Monday Friar Mailbag: Can Providence Win the National Championship?

Each Monday I’ll do my best to answer some of your questions. The below are actual e-mails and tweets from readers. In some cases I have cleaned up the questions for grammar and/or clarity.

The Monday Friar Mailbag is back for another week of answering your questions. This will be the last Monday Friar Mailbag that happens before the season kicks off on October 25th with Providence’s hurricane relief benefit exhibition game against UConn at Mohegan Sun. This week the burning question I’ll tackle first has to do with Providence’s chances of winning a national championship and why that question is an indicator of the metamorphosis of expectations around the Providence program since Ed Cooley took over in 2011.

This is a question I got over a month ago. I wanted to address it at some point and with recruiting now taking a bit of a backseat to the impending 2017-18 season, this seemed like as good a time as any. My short answer to Kris’ question on Twitter was “sure.”

Ed Cooley’s introductory press conference has become something of a legendary moment in Providence basketball history. Quotes like “brick by brick” and “if you’re late, don’t come in” have come from it, not to mention the references to winning big that seemed to first come to fruition in 2014 when Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton led that Providence team to the Big East Tournament title for just the second time ever and first since 1994. But now expectations surrounding the Providence program have grown. The focus of “winning big” has gone from that moment in March 2014 at MSG to dreams of a national title.

Cooley himself made reference back in October 2011 to bringing national championships — plural — to Providence when he spoke in front of alumni and friends of the program at an event at PJ Clarke’s in NYC. At the time I remember thinking that maybe Cooley had been imbibing too much that night, or it was just something every new coach says in those red meat type of speeches. Fast forward to October 2017 and the question posed above doesn’t seem all that ridiculous to me. In fact, I think Providence is in a position to now contend for a national title every few years with recruiting picking up and staying at a consistently high level.

Before I get scoffs and angry comments about this stance, let me mention that I’m not going so far as to say that Providence will win a national title in the near term. What am I saying is that expectations of Providence have shifted, at least in my opinion, from simply making the NCAA Tournament every few years to making a run in the NCAA Tournament every few years. The program is in the midst of the longest consecutive streak of NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. The next step will be for Providence to make a run at the Sweet 16 or deeper. This certainly could be that team for Cooley. They are experienced, deep and have talent all over the court. So, sure. Providence could win the national championship in the next 3 years.

This is a nice segue to…

Ty S. asks: What’s the goal Cooley is setting for this team to make? Big east championship? Sweet 16 run?

Cooley is certainly bombastic at times with predictions or his habit of overstating someone or something as the “best in the country.” Having said that, he isn’t exactly Rex Ryan with public predictions. Whether or not he has expressed those kinds of goals or expectations to his team privately is unknown. He hasn’t stated anything like that publicly. Cooley has indicated in the past that the goal is always to win the league. I think, this year especially, that is a realistic one. Beyond that, I would think a Sweet 16 — or beyond– run wouldn’t be an outrageous goal to have.

Allan R. asks: Any early assessment of how players have progressed over the summer or since arrival on campus? Any team chemistry observations?

This was another question I got a few weeks ago and was holding onto until practice officially started. While I have yet to attend a practice in person, I have talked to people who have and also watched the Mal Brown scrimmage from over the weekend.

There appears to be a consensus that freshmen Dajour Dickens is further along that many thought he would be at this point. Cooley even mentioned that. While I always caution over-hyping a freshman, especially a freshman big, Dickens will play and have a role on this team. That role will be expanded a bit the longer Emmitt Holt remains out.

Nate Watson has also been impressive in practices, I’m told. He trimmed down and added more muscle to his already hulking frame and I expect he will murder some rims this season.

Makai Ashton-Langford has shown flashes of his playmaking abilities in practice, but he has struggled on the defensive side of the ball, something Cooley confirmed last week during Big East Media Day. Again, he’s a freshman and defense is often the last thing that comes online for rookies. All three of the newcomers are expected to play this season despite the depth and experience on the rest of the roster.

One observation by Cooley of early practices that I thought was interesting that he mentioned during Big East Media Day was that he’s doing less coaching in practice. He said that because of vocal leaders like Kyron Cartwright and Jalen Lindsey he’s having to stop drills less often to correct things and that his veteran players even take control in huddles at times, which he likes. This is a veteran group and they already bring a bunch of chemistry back from last year. All three freshmen were on campus over the summer, which always helps with meshing together. There will be a little adjustment period once the games begin for everyone to settle into their roles and rotations, including Cooley.

Cooley indicated that he plans to play small at times and even press occasionally now that he’s got depth. Cooley has said in the past that he prefers to play a more uptempo style, but he always coaches to his team and doesn’t want to dictate his style or offense onto his players if it doesn’t put them in the best possible situation to succeed. This is the first team that Cooley has had at Providence that could legitimately go 10-deep on a regular basis. Whether that actually happens, especially when the calendar turns to Big East play, is another story. Another important factor that is often overlooked when pressing is the need to have a big man in the back to protect the rim if the press gets broken. Providence really hasn’t had that either. I would expect to see more pressing than in the past this season and I think Cartwright will be encouraged to show off his end-to-end speed.

Tim H. asks: Who Do You Think Will Get Their Jersey Retired? Kris Dunn, LaDontae Henton or Ryan Gomes?

All of the above. It might be a little while until all three are honored because Providence didn’t start doing this kind of thing until 1996 when Lenny Wilkens was the first former Friar to have his number honored. The club is officially called the Friar Legends Forever Tradition and the official criteria for entry “the player or coach must have made a significant impact on Friar basketball and he/she must have received national recognition during his/her career at Providence.”

So far, the Friar Legends Forever Tradition has 15 members from the men’s basketball team with the most recent inductees being Otis Thorpe and Bruce “Soup” Campbell who were named last season. The “national recognition” piece of the criteria seems to indicate that the player must have been named to an All-American team because that is a common thread for all 15 members. If that’s the case and we assume the school is going chronologically then there are a few Friars that will be considered before Gomes, Henton and Dunn. The announcement of who will go in this season should be made soon, but I’d surmise Billy Donovan will be one of them. For those interested, here is the list of all 15 men’s basketball players/coaches in the Friar Legends Forever Tradition club:

  • Lenny Wilkens – 1996
  • Joe Mullaney – 2007
  • Dave Gavitt – 2007
  • Jimmy Walker – 2008
  • Marvin Barnes – 2008
  • Ernie DiGregorio – 2008
  • John Egan – 2009
  • Ray Flynn – 2011
  • Vinnie Ernst – 2011
  • Kevin Stacom – 2014
  • Joe Hassett – 2014
  • John Thompson – 2015
  • Jim Hadnot – 2015
  • Otis Thorpe – 2016
  • Bruce “Soup” Campbell – 2016

Thanks to everyone that submitted questions! There were some I didn’t answer this week. I’m holding them for a future mailbag.

Have a question you want answered? Email mhopkins@pcbb1917.com, tweet me @pcbb1917 or leave a comment on the Facebook page.

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