It’s officially the offseason now. March Madness has come and gone. Connecticut is the national champion.
The focus for fans now turns heavily to recruiting, discussing potential starters/lineups for their team next season, how many minutes and points per game and rebounds per game, etc. a kid they have never seen play before will have and, finally, who they will be playing out of conference (OOC). For Providence, recruiting means filling out their remaining 2 spots for the 2014 class with a focus on 5th year transfers and junior college players who can contribute immediately next season. Potential starters/lineups likely can’t be determined for the Friars until they have another guard in hand for 2014 and at some point in the coming weeks, I’ll enter the fray on that discussion with my own thoughts on that topic. For now though, my focus is on the OOC schedule that PC has lined up for next season.
As I mentioned in my piece reviewing the Big East’s first season with the current configuration, one of the big keys for maintaining the strength of this updated version of the Big East is for teams to play a strong OOC schedule. The reality is that most years won’t provide the opportunity to play a top 25 ranked opponent every week like the prior version of this conference did many years. My guess is that most years there will be about 2-3 teams in the top 25 with the potential for a great year having 50% of the league ranked. The 2013-2014 season saw the Big East have an OOC strength of schedule ranked 7th in the country. They likely need to be top 5 every year in that category. Things are off to a solid start with Creighton reportedly having agreed to a home and home series with Oklahoma beginning in Omaha next season. Also, it was reported over the weekend that St. John’s and Duke will restart their series on January 31, 2015 at Madison Square Garden after a two year hiatus. The Johnnies also will head to the Carrier Dome this season to take on former conference rival Syracuse in December 2014.
Providence, specifically, had the 194th ranked OOC strength of schedule this past season. That will likely change in 2014-2015. The highlights of the PC OOC schedule will be a trip to Rupp Arena to fulfill their 2 game agreement with the Kentucky Wildcats, playing in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff in late November and possibly a trip to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines.
Kentucky currently has the 2nd ranked recruiting class for 2014 according to ESPN so they will be retooled per usual. All 4 of their commitments are consensus top 25 ranked players with 3 of the 4 classified as 5 star recruits. I have a feeling they will be ranked in the top 10-15 preseason coming off their appearance in the NCAA Finals even though they will likely lose most of the key players from that team to the NBA draft. 7 foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein announced via Twitter on April 14th that he will be returning to Lexington for his Junior year. Cauley-Stein was extremely effective against the Friars frontcourt in Brooklyn last season.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff has a very solid field for 2014: Binghampton, Florida State, Manhattan, UMass, Navy, Northeastern, Notre Dame and Providence. The Friars will take on Florida State and Notre Dame in the Mohegan Sun portion of the tournament and will play UMass and either Binghampton, Manhattan, Navy or Northeastern at the Dunk in the campus sites portion of the tournament. The tournament schedule will be released by the end of April.
Michigan, fresh off an impressive run to the Elite 8 where they fell to Kentucky, will lose 5th year senior Jordan Morgan to graduation, redshirt Junior Jon Horford to transfer (he will be immediately eligible with 1 year left at his new school) and sophomores Nick Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III to the NBA Draft. 6’10 sophomore Mitch McGary has yet to announce his plans for declaring for the draft but has until April 27th to decide. While the defections will hurt, the Wolverines have the 29th ranked recruiting class for 2014 according to ESPN and will be bringing in a class of 5 headlined by Kameron Chatman, a 6’7 SF ranked in the top 50 by most recruiting services. While the details of this series have not been finalized as of the writing of this article, rumors of a PC/Michigan game have been swirling for a couple of months now. PC wants to play a game in Michigan for LaDontae Henton and they are definitely recruiting some Michigan kids, including Eric Davis for 2015. Coordinator of Basketball Operations, Mike Jackson is the one who has connections to the University of Michigan. I have a feeling the details will get hammered out and this will happen.
In addition to the more high profile OOC games mentioned above, PC will play their regular in-state rivalry game against URI which will shift back to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center for the 2014-2015 season after PC’s thrilling 50-49 victory at the Ryan Center in early December of 2013. PC will also travel to Chestnut Hill to take on Boston College this season. Other OOC games are in the works but I would assume that the rest of the opponents will include Brown and be similar to previous years in terms of their cupcake status.
Overall, I think it’s safe to say that PC will have a stronger OOC strength of schedule than this year’s 194th ranking. Many of the member schools are playing in solid preseason tournaments with good fields. Ed Cooley continues to reach out to anyone and everyone in the high major basketball community to try to get series lined up but PC likely still has to prove they can sustain success before a high major will agree to a series with the Friars that includes a trip to the Dunk. I do think starting series with teams like Dayton (who is looking to start a home and home with a top 75 RPI opponent) or Wisconsin-Green Bay (looking for a 2 for 1 with a high major) would be more beneficial than a Maine or NJIT. PC and other Big East schools will need to start looking at scheduling their OOC even more strategically than in the past now that the in conference SOS has dropped a bit.
Having said that, every high major plays cupcakes so there is still a place on the schedule for them but there should just be less slots available than previously. Another aspect of OOC scheduling that will have to be monitored over the next few years is if the league uses their relationship with Fox Sports 1 to start a regular OOC series against a power conference similar to the Big East/SEC challenge from a few years ago on ESPN. Right now the best option would seem to be the PAC 12 but I think a lot of fans have an eye toward the Big 10 when their media rights deal hits the market after the 2016 college football season.