appreciate him while he's here -- the guy is special.)

So what's changed? On the talent front, we say goodbye to graduating wing Isaiah Jackson, who was an important role player on multiple tournament teams. Additionally, PC loses formerly heralded recruit Makai Ashton-Langford, who transferred to Boston College, and Drew Edwards, who transferred to Charlotte. Both seem like great kids, but their contributions were limited last year. For additions, the Friars welcome UMass graduate transfer Luwane Pipkins, who is expected to stabilize the PG position for a season, along with borderline top 100 recruit Greg Gantt, who looks physically ready to contribute at the wing, if he can overcome nagging injuries (wrist/achilles). The Friars also added PG Jared Bynum as a transfer from St. Joe's (sit one, play three) and stretch-big Noah Horchler from North Florida (sit one, play one) -- I think both are great additions and a good use of scholarships, given the depth on this year's team.

Projected Starting 5: (1) Luwane Pipkins, Sr. (2) David Duke, So. (3) A.J. Reeves, So. (4) Alpha Diallo, Sr. (5) Kalif Young, Sr.*
Other Key Contributors: Maliek White, Sr. (1/2); Emmitt Holt, Sr. (4/5); Nate Watson, Jr. (5); Jimmy Nichols, So., (3/4); Kris Monroe, So. (2/3); Greg Gantt, Fr. (3/4)
Rounding Out the Roster: Noah Horchler, Sr. RS (4/5); Andrew Fonts, Jr. (1/2); Jared Bynum, So. RS (1/2); Tommy Dempsey, Fr. (1/2)
*Watson will supplant Young when/if healthy, but he's not... more on that below

Key Questions Determining Their Fate

1) Who fills the shooting deficit? Reeves is an NBA prospect specifically because he's such a talented natural shooter, so assuming health, that's one reason for optimism. Pipkins shot pretty well as a sophomore, but his numbers dipped last year. Then you have Diallo, Duke and White -- they simply need to be better beyond the arc to give this otherwise really talented team a chance.

2) Who is healthy? Ed Cooley took an ostensible Big East all-star team to the PanAm games over the summer, where they took home Bronze. Five Friars were named to the preliminary roster (Diallo, Duke, Reeves, Watson & Pipkins), though only Diallo, Duke and Watson played. In the wake of those games, it was revealed that Watson is battling a knee injury suffered in practice that may keep him out for a period of weeks, while Pipkins tweaked a hamstring that is seemingly less severe. Gantt's injuries were also noted above. It just feels unusual to be so nicked up entering a season, especially given Reeves was hurt much of last year and Holt's status after sitting out the last two years is a total unknown.

3) Who takes a leap? We know that Diallo is an all-conference caliber player, as much for his rebounding and defense as his scoring prowess. But his game is premised more on savvy and finesse than athleticism -- I don't think there is another level. Watson is a prime breakout candidate and the next best player on the team, injuries notwithstanding. Duke and Reeves were Cooley's most touted recruits since Kris Dunn -- can they be the difference makers? Don't sleep on Nichols, who has NBA size, length and athleticism. I guess what I'm saying is there is a lot of potential here, which may be why Matt Norlander of CBS Sports boldly projects PC as one of sixteen teams that could win the NCAA title. (No, seriously.)

4) Can they avoid the bad non-con losses of the last few years? It's often said as a compliment that Ed Cooley's teams get better as the season goes along. But implied in that is the fact that this team has dropped some inexcusable games in the non-conference slate over the last few seasons. This year's schedule offers some great opportunities, battling a top 10 Florida team in Brooklyn on 12/17 and hosting Texas at the Dunk on 12/21. Regardless of the outcome in those resume-building games, the Friars need to handle business as (likely) small road favorites against Northwestern and URI, while beating Long Beach State at a neutral site in California. Lose more than two non-con games this season and we'll be sweating out the bubble in March.

So what are my expectations? Personally, I think this team has high a floor due to its athleticism and defense, but a low ceiling given the lack of shooting in a conference where Marquette, Seton Hall and Nova are likely to be superb offensively. The Big East coaches pegged PC to finish smack in the middle of the conference, and that sounds about right to me. Just over the horizon, the 2020-21 team has potential to be Cooley's most successful yet, given the talent that the conference graduates. But I have hopes of another NCAA tourney appearance in the meantime!
 

CouchsideSteve

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 16, 2013
259
New York, NY
Some takeaways from yesterday's 87-68 exhibition win over Stonehill:
  • Holt started at the 5, and by all accounts looked great, putting up a 17 & 13 double-double. If he can be 90% of the player he was in 2016-17, even on reduced minutes, that would be a huge development
  • White twisted his ankle -- no word yet on how serious, but this team is going to be awfully thin in Nov due to injuries
  • Shooting woes continue: Just 5 of 23 from beyond the arc
Of note, Ken Pomeroy's pre-season ratings were just published. The Friars are ranked 31st nationally, which is about 20 spots higher than I expected, good for 5th in the Big East behind Nova, Marquette, Xavier and Seton Hall -- all of which are top 20. The Big East rates second among conferences, behind only the Big 12. Very bullish relative to national expectations.
 

Deathofthebambino

Drive Carefully
SoSH Member
Apr 12, 2005
30,859
I just want to reply and say thank you again for the insight and updates on the PC season. I don't follow nearly as much as I should as an alum, but I love keeping up with and reading your posts.
 

CouchsideSteve

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 16, 2013
259
New York, NY
I just want to reply and say thank you again for the insight and updates on the PC season. I don't follow nearly as much as I should as an alum, but I love keeping up with and reading your posts.
Glad to hear! I enjoy jotting down thoughts and observations throughout the season, and if it brings anyone with an allegiance to the school a bit closer to the basketball program, I think that's great.

Since I last checked in, the Friars visited Purdue for a "secret scrimmage" (i.e., no press or video, but box score released after) that they won 60-53. Make not mistake, Purdue is good -- #7 in KenPom's preseason rankings. And while there is only so much you can take from a closed scrimmage, the minutes allocation from the Friars side was pretty close to what you'd imagine a real game would be. Observations from that box score include:
  • Holt started, played 22min and scored 10pts -- he might really be back
  • 4-18 from 3-point range does not get it done and is a continuation of a worrying trend
  • Monroe seems to be on the outside looking in from the core rotation, which should feature Pipkins, Duke, Reeves, Diallo, Holt, Young, Nichols, and White early on. Of that group, I would expect Diallo to play 35+ minutes in a competitive game, but the remaining time might be entirely matchup-dependent
PS: I've held onto season tickets despite living in New York, so if anyone is interested in free seats to the opener on Tue, send me a DM! For most of these early season non-con games, I'll happily pass of my (pretty good) tickets for free, if I know a PC fan will enjoy them.
 

CouchsideSteve

Member
SoSH Member
Apr 16, 2013
259
New York, NY
After dispatching NJIT with ease yesterday at home, the Friars are up to #17 in KenPom’s national rankings. The 3-point shooting has been better (39%), but if there are signs for bullishness, I think they’re more qualitative after just two games. Holt looks healthy and able to contribute meaningfully; Pipkins looks like the type of PG who can put Duke, Diallo and Reeves in position to succeed off-ball and in transition.

PC should be a ~6 point road favorite at Northwestern on Wednesday. Losing wouldn’t be a bad loss per se, but this is one they need to have to continue down the path of “likely tournament team,” which I think they’re on right now.