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Friar Weekly: A Tale of Two Friars

The Providence Friars are 1-1 in Big East play. Splitting the road trip that spanned from Queens to Omaha leaving Friar fans feeling emotional highs and lows, and there’s been plenty to discuss.

The conversation, however, has been almost about two different teams. The team that dismantled St. John’s with a high octane offense that couldn’t miss, and the team that crumpled to Creighton on New Years Eve.

This “tale of two Friars” keeps fans asking: who exactly are the Friars? Are they the team that were red hot from behind the arc, sharing the ball, and a defensive-minded force? Or are they the team that shot 13% from three, couldn’t defend a shot, or get into a rhythm?

The answer is: a little of both.

It would be hard to say this team will shoot lights out night in and night out the way they did against St. John’s, but they’re also not going to head out there and lay and egg against Creighton. The important lesson to take from St. John’s is that the Friars do have the talent to run in the Big East, helping put questions that were raised in the nonconference to bed.

WIth Creighton, the challenges the Friars faced more or less confirmed what fans already knew: when the Friars can’t find their rhythm, they won’t find a way to win. Not to mention Kyron Cartwright hurting his ankle early on against Creighton hurting the Friars’ pace.

In a familiar trend to years past, it’s becoming more apparent that this team will go as far as their leadership point guard will take them. While Makai Ashton-Langford will be the point guard of the future, Providence’s performance with versus without Cartwright makes it clear: this is Cartwright’s show, and it’s on him to elevate this team.

But the real story behind this 1-1 road trip isn’t the dramatic differences in performance behind these two games, it’s what was similar.

Meet the Friars

Identity has been a big theme in the Friars’ season this year. Coach Cooley has spoken about the lack of identity several times during the non-conference, and how atypical it was of a team of his to lack the toughness in play. He wasn’t wrong either – the squad that went 9-4 prior to conference play struggled to show physical and mental toughness on the hardwood.

It’s as if a switch flipped for these Friars though. In both conference games thus far the Friars played with attitude and toughness that is exactly what one would expect from a team coached by a man whose first recruit was likened to the attitude of a junkyard dog.

That’s not to say the Friars looked good the whole time. They still struggled heavily against Creighton, even with a bigger on-court identity. But that rough performance had more to do with Cartwright going down. Look at the game from the first ten minutes and you saw the same thing the Friars did against St. John’s – play tough, match intensity, and don’t let up.

This will be critical for the Friars going forward. The Big East is never a joke, but this year seems especially brutal. Even DePaul and Georgetown are playing above expectations, which means the Friars must elevate their own efforts if they want to survive the teams that were picked at the bottom in preseason.

Despite that, it’s good to see the Friars playing with an attitude again. Fans were worried that the dysfunction observed in the nonconference would carry over, and though it’s still early that doesn’t seem to be the case. Now the question will become can the Friars maintain and grow from this newfound identity, but only time will tell that.

Ice Cold Shooting

As I write this column I’m waiting for the outside temperature to rise from the negatives. Leaving my apartment this morning it was -6 degrees – but with the wind chill it felt like -25. I waited for the bus to my office outside for a grand total of two minutes. In those two minutes I felt all feeling in my legs disappear.

That was still warmer than the shooting performance fans witnessed on New Years Eve.

Basketball is a game of runs. It’s a game of streaks. Teams can go cold. It happens. What shouldn’t be happening is shooting so bad the Friars are held to just 38% on the game, and 3-23 on three point attempts.

The offensive flatlines kept Creighton in a double-digit lead for a majority of the game, despite the Friars starting the game off competitively. There are reasons that the Friars went so cold – some are justified. Cartwright getting injured may have thrown off his game, but having only two points on the box score is still abysmal, especially given that he still played 22 minutes.

You could also arguably point to a very tough environment to play in. However, at the end of the day, the Friars simply can’t afford to be that streaky with their offense in conference play. Big East teams will eat the Friars alive otherwise.

Hats Off For Watson

I want to take this opportunity to quickly acknowledge how great freshman Nate Watson was against Creighton.

20 points on 7-11 shooting and hitting six of his seven free throw attempts has the makings of a future All-Big East forward. While it’s only one game, Watson’s progress as a freshman has been impressive. Once he becomes a dominant rebounder I predict Watson will be a fan favorite for years to come.