Friday, September 29, 2006


October 1, 2006

There is not a lot to seperate four or five teams, much like last year, that will fight it out for the last three spots in the Big East tournament. After missing the Garden Party last season, I fully expect Providence to be there this year. Playing at Madison Square Garden could be the deciding factor in the future of Tim Welsh at Providence College. With eight of the 11 scholarship players freshmen and sophomores, improvement is a must and re-establishing some positive momentum in the program has to happen this season. With big improvements happening to the Dunkin Donuts Center in downtown Providence, it is a must to give recruits some on the court success and remove any doubt of the future leadership of the program.

I do not necessarily believe Providence is not as good as a couple teams that will be profiled next weekend, I believe they have a schedule that is just a bit tougher than those two. PC also has enough inexperience to lead me to believe that the schedule is the deal breaker here. With Marquette (upper-echelon), St. John's (imrpoving mid-conference team) and Seton Hall as their mirror teams, it is fair to say that PC got the tougher slate compared to Seton Hall and Rutgers.


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The Friars finished up last year at 5-11 in the conference and graduated their leading scorer Donnie McGrath. Coach Tim Welsh signed three perimeter prospects to try to fill the scoring load that McGrath provided the Friars, but will also look for improvement within. Sharaud Curry and Weyinmi Efejuku both earned valuable experience as freshmen and now will look to take leadership roles in the friar backcourt. Curry was a member of the all-league freshmen team after averaging 12.4 PPG in Big East play and also adding nearly 3.5 rebounds and assists a game in conference action. He will need to improve his assist:turnover ratio and up the shooting percentage (41%) a little bit. Efejuku averaged about 8 PPG and a couple assists and rebounds in league play. He shot just 36% from the floor and less than 30% from beyond the arc. Not expected to give a big lift in the scoring column, but he could develop into a stout perimeter defender as he learns more of the ins and outs of the conference.

Curry and Efejuku are the only scholarship guards returning to the line-up this year, so Welsh's effort in signing Jamal Barney, Brian McKenzie and Dwain Williams will have to pay off quickly. At one time, Williams was one of the more highly regarded players in the class, but a basketball life that has him classified as a vagabond which moved him off the radar of many colleges leaves him as a bit of an unknown, and he did not even play basketball last year to get his academics in order. Williams can be an explosive scorer and adds some point guard skills to a team that desperately needs to improve in taking care of the basketball. Barney is a 6'3 shooting guard from Baltimore, MD that is definitely an underrated recruit. He is an excellent all-around athlete that should be productive as a freshmen and challenge for time immediately. McKenzie was one of the top shooters on the east coast last year coming out of NYC's powerful CHSAA league at Xaverian HS. McKenzie needs to expand his game to be more rounded, but his reputation as a shooter is well deserved and could fill a definite need for the Friars.

On the wing the Friars are also quite thin. Their is a good chance that they will go with a 3-guard look with Efejuku and Barney sliding to the 3rd guard spot, but Charles Burch is also a player that could get a lot of time as a SF. Burch is a thin 6'7, 225 lb small forward that averaged 3.8 PPG and 3.3 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a game, with 8 starts, in the 16 conference game schedule last year. His time increased over the last half of the conference season as he became a solidly productive player for PC. Burch can use his long and lean frame to grab some rebounds and can also hit from beyond the arc, although he struggled last year shooting less than 30% in the Big East from 3-pt range.

Where I do think the frars could exert some strength and inch close to the .500 mark in conference play is in the frontcourt. I really look forward to seeing Geoff McDermott in his sohomore year with a year of experience under his belt and him being healthy. McDermott is fun to watch as he will bring a true football mentality to the basketball court. However, he is more than just a bruiser as he can handle the ball like a guard and pass like a point guard. The former football quarterback has a high basketball IQ and knows how to use his strong body and can definitely be a point-forward in the future for the Friars. He averaged 7 PPG and over 9 rebounds last year in conference play and look for improved offensive output this year as he will be healthy. He will never be a big-time scorer until he improves his shooting, but he will be consistently around double-figures. Backing him up at the PF spot is another sophomore, Jonathan Kale, who saw limited time last year. Kale was a player I felt would receive a lot more time last year as he rbings a tenacious effort inside. He is a bit undersized, so he did find it tough to score in the paint, but he battles for boards and position. He could be a player to watch this year, but might find major minutes still a year away.

Providence is also deep at the center position with senior Herbert Hill and junior Randall Hanke returning. They also added big (6'10 and 275 lbs) Ray Hall as a freshmen this season. Hanke is always among the league leaders in shooting percentage, but he needs to find a way to play more physical and be a factor on the defensive boards. If he can, his playing time will increase and he should find a way to make himself more available for scoring chances. However, his lack of rebounding has brought more time to Herbert Hill, who also averaged in double figures last year in conference games. Hill is not as tall (6'8 compared to 6'10) as Hanke, but can play bigger and more physical. If Hanke can convince the staff he is worthy of closer to 30 minutes a game, that is a huge lift to PC because he is very effecient offensively. However, PC can not continue to allow opposing teams to score at will inside. Hall is unlikely to get a lot of time this year behind Hanke, Hill and Kale, but he is a luxury many players do not have in terms of depth.

There are some elements with this Friar team I do like. I think McDermott brings a workman-like mentality to the team and Curry seemed to be brimming with confidence as the season wore on. They must improve upon the 74 PPG they allowed defensively because, although they scored alot last year, they really do not have any more firepower than the rest of the league. If they can improve defensively they could definitely be a team challenging the .500 mark in the conference. However, with 8 of the 11 players freshmen and sophomores and a schedule that is on the tougher side among teams in the lower half of the conference, I will tread a little cautiously on the Friars this year.

for Tim Welsh, however, he probably can not afford to miss the Big East tournament and/or the NIT this year. With the $62 million investment in the 'Dunk' and PC facing VERY stiff competition on the recruiting trail against the rest of the Big East, they can not afford to be perceived amonng the bottom four of the conference. With recruiting off to a slow start this season again, questions about Welsh's future that have been heard at a whispering decibel thus far could make things tougher. I think this is a team to watch among our first group of 7 to profile, but will they improve quickly enough for those around the Providence program??

Projected Big East record: 6-10


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