Team: Providence Friars
2017-18 Record: 21-14 overall, 10-8 Big East
2017-18 Big East Finish: Three-way tie for third
Final 2017-18 KenPom Ranking: #63
Postseason? Qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight season, but lost in the first round to Texas A&M
Key Departures: Seniors Rodney Bullock (14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.0 blocks), Kyron Cartwright (11.8 pts, 2.9 rebs, 5.8 ast), and Jalen Lindsey (8.8 pts, 3.6 rebs)
Key Returners: Alpha Diallo (13.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.0 steals); Isaiah Jackson (7.4 pts, 4.2 rebs, 1.1 ast); Emmitt Holt (12.5 pts, 5.4 rebs, 1.0 ast in 2016-17, missed all of 2017-18 due to medical reasons)
Key Additions: 247 Sports’ #20 ranked recruiting class, #2 ranked in the Big East, including David Duke (6’3” combo guard, #46 in the country) and A.J. Reeves (6’5” shooting guard, #47 in the country)
Coach: Ed Cooley, in his eighth season at Providence and 13th season overall (144-94 at Providence, 236-163 overall)
Outlook: Due to the constantly rotating nature of rosters in college basketball, the overriding thought process is that if you have a lot of returning firepower, either in terms of actual scoring or even just in terms of minutes played, you’ll be better next year than you were the year before. There’s a counterargument to that, though: What if last year was the best possible year for that roster and there’s nothing the coach or the returning players can do to actually improve? What if they just maxed out?
That question is one that faces us with Providence over the past two seasons. The Friars had a rough start to the 2016-17 season, bundling up a bunch of wins in non-con play, but losing to a mostly not good Boston College team right before starting 1-4 and then 3-6 and then 4-8 in Big East play. Then they won their final six regular season games and poked their way into the NCAA tournament. PC brought back most of that roster for 2017-18, so the going thought was that they would be better.
They went 20-13 in 2016-17, with a 10-8 record in Big East action. 2017-18? 21-14, 10-8 in conference. They went from an 11 seed and a First Four game in Dayton to a #10 seed in the main draw. Both tournaments resulted in a loss in their first game.
I make all of these points for a couple of reasons. First: Providence loses three seniors from their 2017-18 squad, all of whom were in the top four in scoring on the team, and because they play for Ed Cooley, they all played more than 31 minutes a night. That’s a lot of scoring and a lot of veteran leadership going out the door, especially in point guard Kyron Cartwright, which is a big deal in Cooley’s system that relies heavily on big performances from the point guard.
Second: TECHNICALLY Providence wasn’t the exact same team between those two seasons. As noted above, Emmitt Holt missed all of the 2017-18 season for medical reasons. How much different would PC have been with the 6’7”, 230 pound Holt adding 13 points and six rebounds to the mix? A lot? Not much at all? It’s hard to say, especially with as tight as Ed Cooley keeps the rotations throughout the season. Holt’s back for his senior season in 18-19, so his presence could have a major impact on the end of season outcome for the Friars.
One last thing I want to mention, because I didn’t mention him in the returning players area. Makai Ashton-Langford was a top 50 prospect coming out of high school and as December 2017 was coming to a close, it seemed that he was poised to play an important role for the Friars. He had started four of PC’s last five games before Big East play and had played at least 16 minutes in all but one of Providence’s non-conference games. Except Ashton-Langford’s minute almost immediately went into the toilet. Seven minutes against St. John’s in the league opener, 16 and 13 minutes in losses to Creighton and Marquette, and then he would play double digit minutes just three more times the rest of the season. Between Valentine’s Day and the end of the season, Ashton-Langford picked up four DNP’s, and considering that he played in the next game in three of the four (the fourth was the NCAA tournament loss to Texas A&M), I have to presume that all four were Ed Cooley’s decision.
Ashton-Langford seemed to be hailed as the next in line for the key role at point guard for the Friars, but for whatever reason — Maybe it was just Cartwright playing 35+ minutes 14 times? — he just wasn’t given the minutes when the rubber hit the road for Providence. Odds are the job is still his for this coming season, but if that’s the case, Cooley sure didn’t provide him much of a chance to get his feet wet against league opponents. That’s not the best way to go about things, but if Ashton-Langford is as good as his recruiting ranking suggests he is, maybe it won’t matter.