Five Friars Early Season Observations, Opportunities and Obstacles

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A.J. Reeves (Photo Credit: Providence College)

After an offseason filled with speculation, optimism, and uncertainty, the Providence Friars officially returned to the court in a victory over Siena. The win was followed by a close loss to Wichita State, where the Friars couldn’t regain control of the game after losing an early lead to the WuShock.

In both victory and defeat, there are plenty of take-aways from these early games; lots to be excited about, as well as areas of needed improvement. And, though it’s only two games into a long season, here is my five-point play takeaways of the Friars’ first week back in action.

1) A.J. Reeves is Going to be Huge

I mean, this one doesn’t even come as a surprise. A.J. Reeves was part of Ed Cooley’s highly touted freshman class and, along with David Duke, probably had the most buzz coming into the season. That buzz did not disappoint. From the first three that Reeves hit against Siena, fans fell in love with his shooting ability, high-octane presence, and his defense. While fans were raving about his shooting abilities, I was awed by his defensive effort – specifically preventing a fast break layup by slamming the Siena layup against the backboard.

It’s early, but Reeves’ performances can’t be highlighted enough. He even earned high praise from (arguably) the best scorer in the history of Friartown, Joe Hassett.

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A.J. Reeves (Photo Credit: Providence College)

2) Alpha Diallo is Poised to Lead

There were a lot of questions surrounding leadership coming into this year. Would Makai Ashton-Langford, after playing behind Kyron Cartwright for a year, be ready to take the reins? Would leadership shift to the frontcourt with the return of Emmitt Holt and the development of Nate Watson? Would glue guys like Isaiah Jackson take on a bigger role given their college experience? Or would the freshman step up and make it their team from day one?

Turns out, Diallo may be that guy. Though he struggled from the charity stripe against Wichita, and his defense wasn’t the most inspiring play at times, Diallo’s on-court performance has made a considerable leap forward from last year. Frustrating though it may have been to see Alpha miss crucial free throws, his 27-10-5 performance is nothing to turn your nose up at – and fans know it. Kevin MacNamara put it best: when Alpha Diallo left the floor, the Friars cracked. I fully expect Alpha to become the leader of this team throughout the season.

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Alpha Diallo (Photo Credit: Providence College)

3) Where’s the Defense?

Here’s a head scratcher for an Ed Cooley team: they have more offensive firepower than possibly any other team in the Cooley era, but the defense is sorely lacking. Both Siena and Wichita were able to score seemingly at-will throughout the 40 minute game clock. Both games became a slugfest that Friars could only stay in for so long, even as they scored at the opportunities they were given.

Ironically, this was the Keno Davis dream model so many years ago. It never worked, but even if I had a week, I couldn’t list all the reasons why.

To an extent, it’s not surprising. This is the deepest Cooley team we’ve had to date, and even the coach himself is probably figuring the best lineup options and rotations for success. And beyond the lineup options, the players themselves need to get into a groove and gel with each other – something that does take more time than building a strong offense. While it made me want to smack my head on the bar and complain on Twitter (something, I’ll admit, I did), the fact of the matter is this team has the size, talent, and coaching to be a nightmare matchup for opposing teams, they just need to get there.

4) Throwing Out Free Throws

This is possibly the biggest pain point of all, and it’s one fans seem to have to suffer through every season – at least to an extent. Free throw shooting was abysmal against Wichita State, and I would argue cost the Friars a key win against a beatable OOC opponent.

It was especially painful seeing Diallo, after doing so much on the court already, miss critical free throws late in the game – including two technical foul shots that banked off the back and then front of the rim. The whole team only went 13/26, a cool 50%, so this isn’t solely on Diallo, though he will catch the brunt since he is more experienced and the up-and-coming leader.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, so I’ll just quote Ed Cooley: “Make your free throws.”

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Photo Credit: Providence College

5) The Big Question: How Big Will Duke Be?

David Duke has generated plenty of preseason hype, and for good reason: the young point guard is positioned to be the next great guard out of Providence, following in the footsteps of Kris Dunn, Kyron Cartwright, Bryce Cotton, and Vincent Council. Fans and media both recognized this, which is why Duke earned Big East Freshman of the Year preseason accolades, and Cooley started Duke in both games thus far.

But some fans who were expecting Duke to come out at the starting lineup announcements (man that feels weird to type) and do it all and then some may have been a bit disappointed. It’s not that Duke played poorly – just the opposite, he played quite well – it’s that he didn’t have an explosive, 50-point game with 30 assists and 17 boards.

(Before you ask, no, I don’t know how I landed on those numbers.)

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Here’s one thing I’ve observed: the transition to college point guard is a long and bumpy one. Kris Dunn went through similar challenges his first season on the floor for the Friars, and other Friars with far less buzz also struggled to adapt their freshman year. I think what will make Duke special – just like what made Dunn special – is that he will adapt earlier than many other freshman point guards, and his ceiling will be much higher. There really is no telling just how much Duke will mean to the Friars, but I have no doubt that as he gets more comfortable at the college pace he’ll start to light up the Dunk on a nightly basis.

The Friars next game on YurView is vs. Iona on November 24, 2018 at 4:00pm… YurView is Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.