As the Providence Friars embark on a new season and strive to advance to their sixth straight NCAA tournament, they find themselves more reliant on freshmen than perhaps they’ve ever been under Ed Cooley.
David Duke, A.J. Reeves, Kris Monroe, and Jimmy Nichols Jr. combined to form a top 25 national recruiting class last year, Cooley’s best since a 2012 class that included Kris Dunn, Ricardo Ledo, and Josh Fortune.
That 2012 group never made the immediate splash that was expected though when Dunn suffered his first shoulder injury and Ledo was deemed academically ineligible.
This group will be counted on to produce right away as they’ll play a big part in replacing the departed senior trio of Rodney Bullock, Kyron Cartwright, Jalen Lindsey and, to a lesser extent, Dajour Dickens who transferred to Old Dominion.
Duke and Reeves, former travel teammates who were both consensus top 100 national prospects last year, have been as good as advertised thus far.
Duke was named pre-season Big East Co-Player of the Year along with Villanova’s Jahvon Quinerly and is one of just two Friars to be in the starting line-up of both exhibition games. Reeves led the team in scoring during their summer trip abroad to Italy and has continued to average double-figure scoring in both exhibition games.
The most pleasant surprise of the class so far has been Nichols, who was under the national radar when he initially committed to the Friars in September of last year and has been so impressive thus far that he even earned the start in the first exhibition game against Bridgeport.
That starting line-up, and even the rotation as a whole, are still very much a work in progress.
Alpha Diallo, who was named Pre-Season All-Big East First Team last week, is probably the only name you can lock in for the entire season barring an injury. He and Duke were joined by Nichols, junior big man Kalif Young, and redshirt senior wing Isaiah Jackson against Bridgeport.
Against Bowie State it was redshirt senior big man Emmitt Holt, sophomore big man Nate Watson, and junior guard Maliek White.
In total there have been 12 different players, including all four freshmen, to average double-figure minutes, a very telling sign that the rotation remains in a state of flux and has yet to be trimmed down just yet.
With exhibitions now over and everything counting towards the Friars’ year-end resume from this point forward, those youngsters will have to continue to mature and produce if they hope to continue playing important roles.
Here’s a look at what each brings to the table:
His positional size, length, and explosive athleticism are nothing new.
In fact, he was the most physically gifted long-term prospect in New England’s 2018 class, but while he made increasingly frequent high-level plays on both ends of the floor, he never got to the point where he was consistently dominant for a sustained period of time or able to downright take a game over.
The two biggest developments since he’s arrived at PC have been the way his frame has started to blow-up with muscle now that he’s in a college weight room and the development of his work-ethic.
Duke has always been a worker, but it’s reportedly gone to a new level in recent months as he’s fallen in love with the daily process of developing his body and his craft.
The two biggest questions for this season:
- Is he ready to run a team as a full-time point guard or will he always need to be next to another lead guard like White or Makai Ashton-Langford?
- Can he be enough of a spot-up shooting threat to keep weakside defenders honest when the ball isn’t in his hands? (He missed the only three he attempted in 38 minutes this pre-season).
Reeves is a shot-maker with great perimeter size and an advanced mid-range game. Simply put, he’s a scorer who knows how to put the ball in the basket and that has been evident both this summer and this fall. When Cooley started him in the second half against Bridgeport, Reeves responded by scoring 7 quick points.
Beyond his natural talent, Reeves’ work-ethic and love for the game have always been second to none. Where he has exceeded expectations since his arrival at PC has been with his athleticism. He grew five inches over the course of his high school career and was plagued by a sore knee throughout his senior year and so we’re now seeing a more explosive athlete, with much livelier legs, than we ever have before.
That will be key because the biggest question marks for Reeves coming into the season will be his ability to defend a high-major caliber wing as well as his ability to find some easy points, at the rim or the free-throw line, on the nights when his jumper isn’t falling.
Jimmy Nichols, Jr.
A late-blooming four-man, Nichols has two main indicators of future success as he’s very young for his grade and extremely long.
While the Friars staff has always been optimistic about his upside, he was initially considered more of a long-term stock as his body developed. And while he remains a little thin, he’s exceeded expectations because he’s shown absolutely no fear in adjusting to the college level and as a result has played more minutes than any of the freshmen thus far.
His length has also proven to be an immediate asset as it’s enabled him to have defensive versatility when the Friars have switched screens in their man-to-man coverages and also block shots, not just around the rim but even on the perimeter, with 6 blocks in the two exhibition games.
The southpaw has potential to stretch the floor and certainly isn’t shy from that range, although he’ll need to be more consistent. He’s also a threat on the glass, especially offensively, as he rebounds out of his area.
Monroe is a combo-forward who is built like more of a natural four-man but is skilled from the perimeter with a soft shooting stroke and excellent footwork coming off screens and using his shot fake (he excels at setting his feet in a variety of different situations). He’s also averaged double-figure minutes in the exhibition openers but is a little caught between positions right now.
He fancies himself a big wing, but finds himself behind both Diallo and Jackson at that spot, and lacks the footspeed to keep smaller and quicker guys in front of him defensively.
His best upside is at the four-spot, but he’s got to be a little more willing to utilize his big frame and be more consistent on the glass (he has 1 defensive rebound in 23 minutes of action so far) and is likely behind both Nichols and Holt for the time being as a result.
The Friars take on Siena on November 6, 2018 at 6:30pm. That game will be televised live on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.