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PC Friars Back in the Thick of Things

Photo Credit: Providence College

After winning three of their last four games and with A.J. Reeves now back in the line-up, Providence has worked their way back into the thick of things in the Big East Conference.
Truth be told, there is no separation within the conference, at least after Villanova and Creighton at the top. In fact, all 8 other teams currently have three league wins, which means that the next few weeks will go a long way towards establishing some separation down the stretch of the season.

On tap for the Friars, are return games on the road at Seton Hall and DePaul and then a chance for retribution when Georgetown visits the Dunk on February 6th.

Not unlike the NBA play-offs, the second-half of league play is all about adjustments as coaches take stock of what happened in the initial match-ups and tweak their approach accordingly. It’s an avenue that Ed Cooley has excelled at over the years, and a big part of why his programs have a history of playing their way into the post-season come the final weeks of the regular season.

Here’s a look at some of the factors Cooley and his staff might be considering in the next week.

Photo Credit: Providence College

Seton Hall – January 30

David Duke scored 18 points and Seton Hall committed a season-high 22 turnovers as Providence held serve at home 72-63 two weeks ago.

Winning round two on the road is likely to be a tougher task as the Friars are unlikely to see either the Pirates be so careless with the ball or Duke have his best shooting game (3-3 from three) of conference play.

The biggest factor in this game is likely to be tempo, specifically when Seton Hall has the ball. The Pirates are one of the faster teams in the Big East, ranking 49th in the country in average possession length, while the Friars want to grind it out defensively, ranking 292nd in average possession length on the defensive end (all per KenPom). In other words, something has got to give and whichever team is able to impose their will on that end of the floor will have a good chance of being victorious.

Kevin Willard’s club has now lost four straight, three of which were on the road including trips to Marquette and Villanova. The one outlier was a disappointing home loss to DePaul in which Seton Hall’s inability to control their defensive glass was their undoing, despite shooting 13-24 from behind the arc. Providence will look to exploit that same vulnerability as the Friars currently rank as the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East.

DePaul – February 2

One week after holding off DePaul in the Dunk 70-67, Providence will return the game in Chicago. The game was a bit of a slugfest as neither team shot the ball well (Providence was 4-21 from three and DePaul was 5-19) or took particularly good care of the ball (Providence has 14 assists vs. 15 turnovers and DePaul had 13 assists vs. 17 turnovers).

It was Reeves’ first game back from injury and a bit of a surprise performance that led to him connecting on 3 of the team’s 4 threes while Nate Watson was the story in the second-half with 12 of his 14 points.

The Friars have to play a cleaner offensive game to pick-up the win on the road and while DePaul will be able to prepare for Reeves more concretely in the rematch, the freshmen will presumably be back into a more consistent rhythm a week from now.

DePaul is one of the best rebounding team’s in the conference but they don’t defend the arc very well. While Providence has been playing better as of late, their offensive statistics remain poor across the board. Therefore, Cooley will need to walk a fine line with his rotations in this one because he’ll need enough size and athleticism to keep up with the Blue Demons inside and on the glass, but enough skill and shot-making to attack their zone.

Can he get away with playing Reeves and Drew Edwards together? That’s an unknown, but if someone else steps up to make shots in this one, hopefully it’s a question Cooley won’t need to learn the answer to.

Georgetown – February 6

The Hoyas took a 96-90 double-overtime win back on January 12th in a game that Providence should have won.

Running it back at the Dunk would seem to bode well for the Friars but the Hoyas are playing good basketball right now, especially after their road win over St. John’s.

The key for the Friars will be containing senior center Jesse Govan, who went for 33 points (albeit on 11-26 shooting) and 14 rebounds in the opener. That may be easier said then done but it entails not allowing him any second chance points on the offensive glass, forcing him to catch the ball beyond his sweet spots so he can’t utilize his size advantage deep in the post, and pressuring the post entry passes from the freshmen backcourt of James Akinjo and Mac McClung (who combined for 7 turnovers in the opener).

Getting to that freshmen duo on the road will be key in other areas as well as Georgetown typically plays at a very fast tempo but is extremely turnover prone. The Friars will need to find a balance between being opportunistic on the offensive glass but also getting back and setting their defense in transition in order to force those guards into taking risks with the ball.

Don’t be surprised to see Providence attack Govan on the defensive end as well, trying to put him in as many pick-and-rolls as possible seeing if he can be effective defending away from the basket without fouling.

The Providence Friars face off against Seton Hall, Wednesday, January 30th at 7:00pm EST on YurView, Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.