Basketball Preview: Providence

The following is a preview of Providence College, an NCAA team last season that the Deacs face off with on Wednesday. Senior Ryan Gomes decided to return for his final year of eligibility after testing the NBA waters and leads the strong Providence program.

GETTING INSIDE

If you had told the Friars last October that they'd finish 11-5 in the Big East and reach the NCAA Tournament, they'd have probably accepted that happily as a sign of a successful season. Yet, somehow Providence didn't feel like celebrating when that actually happened.

Nobody expected much of Providence, but the Friars surged to a huge start, and then rose to a ranking as high as No. 13 at the end of February. But a Feb. 29 victory over St. John's would be the team's last of the season.

With the conference's regular-season title on the line, the Friars lost their last two regular-season games and got bounced in the first round of the Big East tournament by Villanova and from the NCAA's by Pacific.

In a sense, then Tim Welsh's only task this offseason -- once he convinced Ryan Gomes to come back for his senior season -- was to find a way to keep the engines revved for a few weeks longer. But the bad karma carried over to the offseason, as probable starter Rob Sanders left the team.

There's still a strong core of players left. Start with Gomes, who dominated the league last season and is determined to do even better this year. Donnie McGrath is one of those solid, steady point guards who can put up numbers quietly but effectively. Dwight Brewington showed he could score when given the chance last season.

The big question marks will be who plays alongside Gomes in the paint. Last year it was Marcus Douthit, but the shot-blocking specialist graduated. Tuukka Kotti, the only one of Tim Welsh's legion of Europeans to return this season, will get first crack at the big minutes. Kotti's been effective, but he commits an awful lot of fouls in an awfully short amount of time,

The X-Factor here may be Charlie Burch. He's 6-7, but strong enough to guard opposing big men if he has to. And he may have to, because it's a sure bet that Tim Welsh won't want Gomes playing 40 minutes of defense against the likes of Hakim Warrick.

NOTES, QUOTES

STRENGTHS: Ryan Gomes is one of the best players in college basketball, and can carry this team on his back for stretches if he needs to. Donnie McGrath is an experienced point guard who can put the ball in the basket, and a steady hand late in games.

WEAKNESSES: There's not much experienced depth here, particularly in the frontcourt. Without center Marcus Douthit to block shots in the paint, someone else is going to have to step up and become an interior presence.

LAST YEAR: 20-9 overall, 11-5 in the Big East; lost in first round of NCAA tournament.

HEAD COACH: Tim Welsh (career 171-104); seventh year at Providence (101-82).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We need to go a little slower than last year, when we were able to jump right into things. We have four new freshmen and a few other guys who really haven't played much at all. Forty percent of the team is pretty new and some of them really have to help us, so we'll be patient with them." -- Coach Tim Welsh, in the Providence Journal

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: Rob McKiver could see some early-season time in the backcourt. DeSean White, Randall Hanke and Charlie Burch will all get a chance to play in the Friars thin frontcourt.

KEY EARLY-SEASON GAMES: Nov. 27 vs. Florida in the Orange Bowl Classic -- An early neutral-site test against an SEC opponent will indicate whether or not the Friars are as dangerous as they were last season.

PROGRAM DIRECTION: Holding. It looked for a while like Providence was going to take that next step and advance in the NCAA Tournament last season, but the Friars seemed to lose their confidence late in the season and never really got it back. Ryan Gomes carried the team last season; he'll have to do it again this year, particularly in the early season while the newcomers get acclimated.

PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: Point guard Donnie McGrath, shooting guard Dwight Brewington, center Tuukka Kotti, power forward Ryan Gomes, small forward Gerald Brown.

ROSTER REPORT: Freshman Rob McKiver lost most of his high school senior season to injury, but should be ready for the opener. ... Rob Sanders, a junior last season, left the team in April. He probably would have started had he stayed. ... Freshman JaJuan Robinson, a guard from Baltimore, Md., left the team at the end of September. ... The Friars have secured commitments from power forward Jonathan Kale, (St. Andrew's School, Rhode Island) and shooting guard Weyinmi Efejuku (Brewster Academy, New Hampshire). ... Tim Welsh got a one-year extension this offseason, locking him up through the 2008-09 season.


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