It’s finally time for the ball to go up. The 2017-18 season tips off tomorrow all across the country and with everything that’s been going on off the court it will be nice to finally see some real games take place. After the 2016-17 season ended in early April I wrote a post asking for your help to improve both the site and my coverage of Providence basketball. With the help I received from the wonderful patrons who have signed up over the last 7 months I’ve been able to greatly enhance the site.
Providence’s 2017-18 season is just 4 days away with the season kicking off, along with everyone else in college basketball, on November 10th. The Friars will play their first game of the season on campus at Alumni Hall. It will be the first non-exhibition game that Providence has played at Alumni Hall since 1972, the year before the Dunkin’ Donuts Center — then the Providence Civic Center — opened downtown. The preview for the 2016-17 season read much differently than this one will. Providence was picked 9th out of 10 in the preseason Big East Coaches poll last October, only to finish 3rd and make a school-record fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The 2017-18 season is expected to result in a fifth consecutive trip to the Big Dance. But with increased expectations come increased pressures. The college basketball odds provide perspective on how different this season is being viewed. The Friars have odds of +15000, or 150/1 to win the national championship. Heading into the 2016-17 season the Friars’ odds were not quite as good at +28000, or 280/1.
With six games under their belt so far this season, a 4-2 record isn’t so bad for the Providence Friars. While two losses in November hasn’t been the norm for Providence during Ed Cooley’s tenure as the leader in Friartown, those two losses haven’t sent Friar fans into a depression. In fact, if you check some online college basketball odds you’ll find Providence still getting plenty of respect from the oddsmakers for their matchup against New Hampshire on Wednesday night.
There is no mistaking the difficult task Cooley has in keeping the momentum rolling of three straight NCAA Tournament trips and four straight postseason tournament appearances, overall. But on Tuesday night during his radio show hosted by John Rooke, Cooley mentioned patience a few times.
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.
The Big East currently has two teams sitting atop the league’s standings, two teams toiling away in the cellar and the other six teams beating each other to death in the middle. This has been the recipe each of the first three seasons of this configuration of the Big East. Villanova remains the most consistent. Jay Wright’s program has been among those two at the top all three seasons. The other program on high this season — Xavier — also appears to be in a position to stay there. That leaves teams like Butler, Creighton, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence and Seton Hall to bloody each other’s win/loss records in hopes of snagging the other three spots that make up the top half of the league.
Providence is now two-thirds of the way through their 18 game Big East schedule and they are sitting at 6-6 and are in a tie for 6th with Butler. The Friars have certainly been up and down in league play. They started 4-2 in the first third of the schedule and followed that up with a 2-4 record in the second third — though 1 of their 2 wins in the second third came on the road at Villanova.
Providence has been starting more than just the last few games. It happened during the non-conference too. The Friars were able to overcome teams with their superior talent and ability, but Big East play is a different animal. The narrative after the home loss against Marquette on January 5th was: “They didn’t play well, but they played bad and still almost won!” That’s cute. It certainly isn’t the way Ed Cooley is thinking. The slow starts have been exacerbated lately by a lack of offensive firepower that has prevented Providence from making the big comeback that sealed wins earlier in the season. In their last 3 games, Providence is shooting a combined 32% from the field. That won’t cut it against Big East teams most nights. Here’s what I would do to attempt to fix Providence’s slow starts: