Transfer Portal Spotlight – Introducing Cal Baptist Guard Taran Armstrong

Kim English is looking to load this Providence roster up with high end talent to make a push for a Big East crown in 2023-2024. The Cal Baptist product, originally from Tasmania, Australia, hit the transfer portal earlier in the offseason and has been the crown jewel of most “transfer portal rankings”, routinely listed in the Top 5 of transfer talents. With the revealing of Armstrong’s Final 4 choices of potential destinations including Creighton, Xavier, Gonzaga, and Providence, PC is making a push to further augment the backcourt.

Below, we discuss Armstrong’s game, how he would fit on the Providence roster, and what landing him would mean for the Friars.

Background on Armstrong

Taran Armstrong is a big bodied guard at 6’6 hailing from Australia. He landed at Cal Baptist and was an immediate impact freshman, starting 25 games and averaging 10.5 points, 6.3 assists, and 5.2 rebounds. He followed that up his sophomore year with 11.3 points, 5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. We’ll get into what he does well on the court in more detail below, but it’s safe to say he is a triple double threat every time he steps on the court.

When Armstrong hit the portal, I didn’t think too much about him as a potential transfer candidate. St. Mary’s and Gonzaga (and now Arizona) usually have that Australia pipeline down to a science and thus have the inside track; however, that all changed with the hire of Assistant Coach Nate Tomlinson. After his playing career at Colorado, Tomlinson went overseas and played in Australia in the NBL (Australia’s professional basketball league) for approximately 6 years. During that time, it is safe to say he made some connections that would help him in recruiting Australian prep players. This was likely how we were first connected to Armstrong. Secondly, having the Michael Jordan of Australia in Bryce Cotton playing for Providence College likely helped as well.

Analyzing Armstrong’s Game

The first thing that jumped out to me is that he doesn’t let his opposition dictate his pace of play. He plays at his entirely own pace and gets to where he wants to be on the court without having to speed up his game. His game is a bit unorthodox, in that he isn’t necessarily a superb athlete, but can get to his “spot” whenever he wants with tempo changes. He reminds me a bit of Kyle “Slow Mo” Anderson who never seems to be in a hurry, but somehow finds himself in advantageous offensive positions. This is the sign of a player who has an innate feel for the game. He doesn’t get his production by being a better athlete or being elite at one skill set. He’s just a very well rounded player who understands how to play the game.

The next thing that jumps out to me is his passing ability. Being 6’6 allows him to pass over the top of his defenders who are routinely smaller than him. If the opposition has to put a 3/4 on him to combat his size, he has the ability to beat this individual off the dribble and then find the open man when a help defender inevitably arrives.

He also is a bit of a showman on the court, which I like. He’s confident in his abilities and it shows in his play with some borderline cocky passes. To use a football analogy, it’s like the quarterback throwing into tight windows he shouldn’t be throwing into because he has that much trust in his arm talent. Especially when in the open court, his teammates need to always be ready because he’s always looking for an open man. Armstrong is one of the most creative passers in college basketball.

Armstrong is a terror in the half-court pick and roll. If you sag off him off the initial screen, he can finish at the rim due to his height and length. If the defender comes over for a help-side block, he’ll find his teammate for an easy lay-in. This is the type of guard that would help Oduro score 15 a game with ease in the Big East. I hate to say it, but his pick and roll/screen game reminds me a lot of Tyler Kolek, where he never seems to be panicked or in a rush, despite what the defense is throwing at him.

Armstrong seems to be a threat from the three point line, although he’s only a career 31% shooter from deep. If he can improve there, he will be that much more of a well rounded player. Armstrong also appears to have a nice mid-range floater which should come in handy in the half court.

The question I always ask is if this player’s game translates to a high major level or if he is a just a plus player playing against lower competition in the mid-majors. Well, look at his stats against Washington and Minnesota this past year. Against Washington (in an upset win), he went for 18, 6, and 5. Against Minnesota (in a loss), he went for 24, 6, and 2. Armstrong can play anywhere in the country.

Armstrong’s Fit with the Providence Friars

The inevitable question is if this means Pierre comes off the bench if they land Armstrong. I don’t think so. I see Pierre and Armstrong manning the backcourt together. The name of the game these days is having multiple ball handlers on the court that can create one on one. Both of those guys can do that. Additionally, this will create more crisp passing and better offensive opportunities for the entirety of the offense. The transition game in the open court would be must see basketball. A starting line-up of Pierre, Armstrong, Carter, Hopkins, and Oduro has a crazy amount of offensive potential.

I have questions on if Armstrong can defensively hang in the Big East, but the positives of his contributions on the offensive end may outweigh any of those concerns. PC may be a team that isn’t the usual Friars under Cooley that were superb defensively, but struggled offensively. With the way this roster is shaping up, I get the sense English will be looking to outscore his opponents with offensive firepower.

Armstrong also has two years remaining, which means Pierre and Armstrong can man the starting backcourt together for the next two years. That continuity will do wonders.

Summary

If I had to gamble on who lands Armstrong, Gonzaga has to be the heavy favorite, followed by Creighton, Providence, and Xavier (in that order). Gonzaga has a proven plan of landing international players and developing them for success. Creighton now has a glaring need at point guard, and Armstrong could walk into 25-30 minutes of play Day 1. Providence will sell a starting spot next to Pierre and emphasize all of the talent he will have around him. Tomlinson’s familiarity with the Australia basketball scene, as well as a phone call from Bryce Cotton, may help the Friars clinch this recruiting win.

Whomever lands Armstrong is going to get a kid who can handle point, run the show, and put his team in great positions to score. I applaud Kim English and Staff for getting to this point as a finalist in the recruitment. Landing him and Ike would put Providence squarely in the Top 10 nationally preseason.

Other Crier Recruiting Articles

2023 Transfer Portal – https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/03/28/tracking-the-transfers-pc-targets-in-the-2023-portal-providence-crier-transfer-portal-primer/

Class of 2024 Recruiting Primer, Version 3.0 – https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/03/27/providence-college-basketball-recruiting-class-of-2024/

Transfer Portal Spotlight: Josh Oduro: https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/03/25/transfer-portal-spotlight-george-mason-forward-josh-oduro/

Transfer Portal Spotlight: Justyn Fernandez: https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/03/26/transfer-portal-spotlight-george-mason-wing-justyn-fernandez/

Transfer Portal Spotlight: Graham Ike: https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/03/31/crier-recruiting-corner-introducing-wyoming-forward-graham-ike/#more-6635

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