2021-22 Providence College Hoops: The Boys Are (Mostly) Back in Town

CouchsideSteve

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Just got my season ticket instructions from the Athletics Department, so it must be time to fire up a new thread.

Let's not mince words: Last season sucked, even grading on a pandemic curve. An experienced team with post-season ambitions got absolutely rolled in our early non-conference challenges against Indiana and Alabama, never really straightening things out. There were *maddening* losses early in the Big East slate -- overcoming a huge second half deficit against Creighton, only to let up an easy game-winning layup; blowing a 7pt lead and 96% win probability with 1:13 remaining at Xavier. Ultimately, there was enough talent to scratch out a 9-10 conference record (never winning more than two in a row), but the Friars went out with a whimper in the Big East tournament, losing their first contest to lowly DePaul.

The after-action report is pretty simple: For the fifth time in six years, Providence was an awful shooting team. 9th in the Big East and 250th nationally in eFG%. Yes, they played tough D and had plenty of depth and athleticism. But if you can't shoot, you can't keep up with Nova, UConn and Creighton. Period. Full stop. It's fine to give Ed Cooley -- who I continue to think is a damn good coach -- the benefit of the doubt on some bad breaks. Starting PG Jared Bynum was hurt a good part of the season and, despite a strong first half, David Duke just wasn't able to carry the team like we all hoped. Neither Ed Croswell nor Brycen Goodine were impactful transfers to boot.

Turn the page. We say goodbye to Duke, who passed on his senior season to pursue the NBA, landing with the Brooklyn Nets as an undrafted free agent (actually seems like he has a fair shot of making the roster). Sophomores Jimmy Nichols and Greg Gantt -- both athletic, top-150 recruits -- depart as transfers. They just weren't able to put it together here, and neither has a jump shot. Perhaps more important is who's back: Big man Nate Watson returns for a 5th season, and should be formidable as an all-conference caliber center. Joining him in exercising an extra year of eligibility is stretch-4 Noah Horchler, who offers an intriguing inside-outside game that blossomed in the second half. Here is what the rest of the roster picture looks like:

Projected Starting 5: (1) Jared Bynum, JR; (2) AJ Reeves, SR; (3) Al Durham, GR; (4) Noah Horchler, GR; (5) Nate Watson, GR
Other Key Contributors: Justin Minaya, G/F (GR); Brycen Goodine, G (JR); Alyn Breed, G (SO); Ed Croswell, F/C (SR); Rafael Castro, F/C (FR)
Rounding Out the Roster: Legend Geeter, F (FR); Matteus Case, G (FR); Andrew Fonts, G (GR); Luke Fonts, G (FR); Kieran O'Haire, G (FR)

Key Questions

1. Can AJ Reeves Answer the Call?
A top-40 recruit, AJ shot the lights out in his Freshman season before it was halted by a foot injury. There were mock drafts that summer suggesting he might head for the NBA after a bounce-back Sophomore season. That certainly didn't happen. He added some weight, lost his groove, and honestly hasn't been very good the last two years. Reportedly, he is leaner and motivated for his senior season; virtually the only path to an above average offensive team runs through AJ putting it together as a catch-and-shoot threat beyond the arc.

2. How Impactful Are These Transfers? Durham and Minaya reinforce the wing position from Indiana and South Carolina, respectively. The former should add some much-needed offense, while the latter is more of a Swiss Army knife-type, who will be guard multiple positions. They've both played meaningful minutes of major conference college basketball and will be mainstays of the rotation from Day 1.

3. What is the Ceiling of a Team Built Around an Old School Center? Nate Watson is a very efficient face-up center, there's no question. He might be unmatched in the Big East as an inside, physical presence. But he also gets badly exploited on the defensive end by teams like Nova and Creighton that really stretch the floor and shoot. Often it feels like we're damned with Nate on the floor, but even more damned without. Is there another wrinkle in his game, or is this it?

4. Are We Deeper on the Wing Than We Realize? Alyn Breed was an overlooked recruit, but played surprisingly well as a true Freshman -- often out of position, covering for an injured Bynum at PG. Goodine seemingly spent most of the season in Cooley's doghouse, parked on the bench, but showed flashes down the stretch. If both can build on the flashes we saw, this should be a quality perimeter rotation.

5. Can We Find 10mpg of Post Minutes While Nate Rests? It probably needs to be Horchler. Castro is a top-150 recruit, so maybe he can plug in as a true Freshman. Or maybe Croswell has another level, though I fear he is just physically out-matched.

The Outlook
It will be easier to set expectations after Ken Pomeroy publishes his pre-season ratings and we see how the coaches vote at Big East media day next week. But early consensus pegs the Friars in the middle of the conference, potentially a fringe tournament team if things break right. And by "break right," I mean find shooting -- that's really all it comes down to.

With the addition of these 2, this should be Cooley's first top 20 recruiting class in a few years!
The 2022 recruiting class might be the most exciting aspect of the program right now. Currently ranked 43rd in the nation by 247 Sports, with a talented trio of commits that includes Winston-Salem prep teammates Christ Essandoko and Quante Berry, plus Long Island PG Jayden Pierre. And there are more irons in the fire, with plenty of scholarships opening up. Could be a real program reset.
 

CouchsideSteve

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KenPom preseason ratings are out, pegging the Friars 9th in the Big East and 85th nationally. Lowest preseason rating since Cooley’s first year in Friartown (2011-12).

That doesn’t exactly devastate my expectation, but it isn’t good either.
 

CouchsideSteve

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A few quick updates before tonight’s opener tips off at the Dunk against Fairfield (PC is favored by 15):
  • Providence was voted 7th in the Big East preseason coaches poll, which is more optimistic than KenPom
  • TeamRankings.com, which compiles decently accurate metrics and tournament projections, ranks the Friars 69th nationally and also 7th in the Big East — that equates to 30% odds of making the tournament
  • PC edged a consensus top-10 Purdue team in a so-called “secret scrimmage” last week, though the box score showed Nate Watson recorded 9 fouls, so it’s unclear how structured that was
Great to have Friars basketball back in front of a crowd!
 

CouchsideSteve

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Looked pretty sloppy in the opener over Fairfield winning by a mere 7. The Friars bounced back two nights later against Sacred Heart to win by 28, but only after Cooley benched 3 starters for mental lapses early, inserting walk-on Andrew Fonts to send a message (who promptly drained a three).

2-0 is 2-0. First test of the season tonight traveling to Wisconsin, where the Friars are 5-point underdogs. 9pm on FS1. I’m excited.
 

CouchsideSteve

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Thanks, guys! Ugly game tonight, but there is no such thing as a bad road win against a KenPom top-40 opponent. Fact is, this is one of the best non-conference wins of the last 5 years and gives our nascent tournament hopes a material bump.

More thoughts tomorrow. Go Friars!
 

HomeRunBaker

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Thanks, guys! Ugly game tonight, but there is no such thing as a bad road win against a KenPom top-40 opponent. Fact is, this is one of the best non-conference wins of the last 5 years and gives our nascent tournament hopes a material bump.

More thoughts tomorrow. Go Friars!
Thirded here.
 

CouchsideSteve

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Some post-game observations:
  • Friars up to 68th in KenPom; 56th according to TeamRankings with 43% tournament odds (+14%)
  • 56.5 eFG% is pretty good through three games, though it helps to have Nate Watson taking 30% of our shots mostly in the paint
  • The team is getting to the line at a healthy rate (despite that second half vs. Wisconsin) — Al Durham is a much more dynamic slasher than I realized
  • The 3s aren’t falling for Reeves yet, but shot selection and conditioning seem much improved
  • On the negative side, we’re turning it over a ton: Bynum, Minaya, and oddly Horchler the main culprits (Durham has maddening turnover potential, for as talented as he is)
Also noteworthy that Cooley seems set on his 8-man rotation, which is rare for him so early: Bynum, Durham, Reeves, Horchler, Watson start; Minaya plays a lot off the bench and Croswell only when Watson needs a blow; Breed’s usage is situational. That’s really it. Goodine hasn’t earned Cooley’s trust and these Freshmen aren’t going to play.
 

CouchsideSteve

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Important game tipping off in 30min, playing 4-0 Northwestern at the Prudential Center in Newark. Line is Friars +1. Winner gets a crack at Virginia tomorrow night.

Let’s go!
 

CouchsideSteve

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Looked dicey in the final few minutes, but they pulled it out, thanks to uncharacteristically good 3-point shooting and a dominant post game from Watson. 5-0 with two quality non-conference wins that could potentially go down as Quadrant 1 on the Friars’ tournament resume. We’ll take it.

Who’s feeling lucky? Beat Virginia tomorrow and we’ll have some true early season momentum for the fist time since Kris Dunn was on campus.
 

CouchsideSteve

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Favored by 1.5 over Virginia tonight, who dropped a buy game to Navy and got run out of the gym against Houston. They’ll course correct, though, making this a big opportunity.

7:30pm on ESPN2.
 

Omar's Wacky Neighbor

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Leaving in a bit to the studio :)
If Minaya does anything this year, SoSH Friars owe my wife the first few rounds.

When he blew his knee out in summer rec after 8th grade, my wife immobilized his knee and calmed him down for 40+ minutes while the rig took forever to show up. Her back bothered her for YEARS after that.

The plus: our older son got more playing time in the second half than he otherwise wouldn't have gotten.
 

CouchsideSteve

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There are going to be 2 or 3 gut-punch losses in even the most successful Providence basketball seasons. The loss to Virginia wasn’t that, but it was a missed opportunity. The game was there for the taking with 8min left, despite an atrocious shooting performance and mental lapses throughout. Therein lies the flaw with this team: A good defense can marginalize Watson with double-teams, forcing him to either pass out or bully his way to the rim. Nate is typically smart about passing out, but if the guys around him can’t make open shots, he loses patience and puts blinders on. That’s how you end up with 40 points in 40 minutes.

Nice bounce-back in the second half yesterday to pull away from a scrappy St. Peter‘s team. Texas Tech visits the Dunk on Wednesday night, and they might be the most talented team we host all season — 10th in the nation according to KenPom. Friars should be 4-5 point underdogs. Win on Wed and take care of business vs. a less talented URI team on Saturday, and we’ll be ranked next Monday.

Bynum is fighting through a leg injury and a few players have been battling flu-like symptom. Rest up, Friars!
 

HomeRunBaker

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I wouldn’t be as harsh on their performance against Virginia. That is what they do to pretty much everyone. They eat into your discipline and mental toughness until you slowly break. Their two losses came against Houston, a team with Elite Eight potential and Navy, a military academy who not so ironically were able to handle the mental breakdowns and had the discipline to matchup with UVA for 40 min. The other thing is you have to knock down your 3’s and we simply aren’t a great 3-pt shooting team…..both Houston and Navy hit 50% for the game in their wins while we shot 3-22.

* Not to break this out into a Wahoo thread but if you like contrasts in styles they don’t get any better than UVA vs Iowa tonight.
 

CouchsideSteve

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The beer collaboration is awesome. So excited to have the rivalry game back. I’ll be at the Dunk on Saturday and can’t wait!

Will be even sweeter if we can pull the (mild) upset over Texas Tech tomorrow.
 

CouchsideSteve

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[Ric Flair voice] Wooooooooooooo!

Phenomenal effort to overcome an early 14-point deficit and beat Texas Tech. Huge games from Durham and Croswell, plus some clutch 3s by Reeves. Breed started with Bynum out and had key defensive possessions down the stretch.

Beat URI on Saturday and your Providence Friars will be ranked Monday.
 

yeahlunchbox

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I hate to say this as a URI fan, but you guys are going to absolutely smoke us Saturday. We actually have a good amount of talent and should be able to give you a good game, but our head coach is so bad that I don't see it happening.
 

CouchsideSteve

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I hate to say this as a URI fan, but you guys are going to absolutely smoke us Saturday. We actually have a good amount of talent and should be able to give you a good game, but our head coach is so bad that I don't see it happening.
We shall see. Friars opened 6pt favorites but the line is closing -4.5. Bynum out again for PC, and the Rams play tough defense.

But if Providence is as good as I think they might be, they should win handily. Crowd is going to be nuts.
 

CouchsideSteve

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That’ll do. Decisive win. Turns out, URI isn’t very good, but Providence can’t control that. Took care of business.

Ed Croswell has played *very* well the last two games. Could be a significant development.
 

PC Drunken Friar

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Wow, did not get a single vote in this weeks Top 25. Use it as motivation, I guess? Polls are meaningless, I get it. Just funny how Texas Tech plays one game all week (PC) and loses...and gets more votes than PC.
 

CouchsideSteve

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Wow, did not get a single vote in this weeks Top 25. Use it as motivation, I guess? Polls are meaningless, I get it. Just funny how Texas Tech plays one game all week (PC) and loses...and gets more votes than PC.
Evidently, I’m now a huge homer. But I really thought the trifecta of wins against Wisconsin, Northwestern, and TTU would be enough, particularly with just one loss to a good UVA team. Oh well.

Friars come in at 32 in Jon Rothstein’s weekly ranking, and 37 on the initial NET rating. 73% chance to make the NCAA tournament, per TeamRankings.com.
 

HomeRunBaker

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Classic dangerous non-conference “take care of business” game tonight against Vermont who is not a pushover. They were beating #21 Maryland at the half earlier this year and it was a one-possession game with a couple minutes to go.
 

PC Drunken Friar

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Classic dangerous non-conference “take care of business” game tonight against Vermont who is not a pushover. They were beating #21 Maryland at the half earlier this year and it was a one-possession game with a couple minutes to go.
Another just get-it-done win tonight. Other results that impact PC. Virginia with a bad loss to a bad James Madison team, but Texas Tech beats #13 Tennessee (neutral court... Msg).
 

HomeRunBaker

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Another just get-it-done win tonight. Other results that impact PC. Virginia with a bad loss to a bad James Madison team, but Texas Tech beats #13 Tennessee (neutral court... Msg).
Impressive win tonight. Somewhat out of character for a Cooley team to play this well in December. This could be a fun year.