Providence College Season Preview

As always, the offseason provides a grab-bag of good and bad for Friar fans; a roller-coaster of emotions, in which nothing is easy and hearts are often broken. That said, the offseason is nearly over and it’s time to take a look at the 2014-15 edition of the Providence College Friars.

Stories abound with the Big East defending champions. Focusing on some of them helps to bring the upcoming season into sharper definition.

A sense of finally



How often does it happen that a team recruits a McDonald’s All-American and the program’s fans have to wait three years to see him perform at full strength? Probably not very often, and that’s why any look at PC has to start with a peek at redshirt sophomore point guard Kris Dunn.

Dunn played 25 games as a freshman but labored throughout the season with a shoulder injury suffered during his senior year of high school and aggravated over the summer. He showed glimpses of brilliance, with 13 assists in his debut against Colgate but for most of the season, he played gingerly and fell short of his talent.

Last season, he was injured in an exhibition game when a Rhode Island College player fell on the same shoulder and was limited to 4 creaky games before being forced to call it quits and apply for a medical redshirt. A second operation and rehab commenced.

Now, Dunn is healthy and raring to go. A strong 6’3, 205-pounder, Dunn, quite simply, creates havoc on defense with long arms, excellent anticipation and strong on-ball defense. His steals should create easy fast break opportunities for the Friars’ offense and headaches for opponent’s ballhandlers.

Offensively, Kris has superior court vision, creative passing skills and a tighter handle. His hours in the gym have resulted in a smoother shot and Dunn should be capable of finally reprising his high school role as a do-everything threat at the point. Fans sometimes forget that Dunn averaged more than 30 points as a senior and he can flat out fill it up, both in transition and jump shooting.

It was a drama-free offseason for Kris Dunn, who didn’t play in Italy, and as a result, Providence finally has it’s point guard.

A chance and a sure thing



One thing that senior forward LaDontae Henton has been over his career is consistent. Season after season, he puts up about 14 points per game and about 8 rebounds a contest. At barely 6’6, Henton has mostly played as an undersized but big-hearted power forward, but his role may change during his farewell tour.

Once guard Josh Fortune transferred last spring to Colorado, a gaping hole opened up in the Friars’ lineup at the two guard. During the course of the spring and summer, Coach Ed Cooley and staff attempted to lure talented big guards to the program, yet despite the availability of major minutes, one after another went elsewhere.

That left Cooley searching for answers already on his roster. One answer was in his frontcourt: Henton. After all, LaDontae had already been used last season as part of a trifecta, along with Bryce Cotton and Fortune, in bringing the ball up against pressure and traps, so why not work on the ballhandling and provide that option?

Over the course of the offseason, both Cooley and Henton made noises about the senior providing minutes at the two. How many is unclear. One thing that is clear is that Henton is one of the top rebounders in the Big East. Additional depth up front at the power forward position will allow the luxury of experimenting with LaDontae, but he will be on the floor and looking to take the big shot. A natural scorer, Henton is a dangerous three point shooter and can get to the basket in a variety of ways. His scoring, toughness and rebounding are an irresistible combination for Providence.

A versatile linchpin



A basketball team can never have enough versatility. Coaches love options. They love to mix and match and create mismatches and disrupt passing lanes. Length is a premium and inside-outside players are a highly sought after commodity.

Redshirt junior forward Tyler Harris fits that description.

At 6’9 and with long arms, Harris is effective at the top of any defense, has a reliable jumper out to three point land and can take players inside for layups. A natural scorer, Harris is always thinking offense. A fourth year junior, Harris has made no secret of his desire, given a strong year, to take his talents to the next level. Without question, Tyler is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.

To make that jump, however, there is still work to be done. Last season, Harris had a penchant for coast-to-coast drives that landed him in trouble because he didn’t look to give the ball up. Whether an issue of court vision or just a determination to make the play, he must look to get his teammates more involved.

In addition, turnovers were a troubling part of his game. That continued in August in Italy, where he averaged 5 turnovers a game. Harris is a mobile but not especially quick-footed big man. If he can limit turnovers and focus on good shots, Harris can give the Friars a different dimension.

The twin towers rise again



For the first time in PC history, the Friars will have two legitimate 7-footers on its roster. And even better, both can play.

Senior 7-footer Carson Desrosiers returns for his final year as the starter in the middle. He’ll be joined by highly regarded 7’2 freshman Paschal Chukwu, from Westport, Connecticut. Together, the two should form one of the Big East’s most formidable rim-protecting duos.

Desrosiers transferred from Wake Forest and came in billed as a strong defender with excellent shot blocking instincts. That proved to be true last season, as Carson recorded 82 blocks and provided a strong presence inside. Where Desrosiers struggled was on the offensive end.

Desrosiers attempted only 4 three pointers (hitting one) and 98 two-pointers and shot 45 percent from the floor. Most of his shots were close to the basket, but rushed shots, a lack of inside touch and a loss of confidence combined to sink his percentage. For Carson, regaining that confidence and looking more for his offense is critical to his development this season and to providing the Friars with a consistent inside threat. At 250 pounds, he has the size and strength to overpower defenders at the rim.

One of the most highly rated center prospects in PC’s annals, Chukwu oozes potential. A legitimate 7’2, Chukwu will provide immediate help on the defensive end of the court. A quick leaper, Paschal anticipates well and his length alone will cause blocks and numerous alterations. Because of his desire to block and challenge shots, he’ll get into foul trouble early but seasoning will teach him to pick his spots and avoid fouls.

Where improvement will come will be in two places: the weight room and his offensive game. At 226 pounds, Chukwu will get pushed around inside, and offensively, his game is all about dunks and putbacks at this point. He has a nice short jumper and as he gains confidence in that and develops a few go-to moves, his height and length will render him unstoppable.

The backcourt



If the Friars have a weakness, it may be quality depth in their backcourt and accordingly, lack of proven outside shooting. Fortune’s late transfer stung, as did a number of recruiting swings and misses, but there is talent here. Along with Dunn and cameos by Henton and Harris, the roster does feature several solid true guards.

Most intriguing of Cooley’s options at the two guard is redshirt sophomore Junior Lomomba. A transfer from Cleveland State, Lomomba came to Providence with a reputation as a long, lockdown defender. But fans may forget that he was known as a scorer in high school, and he reinforced that impression with a series of productive games in Italy.

At 6’5 and 200 pounds, Lomomba is a good sized, strong guard who overpower smaller guards on his way to the hole or pull up and knock down jumpers. With long arms, good quickness and decent athleticism, Junior is yet another strong defender for PC and that alone should earn major minutes at the two.

Following the Fortune transfer in the spring, PC went into scramble mode for guards and that landed them Compton, California point guard Kyron Cartwright. A 5’11 dynamo, Cartwright is jet fast, and considering that he played on a highly successful high school team, was fairly lightly recruited. However, the Friars feel they have a find.

With Dunn unable to play in Italy, Cartwright was given the keys to the offense and did a credible job. He still plays too fast at times, resulting in turnovers, but he can knock down a jumper, burst through to the basket and his small size can make him a pest to opposing ballhandlers. Impressive in preseason practice, he will back up Dunn and at times handle the ball as Dunn slides over to the two.

Cooley and staff went overseas for late signee Tyree Chambers. A 6’2 combo guard from Germany, Chambers is older than the typical freshman and after playing against a wide range of competition in Europe, should give the backcourt added maturity and experience.

Not a flashy player, Chambers can handle the ball and knock down jumpers and will challenge Cartwright in a backup role. With a strong preseason, he could push for the two slot, but likely will bring solid play off the bench at both spots and at times, allow Dunn to move to the two.

The frontcourt



If depth in the backcourt is a “weakness” on the team, the opposite is true of the frontcourt, where, assuming health, PC should be loaded. Although we’ve already discussed Henton, Harris, Desrosiers and Chukwu, the Friars don’t stop there.

The Friars’ offseason roller-coaster took a much-needed upward trajectory when the NCAA Clearinghouse recently announced that power forward Ben Bentil would be eligible. A 6’8, 230-pounder from Delaware, Bentil is a powerful rebounder and defender and has a developing offensive game, as well.

Cooley grabbed Bentil after losing out on Abdul Malik-Abu, but Ben is clearly much more than a door prize. Bentil has a pro body and great instincts for the ball. Couple that with great hops and a world of potential, and the rave reviews from preseason practices indicate that he will be a major contributor in the rotation this year.

One reason why Bentil’s clearance was so vital to PC’s prospects this year was the loss of redshirt freshman Rodney Bullock for the season with a torn ACL. The 6’7 combo forward had been the breakout star of the Italy trip, recording 33 points and 19 rebounds in one game. PC will miss Bullock’s versatility, knack for the rebound and scorers mentality, but had the Friars lost both Bullock and Bentil, the team’s frontcourt depth would have taken quite a hit.

Finally, freshman Jalen Lindsey, a 6’7 swingman from Tennessee, should see plenty of time at both small forward and big guard. Lindsey has had quite the offseason himself, first suffering from mono and then dislocating his index finger on his shooting hand in practice.

While Lindsey should be back within a few weeks, he is expected to bring outside shooting and athleticism to the equation. Lindsey is another who could vie for major minutes at the two guard spot and his smooth shooting will help to make up for any ballhandling that he needs to tighten up. An unselfish player, at some point, Jalen will be called upon to take charge.

PC’s walk-ons consist of graduate student swingman Ted Bancroft, sophomore guard Casey Woodring and freshman forward Tom Planek. Woodring played all of 10 minutes last season and has a lightning release and solid outside stroke. The 6’6 Planek may struggle offensively, but as he showed in Italy, can grab a few rebounds. And Bancroft has had major minutes thrust upon him over the past two seasons due to injuries and other roster shortages. Bancroft is a fan favorite who hustles, plays solid defense and rarely makes mistakes – in short, a coach’s type of player who has shown that he belongs on the court and can contribute, whether with a rebound, a timely layup or a strong defensive effort. When he enters a game, he brings an energy that is often contagious to his teammates.

Schedule



The Friars open up with an exhibition against Stonehill on November 8 (no more Rhode Island College for awhile after last year’s mishap) and then begin for real the following Saturday against a dangerous mid-major, Albany (KenPom #150). From there, highlights of the non-conference schedule include games at Mohegan Sun against Florida State (41) and Notre Dame (69), a nearly insurmountable task at Rupp Arena against preseason number one Kentucky (2), a visit to Boston College (134), a home game against a much-improved Rhode Island squad (105), Massachusetts (74) at home and a match-up at the Barclay’s Center against Miami (57). All in all, a very representative non-conference schedule with a number of opportunities for resume building wins.

The Friars’ Big East schedule is fairly balanced, with several tough mini-stretches. PC has a New Year’s Eve home game against Creighton and will be done with the Bluejays by January 17, while both Seton Hall matchups come late in the season. And right smack in the middle is a three game stretch on the road – at St. John’s, at Georgetown and at Xavier. Still, the Friars should find enough soft spots to put themselves in strong position by season’s end.

Verdict



Weaknesses: Lack of proven, consistent three point shooting and lack of quality backcourt depth. Guard play wins in college basketball. Lomomba, Cartwright and Chambers must prove themselves. Inside, Desrosiers and Chukwu can’t miss a lot of bunnies.

Strengths: Big and long frontcourt with depth; long across entire team; potential to be a defensive powerhouse; team can run and is athletic. Personnel to be a strong rebounding and shot blocking team.

Predictions


Big East: 4th Post-season: NCAA, 10 seed

RETURNING PLAYERS - (6)


# - NAME - PTS/REB - POS - HT - WT - CL
3 - Kris Dunn - 3.8/2.5 - G - 6-3 - 205 - SO
12 - Casey Woodring - 0.7/0.1 - G - 6-2 - 180 - SO
22 - Ted Bancroft - 0.4/0.7 - G - 6-6 - 215 - GS
23 - LaDontae Henton - 14.0/7.9 - F - 6-6 - 215 - SR
25 - Tyler Harris - 11.6/5.1 - F - 6-9 - 223 - JR
33 - Carson Desrosiers - 3.6/4.8 - C - 7-0 - 250 - SR

NEWCOMERS - (8)


# - NAME - PTS/REB - POS - HT - WT - CL
0 - Ben Bentil - - F - 6-8 - 230 - FR
5 - Rodney Bullock - DNP - F - 6-7 - 220 - FR
13 - Paschal Chukwu - - C - 7-2 - 226 - FR
14 - Tyree Chambers - - G - 6-2 - 182 - FR
21 - Jalen Lindsey - - G - 6-7 - 195 - FR
24 - Kyron Cartwright - - G - 5-11 - 185 - FR
32 - Junior Lomomba - DNP G - 6-5 - 200 - SO
34 - Tom Planek - - F - 6-6 - 195 - FR

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