Let’s be honest, fan to fan: after a while, we all become familiar with patterns that the Providence Friars have historically followed. We know the expectations, we can read the preseason scouting reports and injuries, we know the opponents far enough in advance, and there’s enough math to make Isaac Newton’s head spin.
Fans can anticipate things about the season before they even happen.
What makes writing these articles fun for me is when genuine surprises occur. If you have an unpredictable game – perhaps due to an unanticipated win or a loss – that’s fun to talk about.
When you have a productive streak with this team, like that Big East 2014 Tournament run, that’s really fun. So a team like this 2019 Friars one, after what we’ve seen these first two games, well – this could be the most fun we’ve had in a long time.
Let me explain.
Flipping a Familiar Opening Night Script
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Providence has a season opener against a low-major team that should be an easy win. The matchup turns into a headache, but the Friars ultimately come out with a win, reminding us that they can’t take things easy for any opponent.
Yeah, well, thankfully that’s not the story we saw Saturday during the season opener against Sacred Heart.
Sacred Heart is a low major team, but no schlep either. Knowing the script in seasons past, you have to be prepared for anything.
The Friars, apparently, had read that script – and tore it to shreds to write a new one. They came out of the gate firing on all cylinders and didn’t slow down for a second, scoring over 100 and beating Sacred Heart by more than 40.
Okay, sure, opening night can have an adrenaline rush. However, did the Friars come back to earth in game 2 against NJIT? Only if you consider coming back to earth still scoring 70 and playing defense that didn’t even allow NJIT to get 50 put up. Again, NJIT is a low major, but it’s a low major that, like Sacred Heart, could conceivable be vying for a conference title come March.
Before we go any further, let’s look at it for exactly what it is: it’s two wins against two low major teams. However, the way that the Friars won – which we’re about to dissect – is what should inspire and excite the fan base.
Strong Wins from Strong Defense
When Ed Cooley became the Providence head coach, he came with a vision of lock down, relentless defense. We’ve seen what that can do in years past – how it can will the team to wins when it seemed like hope may have been lost.
Well, that defense isn’t just back, it’s gotten better.
The Friars aren’t always going to be able to put the ball in the hoop like they did Saturday against Sacred Heart. That’s just a fact. But if they can defend like they have been, those scoring droughts won’t be as devastating as they were last season.
I think we saw that during NJIT to be honest. The Friars struggled mightily from the field, especially beyond the arc, but their defense kept them competitive despite the offensive struggles. Lo and behold: the Friars got back on track offense-wise, and defense remained at a high intensity.
It bears acknowledging that this defense will be needed come Big East play. Watching our conference opponents has me assured of one thing: this conference will be brutal from top to bottom. When the offense isn’t there, relying on the defense will be crucial. Last year we didn’t have that, and we lost games we could have won because of it.
Make the Extra Pass…and Maybe a Few More Extra
In addition to the impressive defensive effort, there’s reams that can be said about the Friar’s offense. I could write an entire article about every positive step forward made in their apparent evolution.
But the thing I want to focus on is the selflessness of this offense.
We’re all accustomed to the term “black hole” when it comes to players and teams in basketball. I’m referring to the type of offense in which a player passes to one teammate with the ball subsequently never leaving that teammate’s hands again. The 2019-2020 Friars will not be like that this year.
Let’s talk about the 31 assists against Sacred Heart. It’s astounding. And it starts with UMass transfer Luwane Pipkins. The Friars sorely needed a consistent point guard who could distribute the ball, and boy did Pipkins deliver that and then some. Not only can Pipkins score and pass, he seems to have gotten everyone else to pass a lot more too.
The ball movement is nothing short of spectacular. It’s not perfect, but it is a joy to watch. From finding the open person to working together and moving the ball as much as the bodies, the Friars are creating better shot opportunities for each other.
Whether or not those shots are successful will change from night to night. That’s basketball for you. But the shots are going to go up, and the looks are better than we’ve gotten in what seems like ages.
It all starts with that extra pass, and Pipkins has brought that to the Friars arsenal.
A New Kind of Friartown Story
There’s a lot still to be said about the Friars this year, but I think the biggest takeaway is ultimately the new identity this team has.
I could talk all day about offense and defense, managing minutes, stats, numbers, but chances are you have seen that already. Instead, let’s turn to something that we all talk about but never put in writing: the story of this year’s team.
I’ve seen conversations – I’ve jumped in on them too – about this team. Where are they going, will they be ranked, are they for real, is this team special? All valid conversations, all questions I don’t know if I (or anyone) know how to answer correctly.
Here’s what I do know: two games in, and this team has caused me to think we have a new, exciting type of Friars team. I thought this during 2014 when I made the claim that the Friars could win the Big East Tournament. I thought it during the Kris Dunn/Ben Bentil duo year.
These are not necessarily things people don’t recognize, but what I think we need to acknowledge is that these are evolutions – advancements forward in the Friars program. Each step takes a little more effort than the last step, but I think this team may be the next step forward. A new story in both the Friars history under Ed Cooley and also in the greater program.
Will this mean the Friars make it far in March? I hope so, because I believe that’s part of it. But, either way, I think the foundation is there, and I think it’s something we’ve worked toward but haven’t seen until now. I think there is a new optimism and energy in Friartown, and this year will be something exciting and new. I can’t wait to write about it more.
THE FRIARS TAKE ON MERRIMACK TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19TH AT 7PM ON COX’S YURVIEW – CHANNEL 4 IN RHODE ISLAND.