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2020-21 Big East Men’s Basketball Team Preview: Providence Friars

Ed Cooley worked a February miracle last season. What lays ahead for the Friars?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Butler at Providence
There’s something delightful about the Providence dog mascot’s Randy Orton impression.
Photo by Andrew Snook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Providence Friars

2019-20 Record: 19-12, with a 12-6 mark in Big East play.

2019-20 Big East Finish: Fourth by themselves, one game behind the three-way tie for first place.

Final 2019-20 KenPom Ranking: #40, a remarkable recovery from their season low mark of #88.

Postseason Projection: Bracket Matrix’s collection of estimations has the Friars as the final #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament, one spot ahead of where they put Marquette.

Key Departures: The biggest one is Alpha Diallo. The 6’7” All-Big East Second Team performer led the Friars in both points and rebounds last season at 14.1 and 7.8 per game respectively. His 2.5 assists were nothing to sneeze at, which goes for his 1.5 steals per game, too.

The big problem for PC is that they lose five of the nine guys that appeared in at least 27 games for them last season to the end of their eligibility. Luwane Pipkins (10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists), Maliek White (7.8/2.0/2.5), Kalif Young (5.0/4.9), and Emmitt Holt (4.8/3.7) were all seniors along with Diallo year ago, and they have all departed now. Each of them averaged at least 15 minutes per game, so that’s leaving a gigantic hole in the roster in terms of continuity for Providence.

Key Returners: David Duke is your leading returning scorer for the Friars after finishing second on the squad in scoring at 12.0 per game a year ago. The 6’5” guard was the only Friar to start all 31 games in 2019-20, and he’s the only returning guy who appeared in all of them. Nate Watson was fourth in scoring at 9.0 a game and third in rebounding at 4.6/contest. A.J. Reeves had a pretty good year with 7.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game. Given how stacked the roster was with senior contributors, Greg Gantt had a perfectly fine freshman year with 2.6 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game.

Key Additions: Providence’s recruiting class definitely exists. They have the #89 class in the country, which is ninth best in the Big East. The Friars have added two freshmen with this recruiting class, but neither one is a top 225 prospect. It remains to be seen whether or not they can contribute to this year’s roster.

Noah Horchler and Jared Bynum are both eligible this season after sitting out 2019-20 after transferring in to Providence. Horchler will be a redshirt senior after playing one year in junior college at Eastern Florida State College and two at North Florida. The 6’8” forward averaged 13.7 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game in 61 appearances with 59 starts for the Ospreys. Bynum was at St. Joseph’s for one year before making the move to PC. The 5’10” guard started in 31 of 33 appearances as a freshman for the Hawks, averaging 11.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists.

It appears that Providence is waiting on a waiver decision for one of the two transfers that came into the program over the summer. Brycen Goodine was a freshman at Syracuse a year ago where he played in 23 games. Goodine averaged 1.9 points and 1.0 rebounds per game while getting just under nine minutes of run on average. That doesn’t tell the full story, as he was a regular rotation player for the first nine games of the season and then saw sporadic minutes over the remaining 23 contests. Given that playing time for Jim Boeheim depends largely on how you fit into Syracuse’s zone defense, it’s hard to make any definitive statements about the 6’3” guard’s talents. In any case, it may end up that Goodine doesn’t play this year anyway.

Coach: Ed Cooley, entering his 10th season at Providence and 15th season overall. He has a record of 181-122 with Providence and 273-191 overall.

Outlook: Look, I don’t know what happened with Providence last season and neither do you. Maybe Ed Cooley knows, but I’d be willing to wager that the most he’ll tell you is “everything we did in October finally paid off in February.”

The road Gavitt Games loss to Northwestern? Not ideal, but it’s a road game. The home loss to Penn? Bad, but the Quakers weren’t an awful team by any stretch. Following that up by starting the Wooden Legacy event with a loss to Long Beach State, the worst team that Providence would play all season? Objectively a disaster. Somehow, they found a trap door in the bottom of the disaster by losing to Charleston in their next game over on the consolation bracket side of the Wooden event. Needing an 11-1 run to squeak by Pepperdine to leave California 1-2? Not great!

That was November. December started off giving them losses at Rhode Island as well as on a neutral court to Florida. Neither one is awful, but the loss to the Gators dropped them to 6-6 on the season with three losses they almost definitely should not have been carrying around.

And then they beat Texas.

And then they started Big East play 3-0, including what was at the time a huge warning bell for Marquette. Ignore what we’re going to talk about in a second, realize that Marquette had no business losing at home to a Providence team that was struggling this badly.

While this all seemed like maybe the Friars had steered out of their problems, that was apparently not the case. They would go 3-6 in their next nine to drop to 13-12 on the year and 6-6 in Big East play. Not much hope of an NCAA tournament appearance in their future after missing it in 2019, not unless they ran the table in the regular season, probably.

They ran the table.

Vs Seton Hall, at Georgetown, vs Marquette, at Villanova, and two straight home wins over Xavier and DePaul to close things out. It would seem that having a record of 6-6 is some sort of magic potion for Providence, or at least it was last season. I’d be fascinated to hear from y’all as to whether you would have preferred to see Marquette do what Providence did: struggle mightily for three months and then turn it on and win late to rally to an NCAA tourney berth. Is that better than what Marquette did? As you can see from the tourney projection up top, MU and PC were essentially the exact same team in terms of at-large profiles.

So Ed Cooley figured out a way to manufacture an NCAA team when his squad had their backs against the wall. That’s good news, because that’s kind of how they go ahead and start their season in 2020-21.

In combination, the departed seniors represent 58% of Providence’s scoring from last season. That’s an awfully large load that was carried there, particularly when you think about the “veteran college players doing what needs to be done to get to the tournament” aspect of the end stretch of the season.

Even with the departures, Providence won’t be young this season which might be beneficial. Nate Watson is a senior who has been a starter here and there for Cooley for three years. David Duke and A.J. Reeves are former top 50 prospects that have been perfectly fine college players for two years with Cooley relying on both of them to start games. Greg Gantt got to be a regular rotation guy for PC as a top 70 freshman. These guys know what the deal is in college basketball, and more importantly, they know what Ed Cooley’s deal is.

However, I think the Friars’ season is going to come down to whether or not Jared Bynum is acclimated to Ed Cooley’s system after his transfer redshirt season. It’s not a secret that Providence as run by Cooley is a point guard oriented team. If Cooley is getting the play from his starting point guard that he needs, then Providence is a successful team. If he is not — in 2018-19 for example — then PC struggles. As a freshman for St. Joe’s, Bynum played heavy minutes, got to the line a ton, didn’t commit fouls, didn’t turn the ball over much, and distributed with efficiency to the tune of the #207 assist rate in the country per Ignore the fact that the Hawks went 14-19, because that doesn’t matter here. Bynum wasn’t the problem. If Bynum can be Vincent Council or Bryce Cotton or Kris Dunn Lite, then Providence is probably going to be able to do some things this season.

If he can’t....... Well, I don’t know who Cooley turns to instead, and that’s probably a huge problem. Duke and Reeves aren’t the answer there because if they were, Cooley wouldn’t have gone to get Luwane Pipkins for 2019-20. Alyn Breed is a guard, but he’s a freshman. I wouldn’t put a lot of eggs in the “he figures it out and drastically overplays his #322 recruiting ranking” basket. It seems that Providence really wants to get Brycen Goodine eligible out of his transfer from Syracuse, but I don’t know if that’s a Bynum back up plan. He’s listed as a shooting guard if we go back to his recruiting profile, but he did average nearly an assist per game off the bench when he was getting regular minutes early in the year last season for the Orange.

I do also want to add that I think this is something of a crucial season for Providence. As we talked about over the summer, Connecticut is back in the Big East now, and they’ve already shown an ability to vacuum up top 100 recruits in the northeast that have been going to Providence over the last few years. This year’s recruiting class is nothing particularly great for the Friars in terms of national rankings, and for the moment, PC does not have a top 200 prospect committed for 2021. That’s a bad sign for the Friars in the long term, especially when most of the guys that 247 Sports lists as holding PC offers are already committed elsewhere. Can you win by developing recruits in the 100s? Sure. It’s just not easy to do when eight teams in the Big East already have top 50 recruiting classes at the moment. They need to win this year to prove that Ed Cooley’s system is and can be successful in the long term in the new orientation of the Big East.