Tonight marks a big night for the Friars, who open their Big East schedule against St. Johns. This will be the first Big East game Ed Cooley will coach, and is also the second of a three game road trip, ending on New Years Eve against the Hoyas. Life doesn’t get easier when we return home, facing off against top ranked Syracuse, but as they say that’s the nature of the beast.
Still, it’s interesting to see how expectations have changed for the Friars since the season started. So let’s take a quick look back at some of the things that’ve changed, and some of the things to look forward to as well.
Our Current Record:
At 11-2 we currently stand exactly where we did this time last year. The opponents were similar in talent and the wins losses was exactly the same but there’s a few key differences. The first is how we got the wins. Last year it felt more like a situation where we outperformed the bad teams so much on one end of the floor that the other end didn’t matter and we wound up winning (hint: that end was the offensive end). This year, however, we have a full effort on both ends of the court with a coach that reflects it. No more winning by simply outscoring the opponent, we now win by outplaying and outsmarting them. We no longer rely on the gameplan of “score baskets” and now focus on caring about each possession regardless of who has the ball. We’re playing basketball, a game that rely’s on not only outscoring your opponent but limiting their opportunities to do the same to you. Holding opponents scoring down is nice, but their shot percentage and forced mistakes are the results of good defense. Likewise our baskets don’t come from heaving a three and hoping it goes in, but rather well executed plays. 11-2 may be the same as last year, but the journey to it was entirely different.
I’m going to go with the win over the South Carolina Gamecocks because, while it’s always satisfying to beat down BC and obliterate the hopes and dreams of URI, there was something significant about the South Carolina game. First, it was nationally televised and also part of the Big East-SEC challenge, but South Carolina is a team that many picked to win because, even though they’re not great, they were thought to be better than us. Still, the team came in with a plan of attack designed to beat the Gamecocks and everyone lived up to their potential. Bilal’s performance was inspiring and gave me hope for him, and our back court continued to demonstrate how underestimated it truly was. Beating an SEC team on the road is never easy, but the Friars made it look simple.
University of Northern Iowa made us their bitches that night. Who the hell knows what happened?
Best individual performance:
Vincent Council had a great handful of games, but it’s hard to pick one out. Bryce Cotton single handedly won the Bryant game for us, but at the same time our team looked flat as hell and probably shouldn’t have even allowed that game to be as close as it should’ve been. I’m going to say LaDontae Henton’s performance overall has been great, despite his flub against a URI team that he probably didn’t mentally prepare for because how could he, rivalries are always different.
Worst individual performance:
Big Baby Bilal Dixon pouting and whining on the bench. Dude, you have talent and you can be a factor on this team, but if you don’t step up why should you play?
A look ahead- Facing the Big East
The Big East is down this year, badly. Notre Dame lost a key player, Pitt doesn’t realize it lost a key player, St. Johns lost a key team, USF sucks, WVU isn’t as great as people think, Villanova forgot how to play basketball, and DePaul is still in the conference. Look, nothing is ever promised in terms of wins but if this team continues to move forward the way it has there are winnable games and there are games we could steal.
At the beginning of the season 6-12 would’ve been the equivalent of a miracle run, now it seems entirely possible not only to get to that but to surpass it. This team plays hard, disciplined, and unrelenting basketball, something we’re not used to and something nobody expected because nobody has seen it in a long time. Whether or not it translates into wins is dependent entirely on the team, but if we take the 11-2 performance we’ve seen and measure it up to what we’re facing then I’d say that we’re pretty even in terms of the mental game with most teams. There are teams that have more talent than us, some have less than us, but all of that means nothing if you don’t show up to play. If there’s one thing an Ed Cooley coached team has shown me, it’s that they’ll never show up unprepared to play.
One game won’t determine a season, and one season won’t determine a program. Everyone wants to play the hokey pokey with this team – they’ll put their left foot in this season but keep their right foot out for next year’s team with the top 10 recruiting class. Doesn’t work that way. We have at least 19 more games to play before we can put this season behind us, so let’s put both feet in this one and get ready for the upcoming challenges that are very conquerable.
My Best Case/Worst Case/Hopes: Based on this team’s growth and assuming they continue the ascension they’ve been on I predict around a 7-11, 8-10 record in the Big East with a win in the Big East tournament. A tall order but an attainable one. With 8-10 in the Big East we move to 19-12 for the season, and with a win in the Big East tournament I think we secure an NIT bid. I think worst case, should this team absolutely fall apart, we go 4-14 with a 16-18 record, good enough for a 5% off a charleston chew bar, because that record ain’t worth dick for a postseason. However, 7-11 would be a successful season in my eyes, probably good for 12-13 place in the conference, as well as a winning record. Not bad for a team picked to finish 15 and who many projected wouldn’t win a single game except maybe DePaul.
Prepare yourselves Friar fans, the Big East season is upon us!