"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Providence Preview, 2022-23

Providence Friars

Head Coach: Ed Cooley (221-141 at Providence, 313-210 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 49.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 50.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 68

Projected Starters: PG Jared Bynum (5'10 RS Sr), SG Noah Locke (6'3" RS Sr), SF Devin Carter (6'3" So), PF Bryce Hopkins (6'7" So), C Ed Croswell (6'8" RS Sr) 


Jared Bynum leads Providence in the War on Math

Photo by Stew Milne | AP Photo

Providence had one of the most successful seasons in Friar history in 2021-22, winning the Big East for the first time ever and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years. They did so with incredible statistical luck, going 11-1 in games decided in overtime or by four points or fewer. Because of those narrow wins and lopsided defeats (3 losses by 18+ points) they never found themselves highly regarded by the computers. Fans bristled when the Friars were called "lucky" but in terms of not just close results but also by the degree their win/loss record outperformed their numerical metrics, they ranked #1 in luck per kenpom. Historically, Ed Cooley's teams tend to live in the Cooler, a term coined by Three Man Weave in regards to kenpom range of 40-80, where Cooley's teams landed 89% of the time from 2013-2021. Last year's #32 ranked finish was only their second time outside the Cooler in the last decade, and they did that in large part because of a heavy senior laden roster that included Al Durham, Nate Watson, Justin Minaya, Noah Horchler, and AJ Reeves, all of whom started 25+ games for the Friars and are also now all gone.

They do bring back Jared Bynum, the diminutive but electric sixth man from last year who offensively combined the scoring and distribution punch hasn't been seen at Providence since Kyron Cartwright left in 2018 but for a time felt like a tradition passed from Vincent Council to Bryce Cotton to Kris Dunn. Bynum has the offensive chops to be an all-league performer. Joining him in the back court are Noah Locke and Devin Carter. Locke is a solid shooter who doesn't turn the ball over. He seems best suited as a secondary scorer, which he was at Florida, but struggled trying to be the main shot-taker last year at Louisville. Carter is a former top-100 recruit who transferred from South Carolina. He's a downhill player with a scoring mentality that is elite at drawing fouls, but showed freshman tendencies when it came to shooting accuracy and turning the ball over. The marquee transfer comes from Kentucky. Bryce Hopkins failed to break into the rotation in Lexington but is a skilled player who hopes to develop as the sidekick to Bynum in a role like what Ben Bentil was to Kris Dunn or LaDontae Henton was to Bryce Cotton. Ed Croswell will man the middle, where he backed up Nate Watson with better efficiency and rebounding in limited minutes a year ago. Croswell is a more mobile defender than Watson was, but might not have the same brute strength the departed Watson had. Off the bench, Clifton Moore was a starting big at a lower level for La Salle while Corey Floyd will hope to find minutes at Providence that weren't available at UConn. The other most likely contributor is Alyn Breed, who actually started a handful of games last year but in terms of starting was recruited over in the transfer market.

Last year, Cooley returned to more of his flex offense, which is a deliberate system that aims to pound the ball inside to potent forwards. The difference he had last year was viable floor spacers like Bynum, Reeves, and Horchler taking pressure (and some of the offensive load) off Watson's shoulders. Neither Croswell nor Hopkins have been as assertive offensively as Watson or other featured forwards were. Last  year's shooting led to a higher percentage of shots taken from three, which also opened up the middle to get the ball to Watson. Locke and Bynum are both accomplished shooters, but Providence needs to find more long range options or they may end up just pounding it inside to bigs not used to carrying that much of the load. That might allow Hopkins to blossom into a star, but could also further erode the confidence of a player that struggled to fit in last year if it doesn't work. Defensively, Cooley was long known for high pressure and forcing turnovers. That fell apart two years ago because they simply didn't apply ball pressure effectively. Last year, Cooley brought in Durham and Minaya, both of whom were excellent on-ball defenders that didn't generate turnovers but also didn't give up easy baskets. The defense rebounded, but now has lost those great man defenders. This year, don't be surprised to see some of that pressure return with Bynum and Carter both able to generate turnovers, while Hopkins and Croswell are effective man defenders inside and Clifton Moore can provide rim protection off the bench.

What last year's Providence really was is still a subject for debate. Providence fans and people who live and die by win/loss records will regard them as Big East champs and one of the better teams in the country. People who look at what the math said they were sees a team that should have been closer to the bubble than the protected seed they were given. While they brought in a solid transfer haul, it's hard to see it being more productive than the five senior starters that left. Expect this team to be back in the Cooler. They'll probably finish around #60 in kenpom. If all goes well, they'll be on the right side of the bubble, if not they'll likely be in the NIT, somewhere in that 6th-9th in the Big East range that looks like a throw of the dice at this point of the season.

Marquette Memory: To open this article, we mentioned how last year's Friars reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in 25 years. The last time was 1997, when 10-seed Providence opened their NCAA campaign with an upset of 7-seed Marquette, led by Mike Deane. Marquette was coming off a Conference USA Tournament title where they defeated DePaul, Memphis, Cincinnati, and UNC-Charlotte, becoming only the second team in NCAA history to win four games in four days to reach the tournament. The game started well enough for Deane's team as they had a 19-13 lead. Then Austin Croshere took over. He went 10/15 from the field, a perfect 15/15 from the free throw line, and nailed a 70-foot heave at the first-half buzzer to turn that 6-point deficit into an 18-point halftime lead. Croshere's 39 points set a school record for the most points scored in a single game and remains the most points ever scored by a Friar in an NCAA game.

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