Men’s Basketball at Mid-Season

by Joshua Lopes on February 4, 2021

Friar Sports

Friars Navigate Through Ups and Downs

by Leo Hainline ’22

Sports Staff

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.

Ed Cooley speaks to his team during a huddle.
Photo courtesy of Georgetown Athletics

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.

Photo courtesy of Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer

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.