Men’s Basketball Season Preview
PC Hoops Looks to Silence Critics
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.”
Best Friar Moment/Storyline of the Year
Providence College Investigates: PC Athletics
Women’s Hockey Makes NCAA
Joseph Quirk ’23
There have been a lot of impactful events that have happened in Providence College Athletics this year, but few are as impactful and program-defining as the PC Women’s Ice Hockey Team’s run to the NCAA tournament. The Friars made the national tournament for just the second time in program history, and their first appearance since the 2004-2005 season when they lost to the University of Minnesota 6-1 in the first round.
That year, the Friars, led by Bob Deraney, went 21-11-5, finished second in Hockey East, and won the Hockey East Conference Championship. But that was then, and now the Friars are under the tutelage of head coach Matt Kelly. In a shortened season caused by COVID-19, Kelly’s squad boasted a 12-8-1 record. The Friars had a fantastic season all around, highlighted by the performances of forwards Bailey Burton ’23, Sara Hjalmarsson ’22, and Caroline Peterson ’22, defenseman Brooke Becker ’24 and Claire Tyo ’24, and goaltender Sandra Abstreiter ’21.
They would ultimately reach the Hockey East Championship game against Northeastern University. The Friars would fall in that game 6-2, but luckily their season would not end there.
The second-place finish at the hands of an elite NU squad would earn the Friars the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The women’s ice hockey tournament is only eight teams deep, making it incredibly difficult for teams to qualify, and the Friars were just able to edge in at the seven spot. The Northeastern team that had defeated them in the Hockey East Championship would earn the number one seed, and Boston College, who had been upset by the University of Connecticut in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, would round out the Hockey East representation at the tournament. The Friars would match up with the number two seed, and the eventual champions, the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Unfortunately, the Friars would be blanked 3-0 by the Badgers, who would go on to defeat Northeastern in the National Championship 2-1. While the outcome was not much different than the last time they qualified for the tournament, making the tournament under this new coaching staff and fielding a team capable of doing so is not only the biggest moment of the year for PC Athletics, but also a vital building block for the program for years to come.
With COVID-19 affecting so many sports on campus—limiting teams’ preseasons, practice, and travel, as well as cutting games out of the schedule—many teams struggled to find consistent success this season. However, the women’s hockey team rose above, having one of their most impressive seasons in recent memory, attaining a goal that had only been accomplished once before in program history.
David Duke Enters NBA Draft
Ben Bilotti ’23
Providence College Friars guard David Duke Jr. ’22 has always had a bright future ahead of him. The 21-year-old already has a very impressive resume and is looking to add one more accolade to his growing list. Concluding this year’s college basketball season, Duke declared for the NBA Draft. Overall, Duke’s performance this year and subsequent entry into the NBA Draft is the highlight of the year for Friars athletics.
Duke’s first season for the Friars was not one to scoff at. Heading into the 2018-19 basketball season, Duke was named the Preseason Big East Co-Freshman of the Year. In 34 games he averaged 7.1 points and made 38.7 percent of attempted field goals, an impressive line for a freshman. Concluding Duke’s inaugural season, he earned the team’s Coca-Cola Most Promising Prospect Award.
David Duke’s success continued in his sophomore campaign. On top of being awarded the team’s Ryan Gomes Most Improved Player Award, and being named to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association All-District I team, Duke also competed as a member of Team USA in the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where he helped the squad earn a bronze model. During PC’s season he improved his field goal percentage to 40.9% while making 42% of his threes.
Duke’s success peaked in his final season. The junior ranked first in the Big East in minutes played, averaging 37.1 minutes per game. He ranked second in the league in assists and finished second on the Friars for scoring. On Feb. 24, Duke scored his 1,000th career point. On that day he became the 52nd Friar to reach the 1,000-career-point mark. He earned USBWA All-District I honors again and was named to the All-Big East Second Team.
Despite all the success on the court, what makes David Duke’s looming selection in the draft so special is that he grew up right in Providence, RI and has always given back to his community. This past February, Duke helped to publicize a GoFundMe that he and his classmates made for a class project, with the goal of raising $5,000. The money donated would go to Crossroads Rhode Island, the leader in homeless services organizations in Rhode Island. Duke and his classmates surpassed the goal of $5,000 with ease, raising over $14,000.
The NBA Draft will take place on July 29. Many suspect Duke will be selected in the 60-player, two-round draft, and coming off a breakout junior campaign, Duke certainly has much to look forward to in his basketball career. Friar fans will be glued to the TV, waiting to see where Duke lands next as he leaves behind a substantial legacy in his city.
Men’s Basketball at Mid-Season
Friars Navigate Through Ups and Downs
by Leo Hainline ’22
The Providence College Men’s Basketball Team simply refuses to produce a dull moment this year. Recent games against Marquette University and Georgetown University have been representative of an entire season full of closely fought battles that go down to the wire.
The Friars are currently projected to be on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament. However, a strong finish down the stretch could still place PC in the 68-team field. The Friars have been inconsistent in their ability to close out tight games. Five of the Friars’ last seven games have either gone to overtime or have been decided by less than five points.
While PC is 3-0 in overtime games (defeating Seton Hall University, DePaul University, and Marquette), they have fallen short in games against the likes of Xavier University and Georgetown in which they led. These losses will undoubtedly hurt their chances of making the tournament in March. Particularly during the Jan. 30 game against Georgetown, the Friars failed to keep their foot on the gas after being up by 15 at one point in the first half. Losses like the one against the Hoyas can be aggravating, and this frustration is partly because the Friars have so much potential.
David Duke ’22 and Nate Watson ’21 have been the leaders of the team this year. The duo is known as two of the best players not only in the Big East, but also in the entire country. Both players have massively improved from the 2019-2020 season. Watson has even been named as a top-10 finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, which is given to the best center in college basketball.
Neither of the two players are afraid to assert themselves and have dominated on both ends of the court. Much of the Friars’ success is due to their individual contributions. Their most recent game against Georgetown was an outlier: Duke had only five points, and Watson had just five rebounds before fouling out of the game. This loss highlighted just how vital Duke and Watson are to the team’s success, considering that much of their supporting cast showed up to play.
AJ Reeves ’22 played especially well, dropping 28 points while shooting six of 12 from behind the arc. Noah Horchler ’21 also contributed valuable minutes and supplied one of the dunks of the season, posterizing Georgetown center Qudus Wahab with a vicious right-handed slam. Either way, it is clear that Duke and Watson are the centerpieces of the program, and that the Friars will struggle if both have an off day. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence, and both are in the conversation for making the All-Big East First Team.
A talking point throughout the season has been whether the Friars can find a third star to complement Duke and Watson. During the past two weeks, freshman guard Alyn Breed ’24 has stepped up to fill this role for the team. He replaced Jared Bynum ’23 in the starting lineup after the St. Joseph’s University transfer suffered a groin injury on Jan. 2 against Creighton University. Breed had impressed in limited minutes during non-conference games earlier in the season, and many were optimistic that he could succeed in a more prominent role. It took a couple of games for him to settle into the starting lineup, but he stepped up in the Friars’ rematch against Creighton, a key win against a top-25 ranked team.
Breed backed up his performance by being the Friars’ best player against third-ranked Villanova University. The savvy guard registered 18 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists. In the Friars’ Jan. 27 win against Marquette, Breed came up with clutch offensive and defensive plays down the stretch that were necessary for the Friars to seize the win. While his game-sealing three-pointer against Marquette was his headline moment, he made defensive plays throughout the game including getting a key stop at the end of regulation. He also added a vital steal on a Creighton fast break in overtime.
Jimmy Nichols, Jr. ’22 has also stepped up for the Friars. After redshirting his sophomore year, Nichols has impressed with improvements in all aspects of his game. While his offense has certainly progressed with him shooting over 50 percent from the floor and over 38 percent from downtown, his defense has arguably been the greatest development in his game. Nichols came into Friartown as a lengthy shot-blocker, but now he is dominant in almost all aspects on the defensive end. He moves his feet well and has the ability to cut off quick, smaller players, but he also has the strength to lock up bigger post players too. Nichols’s strong defensive play has landed him a regular spot in the Friars’ starting lineup, and his versatility will be incredibly valuable for the team down the stretch.
PC will only face one currently ranked team during the rest of its regular season, which will take place against Villanova on March 6, the Friars’ regular-season finale. While the team can certainly win the majority of its remaining games, none of them will be easy. Arguably the most enticing games on the schedule are when the Friars play their series against the University of Connecticut. The Huskies are back in the Big East for the first time since 2013, and both sides are excited to resume this classic Northeast rivalry. These games will have huge consequences for both teams, as UConn is currently projected as an eight-seed in the NCAA tournament.
Grabbing two wins against UConn would be a major boost to PC’s tournament ambitions and would certainly give the team momentum going into the final stretch. The Friars also play St. John’s University twice. The Red Storm are a dangerous team despite having a losing record in the Big East. Guard Posh Alexander is an elite defender and one of the best freshmen in the conference. Sweeping both UConn and St. John’s would do wonders for the Friars and would give them a lot of confidence heading into the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Ultimately, PC has the talent and the ability to make the NCAA tournament. Nichols and Breed’s play this season, complementing the dominance of Duke and Watson, should give optimism to many Friar fans. Reeves’s breakout game against Georgetown gives hope that he, too, can keep up his hot shooting. If the team continues to play well as a unit and acquires a killer instinct when closing out games, they should be able to make a run in the Big East tournament and lock up a spot in the NCAA tournament’s field of 68.