Once again, Friar defense put the Friars over the hump and survived a second half surge from the Bearcats, winning 54-50. This marked the fourth league game of the season the Friars have won while showing marked improvement. With the win, PC improves to 12-11 overall and 4-7 in the Big East.
Defensive Mindset: The Friars have demonstrated they are now buying into a defense-first system. And there’s a notable mark in when this transformation started to take place, leading all the way up to the win over Cincinnati.
First, Providence has become increasingly better at limiting the shots that opponents take. When the opposing team is able to get off their shot, they all tally in around the same shooting percentage. However, the attempts granted is what’s key. In the game against Providence, Cincinnati was only able to take 48 attempts, and converted on 37.5% of them. Tracing back to the first league games, this number has drastically improved. The first three Big East games (all losses) had opponents take 57 shots (Louisville), and 62 twice (DePaul and Syracuse) in these contests. It wasn’t until the first league game win against Seton Hall that Providence truly began to limit opponents in shot attempts, keeping Seton Hall at just 49 shots. The best correlation to this is that Providence is most successful when limiting the attempts of opponents, rather than limiting the conversion percentage. The only exception to this, so far, is when Providence played at Villanova where, despite Villanova taking 51 attempts, they only hit 14 of them.
While Cincinnati outrebounded Providence 38-31, this number is actually an exception to how the Friars have attacked the glass. In fact, rebounding is arguably where the Friars are strongest defensively. Providence is currently outrebounding their league opponents by a margin of 2.9 boards per game, with the Friars averaging 36.6 boards overall. The opponents, meanwhile, only average 33.7 a game. Effectiveness on the glass has been instrumental in the defense, as it allows Providence to prevent second chance scoring efforts.
Limiting shot attempts and second chance efforts from the opposing team has helped keep the Friars in these games, however ball protection has kept the Friars from emerging victorious in some close contests. The Friars currently average 14.7 turnovers in league contests, compared to 14.0 by opponents. While this number may seem so close that it could be arguably ineffective, in losses the Friars have averaged 15.5 turnovers to the opponents 11.4 (109 total to 80 total). In these lost games, the turnovers have resulted in an average of 20 points off turnovers for each opponent. Since the Friars are losing these games by an average margin of 8.5 points, taking care of the ball just a little bit more could have resulted in more wins.
Win and Win Big: Ed Cooley was quoted when he was first hired, saying that when the Friars win, they were going to win big. While the margin of victory over league opponents doesn’t reflect “big” in a scoring sense (the margin for each win has been PC by 12, 3, 3, and 4, respectively) the impact these wins have had has been significant.
For example, look at the win over the Bearcats. In this game Bryce Cotton, the leading scorer in the Big East, was rendered almost completely ineffective. Cotton was limited to just 11 points for the game, went 2-10 in shooting, and was kept scoreless in the first half. This was completely contrary to the other conference wins, where Cotton contributed 23 (at Seton Hall), 24 (Villanova), and 18 points (at Villanova) respectively. It was Kadeem Batts who lead the Friars to victory on the scoring front against Cincy, contributing almost half of the team’s collective points with 25 of his own on 10-17 shooting. This is significant not because Cotton had a bad game and Batts had a good one, but because it shows that players can be relied on to play team basketball to help win.
Look back two seasons ago: Marshon Brooks stunned the nation with his scoring abilities, setting records and personal bests, night in and night out. However, this could arguably be smoke and mirrors because Brooks was the only scoring option on the team, and if Brooks wasn’t scoring, well, Providence wasn’t getting any points. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Providence was extremely limited in scoring options during that time anyway, but it shows the evolution in the culture of the Friars. It’s not about one person getting points, it’s about Providence getting points. If a shooter has a bad night, there are options that allow Providence to remain competitive, and thankfully Cooley is instilling that.
Going Deep: At the beginning of the season Providence College was limited to as little as five scholarship players at times. There was, simply put, no depth. Once this changed the issue became not with a lack of depth, but how to properly leverage the depth that was available. After some moving pieces and a better adjustment to minute distribution, Cooley has found a formula that seems to be working.
Last game, Josh Fortune came off the bench to go 5-5 from three-point territory and help the Friars win at Villanova. This time out, Cooley gave Lee Goldsbrough 26 minutes off the bench. In this time, Lee went 3-3 shooting and grabbed 4 boards. Going back to the previous point about trusting players more, LaDontae Henton – normally a reliable, productive player – was able to be limited to just 18 minutes due to foul trouble and an off night without ever truly jeopardizing the game. Sure, there were tense moments (Lee’s foul to allow the Bearcats an And One with 14 seconds left and the score 52-50 was terrifying) but Goldsbrough played the role he was assigned and executed the game plan he was meant to play. This allowed him to be more effective coming off the bench and keep the game safe. This is something finally emerging from the Friars, and something that will allow Providence to win more games in the long term.
Turning Point: Over the past ten games Friar fans have learned a great deal about what they have on this team, but that opinion has changed over the past few games. From the road win over Seton Hall, to Cooley benching Henton and Vincent Council to drive home a lesson about defense, this team has slowly begin to shed the “five players on the floor” mentality and become a single unit. Players such as Lee Goldsbrough are starting to buy into their role, and with accountability being held without having to worry about a score, this team will start to improve at a much more rapid rate.
Cooley made a great deal of promises, and there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, but so far the Friars are proving that they are finally starting to get to where they need to be as a team. Cincinnati was more evidence of that, but this team now must continue that growth through February and into March in order to have the season end on a high note.
The Friars have a week off before taking action at South Florida on Wednesday, February 13.