Team: Providence Friars
2016-17 Record: 20-13, 10-8 Big East
2016-17 Big East Finish: In a four-way tie for third place.
Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #60
Postseason? Qualified for the NCAA tournament by way of the First Four, but lost their game to USC.
Key Departures: None, actually.
Key Returners: Rodney Bullock (15.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists); Emmitt Holt (12.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists); Kyron Cartwright (11.4 points, 3.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists); Jalen Lindsey (10.7 points, 4.3 rebounds)
Key Arrivals: 247 Sports’ #18 recruiting class (#2 in the Big East) including Makai Ashton-Langford (point guard, 6’1”, 180 lb., #38), Nate Watson (center, 6’8”, 220 lb., #97), and Dajour Dickens (center, 6’11”, 205 lb., #142)
Coach: Ed Cooley, in his seventh season at Providence and 12th overall (123-80 at Providence, 215-149 overall)
Outlook: If we learned a lesson last season from the Friars, it’s to not count out an Ed Cooley coached team. No one expected anything from PC last season after losing Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Providence had an okay start to the season, but they suffered a really ugly loss to Boston College of all teams in late December, and then started out Big East play 1-4. That eventually turned into 4-8, and it seemed that PC was on their way to the bummer of the season that had been expected.
And then they won their final six regular season games and made into the NCAA tournament anyway.
So, if we can’t count them out, what happens when Ed Cooley returns the exact same team for next season, now with a full year of experience together under their belts? What happens when you give an NCAA tournament team a top 25 recruiting class to bolster their depth? What happens when Makai Ashton-Langford is allowed to come along slowly behind Kyron Cartwright? Remember, we already know that Cooley is the point guard whisperer. Between Rodney Bullock and Emmitt Holt, Providence doesn’t need more talented size, but that’s what they’re getting in Nate Watson and maybe even Dajour Dickens.
This team terrifies me, and while I can’t be talked out of picking Villanova to win the league again, I’m also not going to be surprised if Providence is holding the trophy when March rolls around.