Mal Brown Impressions

The annual Friar Fanfest and Mal Brown scrimmage was conducted in Mullaney Gym on Sunday, and Friar fans got their first glimpse at a young team working to establish a fresh identity and a formula for success.

With an estimated crowd of around 800 diehard fans and many of their children on hand, the men's basketball team signed autographs and provided a number of fun basketball activities for parents and children alike to participate in prior to the annual intra-squad scrimmage.

The format for the Mal Brown scrimmage has changed over the years, and often shows a new wrinkle. This year's theme could well have been "Back to the Future", as Coach Keno Davis went with a good old fashioned, simulated game with two 20 minute halves. That is a departure from his first two seasons, when he either had a running clock with a shorter scrimmage or broke up the scrimmage into a handful of short five to ten minute periods. This year's scrimmage was the longest period of time the team had played in a game situation since the start of practice, and the early season rust and general lack of cohesion was unsurprisingly on display, particularly in the first half.

The White Team, coached by Chris Davis with input by the head coach Keno Davis, consisted of the projected starting five of Vincent Council, Gerard Coleman, Marshon Brooks, Kadeem Batts, and Bilal Dixon. The White Team also brought in Bryce Cotton and Lee Goldsbrough off the bench. Duke Mondy did not play due to a nagging hamstring pull.

The Black Team featured Dre Evans at the point, and featured Ron Giplaye, Ray Hall, and Brice Kofane playing most of the minutes up front. Walk-on Mike Murray and Ted Bancroft also played significant minutes at the two wing positions.

It was a disjointed first half in which the significant underdog Black Team basically stayed even with the White Team only down six at the break. Frankly, the White team, coach by Rodell Davis and Kevin Gamble was playing harder and making the most of their opportunities to keep the game close.

In the second half, the White team played with a lot more purpose and upped the defensive pressure, which led to a lot of easy transition baskets which they weren't getting in the first half. The White Team with the expected starters went on to win the scrimmage by 16 points.

The main thing about this annual scrimmage is not read too much into it, for better or worse. It is just a scrimmage, and a very early one at that. Moreover, it does not include a game plan, so the team is competing against itself, where everyone knows each others favorite moves and tendencies. Next week, Providence will play a closed exhibition scrimmage against Stony Brook on the road. That should provide much more insight to the coaching staff. Improved defense is obviously the focus this year, and the early returns are that fans should see some improvement in the back court with the addition of the active Gerard Coleman. Questions still loom though with respect to the interior defense.

Sunday was a first glimpse into the team, and a chance to gather some early impressions of the players at this point. Here is a breakdown of most of the players during the scrimmage:

Projected Starting Five

Vincent Council: The sophomore point guard had a good game overall (12pts, 9asts, 5rbs) but didn't really begin the show what he can do with his passing until the second half, when the pace quickened and point guard Dre Evans from the Black Team began challenging him with some shots and playmaking of this own. Council needs to understand he needs to lead the team from the get go in games this year as their floor general, and needs to create easy opportunities for a team that may struggle at times to score in half court sets. Overall though, he may the most complete player on team right now.

Gerard Coleman: Having seen Coleman play many times, he delivered in large part what he is capable of in a game situation. He slashed for buckets, glided for baskets on the break, and perhaps played the best defense on the team, jumping the passing lanes forcing four steals, matching Council's total. The Friars best chance for improved defense will be with Coleman and Council on the floor, who should be very disruptive together this season. Coleman passed up a lot of open perimeter shots, which shows good discretion, but he's going to have to learn to take and knock down the open jump shot in order to keep opposing defenses honest.

Marshon Brooks: While he is significantly stronger this year and appears to be able to finish inside better, senior Marshon Brooks did not really let the game come to him enough, and too often settled for contested shot opportunities going 7-17 on the day, 0-4 from behind the arc. Brooks was the leading scorer with 19 points, but it didn't come easy. He is typically the team's best shooter though, so Coach Davis would be wise to set plenty of screens for Brooks this year, as he will be shadowed all season long and will need to fight for clean looks at the basket. Because of the defensive attention he attracts, Brooks should also have the opportunity to collect assists this year, something he's not had enough of over his career at Providence.

Kadeem Batts: Due to some pre-season buzz, much is expected of this red shirt freshman. Batts is athletic, and has a physique built for the Big East conference. However, Kadeem has never been relied upon to be a starter before (including high school), and it will be a big step up for him this year. His red shirt year was expected to produce a much more refined skill set, replicating in part the previous results that Keno Davis produced in Greedy Peterson and Bilal Dixon. Batts went 6-10 with 14 points in the scrimmage, but he had a disappointing four rebounds, and turned the ball over three times. Batts did finish most of his scoring opportunities within 5-7 feet, but should have done more defensively and on the glass. Kadeem must get to the point where he stops thinking too much and just reacts to make plays. He also must learn to play aggressively on a consistent basis, or his motor will be questioned and he could be outworked for playing time by other freshman players like Ron Giplaye.

Bilal Dixon: The hulking sophomore is bigger than ever, and turned in a workman like double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He should provide an anchor the paint this year, but he wasn't as active as he could have been in Sunday's scrimmage. Dixon we be heavily relied upon this year, and needs to be both productive and stay out of foul trouble. He will need to show more of a post game this season, and he won't have Greedy Peterson on his wing this year to draw away defensive attention. Bilal would do well to firmly refine the short jump hook that was nearly mastered by Herb Hill a few years ago.

Other Player Observations

Dre Evans: He's already established himself as the back up point guard this season. Reminiscent of Corey Wright from the late 90's, Evans loves playing a fast pace, and is quick and crafty in the lane, with a ability to finish at the hoop or pull up on the mid range jumper. Three point shooting does not appear to be his strength at this point. While he didn't turn the ball over much, his play making for others in the half court must improve. Evans appears to over dribble at times without creating assists when the pace slows. It is an area he needs to work on.

Ron Giplaye: Perhaps the most tenacious player on the court during the scrimmage. (14pts, 11rbs) Fans will love this workhorse, who seems to get more than his share of rebounds around him, despite being undersized. Ron's big problem is putting back offense rebounds for scores right now over taller players, but hopefully with some improved ball and head faking he will make become a better finisher inside, much like Jon Kale was able to do two years ago. There is a place for this tough role player this season, and the view here is that Giplaye should not be red shirted.

Brice Kofane: Very active player and likely the best natural shot blocker on the team. Kofane has a lot of potential in this program, but right now, he is extremely raw, like many international imports. Because of his significant athleticism at his size, he was able to score 8 points and pull down 8 rebounds. He clearly needs to work on the fundamentals of the game, but he plays hard and has significant upside going forward. The view here is that he would likely benefit significantly from a red shirt season.

Lee Goldsbrough: This player is much stronger than the other European players that Providence has brought in over the last ten years. At least 6-9, Goldsbrough can guard power forwards on the defensive end and step out on offense to hit the perimeter shot, creating open space in the lane for others. Goldsbrough was 2-3 from behind the stripe, and much quicker on his feet than Ray Hall. Because of his ability to guard some and hit open perimeter shots, there may very well be minutes for this player off the bench this year.

Bryce Cotton: The super athletic slam dunk champ creates excitement, but the reality is that he's still searching to find his role on this Friar team. Like Dre Evans, Cotton is most effective on the break where he can take advantage of his athleticism for layups and dunks. However, he doesn't appear to be a point guard right now, and his outside shot is streaky. Still, he's an asset defensively, and doesn't force his offense, while appearing to display good basketball IQ. If he becomes more productive scoring in half court sets, Cotton will prove to be a successful two guard here at Providence but he is a work in progress right now.

Ray Hall: The senior big man from Colorado is a fan favorite, and appears to be in his best physical condition in years. He ran the floor well on Sunday, and even hit two three pointers, although he was not finishing particularly well on a number of inside shot opportunities. Ray will have a role this year and continue to be a situational space eater against teams with big front courts.

Duke Mondy: DNP with nagging hamstring injury. Mondy has gotten stronger in the off season, but must knock down the outside shot much better this season in order to keep pace with others on the team.

Mike Murray (walk on): The surprise of the scrimmage. Murray was a two sport star athlete in college in Troy, NY, and played with Brice Kofane on the Albany City Rocks AAU team. A strong 6'2, Murray has decent athleticism and plays smart, tough basketball. He has a better than average handle, and can knock down shots. Murray was 6-7 from the field for 13 points, and really led the way for the Black team in the first half, keeping the game close. Much like he did at Drake, in a year or two could Mike Murray be the next walk on wonder that Keno Davis pulls out of his hat?

Take it all in with a grain of salt. After all, the Mal Brown scrimmage is just a brief glimpse into what may be this season.

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