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Shannon Scovel | | October 29, 2018

College basketball: Providence head coach Ed Cooley believes the Big East could be one of the deepest conferences this season

Who can challenge Villanova in the Big East?

Providence enters the season this year with the aim of advancing to the NCAA tournament and moving beyond the first round. Head coach Ed Cooley thinks his young team has the talent and skill to be able to accomplish that goal. The Friars recently returned from a summer international trip to Italy where the freshman had the chance to experience college basketball in a low-stakes environment, and Cooley said the trip helped his team find their rhythm.

“Our chemistry is really good, I think the players have a comfort level with one another,” Cooley said on the March Madness 365 podcast. “We put a lot of our young guys in some tough situations, and I thought they did a decent job. I thought our veterans, you know, they played limited minutes, but, at the same time, they showed some great leadership. I’m excited about the group.”

Among the versatile freshman who will add to the team’s depth this year is 6-5 David Duke, a guard who Cooley described as “a relentless worker” and someone who could develop into "one of the best defensive players in the country.” Duke’s skill, combined with the returning strength of Kalif Young, Emmitt Holt and Alpha Diallo, will put the Friars in a position to compete within the Big East, but the conference will still pose a number of challenges for Providence. 

RELATED: Big East conference preview

Defending national champions Villanova remains the biggest threat in the league, Cooley said, but schools such as Georgetown, DePaul and St. John’s cannot be ignored. 

“Once again, I think top to bottom we are as competitive as any league in the country,” Cooley said. “I think DuPaul made a big jump last year, not so much in wins, but as far as their program, their talent level, their skill level, their toughness.” 

Marquette will be another potential concern for the Friars, as they return guard Markus Howard who put up 52 points against the Friars last January.  Yet, it’s St. John’s that Cooley thinks will produce the player of the year with Shamorie Ponds. Cooley said that his team will need to be ready to defend against Ponds' explosive offensive if they want a chance to compete for a conference title and an NCAA bid. 

MORE: 11 under-the-radar players to keep an eye on this season

One advantage that the Friars' will have this coming season is the opening of their new practice facility, a venue that Cooley believes will give them an edge in training and preparation. The building is currently being re-branded and will help his players as they continue to develop on the court, though Cooley stresses that the basketball development is just one element of what makes his program special.  

"Our brand is developing the whole, developing the young man from start to finish. Getting you to graduate, seeing something beyond basketball, being more than basketball, and when you look at how Villanova has done it, okay when you look at how Gonzaga has done it, there is a lot of different ways to win. Our goal is to compete for a championship but at the end of the day our number one goal is to see these kids succeed in life beyond basketball.”

ALSO: 13 most prolific scorers of the modern era

Overall, Cooley feels positive about the current state of college basketball, and he remains optimistic not just about his team but about the conference and the league. 

“I think the games in a great place,” Cooley said. “This game has changed millions and millions of young kids lives not just on the basketball side but all of the student-athletes in intercollegiate athletics.” 

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