Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Providence’s non-conference portion of the schedule has been a resounding success. The team navigated through illness and injury to compile a 12-1 record, losing only to current #1 and undefeated Michigan State in a highly competitive game. Included were wins over 10th ranked Arizona, at Rhode Island and home against Illinois. PC saw themselves in the national rankings for 5 consecutive weeks, with a high of 10 in the AP poll.
Three players have stood out as the Friars’ leaders and go-to options so far. Let’s take a look at what was expected from each of the three players and how they have performed thus far with the OOC schedule completed and Big East play right around the corner.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: Kris Dunn had a sensational season last year. He burst onto the national scene like a supernova, speeding up mock NBA draft boards with each performance. By the end of the season, he had, arguably, moved into lottery pick territory and it wouldn’t have been shocking had he decided to test the pro waters.
He captured the Big East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors and was named an AP Honorable Mention All-America. What more was left for him to prove by staying in school?
Well, as it turns out, Dunn wanted a degree and to set an example for his younger siblings. Aside from that, he knew that there were two things that the NBA scouts questioned about his game and he was determined to improve on those two things and leave no doubt in anyone’s mind:
Turnovers and outside shooting. Improve in those two areas and he would become an absolutely unstoppable player.
Dunn entered this season as Providence’s most touted player ever for National Player of the Year honors. Indeed, there are few players nationally who stuff stat sheets with Dunn’s effectiveness or have his ability to take over ballgames. Taking into consideration that Dunn has missed two-and-a-half games due to a severe stomach virus, let’s take a look at his numbers this season versus last year.
2014-15: 15.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 7.5 apg, 4.2 tpg, 2.7 spg, .474 fg, .351 3-pt, .686 ft, .505 2-pt
2015-16: 16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.3 apg, 2.9 tpg, 3.2 spg, .469 fg, .286 3-pt, .704 ft, .513 2-pt
The numbers hew closely with what he was able to accomplish last season. Scoring, rebounding and steals are slightly up, assists are roughly the same. What stands out is that, at least so far, the turnover numbers are way down, signaling a greater effort to better take care of the ball and better decision making in general. So, in one of the two areas, so far, Dunn can check off the box.
Outside shooting remains the one area where the improvement has not yet shown up. Amid stories of Dunn hoisting hundreds of jump shots all summer in an effort to ingrain his stroke into muscle memory, the outside shot has not reliably fallen yet. Overall shooting percentage is only slightly down, aided by an increase in accuracy inside the arc, but three-point shooting is way off.
While Dunn has continued to stuff stat sheets this season, to this point, overall the averages haven’t increased as dramatically as many expected. He has taken over some games, such as Arizona, and led PC to impressive wins, but has also started slowly in many first halves. First team All-American? A lock. National player of the year? He’ll have to amp up his performances during nationally televised league play. It’s fair to say, that as good as Dunn has been, we probably have not seen his best yet this season.
Everyone knew that, coming into this season, Kris Dunn would need someone to step up and play a Robin to his Batman. Little did anyone expect that Ben Bentil would play so well that some now consider him to be Batman and Dunn playing the role of Robin.
While most Friar fans know that Dunn is the linchpin to any long-term success this season, PC’s lack of depth in the frontcourt has made Bentil indispensible. When Dunn left the Boston College game with two minutes left in the first half due to sickness, he was followed thirty seconds later by Bentil, who rolled his ankle and the two were done for the day. More about that later.
Three days later, Dunn was still absent and Bentil was on the bench for the start of the Bryant game with a badly sprained ankle, Bryant raced out to a 28-17 lead and not a person at the Dunk would have bet on the Friars at that moment. Enter Ben Bentil, who proceeded to spark the Friars with 16 points and 8 rebounds in 25 minutes.
Bentil earned Big East Player of the Week with a 32 point, 12 rebound performance at Massachusetts. It’s long been said that a player’s biggest improvement comes between their freshman and sophomore seasons. That’s not always true, but the jump in Bentil’s game has been astonishing, both offensively and defensively.
With the departure of Paschal Chukwu, the biggest concern for Providence in the frontcourt was, would Bentil be able to man the center position and guard 5’s without fouling out. Keeping the talented forward on the floor and out of foul trouble would be a must. So far, Bentil has shown a marked improvement in playing honest defense and staying on the court.
In 2014-15, Bentil averaged .12 fouls per minute, with 89 fouls in 730 minutes and 2 foul-outs. So far this season, Bentil is averaging .07 fouls per minute, with 32 in 410 minutes and no foul-outs. While it could be argued that the real test will come when the Big East schedule begins, that’s a significant improvement, and his blocks per game have risen from 0.4 to 1.2 as well.
Bentil has developed into an all-around impact player who some now worry will look to leave early if he continues at this pace. Offensively, Bentil showed no hesitation to attempt three pointers as a freshman and he has continued along those lines this year, but what’s really improved is his inside game. As his scoring average has increased from 6.4 ppg to a team-leading 18.8 ppg this season, his field goal percentage inside the arc has improved from .465 to .525. He has scored on mid-range baseline jumpers, dribble drives to the basket and soft baby hooks, making him a matchup nightmare inside. On top of that, his three-point percentage has increased from .300 to .325 and he has already made more three-pointers than he did all of last year, so opposing big men have to follow him outside.
Bentil is on pace for a First Team All-Big East type of season and his continued development will be critical to PC’s league success this year.
Not many people knew what to expect from Rodney Bullock this season. After all, the redshirt sophomore had missed his first two seasons at Providence – the first because of a season-long suspension and the second due to an ACL injury. It had been three full years since Bullock had played an organized game of basketball. That’s a lot of rust to shake.
To say that Bullock has been a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. But he’s a surprise only to fans who had never seen him play. Right from the start, Ed Cooley had touted him as, potentially the best rookie in the league, and then, as potentially a player who had a chance to lead the league in scoring. Clearly, the coaches believed in Bullock.
And why not? As a senior at Kecoughtan High in Virginia, Bullock had averaged 21.4 ppg and 16.1 rpg during a 25-6 season. He had a nose for the ball and was a pure scorer, battling Anthony “Cat” Barber for area scoring honors.
Most successful teams need a third player to step up and be a dependable playmaker. Bullock has assumed that role with PC. When Dunn and Bentil both exited the Boston College game, the shaken Friars would have been in real second half trouble if not for Bullock taking over the game. He scored PC’s first 11 points of the half and took the team on his shoulders for the win.
During his first season of playing, Bullock completed the non-conference schedule averaging 13.6 ppg and 7.5 rpg while shooting .493 from the field. That number goes up to .545 if you remove three-point attempts. A great finisher inside, with sneaky moves around the basket, Bullock could be a 60 percent shooter before he’s done if he concentrated strictly on inside scoring. But, like Bentil, he also has the ability to step out to the three-point line and he forces opposing forwards to guard him all over the court.
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The basics of basketball –shooting and rebounding – will be at the forefront of any success that PC is capable of during the second half of the season, but health and managing foul trouble will also be two of the big keys to Providence’s Big East success. Having already achieved impressive non-conference success, the team’s three cog players all seem poised for even greater accomplishments in the coming games.