Providence earned its biggest win of the season on Saturday with a 81-72 Big East home victory over No. 5 Xavier.
The Friars had dropped the previous two Big East games on the road at Creighton and at home to Marquette when Markus Howard went bonkers for 52 points. So a win over a top-five opponent — the first top-five win at home for Providence since 2009 — gives the Friars a huge win for its NCAA tournament resume.
Kyron Cartwright helped the Friars pull ahead early and stay ahead throughout as he finished with 19 points, nine assists and four steals, playing with a ton of confidence that rubbed off on his teammates. Isaiah Jackson added 18 points while Rodney Bullock finished with 17 points as the Friars shot very well from the perimeter (9-for-20 from three-point range).
In a tight game that saw Xavier never really go away until the final minute, Providence also did a great job closing the game out at the line as they finished 20-for-22 from the free-throw line.
Since Providence has only defeated teams like Washington, Boston College and Saint Louis in the non-conference portion, this was a huge win for their credibility — especially coming off of a 1-2 start and back-to-back conference losses.
Meanwhile, Xavier has developed a concerning habit of playing some games from behind. The Musketeers have three comeback wins when trailing by double-digits this season but they weren’t able to overcome those issues during a sluggish afternoon. Trevon Bluiett (12 points) and J.P. Macura (nine points) combined to go only 8-for-24 from the field as they were particularly cold in the second half and down the stretch when Xavier needed a bucket.
The rest of the Musketeers weren’t much better from the perimeter as the team was only 27 percent (5-for-18) from three-point range. Big man Karim Kanter was a major bright spot for Xavier, dominating by scoring in the block and finishing with 24 points, but he didn’t have much consistent offensive help around him.
If this game — and this past week — has taught us anything, it’s that the Big East is once again going to be really tough and really good from top to nearly bottom.
Previously No. 1 Villanova lost on the road at unranked Butler last week. Now another top-five team in Xavier, a team on a ten-game winning streak, gets clipped on the road at unranked Providence.
With Seton Hall, Creighton and Marquette also off to solid starts — and Georgetown and St. John’s not being pushovers — this is going to be a really tough league to win this season. I don’t believe the Big East is as good as the Big 12 or ACC is in terms of overall talent from top-to-bottom but you can make a solid case that the league might be the toughest to actually win.
The top two teams in the league have already fallen to unranked teams and we haven’t even gotten to some of the better matchups in conference play. The Big East is going to be bonkers.
Providence PF Emmitt Holt to take leave of absence
Considered by many to be one of the teams capable of challenging Villanova in the Big East, Providence has won five of its first six games without a key member of the rotation. Senior power forward Emmitt Holt has been out of the lineup due to an abdominal injury that required surgery, and a timetable for his return had yet to be finalized.
On Wednesday it was announced that Holt is taking a leave of absence from school that will run until the end of the semester, with the expectation being that he will rejoin the team in January. However, he will not play as it was also announced that Holt will sit out this season as a medical redshirt with the goal being for him to return to the Providence lineup next season.
“Emmitt is one of our team’s most consistent and experienced players, but more importantly, he is an outstanding person,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said in the release. “We look forward to his return.”
In his first season at Providence, Holt averaged 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds in 27.5 minutes per game, starting 28 of the 32 games in which he played. Holt began his career at Indiana, playing one season before being dismissed from the program. He would then play a season at Indian Hills CC before signing with the Providence program in April 2016.
Holt was expected to be a key part of the Providence front court rotation, along with fellow senior Rodney Bullock and underclassmen Alpha Diallo, Kalif Young and Nate Watson.
That quartet has performed well thus far, but the loss of Holt leaves the Friars short an option to deal with possible issues such as foul trouble or injury. Providence also has 7-foot freshman Dajour Dickens, who after appearing in three of the team’s first four games did not see action against either Belmont or Boston College.
No 14 Minnesota makes early statement at Providence
While No. 2 Michigan State is viewed as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten, and rightfully so, the Spartans will not lack for competition in the title race. One team capable of challenging the Spartans is No. 14 Minnesota, and Monday night in his return to his alma mater Richard Pitino’s team put together a solid second half showing in its 86-74 win at Providence.
The biggest difference for Minnesota in the second half was their improved offensive execution, as forward Jordan Murphy had a big night with 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the way. After getting off to a quick start, racing out to a 12-2 lead, Minnesota got a bit stagnant offensively. They took challenged shots, and as a result the Golden Gophers trailed at the half by three and had just one assist on 13 made baskets.
With improved execution and a more concerted effort to truly attack the Providence defense, Minnesota shot nearly 61 percent from the field and made four of its seven three-point attempts in the final 20 minutes. And thanks in large part to the tandem of Murphy and Reggie Lynch, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds, Minnesota was able to take advantage of its experience advantage in the front court.
It wasn’t all about the big men either, as Amir Coffey got going in the second half and finished with 15 points, Nate Mason tallied 17 and Dupree McBrayer and Isaiah Washington added nine and eight points, respectively.
Minnesota has the talent needed to be a player both within the Big Ten and nationally, especially as lead guards Mason and Washington get more comfortable sharing the playmaking responsibilities when Pitino calls upon that lineup. But the key to Minnesota making good on that promise will be to stay aggressive offensively while not settling for forced shots. That was an issue in the first half as Providence, a good team in its own right, made its run to pull ahead.
Kyron Cartwright dished out seven assists without a turnover in the the first stanza as Providence relied on a balanced offensive effort, and players such as sophomore Alpha Diallo, freshman Nate Watson and junior Isaiah Jackson took advantage. Yet despite doing their best to hang around Providence’s youth inside, especially with senior Emmitt Holt still out after undergoing abdominal surgery, was exposed by the more experienced Minnesota front line.
After playing a bit lax offensively Minnesota refocused in the second half, and the end result was a quality win that will only increase in value as the season wears on.
One could argue that Adams’ backcourt sidekick Matt Mobley deserves to be on this list as well. But the pick here is Adams, as he’s coming off of a junior season in which he averaged 20.6 points, 6.5 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game, Adams is entrusted in producing offense not only for himself but for his teammates as well, and more often than not he gets the job done for Mark Schmidt’s Bonnies. Adams is a key reason why the Bonnies are expected to contend in the Atlantic 10 and could earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 2012.
PF Peyton Aldridge, Davidson
Much to the chagrin of some, Aldridge was not on our list of the top 100 players in college basketball. And with Jack Gibbs out of eligibility, Aldridge has the potential to be one of the most productive offensive players in America this season. As a junior Aldridge averaged 20.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, producing an offensive rating of 118.5 as well. By March, leaving Aldridge off of the top 100 list could prove to be a major mistake.
PG Kyron Cartwright, Providence
Cartwright receives ample respect within the Big East, which is to be expected considering the fact that he was named the league’s Most Improved Player last season. As a junior Cartwright averaged 11.4 points, 6.7 assists (tops in the Big East) and 3.5 rebounds per game. Look for this to be the season in which Cartwright becomes a household name nationally, as he leads a program aiming not only for its fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth but a Big East title as well.
Daum’s name is one that should be heard more often in 2017-18, given how productive he was as a sophomore last season. The 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 25.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 41.8 percent from three and 86.9 percent from the foul line. A 6-foot-9 forward who attempted just over five of his shots (15.2 FGA per game) per night from three was nearly a 50/40/90 shooter. That’s incredible, and Daum’s name is one that more college basketball fans need to know.
SF/PF Vince Edwards, Purdue
With his size, standing at 6-foot-8, and skill set Edwards allows Purdue head coach Matt Painter to go a variety of ways with his matchups. Given the perimeter options on this team, including Carsen Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and freshman Nojel Eastern, Purdue can employ Edwards as a four to force mismatches at that position. Last season Edwards averaged 12.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, shooting 48.6 percent from the field, 42.3 percent from three and 82.0 percent from the foul line. Efficient offensively and solid on the other end of the floor, Edwards could merit All-America discussion come March.
PG Rob Gray Jr., Houston
The American Athletic Conference is loaded with guards this season, and among the best in the conference is Rob Gray Jr. The 6-foot-1 redshirt senior averaged 20.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for the Cougars last season, earning first team all-conference honors as a result. Gray is certainly given the respect he deserves within the American, but has he received enough respect nationally? Look for that to change this season as he looks to lead the Cougars to their first NCAA tournament bid since 2010.
Speaking of players who threatened the 50/40/90 mark last season, Tyler Hall did so while averaging 23.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last season. Shooting 47.6 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from three and 83.7 percent from the foul line, Hall produced an effective field goal percentage of 59.5 in 2016-17. The 6-foot-4 guard was a focal point of the Montana State offensive attack in each of his first two years with the program, and that’s unlikely to change in 2017-18.
SG Mustapha Heron, Auburn
With the statuses of Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley undetermined at this point due to the ongoing FBI investigation (and fears of what the NCAA could do down the line), Auburn will begin its season shorthanded. But in Heron the Tigers have a talented shooting guard in Heron who can put points on the board in a flash. As a freshman Heron averaged 15.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from three. If there’s one area where Heron could stand to improve from last season it’s the turnover department, as he averaged 2.4 per night while dishing out just 1.3 assists per game.
PG Aaron Holiday, UCLA
After starting 32 games as a freshman Holiday moved into a reserve role last season to make room for Lonzo Ball, and he handled the adjustment well. Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists per game as a sophomore, with both numbers being improvements on his freshman year numbers (10.3, 4.0). With Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton all having moved on, more will be asked of Holiday alongside the likes of freshmen Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes. And given his abilities on both ends of the floor, Holiday may very well emerge as one of the top guards in the country in the eyes of those who aren’t already rating him that high.
SG Quinndary Weatherspoon, Mississippi State
Two years after arriving in Starkville as part of a recruiting class headlined by Malik Newman (who is now at Kansas), it’s Weatherspoon who is entrusted with the task of leading the way for Ben Howland’s program. As a sophomore Weatherspoon averaged 16.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from three with an effective field goal percentage of 53.3 percent. The talent on the roster has improved, which could in turn help one of the top perimeter talents in the SEC become more of a household name nationally.
Others worth considering: Joshua Braun (Grand Canyon), Bryant Crawford (Wake Forest), Terence Davis (Ole Miss), Drew Eubanks (Oregon State), Tra Holder (Arizona State), Shake Milton (SMU), Khyri Thomas (Creighton).
Big East Conference Preview: Villanova looks to hold off challengers
1. Villanova looks to replace three starters and remain atop the conference: With the end of the 2016-17 season came the end of three collegiate careers, with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds all out of eligibility. All three provided key intangibles for Villanova, with Hart and Jenkins also being two of the team’s top three scorers from a season ago. The question: how will the Wildcats account for those losses, with regards to both production and leadership?
There will be some adjustments to make, but simply put the pieces are there for Villanova to remain atop the Big East. Jalen Brunson, one of the nation’s best point guards, is back for his junior season as are wing Mikal Bridges and forward Eric Paschall. Sophomore guard Donte DiVencenzo, who earned a spot on the Big East’s All-Freshman team and was also the Big 5 Newcomer of the Year, is back for his sophomore season, and Phil Booth is healthy after sitting out most of last season with a knee injury.
Add in freshmen Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree inside, and Jermaine Samuels Jr. on the wing, and Villanova will not lack for talent. And in Spellman, who sat out last season, they have a big who can get them points on the block on a consistent basis. For that reason this team will be different from last year’s group, which may make the Wildcats even tougher to defend.
2. Seton Hall, Xavier and Providence are all worthy challengers: Due to its track record and combination of returnees and newcomers, Villanova has earned the right to be preseason favorites. But this season may provide the best group of challengers to the throne since the reconfiguration of the Big East.
Xavier brings back an experienced group led by an All-America candidate in senior forward Trevon Bluiett, and the experience gained by Quentin Goodin as a result of Edmond Sumner’s injury could pay off for the sophomore in 2017-18. Add in a talented freshman class led by wing Paul Scruggs, and grad transfer Kerem Kanter, and it would not be a surprise if Chris Mack’s Musketeers won the Big East.
A similar argument could be made for Seton Hall, as Kevin Willard has a squad led by four tough, talented seniors. Angel Delgado is the nation’s best rebounder, a big man who was near automatic when it came to racking up double-doubles last season. Wing Desi Rodriguez can get hot offensively on a moment’s notice, and forward Ismael Sanogo deserves more respect nationally for his abilities as a defender. The key for the Pirates: how Khadeen Carrington, a talented guard who can make plays off the bounce as well as hit perimeter shots, adjusts to the shift to the point. If he handles it well, Seton Hall can be a major factor.
As for Providence, Ed Cooley has a senior point guard in Kyron Cartwright to trust with the offense. Cartwright averaged nearly seven assists per game last season, and that number could be even higher given the improvements made by the other options on the roster. Rodney Bullock has the potential to be an all-conference player if he becomes more efficient offensively, and forward Alpha Diallo appears poised to take a significant step forward. Makai Ashton-Langford is one of the key pieces in a good recruiting class, but the key may be the health of senior big man Emmitt Holt.
Holt’s been dealing with an abdominal issue during the preseason, and if he’s limited even more will be asked of freshmen Nate Watson and Dajour Dickens.
3. The conference’s “midsection” should be improved: Given the fact that seven teams reached the NCAA tournament last season, this may feel like a weird thing to read. But with the combination of newcomers and returnees at many of the Big East schools that populated the middle portion of the standings last season, those matchups are going to be even tougher this season.
Creighton welcomes back guards Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, and they’ll add a transfer at the point in former Syracuse guard Kaleb Joseph. The key for Joseph will be to regain the confidence that he seemingly lost during his two seasons at Syracuse, but the combination of sitting out a year and being in a system that gives guys the freedom to make plays should help.
Marquette, which won 19 games and reached the NCAA tournament last season, has a very good perimeter tandem in Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard, with the latter being one of the best shooters in the country as a freshman. The question mark for the Golden Eagles is how productive their big men will be, with SMU transfer Harry Froling set to join the likes of junior Matt Heldt and freshman Theo John in December.
Butler will be led by senior forward Kelan Martin, sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin and a new head coach in LaVall Jordan (more on the Bulldogs below), and St. John’s may be the ultimate “wild card.” Guards Shamorie Ponds and Marcus LoVett Jr. return, and the additions of transfers Marvin Clark II and Justin Simon will help immensely. If the pieces mesh, Chris Mullin has a roster that could turn heads in the Big East.
4. LaVall Jordan looks to build upon the “Butler Way”: While the Brad Stevens era was critical with regards to the growth of the Butler basketball program, which reached the national title game two consecutive years and moved from the Horizon League to the Big East, the “Butler Way” began well before that point. Among those who played a role in the success is LaVall Jordan, who played on three NCAA tournament teams between 1998 and 2001 for Barry Collier and Thad Matta.
After brief stay at Milwaukee that was preceded by a six-year stint on John Beilein’s staff at Michigan, Jordan has returned to his alma mater to fill the vacancy left by Chris Holtmann’s move to Ohio State. Jordan won’t be operating with an empty cupboard either, as Kelan Martin (16.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Kamar Baldwin (10.1, 3.7) return from a team that won 25 games a season ago. Butler did lose three starters from that team, most notably forward Andrew Chrabascz, but do not expect this program to simply fall off of a cliff.
5. Patrick Ewing, arguably the most important player in Big East history, makes his return to Georgetown: To say that Ewing was “arguably” the most important player in league history may be an understatement; as the crown jewel of a 1981 class that included the likes of Chris Mullin (St. John’s) and Villanova’s “Expansion Crew,” Ewing helped usher in an era of dominance for the Big East in the 1980’s. The Georgetown teams he led were both feared and respected, and with his return to The Hilltop as head coach the goal is the bring back those glory years.
Ewing, in his first head coaching job after spending well over a decade as an assistant in the NBA, has some talent to work with inside as Marcus Derrickson (8.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and Jesse Govan (10.1, 5.0) both return. But there are a lot of holes to fill on this roster, especially on the perimeter with the losses of Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak. Look for freshman wing JaMarko Pickett to get plenty of opportunities in his debut season, one that could be difficult for the Hoyas once they begin conference play.
PRESEASON BIG EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Angel Delgado, Seton Hall
Only one player in college basketball (Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan) had more double-doubles than Delgado last season. The senior big man averaged 15.2 points, 13.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game last season, shooting 54.3 percent from the field. On a team expected to contend in the Big East, Delgado will once again be a focal point for the Pirates. And if he can improve on the turnover count (3.0 tpg last season) Delgado will be even tougher to slow down.
THE REST OF THE BIG EAST FIRST TEAM
Jalen Brunson, Villanova: One of the best point guards in college basketball, Brunson will have more leadership responsibilities on his plate in 2017-18.
Marcus Foster, Creighton: Foster’s first season in a Creighton uniform was a productive one, as he averaged 18.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game.
Trevon Blueitt, Xavier: Bluiett should be heard from with regards to both Big East Player of the Year and All-America honors. Last season he averaged 18.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.
Rodney Bullock, Providence: Butler’s Kelan Martin would be a solid choice here as well, but if he can be a more efficient player offensively Bullock will have a good shot at a first team spot as well.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
Kelan Martin, Butler
Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall
Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges, Villanova
Marcus LoVett Jr. and Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s
Khyri Thomas, Creighton
BREAKOUT STAR: Donte DiVincenzo, Villanova
DiVincenzo is the biggest reason that I’m not that worried about Villanova trying to replace Josh Hart this season. I don’t know that he turns into the player Hart was this year, but he’s already proven that he had the ability to be an explosive scorer – he reached double-figures 14 times and scored at least 19 points four times coming off the bench – and he has the kind of toughness and defensive intelligence that he fit in with Villanova seamlessly on that end of the floor as well.
The only real concern about having DiVincenzo on this list is how good Villanova will be. They’re quite deep on the perimeter and return Phil Booth from injury. He could end up being a much-improved player with a markedly better season and end up with numbers that don’t look all that dissimilar from this season’s.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Chris Mullin, St. John’s
With John Thompson III being replaced at Georgetown during the spring, there really isn’t a coach in the Big East that’s truly on the proverbial hot seat. The pick here is Mullin, whose teams have improved in the win column in each of the last two seasons. So why Mullin? Because with the talent on this season’s roster, expecting the Red Storm to at the very least challenge for an NCAA tournament berth would be reasonable.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
Four teams have credible hopes of reaching the Final Four.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT
the impact that Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II can have for St. John’s. The Red Storm can be an NCAA tournament team this year.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
November 13, Minnesota at Providence
November 22-24, Villanova at Paradise Jam
November 28, Baylor at Xavier
December 3, Seton Hall at Louisville
December 5, Gonzaga vs. Villanova (in New York City)
1. Villanova: The Wildcats are once again favored to win the Big East, thanks to the combination of newcomers and returnees. The return of Phil Booth, and the additions of Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, will certainly help matters for Jay Wright’s team.
2. Seton Hall: With four senior starters, the Pirates are one of the most experienced teams in college basketball. And if new point guard Khadeen Carrington can balance scoring with getting other guys the ball in good spots, look out.
3. Xavier: Trevon Bluiett will once again lead the way, with J.P. Macura being another senior capable of making an impact on a game. If the talented recruiting class, led by Paul Scruggs, is ready and Quentin Goodin takes another step forward the Musketeers can win the league.
4. Providence: In Kyron Cartwright the Friars have a special point guard. He’s surrounded with talented offensive option, including Rodney Bullock, and the arrival of Makai Ashton-Langford should give Cartwright the occasional respite. The Friars will certainly be head from this season as they look to make a 5th straight NCAA tournament appearance.
5. Creighton: In Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas the Bluejays have one of the top perimeter tandems in the country, much less the Big East. If Kaleb Joseph is ready to run the show at the point, Creighton is capable of contending.
6. Marquette: With Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard among the returnees, it’s known that Steve Wojciechowski’s team can put points on the board. But can they be more effective defensively? If so, the Golden Eagles should make a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
7. St. John’s: The Red Storm are the “wild card” in this race. With the additions of Justin Simon and Marvin Clark II, St. John’s has the talent needed to make waves in the Big East race. But will this be a cohesive unit when the games truly matter?
8. Butler: LaVall Jordan has some talent to work with in his first season leading his alma mater, including guard Kamar Baldwin and forward Kelan Martin. What may make things more difficult for Butler are the loss of three starters and the improvements made by other teams in the league.
9. DePaul: Will the Blue Demons escape the Big East cellar for the second time in the last three seasons? Yes, thanks to the return of Eli Cain and the additions of Austin Grandstaff and Max Strus.
10. Georgetown: Patrick Ewing’s return as head coach will be a difficult one, given the strength of the Big East and his team’s lack of perimeter shooters. That being said, having Jesse Govan and Marcus Derrickson back in the front court should help matters.
Providence continues to recruit at a very high level as the Friars pulled in top-40 prospect David Duke on Friday.
The 6-foot-4 Duke is regarded as the No. 37 overall prospect in the Rivals Class of 2018 national rankings as he gives head coach Ed Cooley another talented perimeter playmaker. With an ability to play on or off the ball, Duke has a lot of upside as he gives Providence perhaps the best future backcourt in the Big East.
Cooley has also landed four-star guard A.J. Reeves in the Class of 2018 while point guard Makai Ashton-Langford was added in the Class of 2017. With those three former top-100 prospects in the fold, Providence now has a very bright future as they should be counted on to be among the Big East’s best programs every season. Cooley has also done a great job of capitalizing on the recruiting momentum he gained by developing Kris Dunn and putting him in the NBA.
Duke and Reeves are joined by three-star forwards Kris Monroe and Jimmy Nichols to form the latest Providence recruiting class.