Ed Cooley continues to schedule tough non-conference opponents in Friartown. Last season Cooley put together the 19th toughest non-conference schedule according to CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, and this season will be no different with the likes of games versus Illinois and Rhode Island and potential match ups against Arizona and Michigan State looming in the Wooden Legacy. The Friars performed well in non-conference play last year, going 10-3 and punctuated by taking home the Hall of Fame Tipoff Championship at Mohegan Sun.
This season could be different. The Friars have lost a lot of veteran leadership, which goes a long way in November if the opposition is young and has played only a few collegiate games together. The Friars must play on the road against traditional opponents Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Providence went only 5-6 last season with the combination of LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn, and now it is up to Dunn alone to shoulder the leadership load. Those games will also be the first in a hostile environment for Providence’s quartet of freshman. Both could easily result in losses, especially the rivalry game against Rhody and the talented E.C. Matthews.
The neutral-site games do not get any easier. Providence’s first-round opponent in the Wooden Legacy is Evansville, a team from the Missouri Valley that won 24 games and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Aces may have less talent than the Friars, but they are senior-laden and possess a clear advantage in experience. If Cooley’s bunch gets by Evansville, they will likely play Arizona, participant in back-to-back Elite 8’s. A victory in that game could be dramatically beneficial to the Friars’s season: a win over a traditional powerhouse that instills confidence and gives them the notion of what it takes to beat quality basketball teams, something they will certainly need in the Big East. The Friars could also play Santa Clara in their second game of the tournament and will play a team from the ranks of UC Irvine, Boise State, Boston College, and Michigan State in their final game.
The Friars’ home court will need to be where they do their most damage in the non-conference schedule. Among Brown, NJIT, Hartford, Bryant, and Rider, no team has a talent level close to Providence’s. Don’t count each game as an automatic victory, but if the Friars are prepared for each of those five games, they should be able to assert their will and go 5-0. The season-opener against Harvard presents an interesting match up for Providence. The Friars still have the talent edge, but the Crimson’s veteran point guard Siyani Chambers could give Kris Dunn some problems. Granted, if the Friars play up to their capabilities a victory should be rather easy, but Tommy Amaker knows how to coach and will have his team ready to compete on a big stage for the Ivy League program. Another key game is against Illinois in the inaugural Gavitt Tipoff Games. The Illini will travel to the Dunk with the overall advantage in talent, but as they likely will all season long, the Friars will have the best player on the floor. This game will show Providence fans just how far Kris Dunn can carry the team. The possibility exists that Dunn will need to make every big play for the Friars to beat Illinois: We will have to wait and see if Dunn can impersonate Superman. The Boston College Eagles fly south to the Dunk in December, and will provide another litmus test as to how the Friars fare against power conference teams. BC loses Olivier Hanlan, who lit up the Friars for 24 points and 8 rebounds last December 5th. With Hanlan gone, Providence has a sure edge in talent and should be able to handle the Eagles at home and pay reparation for their loss last season.
The Friars’ non-conference schedule is yet another challenging slate that should prepare the team for Big East play and reward them with a few easier games. Especially if they can steal a game against Rhode Island or Arizona, the Friars will build a solid non-conference resume that will sway the NCAA Tournament committee well within their favor.
Providence College ’18