“Breaking Down The Madness:” YurView’s annual deep dive into the Big Dance begins on March 13 on YurView, Cox channel 4 in Rhode Island. See full schedule at the end of this article.
Once upon a time (November) the Providence Friars had an identity crisis.
Some early out of conference head-scratchers had Friartown wondering what this team was about. Sure, they were talented on paper, but could they get it done on the court? The consensus was the talent was there, but playing together was a hurdle. No big deal: that was an expected challenge with so many incoming transfers from different pedigrees. Still, the question remained: who was this Friars team, and were they capable of putting it together?
The “PC Friars: BDTM” series (Show #2 above) features Friar fanatic reporter Brendan McGair and Warrior Friar Superfan Daniel James examining the tough end of season schedule the team has, the Big East Tournament and potential Friar involvement in the Big Dance.
That changed almost immediately with their matchup against Seton Hall. A key road win that carried an unprecedented six-game conference win streak. All of a sudden Providence was a frontrunner in the regular season title race and needed to be taken seriously. More important to those rooting for the black and white, the team was doing this by coming together and playing tough basketball. If one guy was having an off night on offense, another would pick up the slack. Defense? Forget about it, the Friars would play 40 minutes of relentless, in-your-face-forcing-turnovers defense that frustrated as much as it provided opportunity. They had come together and figured it out, and they weren’t slowing down.
Case in Point: Providence’s win against Villanova this past Saturday. Watching that game made it clear why Providence has made a splash in Big East play, and that early season performance was them learning to play with one another. Providence played 40 minutes of cohesive team basketball. Devin Carter, Ed Croswell, and Bryce Hopkins were the triple threat needed to build and maintain a lead. One could get streaky and another would step up. This kept Villanova at bay to the point that they could challenge, but not overcome, Providence’s lead. Jared Bynum was off during that game, but it was okay because Noah Locke stepped up to help make up Bynum’s struggles.
This was the best example of 40 minutes of Providence showing who they are. At their core, Providence is most successful when they play as a cohesive unit. In this sense, the identity crisis from November was largely solved.
Unfortunately, this also means that when the Friars don’t play to their identity, they struggle. And that struggle costs them valuable conference wins that affect their Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament seeding probabilities.
This is on my mind as I write this article, only mere hours after UConn trounced the Friars and ran them out of Gampel. The hardest part of the Wednesday night loss was that it didn’t happen in 40 minutes, it happened in 20 – the second half, specifically.
The Friars played with their identity in the first half. They forced defensive stops, capitalized on second chance points, exploited every aspect of UConn’s game and did so as a unit. Sure, the Friars were down by a couple possessions at the half, but given the identity of this team being stronger in the second half and the momentum they’d been building, there was a lot of reason to be optimistic.
That optimism dissipated almost as soon as halftime ended. I could type every box score statistic and anecdote from the game, but you already know the numbers. I could philosophize what this means for our seeding, or how it might affect the team going forward, but chances are you’re already in plenty of those conversations. Instead, I want to highlight a stubborn truth: that sometimes everything you have just isn’t enough.
That sounds melodramatic, but stay with me. These types of losses have, in the past anyway, had us wondering further about Providence’s identity. Are they who we thought they were? Is this a turning point? Was everything we’d seen smoke and mirrors? This is a strange, reactionary response to a bad loss on it’s own. The more important truth, however, is that we already know this is Providence – unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to win.
Friars improve to 14-0 at home as they defeat No. 18 Creighton. Friars now 19–7, 11-4. pic.twitter.com/jZGXhW80XZ
— Providence MBB (@PCFriarsmbb) February 15, 2023
The Friars tried everything in the second half to make it click. They focused on drawing fouls down low to get to the line. They tried shooting through the streaky shots. They tried working the defense harder, smarter, forcing turnovers or fighting for rebounds. But UConn just had every answer this game. It wasn’t that Providence forgot who they were, it was that UConn remembered who they needed to be in order to win that particular 20 minutes of basketball – and then they went out and did it.
But this doesn’t nullify who the Friars are. This is the team that outfought not one but two different top four Big East teams in 2 OT wins. This is the team that can find ways to win and find support among themselves when someone is having an off night. The Friars know who they are, and losses don’t change that.
WIth three games left the Friars have some room to make the case to bump up a few spots in the field of 68, hopefully keeping them out of the 8/9 game and pushing to a 6/11 or 7/10 matchup. It’s up to Providence to realize that, and they have the identity to do it too. It’s not a matter of will their identity come out or not, it’s a question of whether they’ll be able to fully realize their identity in the remaining games they have.