Friar Basketball

Four Critical Questions Heading into 2020-21

Nate Watson MMK

Eight months ago, Providence wrapped up an improbable in-season turnaround. Ed Cooley’s Friars spent much of the 2019-20 season trying to find themselves, before ripping off six consecutive wins to close the season. 

Providence came out on top in eight of its final ten games last winter, going from an 11-10 record on Jan. 25 to 19-12 overall. They recorded 12 conference wins for the first time in program history in the process (in fairness, the Big East hasn’t always played as many as 18 conference games as they did a year ago, but the feat is impressive nonetheless).

To those in attendance for PC’s regular season finale, a 93-55 beating of DePaul, it felt as though the Friars were riding enough momentum to do serious damage in March. Of course, the pandemic hit us hard shortly after and the Friars haven’t taken to the court since.

That all changes Wednesday (at least, it does as of now — over 10% of the D1 programs in the country are currently shut down due to the virus), when Providence hosts Fairfield at Alumni Hall. 

Let’s take a look at four things to watch for in the 2020-21 season:

1. How does Providence, and the rest of the college basketball world, handle the pandemic? Stoppages during this season feel inevitable. We don’t know who the Friars are even scheduled to play beyond a Dec. 23 trip to Indianapolis to take on Butler.

A slow start nearly derailed the 2019-20 season. Providence did the right thing by bringing their players back slowly this summer, but losing 60+ practices since last March will have an effect. The hope in Providence has to be that the veteran trio of Nate Watson, David Duke and AJ Reeves can carry a variety of new pieces through the early portion of the schedule. Those three have been through Big East wars, and look to be the three anchors of the 2020-21 club. 

In a recent media session, Watson noted how the team is still playing its way into shape, while Cooley indicated that practice has been sloppy. The Friars have traditionally been comfortable when the games have gotten ugly under Cooley, and they may have to win that way early to avoid another slow start.

2. How high can Duke fly? There were times during David Duke’s freshman season in which small pockets of the fan base were questioning why he was a top 50 player coming out of Cushing Academy. The Providence native took a giant leap forward as a sophomore and put those questions to bed. Check out these numbers:

  • Freshman year: 7.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, .387 from the field, .689 at the line, .297 from 3
  • Sophomore year: 12.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, .409 from the field, .793 at the line, .400 from 3

Heading into his third season in black and white, there is significant buzz around Duke. Both Cooley and Friar legend Joe Hassett have noted his marked improvement this offseason. Big East coaches named him 1st Team All Big East in the preseason.

Duke improved in so many ways from his freshman to sophomore seasons:

  • In spot-up shooting situations he went from the 38th percentile in the nation to 72nd.
  • As a pick and roll ball handler, his scoring jumped from 14th percentile to 45th.
  • Scoring off of screens saw a jump from 3rd percentile to 50th.

And that’s just the offensive side of the ball. The 6’5 Duke figures to be one of the best defensive guards in the country this year.

The Friars’ roster was crowded last year, and they figure to have options in this one as well. Unlike a year ago, however, there is a pretty clear pecking order with this group. Duke looks to be at the top of it, with Watson and Reeves flanking him. 

3. Are Watson and Reeves ready to make a leap? A preseason knee injury derailed Watson’s junior season. He weighed 270 pounds at one point, and seemingly spent most of the year playing catch-up. The numbers tell the story for Watson. He shot 59% his first two seasons at PC, and was down to 51% last year. His points per possession on post up situations went from 77th percentile as a freshman to 83rd as a sophomore to 42nd last year. Another sign of how Watson’s knee may have slowed him? He took four shots in transition last year, as opposed to 44 over his first two seasons.

Watson is down to 255 pounds now and says he feels lighter and is jumping higher. The league’s coaches named him 2nd Team All Big East in the preseason. Watson’s minutes per game dropped from over 23 as a sophomore to 18 last year. He is aiming to play 30+ a night as a senior. Cooley and his staff would love to see Watson’s rebounds per game trend closer to double digits if he’s playing that many minutes.

I recently wrote in great detail about how this could be the year for Reeves to breakout. Ideally, Reeves will be given the opportunity to show his full offensive arsenal as a junior. 

4 . There are a lot of question marks up and down the roster, but what are the potential answers? Is transfer point guard Jared Bynum ready to step in and run the team after sitting out last year? His numbers were more than solid during his freshman season at St. Joe’s, and we’ve certainly heard a lot about his potential impact. That being said, Providence does not have another true point guard on the roster, so there is significantly more pressure on the 5’11 Bynum than any other newcomer.

PC recently got good news when it was determined that La Salle transfer Ed Croswell is eligible for the coming season. Croswell is a force on the glass and will bring the type of physicality off of the bench that PC hasn’t had in some time. Croswell looks to be this team’s third big behind Watson and North Florida transfer Noah Horchler. Horchler could play a similar role to that of a fully healthy Emmitt Holt — an inside/out scoring threat who hits the glass some. If Providence is going to make a run this year they will need Horchler to be good. He averaged over 16 points and nine rebounds during his final season at North Florida.

The question marks get a little bigger the farther down the roster you look. Is 6’8 pogo stick Jimmy Nichols more basketball player than athlete after a year away from the court? Is Nichols’ classmate Kris Monroe ready to contribute as a big bodied three point shooter in his third year on campus? Can either freshman guard Alyn Breed or first year forward Jyare Davis find playing time while learning in hyperdrive without a summer with the team?

The two players that could turn this season into a special one may be sophomores Greg Gantt and Brycen Goodine. Gantt played through impossible circumstances as a freshman. His senior season in high school was cut short due to thumb surgery, he hurt his achilles last preseason, then his mother suddenly passed during the year. Still, we saw glimpses.

Cooley spoke of his excitement over the physical gains and defensive potential of the 6’8 Gantt. Expect the North Carolina native to see major minutes as a sophomore. He is simply too good on the defensive end and is a better passer than he had the opportunity to show on a veteran team last year. 

Goodine can play. Forget his numbers in limited playing time at Syracuse, this is both a well above average athlete and a good shooter. Goodine was one of the top prep players in New England when he suited up for Mike Hart at nearby St. Andrew’s. Assuming he can find his footing early, Providence has a potentially great guard foursome in Duke, Reeves, Bynum and Goodine. 

You must be logged in to post a comment Login