Joseph Quirk ’23
The Providence College Men’s Basketball Team had a disappointing last season, finishing 12-14 and failing to qualify for the NCAA tournament, let alone make it past the first round of the Big East tournament. The Friars entered last season with high expectations, considering how they nearly made the NCAA tournament in the 2019-2020 season.
Much has changed in the past two years, particularly the loss of some crucial players. Star guard David Duke Jr., for example, left the Friars after last season to pursue the NBA. Duke went undrafted before making the Brooklyn Nets summer league team and earning himself a two-way contract with the championship favorites.
Some things remain the same, though. Two players that stayed to play are center Nate Watson ’22 and guard AJ Reeves ’22. The returners expect to feature prominent roles in the offense with Watson working down low in the post and Reeves creating spacing on the floor.
At this past Big East Media Day, Watson was chosen as a Big East All-Conference first team selection. The preseason polls, however, had the Friars as the seventh team in the conference. Reeves said, “I think Nate is one of the most consistent bigs in the country.” Head coach Ed Cooley said, “I feel like my wife gave birth to Nate, he’s been with us so long.”
This is a big year, particularly for Reeves, as the former four-star recruit looks to have his most prominent role in the offense since arriving in Friartown. He has been inconsistent his first three seasons, flashing a brilliant shot in some games and becoming ice-cold in others. With the departure of Duke and Watson, consistency beyond the arch from Reeves will be a necessity. He will have some help with moving the offense as point guards Alyn Breed ’24 and Jared Bynum ’22 return, as well as graduate student forward Noah Horchler ’21GS and senior big man Ed Croswell ’22.
Breed looks to build off a very promising freshman season in which he averaged five points-per-game along with one assist and two rebounds. He has flashed potential to be a solid scorer who can move the ball well, and now having a full offseason and the experience of Big East basketball last season, it is reasonable to expect a good jump in production from him this season.
Bynum is a lot more experienced than Breed, and is a key piece in this offense. The redshirt junior was a massive part of last year’s offense as he played the main distributor and set up his teammates well. The point guard who can distribute the ball smartly is key, and that was never more apparent than last season. Last year, Bynum was a newcomer but made an instant impact. However, a mid-season injury took him out of action for a couple weeks and the offense looked drastically different.
Croswell was also a newcomer last season, and he had some struggles. The transfer from La Salle University was advertised as one of the best rebounders in the country, but his 1.9 rebounds-per-game last year showed he may have struggled to translate his game to the tougher Big East conference.
If the Friars are going to be good this year, they are going to need him to step up. Having an anchor that can come in off the bench and allow Watson to rest is going to be very important.
Another player the Friars will need this year is returner Horchler. The grad student forward adds a different fold to the offense with his ability to stretch the floor.
One thing this offense has clearly lacked the last few seasons is consistent three-point shooting, and towards the end of last year, Horchler flashed the ability to be a good catch and shoot perimeter player. An athletic forward at 6’8” and 220 pounds, he also has some size to him. With the way the game has evolved, having big men who can shoot is becoming increasingly important.
While all these returners are going to be very important to the success of this team, the newcomers are going to be very important as well.
The rest of this roster is brand new, composed of freshmen and transfers. As mentioned earlier, star guard Duke left to pursue an NBA opportunity. But Cooley and the Friars also lost Greg Gantt ’23, Kris Monroe ’23, Jimmy Nichols Jr. ’23, and Jyare Davis ’24, who all left through the transfer portal this offseason.
The transfer portal did not just take, however. Justin Minaya ’22 came from the portal via the University of South Carolina. In his previous two seasons at USC, Minaya he was about a seven point-per-game scorer, adding about six rebounds and one block per game to his per-game totals. He looks to have had pretty solid production for a power-five team and should be a nice piece to add.
Their other transfer is graduate guard Al Durham ’22. In Durham’s senior season at the University of Indiana, he averaged 11.3 points, 2.6 assists, 3.1 rebounds and .5 steals per game.
He was a leader there and the Friars got a good look at him when he went off and helped lead the Hoosiers to an early season out-of-conference win against the Friars at the Maui Jim Invitational.
The Friars also brought in a ton of young talent to help rebuild this roster.
Freshman guard Matteus Case ’25 is a two-star recruit from Canada and appears to be able to shoot the ball decently from a distance. Freshman guard Luke Fonts ’25 is the brother of graduate walk-on Andrew Fonts ’22GS. Legend Geeter ’25 is a big freshman forward, standing at 6’7” and 220 pounds. He likely will be buried on the depth chart early in his career with all the experienced power forwards in this team, but the former three-star recruit should be a big piece of this team’s future.
Former three-star forward Rafael Castro ’25 and freshman Kieran O’Haire ’25 round out the recruiting victories Cooley claimed this offseason.
Cooley expects a competitive year in college basketball, especially with this extra year of eligibility. He said at Big East Media Day, “College basketball will be in a good place this year. It should be as competitive as any.”
Cooley hopes the Friars will be competing on the highest stage too, considering it has been about three years since their last appearance in the NCAA tournament. But he is not discouraged by the early hate the Friars are getting.
“It’s what they think. How true is it? Who knows? I think it will all balance out. As a coach, if you’re worried about where you’re picked early, you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” said Cooley.
He continued, “You balance your team with confidence, inspire them to be better than people think and kind of go from there. Don’t look at it as a negative. It’s just somebody else’s opinion.”