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Back to the Big East: Providence

Catching up with UConn’s soon-to-be conference mates in the Big East. Next up: Providence.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Providence Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Since UConn is now 19 days away from being back in their rightful place in the Big East conference once again, The UConn Blog is taking some time over the next few weeks to profile each of the teams in the conference. Since we’ve already done conference heavyweights Villanova and Xavier, we’re on to Providence this week.

Quick Facts

Head Coach: Ed Cooley

2020 Record: 19-12, 12-6

NCAA Championships: None

Big East Tournament Championships: Two (1994, 2014)

Big East Regular Season Titles: None

Home Court: Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, RI

Average Home Attendance: 10,064 in 2020

What have UConn fans missed

Over the last seven years, Providence has consistently been relevant in the Big East Conference standings and the conference tournament. Despite its relevance, success has been limited, however. It was able to secure one Big East Tournament win in 2014, which is impressive considering the run that Villanova has gone on in conference since then. The Friars have fallen victim to Villanova’s success many times over the past seven years — losing to the Wildcats in the tournament in four of the six Big East tournaments in that time.

They won in the first non-UConn season behind senior guard Bryce Cotton, who played 23 career games in the NBA for three teams. Cotton averaged nearly 22 points per game for the Friars. Future No. 6 overall pick Kris Dunn was also on the roster but played just four games due to a season-ending shoulder injury in December 2013.

Providence has appeared in five of the last six NCAA tournaments, missing in 2019 for the NIT and then in 2020 due to its cancelation from coronavirus. It has not made it out of the round of 32 in any of those years.

Head Coach Ed Cooley

Cooley has been with the Friars for nine seasons now and has a positive record in a tough Big East — going 181-122.

He is nothing special or flashy as a coach, as Joel D from Banners on the Parkway described, but he does a solid job. Last season his Friars came in at 40th on the KenPom rankings behind a 27th ranked defense. They finished 31st in the nation in steals as well.

He’s graduated a pair of players to the NBA as well, with 2016 No. 5 overall pick Kris Dunn and No. 51 overall pick Ben Bentil. Only Dunn has really stuck, but he has been far from the player he was at Providence, where he averaged 16 points and 6.8 assists per game in his junior and senior seasons combined.

Outlook for 2020-21

After a solid 2020 campaign, in which they finished fourth in the conference, Providence will be losing its top scorer and rebounder in Alpha Diallo. To help answer for the lost production, the Friars coaching staff has been active on the transfer market. They secured former top-100 recruiting prospect Brycen Goodine from Syracuse and forward Ed Croswell from La Salle. Neither have received waivers to play this season just yet, so they may not be able to make their mark until 2021-22.

With the Orange, Goodine struggled in limited minutes, averaging just 1.9 points, one rebound and less than an assist in 8.7 minutes per game. He scored five points or more in just four games all season under Jim Boeheim.

Croswell, on the other hand, might be someone to watch after averaging 10 points and seven boards in 21 minutes in the A-10 for La Salle. Croswell was the third best in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 18.1% of his opportunities, according to KenPom.

Potential Starting 5

Guard A.J. Reeves, Jr.

In his two seasons with the Friars, Reeves has seen consistent action after signing with them out of Roxbury, Mass. He was the No. 53 overall recruit in the nation, according to ESPN, and came in and averaged 9.2 points and three rebounds per game in his freshman campaign. His production dipped in year two, however.

After starting for nearly all of year one, Reeves lost his starting spot five games into the season after a string of so-so shooting efforts. Despite nearly the same amount of playing time, about 22 minutes per year, Reeves’ shooting percentages dropped considerably from freshman to sophomore year. He shot 42.3% overall and 38.1% from three in year one, but slipped down to 37.4% and 34.2%, respectively.

Guard David Duke, Jr.

After getting a bump in playing time in his sophomore season, Duke really thrived under Cooley. He transformed his shooting, hitting 42% of his three-point attempts after hitting just 29.7% the year before. He averaged 12.1 points per game last season, second on the team behind Diallo.

He also picked it up on the defense end as well, grabbing nearly two more rebounds per game and more than double the steals, with 48 in 2020 to just 23 in 2019.

Forward Jyare Davis, Fr.

The 6-foot-6 forward had offers from all over the Big East, with Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova all in the mix, but he ultimately chose Providence over all of them.

The only player from Delaware in his class, Davis took a little bit of a step back after a very solid junior season where he averaged 20 points per game on 39% from three-point land — but it may be as a result of the injury Evan Daniels mentioned in the video above.

Forward Greg Gantt, So.

Gantt was an ESPN70 recruit out of Fayetteville, N.C. — the hometown of J. Cole — but didn’t really put up the kind of numbers that he did in high school. He was a scorer and a rebounder before coming to college, averaging 14 points and nearly seven rebounds per game for Trinity Christian in his senior year.

The small forward just refused to take shot last season, taking one every 5 minutes and 47 seconds of on court action. For reference, its leading scorer Diallo took one every 2 minutes and 43 seconds.

As one of the few forwards on this roster, Gantt is going to have to take a major step forward to be a consistent contributor.

Center Nate Watson, Sr.

After garnering McDonalds All-American consideration before committing to Providence, Watson has been a consistent contributor for the Friars in his three seasons. Cooley has never given him the opportunity to be a year-round starter — he did start their final 13 games of 2020 — but with no other listed centers on the roster, it should be his year. His playing time took a hit last season, falling from an average of 23.5 minutes per game the year prior to just 18.8. Even in his starts, his minutes pretty much stayed the same with just an extra .1 minutes per game in the second half of the year.

Despite that, Watson has been a very solid player for Providence, averaging nine points and a little less than five rebounds per game. He struggles from the free throw line, though, hitting just 56.5% of his foul shots.

Other highlights from the last seven seasons