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Providence, picked last in Big East, is 8-2 and poised to make noise

Cooley’s Friars are 8-2 but he’s not making Final Four plans yet. (US Presswire)

Ed Cooley isn’t ready to proclaim his Providence Friars contenders just yet.

While his fan base begins to get excited about the prospects of this team and the future, especially on the heels of freshman point guard Kris Dunn’s 13-assist performance in his college debut last night, Cooley remains even-keeled. The Board remains in the locker room and also in practice, in full-view of each player to see exactly what everyone thought of them heading into the season.

The league’s preseason predictions with the Friars in the cellar.

“This is what people think of you,” Cooley said. “And if you don’t play hard and together, this is what you’ll be.”

But there is hope and promise in Friar Land these days, after adding Dunn and Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson on Tuesday night — and the return of star guard Vincent Council slated optimistically for Dec. 28 against Brown. Cooley realizes it was only Colgate on Tuesday night, a far cry from the Big East slate — when Providence will face Louisville and Syracuse in the first week of conference play. But he now has enough quality bodies to take this program forward.

Talented scoring guard Ricky Ledo is sitting out this season after being deemed a partial qualifier and, instead of bolting after hearing the news from the NCAA, he displayed maturity and has decided to remain at Providence instead of heading overseas or to the D-League.

The Friars are 8-2. There are losses to UMass and Penn State, but let’s give Cooley a break: He was shorthanded and on his fourth point guard in one of the setbacks. In Big East play, he can eventually throw out a lineup of Council, Dunn and Bryce Cotton, who leads the team in scoring at 20.8 points per game, with Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton up front. Cotton gives Providence a big-time shooter and the Batts-Henton duo is averaging 33.5 points and more than 16 boards so far. Josh Fortune, who has started all 10 games, and Johnson can both come off the bench and give Cooley a solid seven-man rotation.

“We’re still the last place team in this league — until we prove differently,” Cooley said.

One of the major differences between the Friars now and in the Keno Davis Era is that these guys guard. They are long, athletic and get after opponents on defense. Teams are shooting only 37 percent from the field and 22 percent from 3-point range.

Dunn played 27 minutes and finished with seven points and 13 assists in the rout over Colgate. Cooley said he’s a “young colt,” still learning the college game and understanding he needs to value the ball. Johnson is emotional, but talented. The key for the New York native is more emotional than physical. Cotton and Fortune combined for 38 points in the victory, and were 8 of 17 from long range. Once Council returns, this team could — at the very least — make a move towards mediocrity.

“I want my kids to play with a chip on their shoulder,” Cooley said. “Until we prove we’re not the last-place team, we’re still the last-place team.”

Providence won’t wind up being the last-place team this year — or next season, when Cooley gains the services of Ledo and a pair of transfers: Former Wake Forest skilled forward Carson Desrosiers and Milwaukee Bucks forward Tobias Harris’ younger brother, ex-N.C. State forward Tyler Harris.

On a side note, Cooley pulled off a classy gesture Tuesday night in honoring the victims of Newtown, Conn., He called Nike on Sunday night and was shipped green uniforms with “Sandy Hook” written across the back instead of each players’ name, which the team wore in the victory last night.

“We’re eventually going to drive down and give them one of the uniforms,” Cooley said. “I don’t want to be intrusive, but I also want them to know that other people are thinking of them.”

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