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2022-23 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Providence Friars

What are the chances that the regular season champs repeat this coming winter?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Sweet 16 - Providence v Kansas
How much of the weight of Providence’s season will rest on Jared Bynum’s shoulders?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Providence Friars

2021-22 Record: 27-6, 14-3 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: First, two games behind Villanova in the win column, but one ahead of them in the loss column and thus beating out the Wildcats by winning percentage even though VU beat them twice in a two week span after Valentine’s Day.

Final 2021-22 Ranking: #32

Postseason: After needing an 11-1 first half run to climb out of a 24-18 hole, Providence found themselves down 59-58 to to a Butler team that would end up firing their coach in the Big East quarterfinals with a minute to play. They somehow survived, because of course they did, because they did that kind of thing all season long, and then the Friars got absolutely waylaid by Creighton, 85-58, in the semifinals. They earned a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament, then beat South Dakota State and Richmond to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997. They then ran into eventual national champion Kansas and lost, 66-61. No shame in that last part, that’s for sure.

Key Departures: The biggest departure for the Friars this offseason? Dunkin’ Donuts, which is no longer sponsoring the downtown arena in Providence. The naming rights deal expired at the end of June according to the Providence Journal, and it appears that Amica Mutual Insurance Company will be taking over as the sponsor. That’s still not finalized as of August 30th when I’m putting this part together, so we don’t actually know what the name of the building is now, other than it’s obvious that Dunkin’ is no longer involved.

Over/Under on me calling it The Dunk anyway this season? +/- 12.5 times.

As far as actual on the court departures, hooooooooboy are there a lot of notable names not putting on the black and white anymore. If you sort the team’s stats by total minutes played, all of their top four players from last season’s Big East championship squad are gone, and that extends out to five of the top six. To put it another way: Providence returns just one player who logged more than 500 minutes last season, and remember: In a 33 game season, 500 minutes is equivalent to just over 15 minutes a night.

Leading scorer Al Durham? Gone. Leading rebounder and top total minutes guy Noah Horchler? Gone. Noted major contributor but probably overrated relative to his teammates guy Nate Watson? Gone. Justin Minaya, a do it all guy logging over 33 minutes a night? Gone. That’s your top four minutes guys on the team, and they will also be without A.J. Reeves, who led the team in three-point attempts and sank over 37% of them.

In terms of pure continuity of “guys who were in practices last season,” Providence has lost nine of the 15 players listed on their roster a year ago.

Key Returners: We’ll dig into it a little bit more in a minute, but I think the best news for Providence is that they do return Jared Bynum. The 5’10” point guard from Maryland averaged 12.2 points per game last season, good enough for third best on the team, and added 2.9 rebounds and a team high 4.0 assists per game. Weirdly, even though he had a top 50 assist rate last season, Bynum came off the bench for all but three games after starting each of the first seven games and then missing four contests in early December. Hey, you gotta run your team however you gotta run your team, and Bynum still averaged 30 minutes a game after being shifted to a reserve role.

The bad news for Providence is that out of the other five guys back from last year’s team overall, only two of them had a rotation job last season. Both Ed Croswell and Alyn Breed played in all 33 games, so they’ve got that going for them. Croswell (5.3 points, 4.7 rebounds) came off the bench for all of them and had the much more reliable job of backing up Nate Watson and was good for double digit minutes in every game but one after December 1st. Breed (3.2 points, 1.2 rebounds) had a different sort of season, being a regular double digit minute contributor and starting eight times up through the game where Providence barely escaped with a win over Marquette at home. He started in that one, played just five minutes, and then broke the 10 minute mark in just seven of their remaining 13 contests. These guys are literally the second and third best returning players on the roster.

Key Additions: We’ll start with the incoming freshmen because it’ll be the quickest part of this. PC has two freshmen point guards coming in, only one of which is a top 200 prospect. That’s Jayden Pierre, who is listed as 6’2” and 170 pounds out of Elizabeth, New Jersey. 247 Sports slots him as the #135 prospect in the country. With Jared Bynum still existing, I don’t expect Pierre or even Quante Berry (ranked #244) to have much of an impact on the team this year.... but also Providence has to get to a seven man rotation at the very least somehow, so who knows? There’s also freshman forward Scott Morozov, who is coming in from Canada. He’s not listed by 247 Sports at all and in fact appears to be a preferred walk-on.

That brings us to the five transfers on the Providence roster for this winter. At a glance, it seems like Clifton Moore could have the biggest (literally) and most immediate impact on the roster. The 6’10” Pennsylvania native averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game at La Salle last season. It’s not that far of a jump from the A-10 to the Big East, and the Friars need someone to take up Nate Watson’s minutes. With that said, Moore did spend his first two years of college at Indiana and never managed to be a reliable option for Archie Miller there.

Noah Locke is the other grad transfer with only this year left available to him on the roster. He played his first three years of college hoops at Florida before spending last year at Louisville. Locke has averaged 10 points and 2.4 rebounds a game in his collegiate career and has knocked in over 38% of his three-point attempts. Worst case scenario for him here? Perfectly cromulent Big East starter.

Devin Carter (6’3”, 195 pounds) and Bryce Hopkins (6’7”, 220 pounds) are both second year players transferring in after spending their freshman campaigns elsewhere. Carter had a decent season at South Carolina, chipping in 9.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists, but I presume head coach Frank Martin being shown the door at the end of the season inspired the Florida native with Northeast ties by way of Brewster Academy to look elsewhere. Hopkins was a top 40 prospect coming out of high school in the Chicago area, but when you’re the least heralded freshman at Kentucky, the playing time’s just not gonna be there for you sometimes, and that’s what happened to him. He appeared in 28 games, but never made a big impact, and now he’s in Friartown.

Corey Floyd rounds out the group of transfers, and he might present the most interesting situation. He didn’t play at all at UConn last season after originally being a Class of 2022 prospect and then redshirting. Kind of a weird one, especially since Floyd was invited to USA Basketball’s U18 training camp back in May. If he turns into a competent Big East player at Providence, whether that’s this year or as his career progresses, that’s not going to look all that great for the Huskies in retrospect.

Coach: Ed Cooley, entering his 12th season at Providence and 17th overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 221-141 (106-92 Big East) at Providence and 313-210 overall.

Outlook: No matter what the roster looks like, the big question after the season ended for the Friars was “Where do we go from here?”

They just won their first Big East regular season conference title in program history, which doubles as the first regular season conference title at all since they weren’t in a league until the Big East formed. However, even the stoutest Providence homer would have to admit that yes, in fact, they won that title on a technicality by way of winning percentage, not actual record. The fact that they only played 17 games can not be ignored, nor can the fact that they missed out on a home date against a UConn team that was a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament along with road dates against Creighton (#9 seed) and Seton Hall (#8 seed). An optimistic version of that would be 2-1, and it’s entirely possible that they just lose all three. We also can’t ignore the fact that three of their final four wins of the regular season came by way of overtime….. against three teams that all finished outside the NCAA tournament field and won a collective 20 Big East games and two of them fired their coach when the season was over. Those games are, by definition, coin tosses that fell in their favor, and that goes triple for their three-overtime victory at home against Xavier.

The point is that Providence won that regular season title by the slimmest of margins according to the rules that everyone else was playing by in the first place, and then on top of that, they were the only team in the league that didn’t play at least 19 games…. And they only played 17 at that. It is reasonable if not completely fair and actually justified to look at that from the outside and just laugh at it.

They did win it, the banner flies forever, but the question of “Where do we go from here?” remains, because it would be there even if they brought everyone back. The question of “Can they win by the slimmest of margins again?” would still be there even if this was basically the exact same Providence roster. PC fans don’t want to hear it, but this team spent the majority of the year hovering somewhere in the 40s in the rankings and a lot of it in the 50s. Yeah, they eventually drifted up into the 30s to finish the year, but that’s not what they were all season long. It would be reasonable to think that Providence was in for some major regression in the 2022-23 campaign if Ed Cooley was running the same roster back………

…And he’s not, not even close.

The good news, in my view, is that Jared Bynum is back. You guys have heard me say a million times how much Ed Cooley’s best teams have been reliant on having a stellar point guard setting everyone else up. We can run through the list again, but y’all have heard it time and time again. Bynum is That Dude, and even though he mostly came off the bench last season, he was playing starter level minutes and the only reason that #42 assist rate ranking wasn’t higher is because Al Durham was helping out a pretty decent amount in the table setting department. For my money, Bynum was the most important player on PC’s roster last season, more so than Durham or Nate Watson (a fact that apparently made Nate Watson’s dad Mad Online when I said it), so to get another season of him running the show seems very good to me.

The problem is that I have absolutely no idea what else is going to happen with this team. If Ed Croswell takes a leap forward to be The Big Guy with Watson gone, then that’s good news. I don’t have a lot of faith in Alyn Breed, who spent a lot of time last season looking like he was saying “It’s Alyn Breed Time” while on the court with guys who were very clearly better options than him. Letting him run wild with his confidence level seems bad, and based on how his season ended up finishing, it would certainly look like Ed Cooley and his staff agree with that assessment.

That’s it for returning guys: A “Yup, we’re good,” a “he has the ability to do more, so we’ll see,” and a “man, I dunno, let’s cross our fingers it works out.” Cooley is going to have to figure out how to get at least four more rotation guys out of his newcomers. Clifton Moore can probably give you rotation minutes in the middle if not actually step in to play as the top big man. Noah Locke is probably a safe bet to be a contributor, but if he was going to be a star you can rely on, I feel like that would have happened for him already. If Devin Carter just has an average freshman to sophomore year improvement, that’s good enough to make him an every night contributor, and even if he doesn’t improve stats wise, that’s good enough, too. Is Corey Floyd ready to play in the Big East? Dan Hurley didn’t think so a year ago. Is this entire season hinging on Bryce Hopkins looking like a top 40 prospect who was just stuck behind better freshmen at his previous stop? That seems awfully risky.

At the end of the day, I like Ed Cooley as an on-the-court coach. This feels, even with all the obvious question marks, like a team that’s going to be struggling all over the place in November and December — no schedule for them yet, but we know they have Miami, TCU, and either Maryland or Saint Louis, none of which sounds easy for a team figuring themselves out, all before December 1st — but then we’ll look up on February 1st and they’ll be at least .500 in the Big East and competing for an NCAA bid. Competing for a Big East title? I don’t see it, not for a second straight year.