PC, Cooley renew acquaintances vs. Hoosiers
Noah Horchler and the Friars are heading to Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C.
By KEVIN FARRAHAR
When the Providence Friars take on Indiana in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday afternoon, it will be a reunion of sorts.
Ed Cooley and Indiana coach Archie Miller were assistants for Team USA’s under-19 World Championship team in 2015. That group, headlined by prep stars Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles, and tournament MVP Jalen Brunson, took home gold with an overtime win over Croatia.
Arizona coach Sean Miller was the team’s head coach and Cooley has remained close with the Miller brothers ever since.
“`Archie and I have a brother-brother relationship. We’re very, very close. We’ve been fortunate to win a gold medal in Crete, Greece where we spent four weeks together,” Cooley said. “We’ve spent time talking on the phone. We’ve spent time talking family, we’ve spent time talking life, we’ve spent time talking basketball. I think he’s one of the brighter young coaches in America. Indiana’s very fortunate to have him.”
Indiana plays a similar style to Providence, especially on the defensive end, and Cooley is expecting a grind on Monday.
Of course, this won’t be the first time that Cooley and Miller have squared off. In 2015, Miller was the head coach of Dayton when the Flyers upset the sixth-seeded Friars in the NCAA Tournament in what may have been the most disappointing loss of the Cooley era. Providence was deep, talented, and big that year, with a starting five of Kris Dunn, Jalen Lindsey, LaDontae Henton, Ben Bentil and Carson Desrosiers backed by a bench consisting of Kyron Cartwright, Tyler Harris, and Paschal Chukwu.
Playing in Columbus, Dayton rode a virtual home crowd, and a 30-7 advantage at the free throw line, to victory in the last game of Henton’s career.
Cooley and Miller won’t be the only two renewing acquaintances on Monday. Indiana center Joey Brunk transferred in from Butler, where he went head-to-head with PC big man Nate Watson on several occasions. Watson matched a career high with 21 points in an overtime win at Butler during his sophomore year. Brunk started on that afternoon, but played just 12 minutes.
Watson set a new career high on Wednesday, scoring 23 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and 7-9 at the free throw line in a 97-56 blowout of Fairfield.
After spending much of his junior year working his way back into shape following an early season knee injury, Watson looks back to full strength, “When bigs get it, when the light bulb comes on for a big, man does their career take off,” Cooley told the media on Friday morning.
“Not many big guys embrace being big, and when you do you become dominant,” Cooley continued. “His growth started to come on in the latter part of last year, and he had a very good pillow to lean on in (now graduated center) Kalif (Young). And now it’s just his time.”
The biggest challenge facing Cooley and Watson on Monday will be someone they are seeing for the first time. Trayce Jackson-Davis is one of the best big men in the country. The 6-9 sophomore and former McDonald’s All American was named Third Team All Big Ten as a freshman, and the lefty has been included on a laundry list of preseason award watch lists this year:
- Preseason Naismith Watch List
- Preseason Karl Malone Watch List
- Preseason All Big Ten Team
- Preseason 2nd Team All American by both Watch Stadium and CBS Sports
- Preseason 3rd Team All American by Blue Ribbon and College Hoops Today
Jackson-Davis was set to lead Indiana to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Miller’s tenure (Miller is currently in year four) before the season was cancelled in March. His biggest performance of the year came in a 27 point, 16 rebound effort at Minnesota.
The pandemic is still causing havoc, of course, and as a result, the Maui Invitational will take place in Asheville, North Carolina in 2020, in what has to be a major disappointment for all programs involved. Cooley said his team is treating this as a “business trip.” While they won’t enjoy the beaches of Maui, a major opportunity still awaits them.
PC will play either Texas or a good Davidson team in the second round, and the rest of the field includes North Carolina, UNLV, Stanford, and Alabama.
But first, Miller and Indiana await. The Hoosiers return four starters from last season’s 20-win team, and welcome five star freshman point guard Kristian Lander.
Jackson-Davis will be the focus of any opponent’s scout this year, but this year’s Friar frontcourt has the potential to be the most physical Cooley has boasted since the last time he matched up with Miller in 2015. While Watson enjoyed a career night offensively, transfers Noah Horchler and Ed Croswell combined for 21 points and 15 rebounds off of the bench against Fairfield. All three will have to play well to push back against Jackson-Davis, Brunk and the Hoosiers.