December 01, 2015

Led by All-American Chris Dunn, Providence will make its season debut in the Top 25 looking to bounce back from its first defeat.

The No. 23 Friars appear to be in good position to do so against visiting Hartford on Wednesday night.

Totaling 45 wins and earning berths in the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, Providence (6-1) is back in the poll after being ranked the week of March 2. It's the first time since 1977 and '78 that the program was ranked in back-to-back seasons.

Providence turned some heads over the weekend, hitting half of its 54 shots and forcing 21 turnovers in a 69-65 upset of then-No. 11 Arizona in Friday's semifinal of the Wooden Legacy. The Friars shot 47.2 percent two days later against third-ranked Michigan State, but Dunn was plagued by foul trouble in a 77-64 title-game defeat.

''I'm very proud of how our young guys were gritty. They were tough,'' coach Ed Cooley said. ''We can't let this one game define the kind of season we want to have.''

That likely won't happen as long as Dunn continues to play at a high level.

Despite committing his fourth foul with eight minutes remaining Sunday, the talented two-way guard had 21 points, seven assists and five rebounds in 33 minutes against the Spartans. The junior averages 19.0 points and 45.0 percent shooting, is among the national leaders with 6.7 assists per contest and leads the country at 3.7 steals. He's also averaging a career-high 6.1 rebounds.

"When (Dunn) is on the floor, I think we've got a chance every night," Cooley said.

Dunn, however, hasn't had to carry the load himself.

Sophomore Ben Bentil, averaging 17.0 points and 7.1 boards, has scored 21.5 points over the last four games and joined Dunn on the all-tournament team last weekend.

After missing last season with a leg injury, forward Rodney Bullock is averaging a team-leading 7.3 rebounds. He averaged 18.3 points in the first four games but totaled 24 in the three tournament contests.

The Friars appear to have a good opportunity to fine-tune and flaunt their depth in this first meeting with Hartford (3-4). The Hawks are averaging 69.0 points and shooting 39.9 percent while allowing 78.4 points per contest.

"We've got to continue to get better and continue to focus on us," Hartford coach John Gallagher said.

Australian freshman George Blagojevic averages 13.4 points and scored a season-high 24 in Sunday's 74-67 home loss to St. Francis (N.Y.).

The Hawks, however, could be without injured guard Cleveland Thomas for a fourth consecutive contest. Nicknamed "Pancake," Thomas is averaging team highs of 13.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his first season after transferring from New Mexico.

Though the Hawks are facing their first ranked opponent of the season, they fell 87-52 on Nov. 17 to a Louisville team that debuted in the poll this week at No. 24.

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