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Hurricanes Hoops Way too Early Look Ahead: Providence

The 'Canes battle the Friars at Barclay's Center this December.

Ronald Martinez

Last week Miami announced a 12/22 showdown with Jim Larranaga's alma mater in Brooklyn.

The Friars won last season's Big East Tournament, before bowing out to UNC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, so they are certainly a worthy foe.

But what can we expect from Providence this season?

We caught up with Mike Hopkins over at Big East Coast Bias, and asked him the following:

SOTU: Talk a little bit about what Bryce Cotton meant to the Friars last season.  How can Head Coach Ed Cooley and Providence replace his production?

BECB: Bryce Cotton was an iron man last season and personally my all-time favorite Friar. He was the unquestioned leader of last year's team and his production will be impossible for one player to replace. If you take Cotton off last year's Providence team, I would put the win total somewhere around 15 instead of the 23 wins they had last season. Cotton scored nearly 30% of the team's points, played 39.94 minutes per game and led the Big East in assists per game. Ed Cooley will try to replace Cotton's production by a mix of returning and incoming players.

SOTU: With Cotton having graduated, who are the key returning players and newcomers who are expected to lead the way this season?

BECB: The key returning players are LaDontae Henton, Tyler Harris and Kris Dunn.

Henton is the leading returning scorer at 14 ppg and he is also the best returning 3 point shooter at 35.8%. There has been speculation that his role on the offensive side of the ball could be changing. With last season's starting shooting guard, Josh Fortune, announcing his transfer just before Memorial Day, Ed Cooley has been scrambling to find another guard to bolster the backcourt for next season. Henton may be transitioning towards more minutes at the shooting guard position.

Harris is the second leading returning scorer at 11.6 ppg. He is a very long player who measured at 6'9 without shoes on at the most recent Kevin Durant Skills Academy. Harris will be called upon to increase his scoring efficiency. He was good last season at times but also was inconsistent. He needs to become stronger learn how to not run over defenders on his way to the basket with his head down.

Dunn needs to stay healthy. That will be determining factor for whether Providence has a chance at another run to the NCAA tournament or not. After a freak injury in the first exhibition game on November 2nd against Division III Rhode Island College, Dunn only played in 4 games last season. Even at less than 100% in those 4 games, Friar fans were able to see flashes of what makes Dunn so special. With only incoming freshman Kyron Cartwright and walk-on Casey Woodring as backups, Dunn will need to stay healthy and play a heavy amount of minutes but I would expect Cooley will take their time bringing Dunn along. Cooley has already stated that he doesn't plan to play Dunn at all on the team's trip to Italy in August.

As for newcomers, freshman Jalen Lindsey and redshirt freshman Rodney Bullock look ready to take on the most minutes early with freshman Ben Bentil also in the mix for minutes in a somewhat crowded frontcourt. 7'1 freshman Paschal Chukwu will likely play around 10 mpg and is strictly a rim protector and defensive presence that will backup senior 7 footer Carson Desrosiers.

SOTU: What are the expectations for Providence as a team for 2014-15?

BECB: I believe the Providence team as constituted today has a chance at getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously without knowing the full Big East schedule at this point in terms of home and away dates and times picking a win total is tough but my gut says this team has the potential to win 20 games again. The Big East should be very tight again from teams 3-6 but that's the range I see Providence being in. 10-8 was good enough for 4th in the conference last season and that may well be the case again. Ed Cooley has Providence in a place in terms of talent and overall depth that they have not been in a long time. Expectations in Friartown are changing. I don't know that PC fans are quite at the point where it's NCAA Tournament or bust but I certainly think many fans believe NIT is a worst case scenario.

SOTU: Miami Head Coach Jim Larranaga is a Providence graduate.  Can you talk about the perception of Coach L amongst Providence faithful. Is there regret that he never found his way as the leader of the Friars?

BECB: Coming off a decade of Tim Welsh at the helm of the Providence program, Friar fans were hungry for change. Welsh was fired March 15, 2008 following 15-16 season. A lot of names were mentioned during that coaching search. For Friar fans, it was one of the wackier times to be a fan because it seemed like a new name was mentioned every other day and the names got more outlandish the longer the search went on (Rick Pitino, Jeff Van Gundy and even Larry Brown!). That coaching search will also be remembered by Friar fans because they were publicly rejected more than once. In fact, that experience led Athletic Director Bob Driscoll to do things totally differently during the coaching search that brought Ed Cooley to Providence.

Jim Larranaga was a name that was popular when it came up and many Friar fans were hopeful he would return to PC and lead the program back from a decade of mediocrity and lack of postseason success. When he said no it hurt but fans understood that he liked his situation, albeit it at a mid-major, and probably didn't want to take on the type of project that it would be at Providence at his advanced age. That changed when he took the Miami job 3 years later in April of 2011. The sting and feelings of betrayal have lessened over the last few years mainly because Larranaga is not the used car salesman coach jumping from job to job and Friar fans are thrilled that Ed Cooley is their head man now. So, I don't think there is any regret because Providence has a native son at the head of a program on the rise.

SOTU: The game between the 'Canes and Friars on 12/22 is in Brooklyn at the Barclay Center. Do you think that the "neutral" site will be an advantage to either squad?

BECB:Well if the game is anything like the "neutral" site game Providence played against Kentucky last season, I would assume there might be a slight advantage to Miami. That Kentucky game might as well have been in Lexington with the MC leading "Go Wildcats" chants and the video board only showing Kentucky fans. The one potential advantage that Providence may have is that the actual crowd demographic favored the Friars in that game and the Providence fans were noticeably louder than their Kentucky counterparts. I would expect another strong turnout from the Friar faithful despite the fact that the game is on a Monday.

SOTU: What concerns you most about facing Miami?  The game and the season are still a long way away, but how do you think the game plays out?

BECB: My biggest concern about facing Miami is their increased scoring punch that has been added. Last season the Hurricanes seemed to struggle to score only scoring 70 or more points in 4 of their 16 ACC games. But they have added some recruits and transfers that should help in that department. Providence projects as a pretty strong defensive unit this season with all of their length and with Kris Dunn being a potential defensive player of the year candidate but if Dunn isn't healthy or if Ed Cooley hasn't found the best mix of lineups because some players may be playing out of position due to lack of guard depth, things could be tough.

I think the game will be played in the 60's and will be tight the whole way.

Thanks again to Mike for working with us. Be sure to drop by Big East Bias for updates on the Friars and all the BE has to offer.

Stay tuned for more updates right here on SOTU as well, as we countdown to Midnight Madness.