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Providence has a bright future ahead

David Hahn/Icon Sportswire

Although the manner in which they lost their First Four game to USC on Wednesday was a bitter pill to swallow, the Providence Friars should still hold their heads high.

While Friar fans are in no mood for a consoling hug after Providence blew a 15-point halftime lead Wednesday, they still need to be reminded that the 2016-’17 season went far above and beyond the meager expectations placed upon the team at the start of the season.

After being picked to finish ninth by Big East coaches in the preseason, all the Friars did was go 20-13 overall and 10-8 in conference play, finishing in a tie for third place. Head coach Ed Cooley had to replace Kris Dunn, a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, and Ben Bentil, who was picked midway through the second round.

By every measure, metric or stat you use to quantify the success of this season, Providence played way above its head. Almost no one had hope for another NCAA Tournament bid. Yet there was Providence appearing in its fourth-straight trip to the tournament under Cooley, which had never been done at Providence before.

Focus will soon shift to the 2017-18 season, which brings a good deal of promise.

All five starters should be back. For once, Cooley will have some stability. No one on this team should have ideas of playing at the next level just yet, and that could allow the Friars to do something they have not done since 1997: advance past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

After capturing the Big East Most Improved Player of the Year Award, point guard deluxe Kyron Cartwright will be back to run the show for his senior year. Not many lead guards are as quick with the ball as Cartwright.

A reminder: His 6.7 assists per game led the Big East and ranked fourth nationally.

Leading scorer Rodney Bullock will be back for another go-round. The polished scorer really took off this season as a go-to-player after the loss of Bentil and Dunn. Expect a great swan song for Bullock.

Cooley will welcome back two other senior starters in Emmitt Holt and Jalen Lindsey. Not many Big East teams will possess the hardened experience  Providence will own heading into the offseason.

Cooley will add more firepower with four-star big men Dajour Dickens and Nate Watson. While a little rough around the edges, Dickens and Watson will add legitimate size and defense to the frontcourt, which is what the Friars sorely lacked this season.

Dickens will provide the rim protection that has been missing for Providence since Paschal Chukwu transferred out of the program two years ago.

In another part of the roster, Alpha Diallo and Isaiah Jackson should only get better after playing their first seasons under Cooley.

Diallo, in particular, is a player to keep a keen eye on. After slowly working his way into the rotation this season, Diallo started to come into his own and played with more vigor and confidence down the stretch. Blessed with a versatile skill set that can make him effective at either forward spot, Diallo is in line for a breakout sophomore campaign.

Again, while Providence fans might be distraught at the moment since their team lost a huge lead against USC, they will soon turn their emotions toward next season.

They will be downright giddy.

Next season offers a good deal of hope and potential. It could be the year the Friars finally get back to the Sweet 16 after a 20-year hiatus.

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