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So, as the regular season bears down on Providence, here’s are five things that we’d like to see. Because, let’s face it – anything short of an NCAA tournament berth this year will be a major disappointment.
We’d like to see:
*Kris Dunn have a historic season. It’s always good to start at the beginning when compiling a list of any kind, and with the Friars, it all starts and ends with Kris Dunn. First, and most important, we want to make sure that Dunn stays healthy. Given that, Dunn has the potential to be the national player of the year, the best player on the floor in each and every PC game. Can he live up to that? With opponents keying on him, there will be an enormous amount of pressure on Kris this season. There will be games where his talent will allow him to dominate but other games where he’ll be frustrated and have to exhibit patience and not force shots or passes. If he can deal with the pressure and recognize when he should not try to do too much, Dunn can have a season of historic proportions, replete with multiple triple-doubles and eye-popping point, assist and steal numbers. And that, in turn, would translate into lots of Providence wins. Kris Dunn didn’t return to play in no NIT.
*Jalen Lindsey take a big step forward. Perhaps no player on the Providence roster had as confounding a season as Jalen Lindsey last year. As a freshman, Lindsey battled illness and injury throughout his first go-around, and how much that affected him or bothered his confidence is anyone’s guess. But there’s no doubt that the highly touted wing played a lot of minutes with extremely limited productivity. Yet there were flashes of brilliance, particularly with his outside shooting. Lindsey looks as though he’s gained strength this year and we’re hoping to see a similar gain in his game. If he can become more consistent with his shot and throw in some rebounds and dribble drives to the rim, along with his long-armed top of the zone defense, he will take a huge step towards becoming the kind of player that many see. And he’ll give Providence one more much-needed weapon.
*PC survive the out-of-conference schedule. Although some may not want to hear it, this is a fairly young Friar team. There’s not a senior on the roster. And there are seven players on the roster who have played little to no collegiate basketball. And what do many young teams do? They lose early season games that they’re not expected to. There are landmines everywhere. Forget the traditional Friar-slayers, Brown University. Illinois is up quickly after Harvard; Evansville and possibly Arizona in the Wooden Classic; a trip to Rhode Island; always difficult Boston College and a road trip to Massachusetts lurk on the schedule. And don’t even think of stubbing a toe against Bryant, NJIT or Rider. One of the things that made NCAA trips possible in the past two seasons was successful out-of-conference jaunts: no more than 3 out-of-conference losses. One of the things that can quickly derail NCAA dreams are too many out-of-conference losses and unexpected ones at that, which can severely damage a team’s RPI. That can really ramp up the pressure in Big East play to an unrealistic level.
*PC’s defense step up. Offensively, the Friars should be okay. Dunn creates opportunities and points. Ben Bentil can score inside or out. Rodney Bullock is a natural scorer. Ryan Fazekas can shoot. Ricky Council can shoot. Jalen Lindsey certainly has the ability to be a more consistent shooter. Points should come. The question is going to be: can the Friars stop people? Ever since Ed Cooley arrived, he has preached tough defense but truthfully, PC has never been an elite defensive team. Making matters more complicated is the lack of height on the roster, making the Friars vulnerable inside. Cooley would love to play pressure man-to-man, but that opens players like Bentil and Dunn up to foul trouble. Because of the Friars’ athleticism and length, the potential to be a tough team on the perimeter is there, but as we saw against Stonehill, right now PC needs a lot of work on its transition defense, finding shooters on the perimeter and press. Cooley called it a third-grade press and hoped he could work it up to a college press by season’s end, but the Friars don’t have a lot of time to get ready and not get burned. And then there’s the interior defense issue that will have to be masked.
*At least two of the freshmen emerge. While the quartet of Ryan Fazekas, Drew Edwards, Ricky Council and Quadree Smith didn’t wow the recruiting guru’s, Providence filled several needs with the class and the feeling here is that it is very underrated. That said, with the departure of Paschal Chukwu and non-qualification of Alex Owens, PC needs at least two of the freshmen to separate themselves and contribute this year. Fazekas seems the most prepared to do that. He may be the tallest player on the roster, despite the height listings, and he has a shooter’s mentality: the last miss is quickly forgotten. Physically, Council looks more ready but basketball-wise, Edwards may be ahead right now in terms of well-rounded development. Both Fazekas and Edwards need to get stronger, while Council needs to be more than just a shooter. Smith has lost weight since enrolling and has soft hands but is at a definite height and lift disadvantage. Still, it’s early and the emergence of at least two of these freshmen may go a long way in determining the final storyline of this season.