Nate Watson leads an experienced PC team this season (AP Photo by Stew Milne)
If coaches in any conference in the country can dismiss preseason polls as a bit of basketball malarkey, it should be the Big East. Just as Patrick Ewing.
A year ago the Georgetown coach/legend left a Zoom-filled Big East media day as the 11th place team in the coaches poll. That’s not good since there are just 11 teams in the conference. Yet by March, Ewing was the toast of Madison Square Garden once again. The man who has his Knick jersey number swaying in the rafters may have been carded by Garden security a bit too often (`I thought this was my building?) but his team was the last once standing in the largely fan-less Big East Tournament.
That victory served as salve for all of the teams not named Villanova Tuesday at The Garden. This year’s coaches poll deservedly pegs the Wildcats atop the Big East, just like they did a year ago.
That brings us to the Providence Friars. Ed Cooley’s team was picked third last season and fell short, coming in sixth with a 9-10 record. This time around it’s seventh, a healthy drop to be sure.
“It’s preseason, it’s everybody’s opinion,” Cooley said. “At the end of the day whether you’re picked first or 11th, you have to do your job and come prepared. Every game is important. It’s just our (coaches) opinion. The Big East is very old this year, a lot of old teams, a lot of experienced players, experienced coaches. It’s just a number. I don’t look at that.”
Cooley said he’s liking the underrated groups at Xavier and Butler, two teams that return a host of good players and appear ready for bounce-back seasons. He noted that St. John’s with guards Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie are a top duo and said “Connecticut can guard and defend as well as any team in America,” and that “the league is going to be really, really balanced.”
So here is the truth. In a season where transfers will almost surely make or break the majority of the elite programs in the country, the Big East is very experienced 1-7. Count Providence in that group. The Friars have four players who’ve already logged four seasons of college basketball. Three of the four are 23 (!) years old, led by birthday boy Nate Watson.
Nate Watson, 23, 4 years; Al Durham, 23, 4 years; Noah Horchler, 23, 4 years; Justin Minaya, 22, 4 years
So being old is usually good, but only if the talent is there to back things up. Cooley likes his talent, which is led by Big East first team pick Nate Watson. Watson says he’s in great shape and focused on winning and enjoying the Dunkin’ Donuts Center crowds. Cooley owns high expectations for his big man.
“I want Nate Watson on the post-season All-Big East. I’m happy for him, it sounds great, looks great. I need him to be the Player of the Year in the Big East,” Cooley said.
Adding Durham and Minaya to Watson, Horchler, A.J. Reeves and four-year college players Jared Bynum and Ed Croswell gives the Friars both experience and depth.
“What I like about this group is the cohesiveness . I think the group is doing a really good job of blending (well),” Cooley said. “We’re old. We have seven seniors who will all play. I like where we are at today.”
By the way, the Big East named veteran point guard Collin Gillespie as its Player of the Year but no other member of the nationally No. 4 Wildcats cracked the first team. Veterans Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore were second team picks.