PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) -- It’s hard to know what to expect from Providence College this season in the reconfigured Big East.
The Friars tied for ninth in the conference at 9-9 and 19-15 overall last season, losing to Cincinnati 61-44 in the second round of the Big East tournament and then reaching the quarterfinals of the NIT.
In a preseason poll, league coaches picked Providence to finish sixth in the 10-team league. But with many of the league’s traditional powers having left, the Friars have high hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament after a 10-year absence.
Senior guard Bryce Cotton averaged 19.7 points for coach Ed Cooley last season, tops in the Big East, and is a member of the preseason all-league team, while forward Kadeem Batts (14.8 points per game) was given honorable mention. Add forward LaDontae Henton’s 13 points a game and the Friars have several returning scoring options.
Cooley also expects contributions from transfer Tyler Harris and freshman Brandon Austin.
But someone who wasn’t around to enjoy Providence’s Late Night Madness last year has the fans excited. That’s 6-3 sophomore guard Kris Dunn of New London, Conn., who missed the first nine games last season while recovering from a shoulder injury, and this year put on a dunking show at Late Night Madness on Oct. 25.
Two years ago, Dunn was rated one of the top five point guards in his high school class. But after the injury, he averaged 5.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.
"Kris is a totally different player now," Cooley said, "and he has to take on a big-time lead role this year. He’s improved his decision making, his conditioning, his shooting, his feel. The quicker the game, the better he is. So he has to improve in the halfcourt, but I’m excited about Kris. He’s going to be real good."
MORE HELP ON THE WAY: While this season looks promising, Cooley’s recruiting has been on a roll and bodes well for the future. He has verbal commitments for 2014 from forwards Jalen Lindsey and Ben Bentil and 7-foot-1 center Pascal Chukwu, and also has a commitment from high school junior Ryan Fazekas, a strong shooter from Indiana.
TRANSFER OF TALENT: Sophomore forward Tyler Harris Is a transfer from North Carolina State. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds last season for the Wolfpack and picked Providence over offers from Temple, South Florida and Alabama-Birmingham. He is the younger brother of former Tennessee star and current Milwaukee Bucks forward Tobias Harris.
CIRCLE THESE DATES: The Friars’ non-league schedule includes a four-day stop at the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam in St. Thomas from Nov. 22-25 and a date against John Calipari’s Kentucky squad at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Dec. 1.
FAST-LEARNING FRESHMAN: Brandon Austin scored 30 points in an intrasquad scrimmage. He is a 6-6 guard from Philadelphia with a penchant for spectacular aerial antics, and the video of him channeling his inner Vince Carter by going between his legs on a 360 dunk during Late Night Madness on Oct. 25 has gone viral.
COOLEY ENGINEERS TURNAROUND: Third-year coach Ed Cooley has posted an impressive 126-101 mark (.555) in seven seasons as a head coach after coming to Providence from Fairfield. The Friars went 7-2 over the last nine games of the 2012-13 Big East season after a 2-7 start, the second best turnaround over the second half of the season in Big East history. He then led the Friars to two NIT wins before losing to eventual champ Baylor.