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UConn men’s basketball 2022-23 opponent preview: Providence

The Friars won the Big East regular season crown last year. How will they follow it up?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Sweet 16 - Providence v Kansas Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Ed Cooley (12th season as head coach)

2021-22 Record: 27-6 (14-3 Big East)

2021-22 Conference finish: First

Final 2021-22 Ranking: No. 32

2022-23 Conference Coaches Poll Ranking: Fifth

2022-23 KenPom Rating: No. 57

2021-22 in review

They were the Cardiac Friars last season. Twenty-one of the team’s 33 games had a margin of 10 points or less and Ed Cooley’s squad came out ahead in 18 of them. Some included close victories against high-end teams, such as Wisconsin, Texas Tech, UConn, Marquette, and Xavier (twice), but also featured closer-than-expected results over Fairfield, Northwestern, Georgetown, and St. John’s (twice). They rarely blew teams out but kept racking up the wins, enough to finish first in the Big East regular season.

This was not without controversy, as the Friars only played 17 conference games, rather than the full 20, as COVID-19 struck the program in January, canceling road games against Creighton and Seton Hall, as well as its turn to host UConn after a four-point decision in the XL Center in December. None of the three games were made up against top-five finishers in the conference and Providence won the league title on winning percentage.

The top seed in the Big East Tournament did not do the Friars any good, either. After a four-point win over Butler, Creighton got revenge on its 72-51 loss just a couple of weeks prior by throttling Providence, 85-58, in the semifinals.

Despite its shaky analytics, as evidenced by its top billing in KenPom’s luck rating, which measures the deviation in actual and expected winning percentage, Providence was rewarded with a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Friars had not won a game in the NCAA Tournament since 2016 and had not made it to the second weekend since 1997, but topped a pair of double-digit seeds in No. 13 South Dakota State and No. 12 Richmond to earn a place in the Sweet 16 before bowing out to No. 1 Kansas in a game that, fittingly, went down to the wire.

2022-23 preview

Almost any player that contributed significantly last season has graduated, as Al Durham, Noah Horchler, Justin Manaya, AJ Reeves, and Nate Watson have all departed. Guard Jared Bynum is the only returning player that had more than 500 minutes and five of the top six scorers are gone, representing 80% of the team’s minutes. Aside from Reeves, only one other returner (Ed Crosswell) played more than 10 minutes all season in 2021-22.

While Bynum is a solid player, averaging 12.2 points and 4.0 assists per game, Crosswell was a role player last year, contributing 14.8 minutes per night. Instead, Cooley brought in five transfers, including former UConn guard Corey Floyd Jr. and Noah Locke, a grad transfer guard from Louisville by way of Florida. Bryce Hopkins, a 6-foot-7 forward, also comes in after a year at Kentucky.

Providence has a trio of freshmen entering the fold in preferred walk-on Scott Morozov and two three-star guards in Jayden Pierre and Quante Berry. The Friars appear likely to be heavily reliant on Bynum and their transfers.

Providence will ease into Big East play, as aside from a pair of games against preseason top-50 teams in Miami (FL) and Maryland or Saint Louis and the Big East-Big 12 Battle against TCU, No. 141 Rhode Island is the top KenPom team on the non-conference slate, with only two others (Manhattan, Rider) in the top 200. This weak schedule should help let the team gain chemistry in a relatively low-risk environment.

Bottom line

It’s likely that Providence will be 9-2 or 10-1 when it comes time to begin Big East play. However, unless the Friars come together fast and put together some convincing victories over the weaker teams on the schedule, it’s unlikely there will be much confidence in Cooley’s crew retaining its Big East crown. There is just too much turnover to count on Providence to win 15 or 16 games in league play with the question marks that it has. The Friars will likely finish in the top half of the league and make a second straight NCAA Tournament, but with how strong the Big East is, it’s unreasonable to expect much more when Cooley must replace so much.