Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars, who have made three straight NCAA Tournaments, lost two of the top stars in the Big East Conference in point guard Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil.
Dunn won two straight Big East Player of the Year awards, was one of the best playmakers in the country on the offensive end, and was a mature, intelligent player who could lock down the best opposing guard.
Bentil led the Big East in scoring last season, making one of the largest jumps you will ever see from one year to the next. He wasn’t the greatest defender in the world, but he was impactful on the glass and provided valuable energy on the interior.
While Bentil scored the basketball at ease during his sophomore campaign, there is no question that the bigger loss for the Friars is Dunn. The New London native made everyone around him better, was a force in transition, took the big shots in crunch time, and even when he wasn’t scoring, he was distributing and making plays defensively.
There is no possible way for the Friars to simply “replace” Dunn. No one can provide his level of production (16.4 points, 6.2 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game) by themselves, and there is even major doubt that two players can fill his shoes.
So who will the Friars look to during the 2016-17 season to ease the transition?
They have two options at the lead guard position: Kyron Cartwright and freshman Maliek White.
Cartwright is likely to start for the Friars due to his experience, quickness, speed and athleticism. The 5’11” lead guard from California averaged 5.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last season in 24.2 minutes per outing. He provided the Friars with a different dimension offensively off the bench, acting as a spark plug in transition and a clean distributor.
The Compton native is not a consistent shooter from the perimeter and isn’t the strongest or tallest lead guard, but he can penetrate into the lane and find an open teammate. He is solid in the pick-and-roll, and almost certainly learned a lot about the nuances of the game playing behind Dunn last year.
The other player who will receive a lot of minutes at the one is White, a 6’1″ freshman from Richmond, VA. White is a three-star recruit, who was ranked as the sixth best player in the state of Virginia.
White is hard-nosed and gritty, however, his athleticism and size will give PC a diverse skill-set. Like Cartwright, White likes to play in transition, where he can either score or make a nice pass to an open teammate.
The Richmond native is versatile enough where he can play on or off the ball. Providence could possibly play a lineup that consists of both Cartwright and White in the backcourt with Jalen Lindsey at the three.
White tends to get out of control on occasion, playing too fast for himself, and lacks a degree of strength, but the freshman will be a solid bench player in year one.
While Lindsey, Rodney Bullock, Drew Edwards, Ryan Fazekas and the other new additions (Alpha Diallo, Emmitt Holt, Kalif Young) are critical to the Friars success, the team is unlikely to make waves in the Big East without a massive jump from Cartwright and immediate contributions from White.
Providence will likely never have a player like Dunn again, so it may take multiple years to overcome the loss of a dynamic point guard.
The good news: They don’t have a single senior on their roster and Cartwright and White are around for the long haul.