Vanderbilt will try to rebound from their first loss of the season on Friday, but a tough Providence team could provide the biggest challenge of their 2013 non-conference schedule.
The two teams will kick off the US Virgin Islands Paradise Jam, a preseason tournament that also features Maryland, La Salle, and Northern Iowa amongst its notable participants. The winner of Friday's game will have an inside shot at the tournament crown, but it should be a hard-fought battle between two old-guard programs that are looking to build their reputations in 2014.
To learn more about the Friars, I enlisted the help of Friar Basketball's Craig Belhumeur. Craig - a Rhode Island native like myself - understands not only the proper appreciation of a glass of coffee milk, but also knows PC basketball inside and out. Here's what he had to say when I asked him about the Friars will look in tonight's matchup.
1. Kris Dunn recently returned from injury and boosted the Friars from the bench with eight assists in 21 minutes. How important is the former five-star recruit to this team's postseason hopes, and what can Vandy fans expect to see from him on Friday?
Kris Dunn's return came as a surprise to everyone. After several weeks of being listed as day-to-day, it was suddenly announced that he would be playing limited minutes in Providence's Monday night matchup with Vermont. By night's end, Dunn saw 21 minutes of action and showed no sign of rust. Dishing out 8 assists, Dunn displayed great court vision and explosiveness. His presence on the court plays a tremendous role in the success of this Friars team.
Without Dunn in the lineup, ball handling duties are placed on senior guard Bryce Cotton and sophomore Josh Fortune - Both of which are best when playing off the ball. With that being said, the aspirations for this team are not only to make the NCAA Tournament but to do damage in it as well. If Dunn remains healthy, that goal is reachable, without him... It's likely another trip to the NIT.
2. Freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock have yet to play a game in 2013 after being suspended indefinitely for "not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes." How has that affected PC's depth, and is there any hope for Providence fans that you'll see them on the court this winter?
Depth really hasn't been an issue thus far. Only once has PC run into serious foul trouble, which was in their first game against Boston College. Prior to the season Austin was expected, by many, to start at the three. Following his suspension, that changed, and Tyler Harris was the beneficiary. It was confirmed that both players made the trip to St. Thomas however their status for Friday night remains unclear.
3. Vanderbilt fans are familiar with center Carson DesRosiers - Kevin Stallings has tried to bring him to Nashville twice. What kind of impact has the shot blocking center had for the Friars, and how badly do you expect him to be sunburned after two days in the Virgin Islands?
Carson Desrosiers has been very solid through four games. Ed Cooley has been playing him just under 20 minutes a game this season and with those 17.8 minutes Desrosiers is averaging 5.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game. In Monday's game against Vermont, he swatted a season high 5 shots. Overall, he has shown that he can provide a legitimate defensive presence for the Friars. In addition, he even showed in the Marist game that he can step back and hit a three. Should Kadeem Batts fall victim to foul trouble, expect Desrosiers to step in with instant energy in the post.
4. Bryce Cotton has been outstanding this season so far, but the number that really jumps out at you is seven assists per game. Is that a fluke from a small sample size and the absence of Kris Dunn early on, or has Cotton really improved his passing since 2012?
Bryce Cotton has been distributing the ball extremely well and most be will be quick to attribute that to the absence of Kris Dunn. It is important to point out though, that through these first four games, Cotton is playing the same exact role that he did a year prior. During the first eight games of last season, Providence was without senior point guard Vincent Council as well as the aforementioned Dunn. Council was injured in PC's opener against NJIT and Dunn was sidelined following surgery on his shoulder. Cotton was inserted as the primary ball handler and in those eight games he averaged just 4.7 assists per game.
This season, now averaging 7 a contest, Cotton's assist production has been very impressive. In a Brown game where he was struggling to the find the basket (He scored just 6 points), Cotton finished the night with 9 dimes. One game later, against Marist, Cotton recorded a career high 11 helpers. As mentioned earlier, Cotton is best when playing off the ball, but he has been more than okay carrying the point guard responsibilities.
5. Finally, where do you see Providence ending the season in the reformed Big East? Are there any rivalry games you'll miss from the glory days of the BE?
At the beginning of the season I picked Providence to finish fourth in the new Big East and I will ride that prediction through the season. If Kris Dunn can stay healthly, Ed Cooley has a ton of weapons in his arsenal and I truly feel that this is the year that Providence takes a full step forward. Over the past several years, Providence has made a lot of noise on the recruiting trail, bringing in guys like Ricky Ledo, Kris Dunn, Brandon Austin, Paschal Chukwu, among others. Bringing those guys in has provided great publicity for the program but ultimately the recruiting successes thus far have not translated to wins. Ed Cooley wants to win. He wants to win badly. I think this is the year that Providence reaches the Big Dance for the first time since 2004.
In terms of rivalries I will miss... UConn is on the top of my list. I hate to consider them a rival because I don't feel that UConn ever considered Providence a true rival but I will go with them anyway. They always had much more to lose when playing Providence, which is why I don't think Providence fans can consider it an actual rivalry. Regardless though, growing up I always circled the UConn game on my calendar. Despite being at the Dunk for many big PC wins, my favorite Friar memory dates back to 2004 when the Friars took on #4 ranked Connecticut. The game was played in Hartford's XL Center and Ryan Gomes put on a show, scoring 26 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against UConn's front line that consisted of Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong and Josh Boone. The Friars went on to knock off the eventual national champions 66-56 and Jim Calhoun had some choice words during his post game press conference which made the win that much sweeter.
The conference realignment was certainly disappointing but I think that the Big East is back where it needed to be. Back to a basketball focused conference where football can no longer get in the way of what Dave Gavitt envisioned when he first established the league in the early 70's. Schools like UConn, Syracuse and Pitt will be missed but I am excited to begin playing teams like Creighton, Butler and Xavier. I am also a huge fan of the home and home scheduling that the Big East is now able to do.
Rotational Players and Stats:
|G -||Eric McClellan||20||5.7||2.7||G -||Kris Dunn||3||0||8|
|G -||Dai-Jon Parker||6.7||3||3||G -||Bryce Cotton||20||3.3||7|
|F -||Rod Odom||16||5||1.7||G -||Josh Fortune||7.8||2.3||1.8|
|F -||James Siakam||9.7||6.3||2.3||F -||LaDontae Henton||17.3||9.5||2|
|C -||Josh Henderson||3.7||3.7||0.7||F -||Kadeem Batts||15.3||8.5||1.5|
|G -||Kyle Fuller||9.7||4||4.7||C -||Carson Desrosiers||5.5||5.8||1|
|F -||Shelby Moats||1.3||1.7||0.3||F -||Tyler Harris||10.8||5||1.8|
|C -||Damian Jones||11.7||4||0||F -||Lee Goldsbrough||0.8||2.3||0|