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Friar Weekly: Will the Friars Dance?

I don’t get to see as many games live as I used to, so when I had the chance to drive down to Mohegan Sun to see the Friars play the Houston Cougars I didn’t hesitate.

There were two trains of thought going into this game: the first was that the Friars, despite injuries, would figure themselves out and end up winning this game, and the second was that the Friars’ recent struggles would hinder them to the point where they would get run out of the building. While the Friars didn’t escape with a win, to say they got “blown out” or even that they didn’t play competitive would be a huge injustice to what this Providence team accomplished.

If you looked at the final score it would show you that Houston won confidently, 70-59. If you looked at the box score and saw the difference in scoring percentages and rebounding, you would say “there’s where Providence lost the game” and move on. However, if you watched the game and saw the rally that Providence put together after being down by what seemed to be insurmountable 20-plus point deficit to bring the game in single digits, you’d realize that these Friars may have some fight in them fans previously didn’t know about.

It was surreal to watch in a way. The game clock was dwindling, fans were deflated, and it seemed as though most were ready to call it a night early to head to the casino floor or get some dinner. The Cougars had a big lead and didn’t look like they were taking their foot off the gas. Meanwhile, the Friars had struggled to break 30 points for a majority of the game.

Then, a methodical rally by the Friars that spanned almost 50% of the second half suddenly got the Friars in striking range. It wasn’t a sudden burst of scoring, or a complete hindrance of Houston’s offense – instead it was responsive, surgical, and focused. The Friars, having taken one too many punches to the mouth by other teams, were starting to fight back.

Yes, it was a game the Friars lost, and yes, if they had played more competitive during the entirety of the game they may have won, but as every child learns during one Christmas or another, you don’t get everything you ask for. Instead, take what you get, and what fans got was fight from the Friars.

I won’t go so far as to say this is a good loss – no loss is a good loss anymore, not since Cooley got this program on track. Instead, I will say the insights gained from this loss are worthy of keeping fans hopeful and focused on this year’s team. If fans do see continued fight, then it could mean the Friars may have yet discovered their identity – and it took a near-blowout loss to Houston at Mohegan Sun to find it.

Get Healthy – and Hurry

During the Providence Friars’ 9-4 non-conference run, there was an old enemy the PC team faced nightly: injury. While the Friars and their fans are all-too-familiar with the handicap of playing down a couple key men, the physical ailments that plagued the Friars during the non-conference did more than just make games more competitive (or even cost them a win or two) – it disrupted Head Coach Ed Cooley’s opportunity to build chemistry and rotations.

When Kyron Cartwright, Alpha Diallo, and Maliek White went down, it wasn’t quite the same as losing key starter Emmitt Holt in the preseason. While the loss was felt in the box score and game results (much like Emmitt) these players are still trying to learn their roles and the ways they’ll help this team win – as is Cooley. Although Holt will come up in many Friar conversations this year among fans in a ‘oh what we could have been’ sort of way, the fact is he’s a nonfactor on the court this year. Cartwright, Diallo, and White, on the other hand, are very much factors and need time to play and understand how they can best help the Friars win.

As it stands right now, Cartwright and Diallo are going to see how they’re feeling in a shoot-around later today before Cooley makes a decision.

There’s still no word on when (or if) White will return. The uncertainty makes planning games challenging, but it’s once they get back into the game that the real challenge will begin. Will they be at 100%, and if not do you let them play through it a bit or yank them early? What does something like that do to their confidence? How does this affect other players who are learning as they play (such as Makai Ashton-Langford getting adjusted to the college game)? These are the questions that, when you have multiple injuries like the Friars have, fans should be considering. The faster the Friars get healthy, the better!

Will The Friars Dance?

This is something every fan expected to see happen at the beginning of the year – the Friars going to the Sweet 16. It seemed as though PC had the talent and experience to go far, but the struggles since have made fans second guess what they thought they knew about this team.

So, after a full non-conference, will the Friars dance? There’s always the ‘maybes’ and ‘what-ifs’ that plague any team, but right now I’m going to say that I expect the Friars to be dancing come March.

Obviously, some things need to happen before then. The Friars need to get healthy, and they need to start playing more cohesively. They also need to find their identity. But, from everything seen in the non-conference, the Friars are trending in that direction.

For the Friars, it’s simple: keep trending up and get healthy, go dancing. Stagger, and you’ll be left in the cold. However, Cooley teams do tend to perform at their best late in the season, so there’s no reason why this year’s Friar squad wouldn’t do the same.
It’s a bold prediction, and one I’m sure many will disagree with. However, I have not lost faith in this year’s PC squad, and I think after a tough but informative non-conference, this team can make enough noise in the Big East to dance come March.