By John Fanta
One BIG EAST team has gone overseas for an international trip, and there’s been good buzz surrounding them two games into it. Sure, most teams that travel internationally during the summer end up being on the good side of lopsided results.
That’s been the case for Providence, which has won their first two contests in Italy by a combined score of 216-109. The results are no surprise, but it’s the way the Friars are doing it that’s definitely catching some attention.
Ed Cooley’s been raving about his 2018 freshman class since last fall. Now, we’re seeing why.
Four-star freshman David Duke led the Friars to a 104-64 rout over the Adriatic Sea Dragons on Saturday, putting up 19 points and six assists. Shooting 8-of-14 from the field and 2-of-3 from three-point range was impressive as well, but not the best part of Duke’s effort…
Duke’s explosiveness is as advertised, and what he adds to this program should have Friartown overly excited. Duke’s classmates A.J. Reeves and Kris Monroe joined him in double-figures in Saturday’s win, combining for 30 points.
It’s not necessary to look too much into numbers with these results, but here’s what Providence is showing – the Friars’ depth can compete with anybody else’s in the BIG EAST and Cooley’s group should be trending to a sixth straight NCAA Tournament.
The backcourt returns Makai Ashton-Langford and Maliek White, who were both serviceable behind Kyron Cartwright last year. Add in Duke and Reeves, and that’s a really dynamic foursome.
In the middle, you’ve got a BIG EAST Player of the Year candidate in Alpha Diallo as well as senior Isaiah Jackson.
Then in the frontcourt, the theme of depth continues. Emmitt Holt returns from a major abdominal injury. Freshman Jimmy Nichols is expected to get some good minutes as well. And, then there’s Kalif Young and Nate Watson who make a good duo on the glass. There is no question that Providence is built for the future, and not just for the NCAA Tournament. The way this incoming freshman class looks could see the program turning Big Dance appearances into Big Dance runs.
There’s a rich amount of anticipation for St. John’s heading into the upcoming season. What is known is that Shamorie Ponds, Justin Simon and Marvin Clark are three versatile, talented players for the Red Storm.
While Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron’s eligibility hangs in the balance, he would most definitely make the Red Storm an NCAA Tournament contender if he plays.
For the Johnnies to turn the corner, though, there’s two things that I’m intrigued to see – an improvement in the halfcourt offense and rebounding.
Simon and Ponds stood as two of the top five in BIG EAST assists per game last year, combining for nearly 10 dishes. Yet, the Red Storm ranked ninth in scoring offense with 73.1 points per game. The offense has to see better decision-making.
As for the rebounding front, the Red Storm will look for South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita to help in that department. The 6-foot-9 forward was part of South Carolina’s 2017 run to the Final Four, and was a four-star recruit in the Class of 2016.
Simon averaged 7.1 boards per game last year, good for fifth in the conference, while Clark had nearly five per contest, but the Red Storm are lacking a true big man presence with Tariq Owens transferring to Texas Tech. SJU needs Keita to make an impact.
Finally, another preseason thought in the BIG EAST is whether Georgetown can take a significant step forward in Year Two of the Patrick Ewing Era.
A big reason why the Hoyas could get rolling is their two freshman guards, James Akinjo and Mac McCLung. Akinjo was released from his letter of intent to UConn back in March, and signed on with Ewing in April. The four-star guard, joined by a three-star prospect in McClung, are needed for the Hoyas. Junior Jagan Mosely will also be a ball handler with them.
With big man Jessie Govan back and expected to lead the team, there’s reason for optimism in D.C. The guard play will be the key variable.
Catch my full conversation with Jessie Govan on BIG EAST Shootaround Thursday at 1 ET / Noon CT on the FOX Sports App and @BIGEAST on Twitter.
Follow @John_Fanta and @NCAAHoopsDigest for continuing coverage as well.