Unanswered Questions Heading into Season Opener

With the season less than a week away, we decided to put together a list of outstanding questions heading into the season. A majority of these questions can also be framed as potential concerns that could derail Providence from making the NCAA Tournament. We detail our questions below and how we anticipate these questions being answered.

  1. Can the Friars find their form from the 3 point line?

Even the most casual of Providence fan will know that you cannot associate an explosive offense with the Friars. The Friars tend to struggle on this end, with a primary reason for that being subpar shooting from beyond the arc.

Last year, Provided was 31.9% from three point line, ranking 256th in the NCAA out of 340 D1 teams. With a lackluster defense, this dynamic created far too many close games because Providence wasn’t capable of pulling away with made baskets. If Providence is able to increase their three point field goal percentage by even 4 percentage points, they’ll be within the Top 100 of D1 teams. For what it is worth, Villanova finished last year at 100 exactly and was clearly a Top 25, NCAA caliber team. Providence doesn’t need to be averaging 40% from 3, but it needs to be capable of hurting teams from beyond the arc at a consistent rate if it wants to achieve its goals of returning to the NCAA tournament.

I did some research on recent teams that made the NCAA tourney (or would have due to COVID and found the results quite interesting). See below:

2019-2020 (COVID Year – PC made a hot late season run) – 33.2% from 3, 1.3% higher than last year, but still 191st in NCAA D1

2017-2018 (Kyron and Crew’s Senior Year) – 33.2% from 3, 1.3% higher, but 267th in NCAA D1

2016-2017 – 37.1% from 3, good for 82nd in NCAA D1

The reason I list three point field goal percentage as my first unanswered question is because we are returning 4 of 5 starters and need to see improvement from those incumbents if the Friars are to make the Big Dance. David Duke Jr. is the other starter and shot 38.9% from deep last year, third best on last year’s squad. Al Durham, the presumed 5th starter this year, has shot 35.8% from three in his college career. With that said, last year he was higher than that average at 38%.

A.J. Reeves and Bynum are where Friar fans need to hope for improvement. Reeves shot an uncharacteristic 32% from 3 last year, while Bynum shot 11.9% from 3. In the two scrimmages this preseason, Bynum and Reeves were again hit or miss. Against Stonehill, they were 0-4 from 3. Against Purdue, they found their rhythm going 6-12. 6-16 over two games equates to a 37.5%, which probably right around where I expect them to be over the course of the season. Much better than 32%, I may add.

If Providence can become even above average statistically from 3, it opens up the entire offense. Every single team Providence plays will hone in on stopping Nate Watson in the paint. When those double and even triple teams arrive at Watson, Providence needs to have the 4 other players on the floor ready to knock down those uncontested looks. If Providence cannot do this with consistency, teams will continue to pack the paint defensively and hurt Watson’s chances of making a significant impact. Conversely, if Providence is hitting from deep, it will force teams to pick their poison on how they want to defend Providence.

2. Do the Friars have frontcourt depth?

This question can also be phrased as, “Can Nate Watson stay out of foul trouble?”. Providence has arguably one of the best frontcourts in the Big East with Watson and Horchler returning this year. The issue is that there isn’t a lot of depth behind them. Ed Croswell last year showed to be serviceable when called upon, but is not somebody that you want to lean on to man the 5 spot if Watson gets in foul trouble. Croswell has reshaped his body in the offseason and will hopefully be an impact off the bench, but that is still to be determined at this point.

With Rafael Castro redshirting, the Friars will likely have to go very small when Watson is on the court. Horchler and Croswell would slide to the 5 position while Minaya likely would play the 4. I’ll be very interested to see how Cooley handles the line-up when Watson isn’t on the court, but the truth is Providence will likely need Watson to be on the court for the majority of each game because the depth in the frontcourt just isn’t there this year.

3. How does Cooley handle the rotation this year?

We may already have this question answered based off the two exhibition games, but I’m very curious to see how the rotation sorts itself out at the start of the season before Big East play.

It appears that Cooley is going to go with a 7-8 man rotation, which I’d advocate for. Last year, there were 11 players who averaged more than 5 minutes a game. I believe Cooley was trying to find any line-ups and rotation that worked, but it just never came to fruition.

This year, I believe we’ll see the same starting five throughout the season (barring injury), with Breed and Minaya being “first” off the bench. Croswell will likely spell Watson when he needs a breather or is in foul trouble, but I don’t anticipate Croswell getting the same amount of minutes that Breed and Minaya do. I’d lump Goodine into the same boat as Croswell, but anticipate Breed and Minaya getting the majority of the minutes off the bench.

4. Will there be a lead guard or will it be point guard-by-committee?

When Al Durham transferred to Providence from Indiana, his comments around transferring here to handle the ball with more frequency certainly raised some eyebrows. Durham was primarily an off the ball guard at Indiana, so it was interesting to hear him mention that as a selling point when coming to Providence.

With two exhibition games under their belt, I believe we’ll see Durham and Bynum share point guard duties and take turns bringing the ball up. I don’t believe we’ll see one player become the ball dominant lead guard, but rather have both function as co-lead guards and creating offense for the rest of the squad.

5. Will Reeves finish his Friar career with consistency?

A.J. Reeves has been the ultimate boom or bust player to date at Providence. Nobody is arguing that he is likely the most clutch player on the team, exemplified by his many game winning baskets over his career. Where Providence fans want to see Reeves take the next step is consistency game in and game out. We all know Watson is going to carry the load offensively this season, and it would be a great sign for this Friars squad if Reeves could become that consistent, reliable second scorer.

Reeves has the prototypical build for a 2 guard, so him hanging around the perimeter and choosing to be a catch and shoot guard is a disservice to himself. There aren’t many players in college basketball that have the size and athleticism of Reeves, and Reeves should look to exploit that by attacking the rim at will when the opportunity presents itself.

6. Will the Friars return to having a stifling defense, the hallmark of Cooley’s squads?

While the teams under Cooley will never be confused with the offensive juggernauts like Creighton and Villanova, Providence fans have become comfortable knowing they will compete in every game because the defenses under Cooley have been so consistently good. That just wasn’t the case last year, unfortunately.

Last year, opponents averaged 69.7 points a game and were 43.6% from the field against the Friars, which ranks the Friar squad defensively at 164th and 183rd defensively. Compare that to the year prior where opponents averaged 66.7 points and were 41.7% from the field. If the Friars can tighten the screws defensively, they will likely be an NCAA caliber squad. The additions of veteran players like Durham and Minaya, both known for their defensive prowess, along with the return of LaDontae Henton, who embodies the tough-minded culture of Ed Cooley’s squad, should at least lead to more effort and energy on the defensive end. There wasn’t enough fight on the defensive end last year, and I think that was an obvious anomaly for Cooley’s squads. Expect a hungrier, tougher team from Cooley, which is something that the Providence faithful will feed off of.

In summary, there are a lot of questions still to be answered, which makes the upcoming season all the more fun. If I had to make predictions on the questions above, I would address them as such:

  • Providence increases it’s 3 point field goal percentage to 36% from 3 and challenges as one of Cooley’s highest rated Providence teams from beyond the arc
  • The frontcourt depth is an issue all season, and there is no getting around that. The team will struggle mightily when Watson isn’t on the court
  • Durham and Bynum serve as co-lead guards, with the offense adopting a multiple ballhandler approach
  • The rotation is surprisingly consistent throughout the year. All 5 starters remain the same throughout the course of the season, with Minaya and Breed serving as “super-subs”
  • The wait will be worth it for A.J. Reeves. Reeves finishes his Friar career averaging 14 points and is in close competition with Horchler for second leading scorer on the team. More importantly, Reeves diversifies his game to be an all-around scorer from all parts of the court.
  • The Providence defensive effort that fans have come to know and love returns. This team will be gritty and a pain to play against.

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