Providence Season Preview: The Dunn Era Closes, a New Era Begins

When Kris Dunn graduated in May of 2016, he didn’t leave alone. Ben Bentil also declared for the NBA Draft, eventually becoming the Boston Celtic’s 51st overall pick. The departure of Dunn and Bentil has left a void that will impact Providence’s immediate future. Evidence of how different the 2016-17 season is expected to be for Providence can be seen in college basketball odds where Providence is +28000, or 280/1 to win the national championship. Last season the Friars were as high in some places as +6000, or 60/1.

Dunn, a two-time Big East Player of the Year, was the Minnesota Timberwolves’ 5th overall pick. The end of the Kris Dunn Era isn’t the end of the Friars, though; they have plenty of talent and a deep roster to keep the momentum of three straight NCAA Tournament appearances going. The Friars can avoid the pitfalls that have befallen many other teams that have lost major stars if they get the right level of development and improvement from players like Kyron Cartwright, Rodney Bullock, and Jalen Lindsey.

Ed Cooley knows that all three have played a lot of games together and they will now have an opportunity to expand into even larger roles and responsibilities. Cooley hopes they can take over from where Dunn and Bentil left off. Cartwright, Bullock and Lindsey need to prove that they can step up when it comes to production and leadership. It’s no easy feat filling the void of a superstar like Dunn, though Cooley clearly thinks they have the experience to do what is necessary, and has said as much in preseason interviews.

In addition to the veterans in the junior class, Cooley also has the sophomores to who got solid game experience last season as freshmen. Various players will fight for the chance to build on the momentum of their rookie seasons. Cooley will look to Ryan Fazekas and Drew Edwards to pick up the slack. Fazekas, in particular, has a chance to really step up this season. He got derailed last season due to illness and injury after a hot start in the first nine games. Cooley will be looking for Fazekas to provide a much-needed offensive spark, namely by becoming a weapon from beyond the arc.

Edwards could also have a large impact on the team’s success this season, especially if he is able to get up to speed following a return from June knee surgery. Edwards has been cleared for full contact and played in Providence’s closed scrimmage against Northeastern last Saturday. Friar fans know Edwards for his in-bounds pass to Bullock for the game-winning bucket in Providence’s NCAA Tournament win over USC last spring, but Edwards could see an expanded role with lineups and playing time up in the air.

Providence also welcomes a group of newcomers, both experienced and totally new to college basketball.

Isaiah Jackson sat out last season as a transfer and is chomping at the bit to get back on the court this season after a solid freshman year at George Mason in 2014-15. Jackson started Providence’s exhibition game against Carleton University on October 29th and will be looked upon to be a glue-guy for Cooley this season.

The other experienced incoming player is Emmitt Holt. Holt began his college career at Indiana in 2014-15 and played in 29 games before being dismissed from the team following a pair of off-court incidents. He landed at Indian Hills Community College and put up solid numbers in 31 games there while being coached by Providence alum and former Friar graduate assistant Hank Plona. Holt impressed in Providence’s exhibition game by recording a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds and he appears to be a key cog in the middle for Providence.

There are also three freshmen that will be in the mix for minutes on this 2016-17 squad.

Maliek White was another player who showed well during Providence’s only public exhibition game by scoring 15 points. White also reportedly played the majority of point guard minutes during the closed scrimmage against Northeastern while Cartwright sat out with knee soreness. White appears ready to be a contributor, but the extent he will play alongside Cartwright remains to be seen.

Alpha Diallo was the highest-ranked recruit in Providence’s 2016 class and he scored 11 points and grabbed 6 rebounds against Carleton to live up to his top-100 ranking. Diallo doesn’t get sped up and appears to have a future as a playmaker who can play multiple positions at 6’7. Diallo joins the group of players who Cooley must figure out how to blend together over the course of the season.

The final freshman to commit is also the biggest. Kalif Young comes in at 6’9 and 250 lbs on Providence’s official roster and the lefty from Canada gives Cooley some added size up front to help out the slightly undersized Holt and Bullock. Young plays hard and will be called upon to grab rebounds and add toughness to the Friar frontcourt.

Every player needs to do his part in order for the Friars to produce results. The toughest part for Cooley will be figuring out how to use all of this depth that he has on the roster in 2016-17. The early season will likely be a time when Cooley uses many different lineup combinations as he tries to figure out each player’s true role and how that fits in the rotation.

If everyone can contribute, then the end of the Dunn Era could just mean the beginning of a new era in Providence basketball lore as the Friars chase four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, which is something never accomplished in school history. Providence begins this journey on Monday night at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center against Vermont.

Preseason predictions: 16-15 (9-4 OOC, 7-11 Big East); NIT

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