In the 1-1 effort this week from the Providence Friars, something has seemed abundantly clear: this team lacks an identity.
Head Coach Ed Cooley said as much himself after the Rider game, talking about the lack of grit that this team is currently playing with, noting that until the mental and physical toughness is there the Friars won’t be a great team.
Ed Cooley: “This team doesn’t have the grit to be a great team. Right now, we’re too casual in our approach. That may sound harsh, but until we’re the grittiest team night-in & night-out, we’re going to be in these close games and hope we can come out with a win.” #Friars
— Brendan McGair (@BWMcGair03) November 30, 2017
This is an identity crisis for the Friars. For the first time in his seven years as head coach of Providence, Cooley’s team is lacking the “junkyard dog” mentality that’s become synonymous with the team. The question now many fans want to know is when will it come, and where will it come from?
Fans may be waiting longer than anticipated to see the Friars play at the caliber that was expected of them in the preseason. While fans would normally be seeing flashes of things to come from their team around this time (with the occasional hiccup), the Friars are still trying to show who they are. That may come at the start of the Big East, after this team has had a few months to play together, or it may come in February. The potential for this team is much higher than in years past, but will have to wait longer for the team to realize it.
As for where this will come from, this comes back to Coach Cooley. Cooley will have to find a way to instill an identity for these players. The thing is, it’s already been done in many respects – it just has yet to fully translate onto the court. That might have to do with how deep this team is, and Cooley still trying to figure out who will be getting what minutes and who will be trusted with the ball in crunch time. There are a lot of options, and in a way these options means Cooley (and fans) will be waiting to see who can fully be trusted to take over.
The key place this needs to start, however, is leadership from a player.
Who Will Lead?
Look at any previous Cooley team in the past, and what do you see? Chances are you can point to one or two players who are the centralized leaders of the squad that year. Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil – these are all players that come to mind and have help propelled the Friars to heights that fans could have only dreamed of under the previous regime.
This year, however, look at this team and you’ll notice that nobody has truly taken that role.
There are some candidates. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock both make excellent cases as seniors and playmakers. Jalen Lindsey seems to be automatic from 3 this year. Makai Ashton-Langford and Nate Watson are both making huge strides as freshman, maybe they could step up and lead.
What do all these names have in common? None of them are actually stepping up and doing just that.
That may sound harsh, but look to games like Rider and URI. Win or lose, there were situations where the Friars completely fell apart and nobody decided to take over and be the leader. This isn’t about scoring or making a few plays – though that’s part of it – this is about the player saying whatever needs to be said, acting however he needs to act, to get everyone in line and focused.
One of the most concerning things with this team is how they fall apart on defense coming out of the half. They could be playing a great half of defense and then look like they’ve completely forgotten how to play basketball. During a series of tweets last Thursday, I noted that the defense looks great when it’s on, but it can go to sleep. Someone replied saying this:
on a recent post game radio interview here locally, Coach Blaney referred to defending the other side of the court in the 2H…i.e. not in front of their bench where they can get more support and guidance. Need to figure that out.
— Mike (@Mike01588) November 30, 2017
This is an interesting note, and the coaching staff seems to be aware of part of what the problem is, but until someone on this team steps up fans can expect more problems like the defense going to sleep after the half. And the problem isn’t just defense either.
How Do You Analyze This?
When there’s no leadership on the floor bad things happen. Point in case: over 20 turnovers, less than 50% from the free throw line, and 23 points off turnovers for URI when Providence headed down to Kingston on Saturday. The result: Rams win their first in 8 years, the Friars drop to 6-2.
Where to even start with this?
First, it says that with some leadership on the floor the Friars win this game. The game was decided by either free throws or turnovers, and it’s really your choice as much as anyone else’s as to which stat you choose to blame for the L. However, away from the box score, it was the lack of leadership that resulted in this.
Why couldn’t the Friars pull it together while this was spiraling? Cooley is not on the floor, and players must manage themselves and hold each other accountable by working together and helping one another. That didn’t happen for long stretches on Saturday.
And yet, the Friars only lost by 7. Four Friars were in double digits. Miraculously, the Friars out-rebounded the Rams. Cartwright had his worst basketball game of his career as a Friar. Bullock was nonexistent for long stretches. And the Friars were playing in a hostile, hostile environment. I’d like the tweets to some of the videos, but in true college fandom, the Rams brought the pain and it helped them overcome the Friars.
This is what I’m talking about when I say that this Friars team potential is much higher, but we’ll have to wait longer to see it. If there’s one good thing to take away from this loss (and there isn’t much), it’s that the Friars showed that once they put it together they’ll be able to respond to great teams. It’s the lack of leadership that’s hurting them. And that must change if the Friars want to win games later in December through March.
Here’s the thing: fans shouldn’t be writing off the Friars because they’re having a hard time on the court right now. As it stands the Friars are 6-2, with two losses coming from NCAA Tournament teams.
The Friars have had some close ones, but they’ve won them and in the past those are games they would have lost. Heck, in the past the Friars have lost to some awful teams and it wasn’t even close. The loss to Boston College last year was detrimental. Three years ago the Friars lost back-to-back games against BC and Brown. Are any of these excusable? No, of course not. Do they justify the Friars’ current state? Nope, they don’t do that either.
However, what they do is illustrate a point. That point is the Friars are susceptible to losing games they shouldn’t. And this seems to happen earlier in the season when Cooley teams are still figuring themselves out. Given this trend, a more optimistic way to view this team is that they’re putting things together like Cooley’s teams have done in the past, but they’re much more talented and deep and won’t succumb to the same faults and losses as in year’s past.
Don’t get it wrong – this situation does present new challenges. The lack of leadership and the “so deep nobody knows who becomes the go-to guy” are both real, but those can be sorted out in time – and if previous seasons are any indication, they will. Losing to Minnesota and URI isn’t the end of the world. They’re missed opportunities, but the Big East is so deep and talented that the Friars can more than make up ground come conference time – as long as they’re ready.
And that’s what this is about right now. The Friars need to make sure they’re ready. They have the talent and depth to win games that in previous years they would have lost, but they also need to work through the kinks before they can win games that they have the ability to win (like URI and Minnesota).
This was a frustrating week for Friars fans, but there’s still a lot of promise in the season and a lot to watch for in terms of development. The Friars have some more manageable teams this week, and hopefully will use these games to help define roles on the court and establish better rotations, as well as build trust with ball handlers and scorers for those crunch time or “need to take over” moments.