With the pomp and circumstance of an upbeat and hopeful Late Night Madness in the books, and the ‘focus machine’ back and ready for action as the real work continues inside a program under transformation, it’s time to delve into some of the themes to follow this season.
Expectations & Will the defense rest?
The early pre-season polls are in and it is no surprise the Friars are a consensus bottom two or three pick in the Big East this year. It may be tempting for some to focus on the top 5 nationally ranked recruiting class coming in next year and classify this year as insignificant, but nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously record is always important and everyone wants wins, but this piece is not about a win loss prediction. It is about what our eyes will tell us. Yes, PC lost a huge component in NBA first round draftee Marshon Brooks, but this squad is largely the same defensively hapless group from last year, so it will be interesting to compare and see how they respond to Ed Cooley’s get stops first mantra out of the gate, and as the season progresses.
There’s no “I” in TEAM
Can this group come together as a team at Cooley’s urging? Having lost only two players who
saw significant minutes last year (Brooks & Duke Mondy), and despite not employing a true senior for this campaign, the Friars can actually boast experience as an attribute. Especially when comparing to
teams like Rutgers and St. John’s who welcome in a bevy newcomers, talented as they may be, who will need to see minutes from the get go in a league that, to quote the esteemed Providence Journal columnist and author Bill Reynolds, “eats its young”.
That said it is difficult to say how much actual stock can be put into last year in terms of gained experience. Because of the style of play, skewed ball distribution (more on that in a bit) and a well documented lack of commitment and focus, last season may not represent a good barometer of what these guys are capable of in a more traditional system where sharing the ball is important and
there is actually time spent thinking about defense.
Not to say last was a throw away year, but the idea that something significantly less than pushing the limit toward realizing full potential existed begets another overriding theme for this season. There is playing time to be had, and when people are in there they are actually going to get the ball once in
awhile and be expected to do something productive with it. Not to mention the promise of earning minutes on the defensive end of the floor, or losing playing time due to lack of effort there, which did not exist during Keno Davis’ tenure.
One year ago, and two score
A lot has been written and said about where scoring will come from this year but I do not think this is as much of a concern may appear on the surface. First off, this team is not going to play with the same frenetic, maximize quantity of possessions and try to outscore the opponent style that we saw the previous three years. Throw in the idea that if they play even a little more solid defense this year, the Friars will not need to average last year’s 75.8 points per game to be competitive.
Not saying they will be walking the ball up the floor the whole game or employing the old Norman Dale four passes before shooting approach, but the different pace and style will allow for both scoring and
giving up fewer points overall.
Further, the law of averages should play into the equation. The reason no one but Marshon
Brooks or Vincent Council was able to establish themselves as a consistent scoring threat a year ago is because Brooks and Council dominated the ball in a staggering manner.
Confidence represents a key element to scoring. A gateway to confidence is involvement in the
offense. Whether justified or not due to Brooks’ tremendous ability, Keno’s will or lack of trust in the other players it was readily apparent last season that Council only looked for Brooks and vice versa, and it affected the confidence and attitude of the other players.
The numbers bear it out.
Here are the percentages of last year’s team totals accounted for by Brooks and Council in major offensive categories: Points 50.5%, Shots 47.9%, 3pt. Shots 49.9%, Free Throw attempts 49.3%.
Simply put, although we saw glimpses here and there, no returning player other than Council had a legitimate chance to prove his worth offensively last year because they were shut out of the offense. That will not be the case this year. More people will be involved and empowered, and they will collectively chip away at the 32.3 ppg left behind by Brooks (24.6) and Mondy (7.7 ppg, 4th leading scorer).
Should I stay or should I go?
Make no mistake about it. The writing is on the wall. Ed Cooley has been quoted saying he is at
Providence because the current players failed, and that if he is going to lose and jeopardize his job he might as well do it with players he recruits and brings in. While it can be inferred that Cooley’s comments are largely intended to be psychological warfare and motivation for the current group, if one does the scholarship availability math (we have your back here, see the Friarblog scholarship tracker for details http://friarblog.com/scholarship-tracker/), there is no doubt it’s going to get crowded next year with three class of ’12 prospects already verbally committed and the possibility of more with the staff’s dogged
pursuit of front court help. This year represents an opportunity for players to compete and establish their spots for the future.
On a midnight train to nowhere?
Performance on the road will be yet another theme to monitor. PC held its own in home Big East games last year, going 4-5 with four of the five defeats by five points or less, and the other being an overtime run away loss (93-81) to Cincinnati.
As for the road? Fortunately in today’s day and age, the Friars get some sweet charter flights to road games. However the preferred travel arrangements did not do them any good last year as they posted a putrid 1-12 record away from The Dunk (0-10 in pure road games, 1-2 on neutral courts).
Defense, already noted as a major theme for this year’s Friars, tends to win games on the road because you can expect off nights offensively here and there but defensive effort is within control. So, if you have not already, circle November 14th on your calendar. Not only is this the first road game of the year but also one of the most compelling games of the season as PC travels to take on Fairfield. Yes, this game was reportedly born as part of a contractual agreement around Ed Cooley’s moving on to Providence but give PC and Cooley credit for not shying away from this one. It is not an understatement to say at Fairfield
will be one of the most difficult games PC will face all year. Not only will emotions be running high due to
Ed Cooley’s homecoming, but Fairfield is flat out good, an NCAA tournament contender, and they and their fans will be anxious at the prospect of knocking off a Big East team and perhaps sending a little message to their former coach.
Defense, team and individual growth and identity, playing more as a team to offset lost production, competing for their futures and toughness on the road are things to keep your eye on as the Ed Cooley era
begins in Providence.