By Will Waters
Yesterday, the Big East released its preseason coaches poll. Villanova was picked to finish first again for the fifth straight year followed by Seton Hall and Xavier. Providence was picked to finish fourth.
The Friars are loaded in the backcourt with a healthy mix of veteran leadership and young talent. Senior Kyron Cartwright, who CBS Sports included in their top ten point guards in America list, runs the point, a role in which he excels at given his passing ability in both the halfcourt and fastbreak. The lightning-quick lefty also has a nice touch around the rim, an improving three point shot, and a high rate of getting to the free throw line.
The Friar backcourt also includes incoming freshman Makai Ashton-Langford, a highly touted recruit out of Worcester, Massachusetts. Ashton-Langford is one of the best incoming freshmen in the country, earning a top 40 ranking coming out of high school. Langford provides vision, defensive toughness, elite athleticism, and a winners mentality as he has not lost a game in nearly two years.
Other players in the PC backcourt such as Alpha Diallo, Drew Edwards, and Maliek White all provide a steady pace of scoring and playmaking. Diallo has legit 3 and D pro potential given his body type, and an already above-average three point shot. Drew Edwards, who redshirted last year, brings back a textbook three point shot, sound decision making, and a quick first step to the already explosive Friar backcourt. Maliek White showed flashes of stardom as a freshman and there’s no reason to think that it won’t continue this year. He has the type of jump shot that allows him to get his shot off even off of tough defenders. White also has a gifted floater game along with a serviceable handle make for a tough matchup every night.
The frontcourt of the Friars is also one of the top in the Big East. The front line includes Jalen Lindsey, Rodney Bullock, and Emmitt Holt. Jalen Lindsey is one of the best shooters in the entire country and also is a strong rebounder for his position. Bullock, while inconsistent, has the potential to go for 25 every night if he can finally put it all together. He is one of the most underrated players in the conference given his ability to stretch the floor and play down low near the basket. Emmitt Holt is another guy who can defend, bang down low, and stretch the floor. There is some uncertainty surrounding Emmitt Holt regarding an abdominal injury. Recently, he underwent surgery and is out for an unknown amount of time.
Depth pieces in the front court include Isaiah Jackson, Kalif Young, Nate Watson, and Dajour Dickens. Isaiah Jackson fits Ed Cooley’s system perfectly as he is another wing who can stretch the floor with his three point shot and defend one through five well enough to be able to switch everything, Kalif Young is an improving rebounder who is similar in skill set to Cavs big man Tristan Thompson as he is a tenacious rebounder and shot-blocker. Watson, a player who Ed Cooley compared to former Boston College center Craig Smith, is a sturdy 6′ 8″ with a 7′ 0″ wingspan. Cooley has raved about Watson, even going as far to say that he has the potential to lead the Big East in rebounding one day. Dajour Dickens is a shot blocking force who may be a little too raw at this point to contribute regularly, but is ahead of schedule according to the coaching staff.
Given the talent on the roster, I expect Providence to be a top 3 team in the Big East this season and possibly compete for a Big East tournament championship. Ed Cooley has always exceeded expectations and this season should be no different given the overall depth and talent on the roster.
Providence is a definitely a team that could reach the second weekend of the NCAA tourney, but given Ed Cooley’s shaky tournament record, nothing can be assumed. The Friars aren’t the type of team that has the ability to outscore opponents, but their defensive prowess will allow them to win a lot of games ugly and close. The depth on the roster will allow a tough hard nosed defensive scheme for 40 minutes. There is no reason that Cooley should not be able to lead this team to a fifth straight NCAA tournament.