Team: Providence Friars
Location: Providence, R.I.
Conference: Big East
Head coach: Ed Cooley (10 seasons, 194-135 record)
2020-2021 record: 13-13 overall, 9-10 Big East
Top returning players: 6-foot-10, C, Nate Watson (16.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.0 bpg); 6-foot-6, guard, A.J. Reeves (9.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.0 spg); 6-foot-8, F, Noah Horchler (6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Top newcomers: 6-foot-4, G, Al Durham (graduate transfer from Indiana); 6-foot-7, F, Justin Minaya (graduate transfer from South Carolina).
2020-2021 review: Last season was a letdown year for the Friars. Led by center Nate Watson and guard David Duke, Providence finished with a .500 record and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Providence started the year off strong winning seven of their first 10 games, including conference wins over Seton Hall, DePaul, and Butler, but then proceeded to lose seven of nine contests in January and the early part of February.
A postseason loss to DePaul to finish the season was a definite low-point, but some players made nice strides. Duke played extremely well and opted to leave early for the NBA after putting up nearly 17 points per game and leading the team in minutes played.
2021-2022 preview: Providence appears to be in a better place entering this season, but I would expect them to finish middle of the pack in conference. Nate Watson is a first team All-Conference selection and should give them a presence inside, but how the Friars replace Duke will likely determine how well they do.
Transfers Al Durham of Indiana and Justin Minaya of South Carolina have both played a ton of basketball and could be the answer if they can be difference makers from the jump, but there are some question marks surrounding this team.
Lead-guard Jared Bynum missed a chunk of last season with a groin injury, which definitely impacted how Providence ran their offense, so his return could be a tremendous boost.
Overall, I think that Providence should content for an NCAA Tournament berth, and I could easily imagine a scenario where they work the ball inside more with Watson. The Friars have a slower-tempo offense that fits nicely with their above average defense, but the ceiling for this team is limited to making the tournament unless Bynum or Durham really emerge as a big-time perimeter threat.
I think that Wisconsin and Providence should match up fairly well stylistically, which could make their Gavitt Game contest in mid-November a fun watch.
Game vs. Wisconsin: Monday, Nov. 15; Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center; FS1; 8 p.m. CT