Breaking Down the Non-Conference Schedule

The regular season is upon the Providence Friars, and ready or not, the 2005-2006 games kick off against Vermont at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on November 21st.

Given the number of health (DeSean White and others) and personnel questions that surround the team as the season begins, Friar Insider will preview only the non-conference schedule for the time being. The Big East schedule preview article will be delivered in late December, when a more accurate picture of the team for that stretch of the season can be presented.

The non-conference schedule can be broken down in part based on the expectations of the teams the Friars are facing. They fall into 3 basic categories:

The no trap, no excuses, must win games

All four of these games are at home against teams which are all projected to finish outside of the top three of their respective mid or low major conferences.

Vermont, New Hampshire, Yale, Loyola, MD

Vermont 11/21/05 - The halcyon days of Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine are over, and Coach Tom Brennan rode off into retirement as well. It's a new start for Vermont and Coach Mike Lonergan, and though they've brought in a recruiting class that is stronger than some other years past, the Catamounts are clearly rebuilding and are picked to finish 6th in the America East Conference. The Catamounts return only one starter from last year's NCAA team in junior Martin Klimes, however Ryan Schneider and Mike Trimboli look to be quality scorers as well. Obviously, despite the adjustment of playing without Dwight Brewington and the current injury status of DeSean White, the Friars should prevail in this contest.

New Hampshire 11/23/05 - The most difficult aspect of this match up is the fact is that it is less than 48 hours after the Vermont game and the night before Thanksgiving. The Wildcats of UNH are picked to finish 8th in the America East Conference and should provide a good opportunity for the young Friars to gain some much needed experience. New head coach Bill Herrion has a young back court and no player over 6-8 (a freshman) on the roster. Barring a major let down or total lack of focus, the Friars should win this game without great difficulty.

Yale 12/22/05 - Yale has taken a small step back from the last few years in which they challenged Penn and Princeton for the top of the Ivy league. They are led by Sam Kaplan, a versatile 6-7 forward who played on the same Worcester Academy team as Dwight Brewington. The Bulldogs play a methodical Ivy style in which they run good motion in their offensive sets, make their free throws, and force the opponent to show patience and execute on offense. The young Friars should have significant talent advantage is this one, but will have to maintain their self discipline on the court in order to ensure a comfortable victory.

Loyola, MD 1/03/06 - This is the last non-conference game on the schedule, and provided the Friars have begun to gel and are healthy at this point, the Loyola game at home should not prove too great a challenge. However, fans should keep in mind that Loyola is a MAAC team, a conference with which the Friars have had problems in the past. The Greyhounds exhibit relatively balanced scoring, and have a legitimate big man in 6-10 Maryland transfer Hassan Fofana. This particular match up may prove more difficult than most Friar fans expect, but should nevertheless result in a Providence victory.

The Traps and Nailbiters

The following are four games that the Friars certain can and in most cases should win. However, not one of them is likely to prove easy.

at Fairfield, Northeastern, at Wichita State, San Diego State

at Fairfield 11/28/05 - While the Stags are predicted to finish only 6th in MAAC conference, they are playing the Friars at home which should provide them with a spark to have Big East upset on their minds. Jon Han, a guard the Friars took a look at last season, is a freshman guard who protects the ball well and can hit big shots from deep range. Along with Han, Terrence Todd, Marty O'Sullivan, and Michael Bell provide well a well balanced scoring attack for Fairfield. Expect a gritty performance from the Stags, but provided the young Friars play solid defense and aren't flat in their first road game, the road win is definitely there for the taking with a solid performance.

Northeastern 12/20/05 - The Huskies may be Johnny-Come-Lately in the Colonial Conference, but expect them to make noise immediately. Jose Juan Barea and Shawn James will provide the Huskies with plenty of victories this season and NU is predicted to finish behind only Old Dominion in the Colonial Conference. While Jose Juan Barea did not receive the accolades that Vermont's Taylor Coppenrath was awarded in the America East last year, he averaged 22.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg and 7.3 apg last season. Barea's quickness to the basket will prove more than a handful for the Friars to guard, but he isn't the only player that needs to be marked on Northeastern. The 6-10 Shawn James made an immediate impact in his freshman season, averaging 5.4 blocks per game, good enough for second in the nation. Look for him to cause some headaches for the Friar front court. Don't expect a runaway in this one, as the young Friars will be fortunate to grab the W.

at Wichita State 11/30/05 - The Shockers, who beat the Friars in Providence last year, wore down as the season went on last season as a result of underachieving senior play down the stretch. Three senior starters from last year's team are gone but Wichita State has others who may be able to effectively replace them in power forward Kyle Wilson, shooting guard P.J. Couisnard and center Paul Miller. The Shockers have also added a Marquette transfer at guard named Karon Bradley. Expect a loud and hostile Missouri Valley crowd for this one. The strategy here should be to get out to a strong start on the offensive end and keep the crowd out of the game. Providence will have to shoot the ball well to win this match up, but the sting of last year's loss should provide plenty of motivation for the Friars to try and grab the road win against a team that is not a potent as last year's version but still may be NIT quality.

San Diego State 12/27/05 - The San Diego Toreros had a formidable front line last season, but two of those players are gone this year leaving only center Nick Lewis. San Diego also has a defensive stopper in Corey Belser, a small forward who will be asked to do a lot more on offense this year. Oklahoma State transfer DeRogatis brings another point guard, but San Diego will be without Floyd North III, an Oregon State transfer who didn't return for his senior season. San Diego should not be nearly as strong as last year, but still may be in the mix for an NIT bid out of the relatively weak West Coast Conference. The Friars won at San Diego State last season. This game could be a trap if the Friars aren't mentally prepared for this post Christmas match up.

The Gut Check and Prime Timers

The following are three games one after another on the schedule in which the Friars will almost certainly not be favored to win. While most, if not all Friar fans would be happy to grab one or two wins from this group, the feeling here is that the Friars could conceivably play well in all three games and still not come out with a single win given their youth, inexperience, and lack of depth.

at Rhode Island, Florida, Memphis

Rhode Island 12/03/05 - The annual rock fight between the University of Rhode Island and the Friars will take place at the Ryan Center this year. As all Providence fans recall from two years ago, the Friars played a solid game on the Rams' home court only to lose on a day in which the Rhode Island guards could not miss from the three point line. The fact of the matter is that the Friars will not face a more hostile crowd all season, and it will be one that will likely bring out the best out of the Rhode Island players. As a result, despite Rhode Island being projected as a middle of the road A-10 team this year, they will undoubtably bring their best against the hated Providence Friars. As in the previous matchups, Providence will have to limit the scoring of the highly explosive Dawan Robinson, a do everything guard reminiscent of a poor man's Troy Bell. Another player to mark is the coach son, Jim Baron Jr., a freshman swing player who while not very athletic, he's demonstrated excellent range with his outside shot. Rhode Island's staples are tenacious man to man defense, team rebounding, and a combination of transition baskets and three point shots. They generally demonstrate little inside game. In recent years, Providence has struggled with URI's brand of physical, high intensity style of play, but the hope here is that with a new roster filled with more toughness than finesse, the Friars have a decent shot of pulling out a victory in Kingston if they can match the Rams' intensity.

Memphis 12/10/05 - John Calipari's NCAA dream last season fell 2 free throws short in the Conference USA Championship game. Major chemistry problems and turnovers cost the Tigers too many wins last year, including a home loss to the Friars in the middle of a blizzard. Even without dismissed shooting guard Jeremy Hunt, Memphis is still loaded. The mercurial Sean Banks is also gone this year, but Memphis easily has the most talent of any team in the gutted Conference USA. Add to that a stellar recruiting class and the Tigers will walk to the NCAA tournament this season. Let's just hope Coach Cal and his talented returners like Darius Washington, Rodney Carney, and Joey Dorsey don't walk all over the Friars on there way to the post season.

Florida 12/06/05 - Billy Donovan had hoped for a big run this season with senior guards Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson, but that vanished when both of those players followed David Lee to the NBA. Don't shed any tears for Billy the Kid's homecoming though. The Friar great has some super sophomores on his roster to step in and give the Friars all that they can handle. The foursome of small forward Corey Brewer, power forward Al Horford, point guard Taurean Green and former Friar target Joakim Noah all have the talent to keep Florida in the national picture all season long. Look no farther than their victory over Syracuse at the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in New York for proof. It will take a supreme effort on both ends of the floor for the Friars to spoil BillyD's return to the arena that made him famous.

Non-Conference Prediction 7-4

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