Providence Shows Its Growth With Recent Big East WinsPosted by Dan Lyons on February 7th, 2013
Dan Lyons is an RTC Big East microsite contributor who also writes for the Syracuse blog, “Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.” You can find him on Twitter @Dan_Lyons76. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s match-up between Cincinnati and Providence at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
Providence has played this entire season teetering on the edge. On one side, losses to the likes of Penn State, UMass, Brown, and DePaul don’t inspire much confidence for Ed Cooley‘s squad going forward. On the other hand, the only game this season that really got away from the Friars was the January 2nd 80-62 loss to then #4 Louisville. Every other Friar loss has been within ten points, with two having gone to overtime – the games against Penn State and UConn. Since the loss to UConn, however, Providence’s luck has seemed to turn a bit. They went to Villanova, a team that had just logged back to back home wins against the conference’s two big dogs Louisville and Syracuse, and knocked off the Wildcats, and then followed that up with last night’s close win at home against #17 Cincinnati.
Providence’s road to relevance under Cooley has been a treacherous one, but there has been reason for hope. Cooley has been recruiting well above the expectations laid forth by Providence’s 42-53 record over the last three seasons. Last season Cooley reeled in five-star prospects Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo and he currently has 2013 commitment from four-star small forward prospect Brandon Austin. He also inherited a team with capable players like Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton, and Vincent Council. However, in a college basketball landscape where inexperience is no longer an excuse for poor performance, Providence’s turnaround hasn’t translated to on-the-court success as quickly as some fans probably hoped.
Last season Providence showed some signs of life. The Friars opened 2011-12 with an 11-2 record out of conference before falling off a cliff in Big East play, but even within a 4-14 Big East campaign, they were able to bury an eventual final four Louisville team 90-59. This season looked to be heading in a similar direction. After opening the year 8-2, Providence dropped games to Boston College and Brown, and then lost their first three games in the Big East to Louisville, DePaul, and Syracuse before knocking off Seton Hall to get off the schneid. However, even in their losses, the Friars’ play has inspired more confidence. Last season, Providence lost their Big East games by an average of 7.2 points, a differential skewed by the Louisville blowout. This season, the average differential is a shade better than -3.5. Providence hasn’t been out of any game, aside from this year’s Louisville contest, but it seemed like they just hadn’t learned how to win yet, a major hump for any program looking to turn around its fortunes. The two recent wins, which were also close, hotly contested games, probably show more growth than another one-off blowout win against a top 15 team would.
Last night’s win over Cincinnati was definitely aided by an awful showing by the Bearcat offense. Cincinnati shot 37.5% from the field and the team which is incredibly reliant on the three-point ball in the half-court only went 3-for-13 from deep. The Bearcats were also an embarrassing 11-20 from the line, with JaQuon Parker going a cringe-worthy 3-for-9. Even with that all being true, Cincinnati plays as physical a brand of basketball as anyone in the league, if not the country, and an undersized Providence team was not afraid to get down in the muck with the Bearcats. Despite losing the rebounding battle 39-31, the Friars out-hustled the ‘Cats, turning them over 15 times and scoring 17 points off of said turnovers. They grabbed big rebounds down the stretch, and even when Batts, who was the clear MVP of last night’s game, missed two free throws down the stretch that would have essentially iced the game for PC, the Friars kept up their disrupting defense, and Sean Kilpatrick lost the basketball and was called for a backcourt violation, sealing the Providence win.
It wasn’t pretty by any means, but by making the necessary plays to win the game down the stretch, Providence displayed an aptitude for winning a tight game against a good opponent that it didn’t seem to have before.
The Friars are not a tournament team by any stretch, and this brief two game stretch may be a sign of things to come or it could be a brief blip in another disappointing year in Providence. However, the Friars have a manageable end to their season, with only two games against ranked teams (vs. #25 Notre Dame and at #9 Syracuse) left on the docket. If the Friars can manage to end the season with eight or nine conference wins, it would be a step in the right direction for the program, and perhaps a sign that they can compete going forward, especially once the Catholic Seven split off to form their own league. If Cooley can continue to bring in top talent, and hopefully have it find its way on the court (Ledo was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA and while he was allowed to enroll in classes at Providence, he cannot play until next season, if he returns to school), with the schedule becoming much more manageable after losing games against Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh, and others, Providence may be heading in the right direction and could find itself back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004 in a few years.