Happy college basketball season, folks. We’ve made it through the spring and summer once again and have arrived on Opening Night here in early November.
It’s year No. 2 of the WPRI College Hoops Column. Thoughts, observations, stats and more will drop every Monday on WPRI.com throughout the season.
If you missed any in the past couple weeks, here’s a quick list of links:
With just a few hours until the 2022-23 season begins, here’s our final preview piece and a look at a few different ways each team’s season could go.
Providence – picked 5th in the Big East Conference preseason poll
Door 1: 24-7 (10-1 out of conference, 14-6 in BEC – tied for 2nd)
It’s like you can already hear it. The anthem, “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift blaring inside the AMP night in and night out. This would be quite a sequel to 2021-22. Hot out of the gate, it’s another strong out-of-conference showing with quality Q1 and Q2 wins before league play even rolls around. After a few early wins in the Big East, the Friars crack the Top 25 around the same point they did last year and remain ranked until the brackets are released on Selection Sunday. Dreams of reaching consecutive Sweet 16’s are alive.
Door 2: 20-11 (8-3 OOC, 12-8 in BEC – 4th)
Door 2, as you will come to see, is the most realistic projection for how the year will turn out. Back-to-back 20-win regular seasons will have the Friars in the top half of the league and firmly in the NCAA Tournament conversation. There will be exhilarating wins and frustrating losses but when it’s all said and done the Friars will enter Madison Square Garden one win away from stamping another ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Door 3: 17-14 (7-4 OOC, 10-10 in BEC – 6th)
This is about where the floor is for the Friars this season. There is too much talent and the track record of Ed Cooley’s teams down the stretch is too strong to foresee a finish below .500. This type of season requires a significant injury or severe underperformance from multiple pieces. A slow start in the non-conference including losses against its four strongest opponents (Miami, Maryland/Saint Louis, TCU, URI) puts pressure on an inexperienced PC team. Then, in need of a very strong Big East season to push toward an NCAA berth, the team ends up at 10-10 and heads to New York City in March needing four wins in four days to assure itself a bid to the dance.
Rhode Island – picked 9th in Atlantic 10 preseason poll
Door 1: 20-11 (9-4 OOC, 11-7 in A10 – tied for 5th)
20 wins in the first season under Archie Miller would set URI’s campus in Kingston ablaze. You’d be hard pressed to find even the most optimistic Rhody fan envisioning a 20-win season. But this is Door 1. And donors, season ticket holders, alumni, etc all want to dream. In this scenario, Brayon Freeman quickly blends into the backcourt and asserts himself as the go-to piece for the Rams. Miller’s brand of up-tempo offense is a success and the Rams find themselves on the cusp of the NIT. That would be quite the year.
Door 2: 16-15 (7-6 OOC, 9-9 in A10 – 9th)
A .500 season is about what to expect for URI. There will certainly be plenty of early growing pains (as Miller alluded to in his most recent media availability) as players evolve and learn what is needed from their new head coach and staff. A season like this means Rhody takes care of the bottom of the league to stay afloat and similar to David Cox’s first season in charge, the group puts together a nice late season surge to finish an even 9-9 with momentum heading to Brooklyn.
Door 3: 12-19 (5-8 OOC, 7-11 in A10 – 11th)
Returners don’t make the necessary improvements, injuries plague growth from new faces and the Rams lose their fair share of close games late. A season filled with learning experiences as Miller and Co. use the back half of February and March to assess their program heading into a crucial second year on the recruiting trail.
Bryant – picked 2nd in America East Conference preseason poll
Door 1: 26-5 (11-4 OOC, 15-1 in AEC – 1st)
Bryant will flirt with votes in the Top 25 and lock up home court advantage at the Chace Athletic Center for the conference tournament. A team that looks more suited for the CAA, A-10 or AAC will steamroll its competition in a new league. Bryant vs. Vermont will be a thing. Jared Grasso will be the Coach of the Year. And his guys will have the luxury of sleeping in their own beds in early March as they prepare for another bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Door 2: 22-9 (9-6 OOC, 13-3 in AEC – 2nd)
There’s not much of a drop off from Door 1 to Door 2. Instead of the gaudy win-loss record a 22-9 regular season still very much qualifies as a major success in the jump up to a new league. Jared Grasso’s teams (dating back to his time as an Associate Head Coach at Iona) always peak at the right time. Conference power Vermont brings home the regular season trophy, but a second-place finish means the Bulldogs will be waiting in the wings to take down the Catamounts in a potential conference championship game in Burlington.
Door 3: 17-14 (7-8 OOC, 10-6 in AEC – tied for 4th)
The floor is high for this mid-major program. A lot would need to go wrong for this program not to finish well above .500 overall and win double-digit games in the America East. The pure athleticism on the roster coupled with the experience Grasso brought in will have Bryant in the NCAA Tournament conversation regardless of their regular season finish. Besides, there is not one team who would want to face this squad in the conference tournament after underachieving for four months.
Brown – picked 6th in Ivy League preseason poll
Door 1: 14-13 (7-6 OOC, 7-7 Ivy – 5th)
Let’s start with this: last year was the year for Brown. Now it’s rebuilding time on the East Side. The Bears have yet to reach the Ivy League playoffs (finish top four in the league) and even in the best-case scenario, they fall just short of the postseason again. It should be said, given the challenging non-conference schedule Mike Martin has assembled, a 14-13 finish would be a major step in the right direction.
Door 2 11-16 (5-8 OOC, 6-8 Ivy – 6th)
The realistic expectations for the season will be that it will be a struggle. Kino Lilly Jr., the conference’s reigning Rookie of the Year, will sure flash his skills but the lack of scoring around him will eliminate some uncontested looks he benefited from a season ago. A tough-minded team that will fight to the end comes up short more times than not.
Door 3 8-19 (4-9 OOC, 4-10 Ivy – tied for 7th)
An expected up-and-down season turns into a slog as Bruno narrowly escapes a 20-loss campaign. A strong effort in the finale at home against Yale offers a glimpse of what could be in 2023-24 given the underclassmen set to return.