Record: 23-11 (10-8 in Big East)
Coach: Ed Cooley
Tournament Berth: Automatic Bid
Big Wins: Vanderbilt, Georgetown, Creighton, Seton Hall, St. John’s
Big Loses: Maryland, Kentucky, UMass, Villanova
The Providence Friars ran through the first half of their non-conference schedule decisively, rattling off six straight, including an 82-78 victory over a Boston College team that handed 25-0 Syracuse its first loss of the season. Providence would then drop its first game to Maryland 56-52 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands before rebounding to take four of its last six to finish the non-conference slate 10-3.
Big East play opened to lukewarm results for the Friars, as they would lose an 81-80 double overtime thriller to Seton Hall and then suffer a 91-61 dismantling at Villanova in the their first two. A five-game winning streak would follow, however, highlighted by an 81-68 handling of then no. 20 Creighton. The wheels then started to wobble a bit, beginning with a dismal loss at Marquette, in which the Friars finished with a season-low 50 points and shot 32.8 percent from the field. Providence would regroup to take four of its final six regular season matchups to finish conference play 10-8, before topping St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Creighton to win the Big East tournament.
F – Kadeem Betts
F – Tyler Harris
F – LaDontae Henton
G – Bryce Cotton
G – Josh Fortune
Who’s Hot: Senior G Bryce Cotton. Cotton had two games all season where he didn’t score in double-figures. Listed at 6-1, 165, he’s the size of a waterbug out there, but with the quickness to match. He’s also a streaky shooter who loves the three ball and when he gets hot from outside the arc, like he did eight times this season in shooting at least 50 percent from distance, he gets white-hot.
Who’s Not: The Providence bench. For whatever reason, this team does not go very deep. Outside of the starting five, the backups as a whole are averaging 9.9 ppg and 9.8 rpg. Sophomore guard Chris Dunn was the only player making valuable contributions off the bench and he was lost for the season due to injury. So you can subtract Dunn’s 3.8 ppg and 2.5 rpg from an already frighteningly thin bench average. That leaves one reserve, junior F Carson Desrosier, that’s averaging more than 1.0 ppg. This could mean lights out should foul trouble or overtime arise
Outlook: The Friars drew North Carolina in the first round, obviously a tall order. The tournament blue bloods went on a murderous 12-game winning streak to close ACC play 13-5 for third place, but lost to Pittsburgh in their first game of the ACC tournament. Regardless of their opponent, though, their biggest enemy is themselves. With one of the thinnest benches in the field, Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton will need to carry this team to an even higher degree than they have all season, and right out the gate. If they should somehow upset Carolina, an even bigger and more athletic team in third-seeded Iowa State will more than likely be the Providence Friars’ next opponent.
Commentary by Rick Sarlat
Follow me on Twitter @RickSarlat