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2023-24 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Providence Friars

There’s a new head coach in Friartown and a respectable core of returning players. Can they finish over .500 for the first time since 2019?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Women’s Providence at UConn
What lies in store for Grace Efosa and the Friars in the first year under new head coach Erin Batth?
Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Providence Friars

2022-23 Record: 13-19 overall, 4-16 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: 10th, two games behind a tie for eight place, and four games ahead of last place and winless Xavier.

Final 2022-23 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #190

Postseason? Only a loss to #7 seeded DePaul in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Key Departures: The Friars have lost three rotation players from last season. The most notable one is Janai Crooms, who led Providence in scoring and rebounding and assists in her fifth and final season of eligibility. That’s a pretty key departure. Crooms did a whole heck of a lot for PC last season, with three-point shooting (17% on 6 attempts) and free throw shooting (48% on a team high 118 attempts) creating some notable flaws in her game.

Providence will also be without Logan Cook and Meghan Huerter. Cook was in her fifth season of eligibility after grad transferring from Iowa, but it seems that she never quite fit in with what the Providence coaching staff wanted to do. After never playing in more than 177 minutes in four seasons with the Hawkeyes, Cook averaged just 10.6 per game for the Friars in 28 appearances with five starts for a total of 296 minutes and averaged 2.0 points and 1.8 rebounds a night. Huerter appeared in 55 games in two seasons for Providence, wrapping up 2022-23 with 3.3 points and 1.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game.

Huerter transferred to Albany, and it’s certainly possible that her decision to move on was spurred by PC’s most notable departure this offseason. Four days after the season came to an end in the Big East tournament, Providence announced that they were mutually agreeing to part ways with head coach Jim Crowley. He had a record of 85-126 in Friartown, including 32-93 in Big East action. Needless to say, that’s a big drop off from his 53% winning clip in 16 seasons at St. Bonaventure that featured two NCAA appearances and four WNIT appearances in his last eight seasons there.

Key Returners: While Providence is losing Janai Crooms, and that’s a pretty big withdrawal from their statistical output from last season, the cupboard isn’t being left bare. PC does return their next five scorers, their next five rebounders, and the other four women who averaged more than an assist per game. Olivia Olsen came in second to Crooms in both scoring (10.1) and rebounding (6.0) so we can presume that the junior will have a lot to say about what the Friars look like next season.

Olsen is the only returning double digit scorer, but Grace Efosa just barely missed the mark at 9.6 per game. She also finished third on the team in rebounding (4.9) while starting in 22 of her 31 appearances. Kylee Sheppard returns after having a down season shooting the ball for Providence last season, going from 35% behind the arc to just 29% as a sophomore. Sheppard has the best returning assists average on the team, so we’ll have to see how she fits into things next year.

Speaking of shooting, Nariah Scott is Providence’s most dependable returning shooter after connecting on nearly 39% of her attempts as a sophomore... but she did only attempt 1.6 per game. Brynn Farrell is PC’s most likely returning shooter, averaging 3.9 attempts from long range last season, but she was just under 33% from behind the arc in her first season in Rhode Island after transferring from Florida. Both attempts and conversion rate were big jumps from her numbers with the Gators, so maybe a shift in the coaching staff helps her keep going in that direction.

Emily Archibald and Audrey Koch played in every game for Providence last season, with seven and one starts respectively. They both averaged north of 13 minutes per game, so they had rotation jobs as sophomores. Their impact on the roster was minimal other than that, but they’ve got experience at playing in the Big East, and that’s at least something to build on through a coaching change.

Key Additions: The Friars have two transfers and four freshmen joining the team for next season. Both transfers are coming in as juniors after playing for two seasons at their previous stops. Sarah Bandoma (6’3”, Forward, Johnston, Rhode Island) is the more notable player of the pair, as she started 28 times in 29 appearances for St. Francis (NY) last season. She chipped in 6.2 points and 7.1 rebounds in just over 25 minutes a game. Would Bandoma be at Providence now if SFC hadn’t shuttered their entire athletic department at the end of the 2022-23 school year? Who’s to say? Marta Morales Romero (6’1”, Guard/Forward/Granada, Spain) played a total of 134 minutes across 23 games in two seasons at Wake Forest. That’s not much to base anything on, but she did get some experience with Spain’s youth national teams before making her way to the States for college.

The four freshmen coming in were all signed by the previous coaching staff, and if they’re on the roster page here in July, then we have to presume that they’re actually all still signed. Kendall Eddy (5’7”, Guard, Haverhill, Massachusetts) is the only one of the group actually listed as a commitment by Blue Star Basketball, and she is ranked at #125 in the country.

And that of course leads us to the most notable addition to the program this offseason.....

Coach: Erin Batth, entering her first season at Providence and first as a Division 1 head coach. She comes to Friartown after spending the most recent season as an assistant coach at Michigan under Kim Barnes Arico, and before that, she helped guide NC State to a 110-17 record in four seasons, including three ACC Tournament titles. Batth has professional basketball playing experience after becoming the first ever Clemson player to be drafted into the WNBA back in 2001.

Outlook: I don’t think I’m saying anything that anyone doesn’t already think when I say that the Jim Crowley era was not working out at Providence. His most successful season was his third, as that was the only year that the Friars finished over .500 overall, going 19-16. However, they needed two WNIT victories to get to 19 wins after entering that tournament with a record of 17-15, and they went just 8-10 in Big East play. He would win just 17 more Big East games over the next four years, and at that point, after seven seasons, no one is blaming an athletic director for saying “y’know, I think we can go try something else now.”

And so, Erin Batth is now in charge. It’s hard to get a read on exactly what Providence might look like under her direction, at least in the immediate future, so I’m not going to make any broad statements about that. We can point out exactly what it would take to be pushing the Friars in a positive direction though, and by the way? It is not a high bar.

Providence won more than 13 games just one time under Jim Crowley, as mentioned earlier. We have to go all the way back to 2009-10 for the last time that PC won more than 13 games in a season, and that’s when Phil Seymore was in charge, so we skipped over the entirety of the Susan Robinson Fruchtl era. The last time Providence won more than 13 games before that? 1992-93, when Bob Foley went 15-15, which means we skipped over the entirety of the Susan Yow AND Jim Jabir eras in Rhode Island. Foley’s teams had won 20 or more games in each of the four previous seasons, so that’s the bar that Batth has to clear to be a success: Winning 14 games has been done just twice in the past 30 years, and it’s been longer than that since someone did it consecutive seasons.

To put it another way: Batth will be doing well, relative to actual historical results at Providence, if she can post a winning record in consecutive seasons. We’re not measuring things by postseason appearances or even NCAA appearances here. Just “can you have more wins than losses when the season comes to an end?” and “can you do that the very next year as well?” Can Batth get the front half of that quest accomplished in 2023-24? We’ll have to wait and see what their schedule holds. She’s taking over a roster with a core that is used to playing with each other, so perhaps the question is whether or not they can play together the way that Batth is going to want them to perform.