Updated: May 10, 2022
Providence, ranked the 17th-best team in the nation, has been called the “Luckiest Team in America.” While it might be true, it’s a lot more than luck.
The Friars knocked off #22 Marquette on Sunday, 65-63. And with so many tribulations facing Providence this week, it couldn’t possibly have been just luck…it was destiny.
Many didn’t believe they’d be able to get the game off; with nearly 2 feet of snow piling up in Rhode Island, it appeared Sunday’s game would be in jeopardy. But snow is no match for Ed Cooley’s Friars; we should’ve known better than to doubt a team that walked nearly 3 miles from campus to the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in one of the thick of a blizzard.
Amidst the retirement of Athletic Director Bob Driscoll, the announcement of Steve Napolillo as their replacement, and a massive road test in the Xavier Musketeers, the Friars overcame it all and added win number 18 to their ledger. They finished January with a 6-1 record.
Let’s take a look at what made this Friars group such a tough out on Sunday afternoon.
Nate Watson with a clutch & timely bucket
When Nate Watson was named to the watch list for best centers in the NCAA, it wasn’t a surprise to the college basketball community. The 6-10 fifth-year senior had debated whether coming back to Providence would serve his best interests, but the culture and opportunity to win brought him back to Friartown.
To be candid, although it’s been a good year so far, it’s not by any means a record-breaking year for Watson. His 13.3 points per game are second only to Al Durham’s 13.8, his 5.9 rebounds tie Justin Minaya for second, and his free-throw percentage is less-than-ideal. But if you ask Nate Watson, he couldn’t care any less about where he stacks up in the statistical categories; he just wants to help his team win.
Watson’s paint prowess has kept the Friars competitive all throughout the year. His sheer physicality and athleticism has anchored the Friars down low. And when they needed a bucket on Sunday, he was there. The icing on the cake? A clutch rebound and a timely bucket to give the Friars a lead they would never relinquish.
AJ Reeves (finger) returns
Reeves broke his pinky finger against DePaul back on New Years’ Day. Even with losing his starting spot to a combination of Jared Bynum and Justin Minaya, Reeves has still been an integral part of the Providence scoring offense. He’s third on the team with 10.7 points per game, and is 27th in the nation in turnover rate (7.8%), so clearly he’s taken a jump forward this year. Part of the gripe many had with Reeves’ game was his inconsistency & streakiness, so we’ll have to see what the Friars can get out of him this year.
Justin Minaya for DPOY
This week, the watch list for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year opened. Many expected to see South Carolina transfer Justin Minaya on this list, as he’s been a major contributor in many defensive categories. So when he was left off the initial watch list this week, many were stunned…especially Ed Cooley. “It’s an absolute joke,” he told the media after Sunday’s win. “(Voters” need to open their effing eyes. That’s some bullshit.” We’ll see if the voters re-consider after Cooley’s rant.
UP NEXT: Two road contests with St. John’s and Georgetown await the Friars. Providence hasn’t won at Carnesecca Arena since the 2017-18 season, and even though the Johnnies are stumbling, it’s always a tough challenge to win in New York. Shutting down Julian Champagnie will be key for the Friars in Tuesday’s contest against St. John’s. As for Georgetown, Patrick Ewing’s group has struggled again…maybe the addition of Wayne Bristol, Jr. - former MEAC Rookie of the Year at Howard - can help the ailing Hoyas.