All-Big East point guard Vincent Council enters senior season at Providence as one of few bright spots for Ed Cooley's Friars. (Photo courtesy of Providence Journal)
Following a preview of Seton Hall that opened our coverage of the Big East, we move ahead to the 14th-place team in our rankings by driving up Interstate 95 to check in with Ed Cooley and Providence College.
Last year was not easy for Providence, as the Friars finished two games under .500 (15-17) in their first year of a transition from former coach Keno Davis to the fiery and defensively oriented style of former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley, who endeared himself to the media early and often in his maiden voyage at the helm of his hometown team with quotes that became quality sound bites within seconds. Cooley may need to keep his one-liners coming in a steady stream this season, as Providence enters the 2012-13 season with quite a lot to prove despite returning four starters from last season.
"I thought we accomplished a lot of great things last year," said Cooley when putting his efforts from the previous campaign into retrospective, "even when we lost. I want to make sure I'm a realist when it comes to building a program."
A major part of the program Cooley is attempting to build will be point guard Vincent Council, who comes into his final year in the Ocean State with an all-Big East honor and averages of nearly sixteen points and over seven assists per game, respectively. "I think he's going to be the Player of the Year in this league," Cooley remarked emphatically. "I think he's the best point guard in the country. It (the team) starts and ends with him."
Joining Council in the backcourt will be junior Bryce Cotton, who improved dramatically in his second season by averaging over fourteen points per game while shooting 89 percent from the free throw line and 38 from three-point range. The transfer of Gerard Coleman to Northeastern was initially supposed to be covered with the arrivals of highly touted prospects Kris Dunn and Ricky Ledo, but Dunn separated his shoulder in the offseason while Ledo was ruled ineligible. Said Cooley of Dunn, a 6-3 Connecticut guard, "I won't rush him back until he's 100 percent." Dunn is expected back sometime in December, as is Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson, who will help a front line that will feature junior power forward Kadeem Batts and swingman Brice Kofane as supporting cast members for sophomore LaDontae Henton. A candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year honors had Moe Harkless not been in the same incoming class, Henton had quite the debut in Providence, averaging over fourteen points and eight rebounds per contest while shooting a staggering 39 percent from beyond the arc. Wake Forest and NC State transfers Carson Desrosiers and Tyler Harris will be able to practice with the Friars, but will sit out this season due to transfer rules.
Lost in the shuffle of Dunn and Ledo committing to the Friars is the arrival of swingman Josh Fortune, whose role on this young team becomes even more critical with the former two out for a considerable amount of time. "His development is being overaccelerated," said Cooley of the Virginia native. "Mark my words, he's going to have a game where he'll have eight or nine threes. He's going to have some moments that make people say 'Wow, where did this kid come from?'"
Fortune, Council, Henton and the rest of the Friars will officially christen their 2012-13 campaign on November 10th against NJIT at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, where they will play one more game against in-state rival Bryant University two days later before participating in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Providence returns from San Juan to play six of their next seven at home, starting with Cooley's former program Fairfield on the day after Thanksgiving. (November 23rd) Holy Cross and Mississippi State are next for the Friars before they renew their fierce rivalry with Rhode Island and new coach Dan Hurley on December 6th. Colgate is the final opponent for Providence on their five-game homestand, getting nearly two weeks off for final exams before they take the court on December 18th. A road trip to Boston College and home game for intra-city foe Brown are the Friars' final nonconference games and 2012 engagements, with Providence opening Big East play on January 2nd at the Yum! Center against Louisville, who will look to avenge a bitter 31-point defeat on the night the Friars celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1987 Final Four appearance.
Home games against DePaul (January 5th) and Syracuse (January 9th) await Providence next before hitting the road on January 13th to face Seton Hall and Cooley's former MAAC counterpart Kevin Willard, with Georgetown welcoming the Friars into the Verizon Center three days later. Two home dates against Villanova (January 19th) and Pittsburgh (January 23rd) serve as precursors to Providence's final contests in January, a road trip to Marquette on the 26th, and a home faceoff against UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie on the 31st.
The Friars open February by wrapping up the back end of a home-and-home with Villanova on February 3rd at the Pavilion, with a home game against Cincinnati three days later sandwiching another road trip, this one coming in Tampa on the 13th of February against USF, with Notre Dame waiting in the wings for a home game three days later before the Friars wrap up a home-and-home with Syracuse on February 20th with what will be their last trip to the Carrier Dome in Big East play. Providence then meets Rutgers on February 23rd at the RAC before opening March with their final two home games of the season against St. John's (March 2nd) and the back end of a home-and-home with Seton Hall. (March 5th) The Friars' final regular season contest takes place on March 9th against UConn at Gampel Pavilion, culminating a campaign where Providence was picked last in the conference's preseason coaches' poll.
"I love the 'us against the world' mentality," gushed Ed Cooley with his trademark bravado. "I like when we're overlooked. We're going to bite some asses, believe me when I tell you that."
One thing is certain: Never count the Friars out with their confident coach and exceptional point guard.