Record last season: 19-15 (Conf: 9-9)
Postseason: Lost in Round 3 of NIT tournament
Coach: Ed Cooley
Coach’s record at school: 34-32
Offensive efficiency: 105.7 (77th in the country)
Defensive efficiency: 96.4 (82nd in the country)
Returnees: Bryce Cotton (19.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.9 APG), Kadeem Batts (14.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG), LaDontae Henton (13.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG), Kris Dunn (5.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 3.2 APG), Josh Fortune (5.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), Lee Goldsbrough (1.8 PPG, 2.5 RPG), Brice Kofane (0.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG)
Notable losses: Vincent Council (10.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 6.8 APG)
Newcomers: Brandon Austin, Rodney Bullock, Carson Desrosiers, Tyler Harris
G: Kris Dunn
G: Bryce Cotton
G: Brandon Austin
F: LaDontae Henton
F: Kadeem Batts
Coach Cooley arrived two years ago and with him he brought optimism to a program that has been less then relevant for about 15 years now. Concrete evidence and the major reason supporting that optimism can be seen in his ability to lure top recruits to the program. He’s done it for two years now and he has another solid class already lined up for next year. It appears that he finally has the program where he wants, and it should mean a breakout season is approaching.
Vincent Council and his 5th best assist rate in the country (42.9) are gone, but Kris Dunn, ESPN’s 2nd ranked point guard in the class of 2012 is ready to assume the vacant role. He’ll be one of the better combo guards in the conference at 6-foot-3 who can slash through the lane and shoot with range to go with excellent handles. If he can stay health (he’s already dinged up), he has breakout written all over him.
But Dunn may not even be the best combo guard on the team as the Friars return the Big East scoring champion from last year, Bryce Cotton. Cotton, entering his senior season, has averaged 4.0 points as a freshman, 14.3 as a sophomore and 19.7 as a junior. Cooley has raved about his work ethic and has rewarded him accordingly with an increased role each year.
And then there’s Cooley’s top incoming recruit for this season, Brandon Austin, who is my pick for Big East Rookie of the Year. Austin is seen as a point forward given his size (6-foot-6) and ability to handle the ball. He could be the biggest matchup problem for opponents on the perimeter for the Friars, but would likely garner less attention compared to Cotton and Dunn. Hence the reason I believe he is in for a big freshman season. And that’s not even mentioning how good of a defender he should be with his long, lanky arms and quickness.
The front court will be led by senior Kadeem Batts who made a nice leap in his junior season to become a significant contributor. Batts led the team in free throw attempts and shot nearly 50% from the field. LaDontae Henton, a three point sharp shooter, is a good rebounder for his size (6-foot-6) and should improve upon a successful sophomore campaign. The two will be joined in the rotation by two transfers who are eligible this season: the legit 7-footer Carson Desrosiers transferring from Wake Forest and Tyler Harris, a 6-foot-9 forward from NC State. Desrosiers has great instincts at blocking shots, which was evident during his time in the ACC, and Harris received rave reviews over the summer during his participation at Nike’s Kevin Durant and LeBron James Camps.
Josh Fortune, sophomore, entered the college game as a known sharp shooter, but didn’t quite light it up last year as a freshman. He attempted the second most 3-point attempts on the team (121), but only converted 29% of those. He’s likely to lose playing time to Austin, but will still provide good depth in the rotation.
Coach Cooley has been working at it for two years now, but he can finally call this a roster that is his. The defense could use improvements, and it will this year, because of the simple fact that he now has depth at his disposal; not to mention the significant length at every position. The back court could be the best in the conference if Dunn can stay healthy and Austin can live up to high expectations as a freshman. There’s no reason to worry about Cotton; that dude is money. And with a solid front court that can rotate five strong, the Friars are going to give teams fits on both ends for 40 minutes. This is a NCAA tournament roster, and they’re going to surprise a lot of people this year.
Projected Big East finish: 3rd