I debated for awhile trying to decide where to place Providence and St. John's in relation to each other, but at the end of the day Providence had a better record overall and in the Big East last season and had better computer rankings than St. John's. Therefore the friars get the nod for 5th place over the Johnnies as they both return most of their key pieces and add a lot of talent as well.
Last year: 19-15 (9-9) Quarterfinals of the NIT
Kenpom: 70th; Offense: 77th; Defense 82nd; Tempo: 158th
Key Returnees: Bryce Cotton 6'1 Sr SG, Kadeem Batts 6'9 Sr PF/C, LaDontae Henton 6'6 Jr PF, Kris Dunn 6'3 So PG, Josh Fortune 6'5 So SG/SF, Lee Goldsbrough 6'9 Sr PF/C, Brice Kafone 6'8 Jr PF, Ted Bancroft 6'6 Sr SG/SF
Projected Starting Lineup: PG: Kris Dunn, SG: Bryce Cotton, SF: Brandon Austin, PF: LaDontae Henton, C: Kadeem Batts
The Friars lose long-time PG Vincent Council who was a steadying influence on the court. While not a great offensive threat, he was one of the best assist guys in the country, ranking 5th in the nation in Assist Rate. Sidiki Johnson is not much of a loss as he only played 11 games for the Friars before leaving the school for "personal reasons" in February.
Council's replacement is Kris Dunn, a former 5 star recruit. Dunn missed most of last season's OOC schedule due to a shoulder injury and Providence is hoping with a full off-season under his belt he will return to the form that made him a McDonald's All-American in high school. It's hard to judge Dunn's season last year coming off an injury, but he did manage to post quality assist numbers and I expect him to be more than an adequate replacement for Council and long term to be an upgrade at the position.
Providence returns the reigning conference scoring champion in Bryce Cotton. Not only does he put up points but he does them in a very efficient manner posting a 123.3 Offensive efficiency rate, Shooting 36% from three point range, and Nationally ranked eFG% and TS%, Cotton is difficult for opponents to guard because he can also put it on the floor and draw fouls driving to the hoop.
Unfortunately, outside of Cotton the Friars were not a great shooting team last year, ranking 282nd in eFG%, 291st in 3pt%, and 253rd in 2p%. Cotton was the only Friar to shoot over 30% from 3pt land and he was also the only player to take more than 40 shots and hit greater than 50% of their two pointers.
What the Friars did do well were defending the three point line (13th in the nation), and grabbing offensive rebounds (25th in the nation). A major factor in the latter was big man Kadeem Batts (10.2% OR%). In addition, 4 other Friars had OR% over 8%. Batts does most of his damage on the offensive glass as his first shot shooting percentages leave a bit to be desired for a PF/C. He does do a good job at drawing fouls and converts at a respectable 69% from the line. He's not a major defensive presence though, posting only a 2.2% block rate.
The Friars are expecting major contributions from freshman Brandon Austin and transfers Harris and Desrosiers. Austin is a multi-tool threat and at 6'6" he can step outside and hit a jumper and even pass like a PG. He is a major threat for the Big East Rookie of the Year award. Check out his dunk at Providence's Midnight Madness here. Desroiers played 2 seasons at Wake Forest before transferring to Providence. He should provide a shot-blocking presence that that the Friar's lacked last year. It's hard to get a read on Harris who played 1 year at NC State before transferring. He did not use a high enough % of possessions to be included in the kenpom scouting report. But reports are he is a stretch 4 able to hit an outside jumper all the way out to three point range. He hit 2 of 5 threes as a freshman and if he really has a legit three point shot it will be a big boost to the Friars who need outside shooting.
Josh Fortune is another player who could provide an outside scoring touch. He shot 29% from behind the arc as a freshman and with a little improvement could have a solid role off the bench. A trio of bench players in Goldsborough, Kofane, and Bancroft will probably see their minutes reduced from last year, but provide solid depth for the Friars.
Ed Cooley has been doing a great job building this team and recruiting talent to Rhode Island. The Friars are well positioned to take advantage of the new Big East and become NCAA tournament regulars for the foreseeable future.