Providence Friars Outlook Versus St. John’s

dave@friarblog —  December 30th, 2008 4:47 PM
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OVERVIEW  

The Providence Friars head into Big East play against St. John’s with an 8-4 record.  After expecting to make some noise with a new coach, a good returning point guard who missed last season, and an experienced team from top to bottom, the Friars were barely heard from in out of conference play.  PC only lost one game they really shouldn’t have (the opener at home against Northeastern), but didn’t really beat anyone impressive (other than URI).  Providence is 1-3 against teams in the top 100 RPI rankings — their only win coming in the aforementioned in-state rival game at home versus Rhode Island (#44 in RPI), which always favors the home team.  

The main reason why Providence has lost 4 games?  3-point shooting.  Plain and simple.  The Friars are shooting an abysmal 28.6% from downtown (down a Big East worse 9% from last year), which is good for a sparkling #302 out of 344 in the nation.  When it’s the focal part of your offensive game plan and you hoist up on average 22 per game and they just ‘aint going in, you will run into trouble.  

The Friars are continually improving on defense (last year’s achilles heal), so it figures that this year they can’t throw it in the ocean.  Does that mean PC’s guard oriented team isn’t going to keep firing away against St. John’s?  Don’t count on it.  The fewest they have taken in a game was 17 (against BC), and the most was 30 (against Sacred Heart).  Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie probably couldn’t shoot much worse right now, so it is probably just a matter of time before the whole team starts to click.  

Providence has been very good on the offensive glass, getting 15 per game (#18 in the nation), lead by Geoff McDermott with 3.2 per game.  Defensive rebounding has been another story (24 per game, 141st in the nation) — While McDermott leads the team with 5 Def RPG, Jonathan Kale and Randall Hanke only pull in about 3 each.

The Friars will be taking a 7-game home win streak into the game, having not lost at the Dunk since the opening loss to Northeastern.  PC is 4-5 when their BIG EAST opener has been at home (0-2 in home openers versus St. John’s).

Friars.com Official Gamenotes

THE PLAYERS

Ordered by most minutes played

G #13 Weyinmi Efejuku (SR) (as the AP likes to always mention, WAY’-mee ehf-eh-JOO’-koo)

Stats: 27.9 MPG, 13.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 33.3% 3FG%

Efejuku has always Providence’s most talented offensive player — when he decides to turn it on. This season he has been more consistent overall game-to-game.  However, much like the Friars as a team, Efejuku has had a lot of Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde first half / second halves.    For example, Providence was trailing by 11 to lowly Jackson State at the half, and Efejuku had only 2 points (and very few touches).  After Keno Davis apparently got in his face during the halftime speech, Efejuku took over the game and scored 16 points in the second half — driving to the basket at will and seeming unstoppable at times.  The Friars went on to win by 14.

Efejuku is one of the few Friars who has been able to take his man off the dribble.  It also helps that he has been one of the few Friars who hasn’t taken a complete nosedive in three-point percentage.  If he is feeling it, look for him to be the Friars’ go to guy on offense.

Efejuku missed the tying foul shots with a tenth of a second left in last years 2 point loss to St. John’s.   Hopefully he’ll forget about that one — I sure did until I looked up last year’s effin recap! F%$@.

PG #4 Sharaud Curry (JR)


Stats: 27.8 MPG, 8.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, 35.6% FG, 30.2% 3FG%

Point guard Sharaud Curry missed all of last season due to a broken foot.  As a result, Curry has looked good at times and a shell of his former self at other times, as he adjusts mentally and physically to his healed foot.  So far, it’s not looking like Sharaud will return to the level of his great sophomore campaign this year.  His quick first step off the dribble just isn’t quite there yet.  That being said, he seems to be slowly and steadily improving as the season goes on.  Curry’s shooting seems to be coming around, as he shot 5-11 from downtown in the last three games (30% on the season).  He was even rusty from the charity stripe, where he was a spectacular 90% foul shooter in his first two seasons with the Friars.  So far this season he is shooting 75.9% from the line overall, but has hit 11 of his last 12 over the last 5 games.

Curry has done a decent job running the point and taking care of the ball (save for a poor 5 TO performance against BC), putting together a solid 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio.

As Curry becomes more comfortable with his shot (and especially if the other Friar guards continue to struggle with their shot), look for him to become more aggressive in the offense.

F #12 Geoff McDermott (SR)

Stats: 27.1 MPG, 8.9 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 39.5% FG%

Anytime you watch a Providence game on national television, the announcers in the pre-game will be quick to point out that McDermott is the team’s best player for his ability to FILL OUT THE STAT SHEET (sorry for the caps, I’ve heard this so much so it must be important enough for caps).  While it’s true that McDermott has been versatile again this year, he simply has not been able to take his game to the next level and seems to have even regressed in his senior year.  Most Friar fans were excited that the former High School quarterback (this is also mandatory to mention whenever mentioning Geoff — If I don’t, I get fined $500) was able to contribute since starting from day one as a freshman.   Perhaps expectations were just too high, or he has just had too much trouble adjusting to new coach Keno Davis’ system.  Whatever the case, McDermott is just not getting it done down low offensively.  His FG% this season is only 39.5% and he has averaged 4 turnovers a game in Providence’s four losses.

Despite his offensive struggles, it’s hard to question McDermott’s intensity and desire to win.  He is once again the team’s leading rebounder with 8.1 RPG (3.2 ORPG).   Even though he has shot poorly from the field, McDermott has been pretty good at getting to the line (FT Rate of 75.5).  Though at one point his foul shooting was atrocious — hovering around 40% 9 games in.   Since hitting two clutch foul shots with 15 seconds remaining and with PC down 1 to seal a win against rival URI, he has been much better.

While he may not dominate the game, a solid 10 point / 10 rebound game might just be inevitable.

F #34 Jonathan Kale (SR)

Stats: 25.8 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 5.8 PPG, 54.3% FG%

Senior Jonathan Kale is seeing the most playing time of his career after seemingly finding himself in Tim Welsh’s doghouse most of last season.  As a result, he has had some really good offensive performances, including scoring 20 points versus a very good 11-1 St. Mary’s team in the Anaheim Classic tournament.  He generally seems to have trouble finishing down low, and has about 2 (give or take 1) dunks this season (and possibly his career).  If you listen to the Friars radio broadcast, you will hear announcers John Rooke and Joe Hasset lamenting over a Kale missed “bunny” layup two or three times a game.  

Kale has turned in a terrific FT rate this season (68.0 — 6th in the conference).   However, he has been throwing up numerous bricks at the line, hitting only 53% on the year. HacK-ale.

One of Kale’s biggest strengths is his aggressiveness, and he definitely used it to his advantage against the weaker opponents (although the St. Mary’s game was encouraging).  It remains to be seen whether or not he can make a big difference in Big East play.  He is definitely going to have to contribute more than 5.8 RPG against the big boys in the Big East.

If the team continues to struggle from 3-point land, look for Kale to become more involved in the offense.

G #1 Jeff Xavier (SR)

Stats: 24.1 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 2.5 APG, 23.6% 3FG%

The Rhode Island native and Manhattan transfer has gotten off to a terribly slow shooting start.  This is a huge problem for the Friars, because Jeff Xavier likes to let ‘em rip from behind the arc (no matter where he is) — and there’s not much else he can do offensively.   He has had a few games where he’s nailed a bunch of threes, but overall has shot way below his career 35% average (23.6%).   

Even if his shooting is off, Xavier continues to play really tough defense game after game.  Last season, he was 2nd in the Big East with 70 steals (2.3 per game).  Although he is averaging less this season, his 1.5 steals per game still leads the Friars.

If anyone is a candidate for a great shooting performance against St. John’s, Jeff is way overdue (he scored a game high 19 points versus them last year on 5-8 shooting from downtown).  However, if I were St. John’s, I would gladly encourage him to shoot as much as he wants until he can prove he can consistantly make some — He is SIX for his last 45 attempts (13%) in his last 8 games!  Pretty gruesome for a guy that shot 36% from behind the arc last year.

G #23 Brian McKenzie (JR)

Stats: 22.8 MPG, 6.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 22.5% 3FG%

McKenzie has been the most puzzling players on the Friars this year.  Before the season started, coach Keno Davis said the Junior guard was the team’s “best player” during the pre-season workouts.  This was encouraging, given that as a sophomore McKenzie averaged 10.9 points a game and shot a terrific 40% from behind the arc.  After a decent performance in the opening loss against Northeastern, McKenzie appears to be playing with absolutely no confidence.  He’s shooting 22.5% from 3-point land this year, and can’t really get anything else going on offense.      In the BC loss, McKenzie missed a point blank layup on a nice feed from McDermott with the team down 3 points in the final thirty seconds — definitely not helping the confidence.

Much like Xavier, McKenzie is shooting so bad I don’t think St. John’s has to worry about him until he can prove he can stick a few.

G #2 Marshon Brooks (SO)

Stats: 22.1 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 37.7% 3FG%

Sophomore Marshon Brooks has without a doubt been the best all-around player for the Friars this season.  He provides a great spark off the bench, always coming into the game in Keno’s first substitution at the 17 minute mark.  While he showed great athletic ability on offense and defense in limited time as a freshman last year, Brooks really improved his long-range shooting.  As a result, opposing defenses have to respect his shot, allowing Brooks to drive to the basket easier.

At 6-5, Brooks also creates havoc defensively with his long and quick arms, and his not afraid to mix it up on the glass (4 rebounds per game).  He helped shut down URI sharpshooter Jimmy Baron in the second half (scored only 2 of his 18 points), allowing the Friars to win a big in-state rivaly game.

Brooks has had some really dominant offensive performances so far (scored 24 points in one half , and 30 points overall against Sacred Heart), although against some weaker teams.  Friar fans are anxiously awaiting to see how he performs in Big East play, since it looks like he can be a very s
pecial player.  He definitely has the tools and confidence, as the Johnnies should find out!

C #32 Randall Hanke (SR)

Stats: 16.8 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 67.8% FG%

It may seem strange that a 6-11 5th year senior center who shoots almost 70% from the field (good for 2nd in the Big East overall) see only 17 minutes a game, but it’s really simple.  When Hanke is on the floor, he is a severe defensive liability.   He never seems to be in the right position, and opponents’ big men always have complete field days down low.  After Randall’s solid sophomore year of 13 PPG and 5 RPG, he missed all of the next season due to undisclosed personal reasons.  Since returning the last two seasons, Hanke has just not been the same player, and has not been able to improve his defense since coming into the league.  

Under new coach Keno Davis, Hanke seems to be an afterthought in the offensive gameplan when he is out on the court.  If he can find a way stay out there for a significant amount of time, Hanke has the inside touch to do some damage offensively if the Friars can find ways to get him the ball down low.  However, it might be tough to see more PT since he is so one-dimensional — Even with his 6-11 frame, he does not bring an advantage to the Friars in rebounding, having never averaged more than 5 RPG in a season.

Hanke scored 16 points and recored 4 blocks in 38 minutes of play in last year’s loss to St. John’s.

KEYS FOR ST. JOHN’S

1.  Start off strong
.  The Friars have a habit of digging themselves in a hole to start the game forcing them to always play from behind.   The team will typically come out soft on the defensive end, letting their opponents score easy baskets.  Throw in some brutal first half shooting performances (26% eFG% vs. Baylor, 35% eFG% vs Northeastern and Boston College), the Friars really have had their work cut out for them in the 2nd half.

2.  Take care of the ball. The Friars pulled off one nice comeback against Charlotte in the final 5 minutes and nearly came away with an amazing one against Boston College thanks to great pressure defense to force turnovers that lead to easy baskets.  The Friars are getting 8.2 steals per game (8th in the Big East).  PC will typically start out the game with a full-court press after made baskets, and will stick to it as long as its effective.

3. Counter PC’s half time adjustments.  One thing that always seemed to plague the Tim Welsh era was a failure to adjust coming out of the half.  This year, whether it be Keno’s coaching adjustments, motivation, urgency, or for some unknown reason, Providence has been playing considerably better in the second half.  The players begin to knock down shots and get more confidence, which leads to more intensity on the defensive end.

4. Attack PC’s front court. The Friars’ front court isn’t terribly big, aside from 6-11 center Randall Hanke.   As long as he repeatedly gets beat by his man down low, St. John’s can really take a way a decent offensive threat (when Hanke does actually get the ball down low in the offensive game plan).  Geoff McDermott and Jonathan Kale are the only other front court players getting playing time (Alex Kellogg has been hurt, and sophomore Jamine “Greedy” Peterson and Freshman Bilal Dixan are going to be redshirted), so its pretty much essential those two stay out of foul trouble.  With the constant rotation and evenly distributed minutes, Keno’s guys have so far done a good job avoiding foul trouble, with only 1 player (Efejuku) fouling out so far this year.

5.  Transition Offense. The Friars have had some trouble defensively against the faster more athletic teams (such as Baylor).  Even lowly Jackson State gave the team fits in the opening half as they repeatedly beat PC down the court.  While switching to zone helped in that game temporarily, the Friars are definitely more effective in their man-to-man / matchup zone setup.

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