The Friars wrap up the 2019-2020 Big East season Saturday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center against the same opponent they begin conference play with. The Friars (18-12, 11-6) will host the DePaul Blue Demons (15-15, 3-14) and will be in a much different position than they were back in the first Saturday of the New Year. Going into the game the Friars just completed a deflating and disappointing non-conference stretch that found themselves 1 game over .500, nowhere near any bracket projections. The game in Chicago turned out to be the start of a remarkable turnaround that now have them in solid position to make their 6th NCAA Tournament in 7 years. What started all of this? The black throwback jerseys definitely had something to do with it but what really fueled the turnaround was the senior class. At this point we all know what DePaul is a very capable team with a formidable guard-big combo in Charlie Moore and Paul Reed, however they came nowhere close to finding their footing in a gauntlet of the Big East. So with that in mind my preview will have nothing to do with DePaul, rather a look at this very unique senior class.
Three of the Friars seniors were apart of the 2016 recruiting class, one was added that year before as a transfer and the other brought on this year as a graduate transfer. Despite their heavy pursuit for Shamorie Ponds, the Friars brought aboard a less heralded point guard from Virginia. Maliek White showed flashes early in his career, including a 3/3 performance from 3 against St. Louis in MSG, that he would develop into a great lead guard like the one before him and the one before that. While it never exactly turned out that way he has still become a vital piece to this year’s team and that was evident when he was out in our last game vs Xavier. Maliek was asked to take a 6th man role behind Luwane Pipkins and though he saw himself in and out of the starting 5 he never complained, clearly the guy just wants to win.
(my roommate O’Rourke excited to see Maliek go 3/3 from deep @ MSG)
Big man Kalif Young was an unranked recruit out of Ontario, Canada. I’ve always saw him as a useful backup big man that can give you some rebounds, rim run and hack some dudes. Embarrassingly enough Kalif’s post game both on offense and defense had my buddies an I garner him with the nickname Luggage. However Kalif’s vast improvement as the season has gone on in his offensive post game and defensive awareness has eaten its way into the minutes of explosive big Nate Watson. His leadership is another thing that Cooley has referenced a ton and all of that has made him a critical piece to this turnaround.
(WE ARE SORRY KALIF!!)
Emmitt Holt was dismissed from the Indiana Hoosiers and then he attended Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Their coach was former PC grad assistant Hank Plona and that was certainly an aspect for the big from Webster, NY to choose Providence. After sitting out a year Emmitt Holt was a key piece for the Friars on the 2016-2017 season that brought them to the NCAA Tournament. He was a big part of the heart and soul culture that Ed Cooley has created. His last year of eligibility was supposed to be 2017-2018 however an abdominal illness that almost took his life put his “senior” season on hold. Holt made it back the next season but clearly his conditioning was nowhere close and he was granted another year of eligibility. If Emmitt was 100% back to himself his story would be one of the feel good ones in the college hoops season on a national level. Instead it has turned into one where he’s been able to give them solid reserve minutes but is certainly a model and inspiration to his teammates. If the Friars were to make a run in March here the miraculous journey of Emmitt Holt will be known by more than just Friartown.
(Emmitt showing that Heart & Soul)
Alpha Diallo was the lone ESPN100 recruit in PC’s 2016 recruiting class and the Queens native was a late spring add for Cooley and staff. Diallo gave the Friars production from the moment he stepped on and his freshman and sophomore campaigns saw PC in the NCAA Tournament twice. Going into his junior year he was a pre-season 1st team All- Big East selection. While he put up good stats, he struggled to play efficiently as PC’s best and at times only playmaker and the losing came with it. The 2018-2019 Friars failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 5 years. Going into this season we thought he’d have more help and yet the same result occurred, Diallo played far less efficient and losses followed. Diallo has come to find himself during Big East play as he’s getting back to a All-Big East caliber player and playing more within himself. Diallo started his career at PC as a guy who greatly contributes to winning, it appears he plans to go out that way too.
(Diallo goes nuts vs #10 Seton Hall)
Finally we have the most unlikely of Friar seniors, Luwane Pipkins. That is because the Pipkins spent his first three seasons tormenting the Friars as a UMass Minutemen, including a game winner at the Dunk last season. Pip was maybe unfairly seen as the savior of the Friars and was going to be the point guard PC sorely lacked last season. Being a big time scorer from the A-10, Pipkins didn’t win much at UMass so you could clearly tell that he was trying to just fit in with this Friars group. Pipkins just settled to be a 3-point jump shooter that was turnover prone. Once Pipkins decided to just be himself he has exploded on the scene with a scoring tear that we haven’t seen since Bryce Cotton. As we spoke about on the pod Pipkins has official gotten his swagger back, and gives the Friars a dimension that makes them a dangerous squad going into the NCAA Tournament.
(Pipkins has been feeling himself lately)
This 5-man senior class have had such an unique journey and they very well may be the most interesting senior class in my time watching PC hoops and certainly in the Cooley Era. Diallo, White and Young were on the verge of being a 4-year class to miss the NCAA Tournament twice, something the seniors didn’t do the year before them or the year before that. Now the seniors could be the first senior class in PC history to win 12 games in the Big East conference. When things got hard this season it was the seniors that took a ton of the heat. Now the team is surging at the right time and this Crier Prophecy I’ve been talking about is still a possibility and that is a thanks to these seniors. So Saturday I will make my way to The Dunk to honor this unique group.
PC 82 DePaul 70