Providence Rhode Island 11/14/2015, the Friars kicked off their season at home last night against Harvard. There has been a lot of angst in Friar Town since last year’s NCAA loss to Dayton. With the loss of the graduating seniors and transfers of Tyler Harris and Pascal Chukwu the team entered this season with lots of questions regarding their size and how they will replace the departing offense of Ladontae Henton and the rim protection of Carson Desrosiers. While some of these questions will take time to answer, there were things that started to come into focus. Kris Dunn will be a dominant player on both ends of the court. He will control the game’s tempo and create scoring opportunities in the half court and his defense will create many open court scoring chances. Dunn is the best “on ball” defender the Friars have had since John Linehan and his ability to get into passing lanes is uncanny. Kris Dunn was not one of the questions Friartown had coming into the season. Who will pick up for the loss of Henton? The preseason buzz was about the talent and skills of Rodney Bullock. Bullock was reportedly leading the team in scoring in Italy last summer before getting injured and missing the season. Andy Katz reported that Ed Cooley stated he wouldn’t be surprised if Bullock leads the Big East in scoring. Friar fans may not expect him to lead the conference in scoring but they can expect him to fill a lot of the scoring void left by the departures of Henton and Harris. Bullock showed a smooth unforced ability to score the basketball. When he scored on the first possession of the game you could feel the crowd cheer and exhale simultaneously.
Another question fans have been asking is who will stretch the defense and open the floor for Dunn. There were times last year that Jalen Lindsey looked like he would be the sharp shooting deep threat the Friars needed to extend defenses and there were times when he looked timid and gun-shy. Lindsey did not dress for the game last night due to “a violation of team policies”. Freshman Ryan Fazekas stepped into the starting lineup and proved to be some of the things Lindsay wasn’t. He made a 3 point basket the first time he shot the ball and his 5 attempts from beyond the arc tied with Ben Bentil for the team lead. Fazekas looked like a shooter not shying away after a couple of misses and his height should allow him to get shots off over what will most likely be smaller men guarding him. The Friars do not have the same team height around the rim that they played with last year. After losing two 7-footers this off season the Friars will have to defend and rebound differently than they did last year. Without a true “rim protector” the defense will have to rely on ball pressure and while last night’s opponent was not a good barometer for how much success they will have on the defensive end we did get a glimpse of their length on the perimeter. Paint protection and rebounding will be a question to be answered at a later time. The student section was full and loud. Was this a product of opening night and the tee shirt giveaway or have the students embraced this team and the hype around its best player? This question will be answered later this season but for now it was a good to see the turnout as “The Dunk” can be a quiet venue at times and the students’ can really make a difference in the atmosphere.
Steve @fallriverfriar DeMello