Providence vs Wichita St: What I’m Excited to See

Well friends, it’s that time of the year again.

Friar basketball has returned and so have I. It’s time for another season of insights, reflections, and discussion about the Providence Friars, their season, and their opponents.

This Friday the Friars take on the Wichita State Shockers, so I broke down what I’m looking forward to seeing, and what we should know about each of these teams. Then I got way too philosophical about who has the creeper mascot. It’s good to be back!

What I’m Most Excited to See

How could I even mention the excitement of this game without mentioning the Providence freshman duo, AJ Reeves and David Duke? AJ Reeves, basically AJ “Threeves” after his 29-point on 7-9 shooting from three…in his first college game.

Duke struggled a bit in his first game, going 0-5 in 20 minutes, but point guards tend to have the steepest learning curve going from high school to college, and it’s hard to dispute the talent is there.

More important than the talent, however, is the trust from Cooley, who gave Duke his proverbial “stamp of approval” by not only starting Duke for both halves but letting him work through his struggles rather than pulling him. I’m excited to see what these guys will do against the Shockers.

At the same time, I’m excited to see how many of the key guys progressed in the offseason. Makai Ashton-Langford is someone who every fan had high hopes for last year, watching him learn from Kyron Cartwright in preparation for being a leader on the court this year. Nate Watson showed tons of promise last year, but needed some work on defense. Emmitt Holt didn’t play at all. These are all guys I’m interested in seeing how they progressed from the offseason, and all three played fairly limited minutes against Siena on Tuesday.

From the other side of the aisle I’m excited to see the Wichita State team. Greg Marshall is a fantastic coach and Wichita is a team you can’t really underestimate (more on that in a moment). This is a good “culture” test for the Friars early in the season by putting them against a program that has learned how to succeed and surprise, and seeing how the Friars respond to a well-coached team will be a good litmus test for how they’ll handle the OOC at the very least.

What the Friars Should Know about the Shockers

This is not your typical Shockers team. The WuShock (a name I’m going to call them because it’s awesome) are rebuilding after losing 11 (yes, 11) players from last year. They return just 11.2% of the minutes from last season. The WuShock were picked eighth in the AAC preseason polls, and tend to fall between 6-8 depending on who you ask. Andy Katz has them as the “next four out” of his first bracket of the season. As I type this, the WuShock are down by nine, 50-59, to Louisiana Tech with just over five minutes left to play. [Edit: Wichita State lost, 58-71.]

And if you sleep on the WuShock you’re a fool.

I’m not a personnel guy, I’m a culture guy. I firmly believe that numbers can only tell so much, and when a coach knows what he’s doing he can get the most out of his players (see: Cooley, Ed). Greg Marshall is that kind of coach. You don’t accidentally end up in the NCAA Tournament seven times in row, including a Final Four (2013) and Sweet Sixteen (2015) appearance. Marshall also coached his team to an NIT Championship victory in 2011, two conference tournament championships, and four conference regular season champions.

He’s always able to get the best out of his players and keep his team in discussion for the Dance, and Lukas Harkins of BustingBrackets put it best: you simply cannot discount Marshall and his team without feeling uneasy. And the returning guy that can help bring Marshall to eight-in-a-row? AAC second-team forward Markis McDuffie. Here’s another interesting fact: coming into this season the WuShock has won 82% of its games since 2018, which has only been exceeded by two other teams: Kansas and Gonzaga.

When the WuShock moved to the AAC last year it was a mutually beneficial relationship: the WuShock had better competition (at the top of the conference anyway) to compete against, and the AAC got a much-needed air of legitimacy after UConn’s rapid decline. Now in their sophomore year, anyone thinking that the WuShock will roll over for the Friars is kidding themselves – especially as this matchup is part of a preseason tournament. The Friars can’t afford to sleep on the WuShock because the WuShock deserve that respect.

What the Shockers Need to Know about the Friars

The Friars have turned their program around from the Keno Davis error, and this season was the first time Friar fans really saw the legitimacy of that. Preseason Freshman-of-the-Year David Duke shows just how big of an impact Cooley has made on the recruiting, and that’s before you account for the rest of his star-studded freshman class. Cooley and the Friars have been popping up in all sorts of preseason conversations – no easy feat in what is shaping up to be another stacked Big East conference, and yet the Friars have earned a third pick for preseason rankings.

Maybe it’s because of the weapons Cooley has on offense. In the past few years Cooley has had a couple of shooters that stood out, but now he has a full artillery at his disposal. And boy oh boy does he plan to make the most of that. If there’s one thing WuShock fans (and Friar fans throughout the year) can expect, it’s a huge distribution of scoring. I don’t think there will be one or two key standouts padding the box score every night, I think it will vary.

The Defense, as fans saw against Siena, needs work. I’m not going to write that off just yet because it’s the first game of the season and there’s always room for adjustment. But if the Friars play the Shockers like they did Siena then fans can expect a high scoring effort from both teams.

And, let’s be frank, there’s a lot of similarities in “coaching culture” between Marshall and Cooley. Cooley gets so much out of every single player. Don’t believe me? Google a guy named Ted Bancroft. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Cooley’s early successes at Providence are remembered for players like Kris Dunn, Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, and Ben Bentil. But let’s not forget guys like Josh Fortune, Ted Bancroft, and the teams that would go six, maybe eight, players deep. Cooley extracts more than what anyone could think possible from his guys, and his results speak for themselves.

Who Has the Creeper Mascot?

So let’s get down to the reason why about 95% of you are here: who has the creepier mascot?

It’s true: the Friars and the Shockers are both routinely in the top 25 for creepiest mascots in the NCAA. In one poll they even tied as the top-ranked creepiest of the creeps. Friday won’t settle the debate anytime soon, but hopefully adds another chapter to creepy mascot lore.

But who has the creepier of the two? Let’s take a look:

  • The Providence Friar: There were no favors done for the Friar when PC reintroduced the dog mascot from yesteryear, making fans of college basketball far and wide say “wait, they had a dog mascot the whole time and they went with the thing that looks like it watches me from a dark closet?” The dog was even a Dalmatian. Black and white! And then the movie The Nun came out, reminding everyone why they should be afraid of creepy churches and horror movie spinoffs. But the problem isn’t what the Friar represents, it’s his soulless, unblinking eyes that are always watching…waiting. And, ironically, this champion of the creepy mascots is actually far less disturbing from versions only a few decades ago, or the briefly introduced remodel that was quickly removed for being too, ahem, spooky. Say your prayers because the Providence Friar is coming for you.

  • Wichita State WuShock: Scientists spent so much time wondering if could genetically mutate a banana into a sentient being with a bad haircut that they never stopped to figure out if we should. By the time they realized what had happened WuShock was in the world, representing…whatever it’s supposed to represent. Is it corn? Wheat? The existential fear that deep down we’re all going to die one day and have to contend with the idea that this thing will still be here? I don’t know, and I don’t know if I ever want to know. It looks like something H.P. Lovecraft would have come up with and his editor would have said ‘what? No, c’mon. Nobody will believe that terror could exist.’ And that guy created tentacle monsters. I do know this: the Providence Friar is meant to symbolize the college’s religious convictions, while the Wichita State WuShock is punishing evidence that there may be no God.
  • Winner: I’m sorry, did you think there were winners in this debate? No, absolutely not. We’re all losers in this discussion.

So, what do you think? Hit me up on twitter and let me know. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you.