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

Jim Crowley’s fifth season in Friartown is going to be, well, interesting to say the least.

Providence v Georgetown
What will Providence get from Mary Baskerville in 2020-21?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Providence Friars

2019-20 Record: 13-19, 3-15 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: All alone in eighth place, eight games back of a five-way tie for third and/or seventh place, depending on how you look at it, and one game ahead of a two-way tie for last.

Final 2019-20 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #209

Postseason Projection: Lol, nope

Key Departures: So, the good news about the Friars is that there was just one senior on last year’s roster. Ny-Asia Franklin is now gone after going from junior college to a regular rotation piece for Providence in 2017-18 to not playing in the next season to barely playing six minutes a game in her final year of eligibility. With all due respect to her, Franklin was not a core component of what the Friars were doing last year.

The five players who transferred out, though.... that’s a different story. Kaela Webb, the former Marquette commit, was second on the team in scoring at 9.9 points per game as a sophomore, and now she’s back closer to home at Detroit Mercy. Earlette Scott was a rotation regular for both of her two years in Friartown, and now she’s at Stony Brook after averaging 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and just over two assists per game last year. Maya Klein is the third sophomore from last season that’s gone as well, but she did not appear in a game in 2019-20 and only eight the year before. In any case, she’s at Sacred Heart instead this season.

The final two transfers were both freshmen last season. Of the two, Hevynne Bristow is the more notable one, as she appeared in 29 of 32 games and even started three times. Even with that, she only averaged nine minutes a game and chipped in only 2.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Bristow is now at Albany, which marks the final down transfer out of the group. Fatima Lee appeared in just 16 games last season for Providence, and it looks like her next college basketball appearance will be in an Ohio State uniform.

Key Returners: As bad as that last section looks for Providence, it’s not that worrying. Of the nine women who averaged more than 12 minutes per game last season, only two have departed. That gives the Friars a pretty decent returning core in terms of experience, even if Webb and Scott were #1 and #3 on the minutes per game chart. Of particular note, Mary Baskerville returns after leading the team in scoring (11.8 points per game) and rebounding (7.6/game) even though she played barely more than half the time. If she can get on the floor and stay there for longer stretches, that should be a big boost to the Friars. The 6’3” Connecticut native ranked #13 in the country in defensive rebounding rate per Her Hoop Stats last season and #27 in total rebounding rate. That’s something that Providence should take advantage of more often.

Providence’s next two best rebounders are back as well. Olivia Orlando averaged 5.4 per game last season even though she didn’t score much and was limited to only 18 games. She missed the last month and change of the season due to injury, but she was a starter up to that point of the year. It remains to be seen if Orlando will be able to go from the start of the season, though. Alyssa Geary pulled in 4.6 rebounds per game last season while starting in 15 of her 32 appearances. She did a decent amount of scoring at 7.1 per game as well.

Also back for another round is Chanell Williams, the top passer on the roster a year ago. Williams averaged 2.5 assists per game last season, which is the best mark on the roster. Kyra Spiwak was #3 on the team in scoring last year, going for 8.4 points per game while shooting 36% from behind the arc. She only played in 27 games, but she did start 22 times as a junior. Andrea Cooper was a super-sub, playing in all 32 games with only six starts and averaged 18 minutes per game. Sophia Widmeyer’s sophomore season didn’t have any particularly great moments that stand out to non-PC fans, and she didn’t even play every night. However, she did play 12 minutes a game when she did, and she even started seven games.

Key Additions: The Friars list two freshmen on their roster this season to replace the six women that headed out the door in one fashion or another. That’s probably not going to help the ol’ depth situation. Blue Star says that 6’1” guard Julia Fabozzi is the #181 prospect in the country, but they don’t make mention of Grace Efosa-Aguebor. ESPN doesn’t mention either woman, so that’s not a mark in anyone’s favor. Fabozzi averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks as a senior on Staten Island, while Efosa-Aguebor went for 24.5 points, eight rebounds, and six assists as a senior at Whittier Tech in Massachusetts.

Coach: Jim Crowley, entering his fifth season in charge at Providence and 21st on a Division 1 sideline. He has a 54-74 record with the Friars and 312-305 overall.

Outlook: Well, I guess it’s time to harp on something because I just can’t resist the temptation. Here’s part of what I wrote about Providence in the first game preview for the Friars last season:

On Sunday afternoon, I turned on the Providence/Villanova game. I was washing some dishes and generally killing time until the Marquette/DePaul game started. The FS1 analyst talked a little bit about how head coach Jim Crowley had changed the culture at Providence. I hate discussions about “changing the culture.” It’s a lazy way to talk about “hey, this coach is winning games when the previous coach did not!” It’s okay to say that Jim Crowley is a better coach than any other Providence coach in the last 20 years, or at least to say that he’s getting better results than any other coach. That’s a low bar, of course, as last year was Providence’s first winning season in a decade. No, really, they had six straight losing seasons when he was hired, and they finished under .500 in his first three years.

Why am I talking about this? Because Providence is 0-2 in league play right now. The team picked to finish tied for fifth in the league lost on the road to the team that they were picked to finish tied with (well, that’s not so bad) and also to the team that was picked to finish dead last. That’s bad, and definitely not the kind of opening salvo you’d expect to see from a team that has undergone such a “culture change” that I had to hear about it from a different team’s SID after I tweeted about how much I dislike hearing discussions of “culture changes.”

Oh, and the Friars have now lost four of their last five games.

I followed up on that thought process when Marquette played Providence again three weeks later:

In our preview of the first tangle with the Friars this season, I spent a minute or seven talking about the idea that PC head coach Jim Crowley had changed the culture in Friartown. I laughed at it at the time, as I think the topic of “changing the culture” is largely ridiculous. Coaching a winning team isn’t about your “culture,” whatever that means, it’s about winning basketball games. I bring this up, because Providence fell to 0-4 in the league that weekend back in January, and now they’re 1-8 after the first pass in the league. Would anyone like to talk about how great the Providence culture is now? Anyone? Hit me up, email, Twitter, the comments section, whatever.

Providence had won their game immediately before playing Marquette the second time, which means yes, they had lost their first eight games of Big East play. I guess the good news is that they went 2-7 in their second pass through the league to salvage a 3-15 record from that 0-8 start.

And then five women transferred out of the program.

Would anyone like to have a conversation about what a great culture that Jim Crowley is building at Providence now? I’m available. I’ve got the free time. It feels like if you crash and burn miserably in a league where five teams were determined to end up in a tie in the middle of the league and then nearly half your returning team transfers, that’s bad and generally a sign that your “culture” stinks and players aren’t happy.

But like I said, most of the playing core returns from last year. That’s something. I don’t want to say “contributing” core, because that’s not true with Kaela Webb and Earlette Scott leaving. They were major cogs in last year’s machine, and multiple Friars are going to have to step up to replace them. There are women on this team who know what it’s like to be on the court for Jim Crowley, so that’s a pretty good Step #1 to finding those new contributors.

One of the biggest tests for this year’s incarnation of Providence is going to be figuring out who’s going to shoot the ball. Webb was last year’s top long distance sniper as she attempted a team high 191 three-pointers and connected at a team high rate of 40.8%. That helped push Providence to the 34th best team three-point shooting percentage in the country per Her Hoop Stats. Now, you can argue that Crowley didn’t exactly encourage the Friars to take advantage of that, as they ranked only #186 in three-point rate and #232 in HHS’ Offensive Rating. Kyra Spiwak should get a lot more chances to shoot (110 attempts last year, 36%), but someone else is going to have to step into the fray and be able to hit shots. Alyssa Geary was fine at 33% and Sophia Widmeyer was almost fine at 32.5%. They only combined to shoot 115 times, so they’re going to have to be encouraged to shoot more if they can hit them... but I don’t know of Crowley actually wants them to do that anyway.

My big question for Providence for 2020-21 has to do with Mary Baskerville. She played more than 29 minutes just once, and that came on February 23 in a 51-42 loss at Butler. Baskerville played 20 or more minutes for Providence just 16 times last season in 28 appearances. In two seasons with the Friars, she’s shooting 55% from the floor and averaging 10.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Now, sure, Providence’s tempo has a little bit to do with that, but averaging only 19.8 minutes per game also has a lot to do with that.

Baskerville is hailed as the leader of this team, or the best player on the team, or Item #1 on the scouting report, or however you want to call that. Last year, she was top 500 in effective field goal percentage because she was #203 in field goal percentage and did not shoot any threes at all. She was the 13th best defensive rebounder in the country and top 400 on the offensive end. She was #33 in the country in block rate. In short, Baskerville is a bit of a terror on the court........

...... when she’s on the court, which isn’t all that much.

I can’t help but think that Providence’s ceiling is being limited by how much Baskerville plays. Last year, she either fouled out or finished with four fouls in 12 of her 28 appearances. Part of what’s going on here is Jim Crowley getting handcuffed by what his talented post player is getting herself into on the floor. Part of this is also intentional management, because I have absolutely seen Jim Crowley take Baskerville off the floor for long stretches when she’s in absolutely zero foul trouble given the time of the game at the moment.

Baskerville can be a stabilizing force on the floor, especially with so many departures, purely because of the gravitational force that she exerts on both offense and defense. But she has to actually be on the floor to have that kind of impact on the Friars. I don’t have a lot of faith that a lot is going to change here after two straight years of pretty much the exact same thing from her and Crowley.