The 2021-2022 season is upon us, and it was fantastic to see the Dunk packed with fans. The Friar team made the game closer than all anticipated (although, maybe we shouldn’t have expected a blowout), but still come out of the game with a win.
After watching the game again, here are some immediate takeaways:
- Durham’s best asset to this team may be his steadying presence and leadership…but don’t ignore the fact that he is a damn good basketball player
Throughout the game, I noticed Durham continually patting the chest and back of his teammates, offering words of encouragement and coaching them up when there were errors. This is something the team missed last year. Durham is holding the team (and himself) accountable, and I think we’ll lean on Durham significantly when the Friars need somebody to step up in tight situations.
Durham has been through a lot of wars in his Big 10 career, and although it was only one game, he seems to remain emotionally stable regardless of what is transpiring on the court. A veteran, steadying presence is what this team needs in the backcourt, and he helps check that box.
Even if Durham provided none of the above, he is at a minimum an exceptionally skilled basketball player. Two things about his game jumped out to me when watching him last night. One was his ability to get to the rim and draw contact (led team with 12 free throw attempts). The other was his ability as a guard to elevate and rebound. Durham was the second leading scorer on the Friars with 18 points, 9 of those coming from the charity stripe.
It is only one game against an inferior Fairfield team, but it seems like the landing of Durham was a home run by Ed Cooley.
2. It took a half, but Justin Minaya settled into his role on the Friars and will be the emotional X-Factor for this team
Justin Minaya is quickly going to become a fan favorite of the Providence faithful. While he may never put up eye-popping stats, he does all the little things that basketball fans grow to love in a player. Minaya helped spark a run in the second half with offensive and defensive rebounds, blocks, steals, and overall stellar defense.
His energy on the court is infectious, and I could see the team feeding off that. Minaya is going to do a little bit of everything for this team and will be the ultimate swiss army knife whose impact may not necessarily be seen in the box score.
Critics of Minaya will point to his 0-4 shooting from deep, and I cannot necessarily fault them for that. It is a precarious situation to be in when you are trying to make an impact on your new team while also trying to find a flow within the game. Once Minaya parked himself within the 3 point line and started to influence the game outside of scoring, he really seemed to find his niche and settle in.
He is going to see plenty of minutes this year as the “sixth starter”, and I can only hope the team adopts his mentality of extra effort and hustle. When he isn’t throwing up ill-advised three’s early in the shot clock, he is a very easy player to root for.
3. Watson is the alpha, but this team will have balanced scoring throughout the starting line-up
Nate was his usual self, scoring 22 points on a very efficient 10-14 shooting. Watson is going to lead this team in scoring and will traditionally be that person every game; however, it appears he has 4 others who can also carry the scoring load. Three of the other four starters also scored in double figures and Bynum put up 8. In total, the other four starters scored 41 points. I get the sense the second leading scorer is going to change on a game-by-game basis, which is a good thing. A balanced scoring attack is something that should be welcomed by all Friar fans.
4. Noah Horchler is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite Friars
Horchler is never going to be in any record books at Providence, but his time at Providence will be remembered fondly by yours truly. Horchler came on towards the end of last year, and he has continued on a similar trajectory at the start of this year.
Simply put, Horchler just seems to do everything right (besides that errant out of bounds pass when the game was in hand last night). Horchler only had 10 points, but also had 11 rebounds and 3 assists. He just seems to continue to make the right basketball plays and makes the team better when he is on the court. It may be a hot take, but he is potentially the best all around player the Friars possess on their roster.
5. Free throw and three point shooting need to improve
66.7% from the charity stripe isn’t abysmal, but the Friars need to be in the low – high 70’s to win tight games this year. This team is going to get to the foul line a lot, and they need to make teams pay when they put them on the line.
The Friars won despite shooting 22% from 3. Every team has bad three point shooting nights, but it is the shot selection from 3 that had me concerned. Reeves and Minaya, specifically, shot 1-9 from 3, and their shot choice was subpar. There were a few deep attempts where a defender was in their face, and it was early in the shot clock. Those are the type of attempts that will find both players on the bench.
In all, it was a quality win against Fairfield that returned their entire team and added quality transfers and freshman into the mix. I think they’ll compete to win their conference and may be an NCAA caliber team. This win may look better three months from now than it does today.
Regardless, a win is a win, and the Friars avoided a potential landmine heading into game 2. Friars play this Thursday against Sacred Heart.