As noted in my preview by-the-numbers on ScoutFriars.com, last season’s offense was better than average in the Big East, but it was also highly inconsistent, scoring at least 1.09 points per possession in seven conference games but less than 0.85 in six, including the Big East Tournament debacle vs. Seton Hall. The previous year’s team only went under 0.85 twice and over 1.09 three times.
The offense’s effectiveness was tied directly to its ability to make shots, and so Cooley often went with small lineups to get the best shooters on the floor, which included Bryce Cotton as a small 2 and LaDontae Henton as a small 4. This created more room for Vincent Council to penetrate and score or dish and for Gerald Coleman to get inside the defense. When either of those two shooters was off the floor, Providence was playing a non-scorer (Ron Giplaye or Brice Kofane) or a lane-clogger (Bilal Dixon) as well as Kadeem Batts, who had a very poor offensive season (more on that later). The big lineup might have been marginally better defensively, but it also compressed the offense and made it harder for Council to get his teammates good looks. Cooley sacrificed the defense in favor of the small lineup because his offense was simply not functional without all four of the key guys on the floor together.
The 2012-13 squad figures to have a lot of the same problems as last year’s team — lack of length, lack of depth, but maybe not quite the shortage of shooters. When looking at this squad’s offense, I want to focus briefly on the seven-man rotation that Providence figures to have for the first handful of games and then focus more extensively on the nine-man rotation we’re hoping it has for conference play.
Seven-man rotation: Council, Cotton, Fortune, Henton, Goldsbrough, Kofane, Batts (and Bancroft)
As a freshman, I see Josh Fortune being something like what Duke Mondy was. He’s a bit taller and might not offer the same sort of defensive value, but I see him hanging out in the corner and on the wing to take advantage of Council and, hopefully, Henton’s drives. A lineup of Council-Cotton-Fortune-Henton-Batts/Kofane should be pretty effective offensively, with three players who can stretch the floor with their range and one who is terrific at getting into the paint. If Batts is the five — and recovers to even just his freshman offensive levels — this team will be difficult to defend.
As was the case last year, this lineup will likely get cut to pieces defensively. Henton and Batts will have to rebound better than they did last year (a challenge for Henton, who was quite good, but doable for Batts). Even with those two rebounding well, the Friars don’t figure to be able to keep teams from getting easy inside baskets. Kofane can help in that area, but what he gives up on offense might not be an even trade for more than a few minutes of run at a time. Moreover, Kofane isn’t a true center and rim defender. He’s more of an undersized 4 who will block shots from the weak side and be decent on the glass while offering nothing but dunks on offense.
Goldsbrough will have to eat up minutes in this rotation, and he’s relatively effective in hitting the glass, but he’s been a huge problem on offense. He hasn’t needed to be guarded. He took nine shots all of last season in 179 minutes, and, though he could be more active in the offense this season — he did attempt six shots and had three assists vs. RIC — it’s hard to expect much from him. It’d be pretty much impossible for the offense to function with Golsbrough alongside Kofane, so he figures to be the primary backup for Henton/Fortune when Batts is playing the nominal 5.
One other thing about this rotation is that there are only three guards, and all three figure to be in the crunch-time lineup when offense is needed. This also means that Cotton will have to play some point guard, unless Council never leaves the floor, which is just as likely. Indeed, in 24 games last season, Council sat for a combined 10 minutes, and this included games against Southern, Fairleigh Dickinson and Holy Cross.
Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson will be eligible for Colgate on Dec. 18 (if not sooner, pending waiver), but he can’t help in the backcourt. Kris Dunn’s return date is less certain, but I can’t imagine Cooley can afford to red-shirt him if he’s going to be ready anytime before the end of January. The Friars may be able to limp through non-conference play without any guard depth, but this lineup won’t hold up in the Big East.
Nine-man rotation: Council, Dunn, Cotton, Fortune, Henton, Goldsbrough, Johnson, Kofane, Batts
Dunn’s arrival at midseason would give the Friars a true three-guard rotation (four, if you count Fortune) that will permit Council to sit some or play off the ball more, something that should make him a more efficient scorer. In fact, it’s not hard to imagine that this rotation could (perhaps should) be even better than last year’s when it was sixth best in the Big East in points per possession.
Council 2013 vs. Council 2012: A year later, and with another player on the roster who can actually play point guard, Council may be more efficient because he’s able to rest a couple minutes each half. This could give him the added burst to finish better around the rim, and offseason work could make him a three-point shooter you have to at least guard. Change from last season: modest improvement.
Cotton 2013 vs. Cotton 2012: I think Cotton will be approximately the same guy he was last year. It’s hard to imagine him improving much on his terrific shooting numbers — 89.1 percent on free-throws, 45.9 percent on 2-pointers and 37.9 percent on 3-pointers. Those numbers could fluctuate a bit, but I think whatever improvement we see from Cotton the last two seasons will come mostly on the margins — improved steal rate due to playing less/being fresher/having more experience and improved ball-handling to be able to spend a few minutes at point. Change: negligible.
Dunn/Fortune 2013 vs. Coleman 2012: I figure that the guard rotation of Council, Cotton, Dunn and Fortune will play about as much as Council, Cotton and Coleman did last year, maybe a little less. Therefore, I’m combining Dunn and Fortune into one spot that Coleman had last year. Gerald Coleman is gone now, and many fans say “good riddance,” but he was a Big East-caliber player on a roster that needed them and still does. Off the court, he might have been the biggest malcontent in five counties (rumors hint at this, though it could easily be overblown), and perhaps there will be addition by subtraction in that sense, but there are some real assets that Coleman takes with him and that Providence will need to replace.
The first is experience. As excited as we are to see Dunn and Fortune in black and white, they are still both question marks. Coleman was more of a known, if maligned, commodity.
The second is getting to the line. Coleman improved his free-throw percentage from 54 to 67 percent from his freshman to sophomore season, which enabled him to take advantage of perhaps his greatest strength — drawing fouls. For a skinny, 6-foot-4 guard, Coleman had a knack for getting into the paint and absorbing contact. That’s something Providence will miss.
The third is rebounding from the backcourt. Cooley was able to play Coleman at small forward for 35-40 minutes per game because he is a good rebounder from a guard. Now, this had its costs. PC was so small with Coleman-Henton as the 3-4 that its interior defense was pretty terrible again. At the same time, the offense was able to be better because Cooley at least had the hope that Coleman could hold his own against most wing players on the glass.
The entire package of what a junior Coleman was likely to be will be hard for two freshmen to replace, but both players bring traits that may make the offense better in sum. On the one hand, Dunn should be able to come close to matching Coleman’s ability to create his own shot, and we know that he won’t have to be too efficient to match Coleman’s shooting (43.5 on 2-pointers, 23.8 on 3-pointers).
On the other hand, Fortune’s offensive impact could be great in a different way. With Coleman and Council on the floor, PC had the advantage of two guards that could get into the paint and create their own shot — albeit inefficiently. With Fortune instead of Coleman, Providence can spread the floor with three shooters opponents will need to respect — Fortune, Cotton and Henton — which should create plenty of space for Council as well as room to maneuver for Henton at the elbow. Also, Fortune has three inches on Coleman, which could make him as good a rebounder if not better.
Having Dunn and Fortune (if the latter can be a 3-point threat) gives Cooley matchup options. Go big in the backcourt (Dunn/Fortune or Council/Fortune). Go small with multiple shooters (Council/Cotton/Fortune). Put two ball-handlers on the floor (Council/Dunn) who can get into the lane. Change: modest improvement.
Henton 2013 vs. Henton 2012: Henton was fabulous last year. He scored like a No. 2 option, rebounded like a power forward and shot like a 2-guard. The challenge for this season will be to take on some of the load left by Coleman. Coleman was responsible for 23.5 percent of possessions when he was on the floor (via shots, turnovers, assists, etc.) whereas Henton was responsible for just 19.6. The key question for Providence’s offense this season, I think, is whether Henton can increase his workload to Coleman levels while maintaining the same efficiency. Last year, he shot 48.1 percent on 2-pointers and 39.3 percent on 3-pointers. Can he approximate that while being responsible for about 20 percent more of the offense when he’s on the floor? I think it’s possible, but I also think it’s more likely that any improvements come from drawing more attention from opponents and therefore either 1) more contact and getting to the line more or 2) opening things up for his opponents. The latter is intriguing because Henton had only one assist per 33 minutes played last season. I’d like to see him improve as a passer, because he should have better shooters and a better spaced offense around him thanks to more functional personnel. Change: negligible.
Batts 2013 vs. Batts 2012: Last season was a lost one for Batts. After missing the first 11 games due to violation of team rules, he never looked the same. That’s not to say he was great as a freshman, but he was a solid offensive rebounder and showed a scoring knack. Last year, he showed the knack for turning the ball over and missing 2-pointers. His offensive rating of 90.5 was second worst on the team (ahead of only Giplaye). This is a testament to the fact that he was 1) turnover prone and 2) an awful shooter from the floor last year. His 39.5 percent 2-point rate was the epitome of a team-wide epidemic (national average is 47.8). The good news is that, despite his ineffectiveness, Batts showed an ability to be involved when on the floor (only Council and Coleman were more integral to the offense per minute played). Two other bits of Batts good news: 1) Most of his play came against superior competition due to his suspension to start the season. Therefore, his numbers are a bit deflated relative to teammates who were able to beat up on non-conference opponents. 2) He hit 44.4 percent of his 2-pointers as a red-shirt freshman, so it would figure that his shooting could rebound as a junior, even if he never becomes a great finisher. Change: modest improvement.
Johnson 2013 vs. Dixon/Giplaye 2012: Always a fan favorite, Bilal Dixon (smell the irony) has rejoined Pat Skerry at Towson. The promise of his red-shirt freshman year quickly evaporated in a mist of pouts and sluggish defense. Giplaye — he of the bull’s physique and hands of stone — is now at East Tennessee State. Replacing most of their minutes should be Sidiki Johnson, the transfer from Arizona who will be eligible after first semester is complete. It’s fudging to combine Dixon and Giplaye into one uber-suck forward because they are so different. Dixon was the team’s best defensive rebounder (by rate) in each of the past two seasons and was a surprisingly efficient scorer last season, albeit in limited opportunities. Giplaye offered nothing of value except for some offensive rebounds and am occasional block in limited action.
Charged with clearing the low bar of replacing those two is Johnson, an imposing body known for his combination of offensive skills and rebounding acumen. Different reports say different things, but the consensus indicates that his athleticism is not one of his strengths and that he probably will not be a difference-maker around the rim on defense. This part of our preview, though, is about offense, and Johnson should help a lot there, both on the glass and with the ball in his hands. Change: large improvement.
Kofane 2013 vs. Kofane 2012: Kofane is the closest thing PC has to a rim-defender, but his height (6-foot-8) and weight (205 pounds) leave him something well short of a true center. He’d be best as a roaming four who can get blocks from the weak side next to a big stout center. PC doesn’t have one of those, and so Kofane will have to be the 5 most of the time he’s out there. Offensively, he’s been turnover prone and only shoots when he’s wide open and next to the rim. If PC can get enough offense from positions 1-4 — and if Kofane can improve his hands — the Friars should be able to keep Brice on the floor for stretches this season. He’s the team’s best returning defensive rebounder and second best returning offensive rebounder. Change: negligible.
Goldsbrough 2013 vs. Goldsbrough 2012: Lee was one of the most shot-shy players in the nation last season, shooting on just 1 in every 28 possessions when he was on the floor. I expect a lot of the same in his minutes this year (which are likely to be minimal once Johnson is eligible), but perhaps he can become a spread-the-floor 4 on offense. He can’t play as a 4 beside Kofane for lack of offense or as a 5 beside Henton for lack of size, but he could be an option next to Johnson or Batts on occasion. Change: negligible.
If all nine players are available come Big East play (always an important caveat with a snakebit PC program), the Friars offense should be more diverse and probably better than last season. With two point guards, three shooters and two 4′s with some offensive game, PC can have five offensive players on the floor at a time that Cooley need not hide, plus two more on the bench.
The addition of Fortune as a shooter and Dunn as a ball-handler should help Council become more efficient than he’s been. Having both Johnson and Batts will enable Cooley to play a bigger lineup more often and have more leverage when it comes to doling out playing time. Even if Henton and Cotton only maintain the status quo, this is an offense that should be able to stay in the Big East’s top half.
Next Up: Dissecting the defense
Brendon Desrochers is a contributor to FriarBlog.com and ScoutFriars.com. If you have any questions, thoughts or column ideas for him, please follow him and contact him via Twitter @UltimateCrans.