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The Twelve Days of ‘Big East-Mas’ Season Preview: The Reigning Champs

Introduction

The Providence Friars come into the 2022-23 season following what was arguably one of the most successful and historic seasons in program history, featuring the some of the highest of highs, and some of the most head-scratching of lows.


Ed Cooley’s squad will return to the hardwood proudly wearing the title of “Reigning Big East Regular Season Champions” … all the while losing each of the five starters that helped the team achieve this status.


After losing all five starters, many of the experts in college basketball might deem this upcoming season as a “rebuilding year.” However, thanks in large part to the Reigning Naismith Coach of the Year’s avid activity in the transfer portal, this upcoming season can be much more appropriately classified as a “reloading year.” And what better way to reload for a new season, then by bringing in a handful of high-impact transfers, so graciously given to us from fellow power conference programs such as Louisville, Kentucky, and South Carolina.


Now, as exciting as it is to bring in a crop of new transfers that, on paper, seem like the real deal, let’s keep in mind that, with the exception of last season (where 3 out of 5 starters were graduate transfers), there is often a learning curve when joining the Big East for the very first time.


Could this Friars squad contend to repeat as the regular season league champs? Absolutely. Could this team also find itself stuck in the logjam in the middle of the conference, suffering from a Sweet Sixteen hangover? The answer, much to the dismay of many of the Friar Faithful, is also yes.


 

Last Year in Review


In the 2021-22 campaign, the Providence Friars finished an outstanding 27-6 overall, 14-3 in Big East play. This record ties for second best in school history in terms of overall wins in a single season, falling just one win short of Dave Gavitt’s 1973-74 squad, which went 28-4.


In terms of overall winning percentage, last season ranks eighth all time, notching a winning percentage of .818%. The highest winning percentage ever recorded by a Friars team comes from Joe Mullaney’s 1964-65 squad which went 24-2, good for .923%.


Last year’s squad also filled the trophy case with some noteworthy hardware:

· 2021-22 Big East Regular Season Champions (for the first time in school history)

· Naismith Coach of the Year

· Big East Coach of the Year

· Two Second-Team All-Conference Selections (Nate Watson and Jared Bynum)


All of that PLUS a Sweet Sixteen berth for the first time in nearly a quarter-century - where the Friars had 1 seeded Kansas on the ropes, only to then lose to the eventual National Champions by a mere 5-points.


Safe to say, last season was pretty good…


…but that was last season – a season that saw Ed Cooley start five veteran players. Three graduate transfers, one graduate senior, and one true senior.


And as I mentioned earlier, these five starters – the same five starters that fueled this team’s Sweet Sixteen run– are no longer on the roster…


 

Who’s Out


· Al Durham, G | Graduate Transfer Sr.

· Justin Minaya, G/F | Graduate Transfer Sr.

· Noah Horchler, F | Graduate Transfer Sr.

· Nate Watson, C | Graduate Sr.

· AJ Reeves, G | Sr.

· Brycen Goodine, G | Jr.

· Matteus Case, G | Fr.

· Legend Geeter, G | Fr.

· Andrew Fonts, G | Graduate Sr., Walk-On


Woof.


As entertaining as it was to be a fan of last year’s tenured Friars squad, reality must set in at some point. And I think I speak for most Friar fans when I say that the departure of all five starters, and with it the realization that we must rebuild from basically nothing, is quite the wake-up call.


Starting combo-guard, Al Durham (13.6ppg, 3.4apg, 34.4mpg), leaves Providence as a graduate transfer and is currently playing in Greece for Lavrio B.C., alongside fellow Big East alumni RJ Cole (UConn) & Kur Kuath (Marquette).


Starting shooting guard, AJ Reeves (9.9ppg, 2.8rpg, 25.3mpg), leaves Providence as a true senior, and just recently signed an Exhibit-10 contract with the Boston Celtics.


Starting wing, Justin Minaya (6.6ppg, 5.5rpg, 33.2mpg), leaves Providence as a graduate transfer, and is currently playing in the NBA G-League for the Mexico City Capitanes.


Starting forward, Noah Horchler (9.9ppg, 8.5rpg, 33.2ppg), leaves Providence as a sixth-year graduate transfer, and is currently playing in Greece for Aris Thessalonik.


And lastly, starting center, Nate Watson (13.3ppg, 5.2rpg, 28.0mpg), leaves Providence as a fifth-year graduate student, and is currently playing in the Czech Republic for Basketball Nymburk.


Other notable roster departures include junior, Brycen Goodine (1.9ppg, 5.8mpg, 21 gp), who transferred to Fairfield; freshman, Matteus Case (1.0ppg, 1.5mpg, 4gp), who transferred to William & Mary; freshman, Legend Geeter (DNP), who transferred to Eastern Michigan; and walk-on graduate senior, Andrew Fonts (66.7 3P%), who now works as a Sales Development Representative at a company called AlphaSense (per his


With all of these departures, the Friars will head into the 2022-23 season with an entirely different starting five, and an entirely different supporting cast off the bench. Players such as Jared Bynum, Ed Croswell, and Alyn Breed, all of whom played significant minutes off the bench, will now need to be supplemented by an entirely new supporting cast.


 

Who’s In


· Noah Locke, G | Graduate Transfer Sr. (Louisville)

· Clifton Moore, C | Graduate Transfer Sr. (La Salle)

· Devin Carter, G | Transfer So. (South Carolina)

· Bryce Hopkins, G/F | Transfer So. (Kentucky)

· Corey Floyd, G | Transfer R-Fr. (UConn)

· Jayden Pierre, G | Fr.

· Quante Berry, G | Fr.

· Scott Morozov, F | Fr. Walk-On


As aforementioned, a season that could have been classified as a rebuilding year, has instead been classified as a reloading year, thanks to Ed Cooley and his savviness in the transfer portal. Jon Rothstein should really consider changing his famous tweet “Ed Cooley. The American Dream.” to “Ed Cooley. Transfer Portal Specialist.” after this off-season’s haul.


Locke, Moore, Carter, and Hopkins are the names on this list that jump out at me. All are seasoned players, from respectable programs that will hopefully make an immediate impact in Cooley’s system.


Noah Locke and Devin Carter should be starters on this team, and look to provide meaningful support to Jared Bynum in the backcourt. They’ll serve as suitable replacements for AJ Reeves’ offense (Locke) and Justin Minaya’s defense (Carter).


Noah Locke dawns the Friar colors after three seasons with Florida, and one with Louisville (fifth times the charm, right?). For his career, Locke is a hair shy of a 40% shooter (from both two and from three-point range) averaging 10-points per game and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Devin Carter joins the Friars after an impressive freshman campaign with South Carolina, averaging 9-points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game, while boasting a 42% field goal percentage. All of this, while only playing 18.7 minutes per outing as a Gamecock.

Down low, Clifton Moore should provide some much-needed size in the paint, following the departures of Noah Horchler and Nate Watson. Moore, who comes in at 6-foot-11, 240-pounds, should provide a defensive spark around the rim for the Friars, who find themselves in a conference that is loaded with front-court talent this year (Adama Sanogo, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Jack Nunge, Qudus Wahab, etc.). Last season, Moore averaged 12.9-points per game and pulled down 6.1 boards per game, while going just shy of 49% from the field.

Bryce Hopkins, perhaps, is the biggest toss-up from this crop, with respect to “knowing what you’re getting.” A coveted 4-star recruit out of high school, Hopkins found himself struggling for minutes on a loaded Kentucky roster. Last season, he only averaged 2.1-points per game and 1.4 rebounds per game, in 6.4 minutes of playing time. More playing time, and a much bigger, versatile, role with the Friars, should see Hopkins’ numbers go up this season.

A few other notable additions to the Friars’ roster this season include Corey Floyd Jr., Jayden Pierre, and Quante Berry.


Corey Floyd Jr. comes to the Friars after spending his freshman year redshirting on Dan Hurley’s bench, where he watched the UConn Huskies finish third in the conference (again), and exit the NCAA tournament in the first round (again) after losing to a lower seed (again). Can you blame him for wanting out of that program?


All UConn jokes aside, Floyd will look to add some depth to Cooley’s backcourt, and will likely serve as a rotational piece in the point guard spot.


Jayden Pierre and Quante Berry join the Friars as true freshman, and will (similar to Floyd) look to provide rotational minutes off the bench. Pierre specifically has shown some tremendous upside in the early-season scrimmages and exhibition games.

If I was to make a prediction on the three incoming freshman, I’d say that Pierre makes the biggest impact, while Floyd and Berry pay their dues and/or redshirt.


 

Who’s Back


· Jared Bynum, G | Graduate Sr.

· Ed Croswell, F | R-Sr.

· Alyn Breed, G | Jr.

· Rafael Castro, F/C | R-Fr.

· Luke Fonts, G | So., Walk-On

· Kieran O’Hare, F | So., Walk-On


After an impressive all-conference season with the Friars last year, Jared Bynum headlines the list of returnees for Ed Cooley. He is joined by Ed Croswell and Alyn Breed. All three players came off the bench on Ed Cooley’s Sweet Sixteen team last year.


Jared Bynum enters his final season with the Friars boasting a preseason first team all-conference selection. Last year, Bynum earned all-conference honors by producing 12.2-points per game and 4 assists per game, while going a healthy 41.5% from the field and 41.3% from three-point land – all while coming off the bench. On a roster filled with veteran talent, Bynum was last season’s surprise, as his role of the Providence floor general became quickly known throughout the conference. Bill Raftery even referred to Bynum as Ed Cooley’s “sneaky starter” because of his control of the offense, and the amount of playing time he averaged off the bench (27.6mpg). Bynum is the clear-cut favorite on this roster to play the point guard/captain role that we’ve seen in years’ past (think Bryce Cotton, Kris Dunn, Kyron Cartwright, David Duke, etc.). If Bynum can replicate his offensive production from last year, and sustain it for the entirety of the season, he could very well be a sleeper pick for Big East Player of the Year. Buy stock now.

Ed Croswell enters his third season with the Friars after playing an integral role in the paint last year. Playing behind a veteran center in Nate Watson surely wasn’t easy, but Croswell proved his worth early on in the season, by willing the Friars to back-to-back wins over Texas Tech and Rhode Island in the same week. From there on out, Croswell served as a viable backup at the 5-spot, especially when opponents looked to double-team Watson. Once Croswell came in, the paint opened up, and the La Salle transfer would go to work. Croswell finished the season averaging 5.3-points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game, while going 64.7% from the field. More playing time this season, and a likely starting spot, should see Croswell’s numbers jump as he looks to compete with a loaded front-court class in the Big East this year.

Up next, we have Alyn Breed. Breed comes into this season following a year that saw his sophomore numbers dip from his freshman numbers. This is likely due to the fact that Jared Bynum and Al Durham had the backcourt spots all but locked up for a majority of last year. However, this season presents a boatload of opportunity for Breed, as he is one of two veteran backcourt guards that have been through Cooley's system, on a roster that is filled with new pieces. Breed was a steady player last season, and was stout defensively. His season was highlighted by his composure during Providence’s home win over Xavier, when he sunk 5-of-6 free-throws, in a raucous Dunkin’ Donuts Center, to help seal the Friars’ win in triple overtime. Breed was a starter for 8 games last season, averaging 3.2-points per game and 1.2 rebounds per game in 13 minutes of playing time. While Bynum has the point guard spot locked up, Breed could make a case for the shooting/combo guard role based on his tenure with the team. I’d expect Cooley to give Breed the starting nod for at least a handful of games this season.

Last, but certainly not least, we have redshirt freshman, Rafael Castro. Castro redshirted last season due to a Friar front-court that was loaded with veterans such as Nate Watson, Noah Horchler and Ed Croswell. However, Castro comes into this season flexing a ton of talent, and has impressed early on in Providence’s pre-season showings. Castro looks to thrive as a stretch-big who is solid around the rim, but can also drain it from deep. It will be interesting to see how he slots into the front-court rotation this season, alongside veteran Ed Croswell, and newcomers Bryce Hopkins, and Devin Carter. Even if Castro sees limited minutes due to competition with upperclassmen, the upside is that he is still only a freshman, with four years of eligibility left.


 

Projected Starters

· PG: Jared Bynum

· SG: Noah Locke

· SG: Devin Carter

· PF: Bryce Hopkins

· PF: Ed Croswell



I think that the better part of the first half of this season is going to see Ed Cooley tinker with a variety of starting lineups, especially given the versatility of new players he has added to the roster. Heck, we've already seen Cooley field two different starting fives in each of the team's exhibition games this pre-season (which we should take with a grain of salt, but its really all we have to go off of at the moment).


The two constants that I think we’ll see, however, are Bynum and Croswell. After last season, Bynum should have the point guard spot locked up. And I think there will be some variation of Croswell starting at either the 4-spot or 5-spot.


The beauty of versatility on this roster is that Cooley can go big if he wants to, starting 2 guards, 2 forwards and a center, or he can go small if he wants to, starting 3 guards and 2 forwards.


I can go on for days with the different lineup combinations, but I think Bynum-Locke-Carter-Hopkins-Croswell, is the one that we are most likely going to see on November 8th.


 

Final Thoughts

In years past, Providence fans have witnessed successful Friar seasons precede unsuccessful Friar seasons, in large part due to graduating talent and roster turnover.


The 2017-18 Friars team took eventual National Champions, Villanova, to overtime in the Big East Tournament Championship game, and made the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed.


That team was succeeded by the 2018-19 Friars, who saw a lot of instability at the point guard spot, and were eliminated in the first round of the N.I.T.


The following year, the 2019-20 Friars got off to a rocky start, but rattled off 6-straight wins to close out the end of the regular season and were a projected 7-seed in the “what would have been” 2020 NCAA Tournament.


That team was followed by the 2020-21 team – say what you will about the COVID year with no fans – but that team was loaded with talent, including now-NBA player, David Duke. That team finished 13-13 and had its season ended by the Big East punching bag, DePaul Blue Demons, on Wednesday night of the Big East Tournament.


...And we all know what happened with the 2021-22 Providence Friars.


According to the script, this team is supposed to fall into that “rebuilding” year, “working towards something special” team that typically lives in the shadows of its successful Providence team predecessor.


But, in my opinion, that’s not this team. Not this year. On the heels of a Sweet Sixteen appearance, led by the Naismith and Big East Coach of the Year, with a roster full of talented and experienced transfers, I think this year’s team has the pieces to form something special. Regular Season Big East Champions type of special? Time has yet to tell. But I think this team has enough talent and plenty of potential to compete for a spot in the upper tier of the Big East, and make a run towards March.


Buckle up, Friar Faithful. The Road to the Garden begins Tuesday.


Go Friars.
















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