After Providence got their first Big East win over Seton Hall, I felt comfortable with the prospect of them going 1-1 on their two game road trip to Wisconsin and Ohio, with a loss at Marquette being the most likely loss and a win at Xavier. Still a tall order, but manageable. It would put the Friars at 2-5 and exactly where they were two years ago.
Fast forward to now: Despite many highs and lows on the way here, the Friars are 2-5 after a two-game road trip. Oddly enough, they’re also a win away from being third in the Big East. Once again, despite early season struggles, the Friars are doing Friar things at the right time.
Defensive State of Mind
Once again, the Friars have finally found an identity, and once again it’s on the defensive side of the ball.
I’ve gone back and forth with the Friars’ ability to defend this season, and they have gotten better as the season progressed, but they’ve seemed to lack that real grit that past Cooley teams have had. If there’s anything the Marquette and Xavier games have uncovered, it’s that this team has finally found it’s grit on the defensive side of the ball. They play tougher, guard better, and know how to force turnovers and tough shots. They put the Golden Eagles through a grueling first half before Marquette found their footing in the second, and they gave Xavier fits both in turnovers and Musketeer attempts at scoring in the paint. Since starting conference play, the Friars are third in the Big East for defense, including first in turnover margin.
Now, there is plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, especially offense, but when you can play competitive defense things will fall into place. You’ll force wins, or keep games competitive. If the Friars can continue to grow their offense as they have their defense, they will be a scary team come March.
Putting the Offense on Track
For as good as the defense has gotten, the offense still leaves plenty to be desired.
I don’t like to belabor stats very much, but the Big East play metrics for the Friars are ominous: last in free throw percentage, ninth in scoring offense, last in field goal percentage. Mind you, this is just in conference play, but still…
Marquette and Xavier told two different stories for the Friars stat wise, with the Xavier game showing exceptional improvement over the Marquette game, but the Friars currently lack a consistent scoring effort. It’s not a question of not having AJ Reeves – though that will help – because one player can’t be responsible for an entire team’s offense. Sure, you could point to Marshon Brooks’ senior year, but can I remind you that we won four Big East games in his senior year? And besides, this team has a ton more talent than Brooks’ senior year team.
Now, to not be a complete downer, there are improvements lately: Alpha Diallo (despite his less-than-choice free throw shooting at times) can score, Nate Watson is scoring much more consistently, MAL seems to have found his footing, David Duke is becoming an offensive weapon, and Isiah Jackson and Kalif Young are both good at points. Mix in players like Maliek White and Drew Edwards (who are good, but can have lows), along with emerging freshman Kris Monroe and Jimmy Nichols Jr. and the Friars really have more of a problem with remaining consistent rather than having a lack of options.
Long story short: the firepower is there, Ed Cooley will just need to figure out how to make it fire regularly.
Started at the Bottom Now We (Can Be) Here
I have been writing about Providence basketball since I graduated PC in May of 2011. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this:
The Big East makes no sense whatsoever.
Every team can surprise. There are no off nights. Yeah, yeah, yeah – you’ve heard all this by now. But you know what that means? Teams like Providence, in last place, can be just a win away from being tied for 3rd place in the standings.
Yeah, it’s really, really weird. And this season may be the weirdest yet. There’s so much volatility and opportunity that if the Friars can get a good push in the right direction on offense, those preseason third place predictions aren’t just realistic – they’re entirely manageable.
The next stretch of games will be crucial. They play DePaul at home, then head on the road again for a machup against Seton Hall before making their way to the Windy City for a quick rematch with the Blue Demons. Those are three entirely winnable games, which will put the Friars at .500 with an opportunity to continue upwards in the last eight games. It won’t be easy – it never is in the Big East – but it’s not insurmountable so long as the Friars stay focused and competitive. If Reeves returns during that stretch (which nobody knows if he will) that will give Friars a scoring edge they need, but it won’t solve their problems unless these positive trends we are seeing, particularly with Watson and Duke, continue.
That said, all is not lost, and this could be an exciting next couple of games for the Friars, potentially putting them in sight of the NCAA Tournament.
The Wisdom of Bob Walsh
This hasn’t been the easiest season at times for Friar fans, and I recognize that. It’s frustrating to watch the team see victory slip from them, especially when it’s at the hands of teams the Friars could have beaten.
I know that it’s never easy to digest the losses in those times. It leaves a rotten taste in my mouth, throws off my whole mood, and kills my motivation to do anything else for awhile. I try to write it off but I feel sour and jaded.
But after a tough loss I saw a tweet from former assistant Bob Walsh that really helped:
Lots of great things about working at Providence College. Maybe the best? Great perspective. There’s a drive to compete with the best. And they embrace that. But the ethos of the place involves so much more. Brutal loss. It’s ok to lose your mind for a bit. Don’t lose your soul.
— Bob Walsh (@CoachBobWalsh) January 13, 2019
“It’s ok to lose your mind for a bit. Don’t lose your soul.”
Those words have stuck with me, and I implore Friar fans to carry these words with them as well. We are not done winning this season, but we’re also not done losing, and those losses will be tough. It’s important to remember that feeling bad is understandable, and I think Walsh’s words about losing your mind for a bit are a way to give yourself permission to feel lousy. But don’t let it digest you, or take away what’s important – perspective and spirit. We all love the Friars, and the feeling that comes with loss is part of that, but don’t lose sight of the prize.
And, most importantly, remember this: the Friars are headed in the right direction. A sixth NCAA appearance is not out of the question. Keep your head up in tough times Friartown, good things are on their way.
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.