Will Justin Minaya Help Providence Rediscover Its Defensive Identity?

The South Carolina transfer and New Jersey native will be asked to help PC reestablish a broken defense.

Ed Cooley and his staff seemingly spent all of the 2020-21 season trying to find an identity with their bunch, attempting to find some sort of on-court stability in a year of instability off of it. No one in Providence felt great about finishing 9-10 in the Big East and 13-13 overall, despite having a pair of all league players in David Duke and Nate Watson. Even with the presence of two stars, Providence was uncharacteristically flat for long stretches. 

PC’s trademark toughness never showed last season, with untimely defensive breakdowns and weakness on the glass combining to plague the Friars throughout the year. Offense has come and gone under Cooley, but they always seemed to figure out the defensive side of the ball. That didn’t happen in 2020-21.

Duke is off chasing his NBA dream, while the next iteration of the Friars will rely heavily on veterans in hopes that their experience will result in better situational awareness and a return to the grit and grind style that has worked best under Cooley.

In April, Providence announced the commitment of South Carolina transfer Justin Minaya. The 6’6 lefthander out of New Jersey started in 75 of the 79 games he played for Frank Martin. He will be a postgraduate player next season, and the hope in Providence must be that he will fill the role that Greg Gantt was unable to as a sophomore -- the prototypical Cooley wing: 6’6, tough on the glass, and sound/versatile defensively.

Minaya likely won’t be an offensive revelation for the Friars. He averaged seven points per game in each of his four seasons in Columbia. He wasn't much of a spot up shooter last season (24th percentile nationally), nor was he an option as a roll man in pick and roll situations (1-10 shooting). Minaya shot just 24% on jump shots last season, including 22% from catch and shoot (15-68) and 9-30 on unguarded jumpers. He took only three jump shots off of the dribble and drew fewer than 30 fouls in 21 games.

Conversely, Minaya was one of the better defenders in the SEC last year, as opponents scored just .719 points per possession against him in man defense -- that number ranked in the 81st percentile nationally.

Minaya did show flashes of being a far better scorer and shooter as a freshman. He ranked in the 72nd percentile in spot up situations that year, and shot well from long range on a good number of opportunities: 37.9% on catch and shoot jumpers (on 95 attempts), 15-26 on unguarded Js, and 6-18 on jumpers off of the dribble.

He redshirted the following season after playing just five games due to injury, and missed a month with a dislocated thumb the next year. His shooting percentages very well could have been impacted by injuries and the time spent getting physically correct, but to focus on the shooting numbers, or to assume that Cooley brought Minaya in with the hopes that he would find that stroke again is likely misguided.

Cooley seemingly focused this spring on finding players who could bring stability and awareness from the transfer wire. Players he could trust. Both Minaya and Indiana transfer Al Durham are grad transfers who played big time competition. Both have been more than steady defensively over their careers.

Cooley had hoped that Duke and Gantt would combine to be a terrifying defensive pairing on the wings, but they didn’t pan out as Gantt had trouble keeping defenders in front of him, and Duke’s defensive numbers dipped as he took the reins offensively as a junior. Now Providence’s turns to Durham and Minaya in an effort to reestablish the defensive identity that they lost a season ago.