Good Morning Friartown,
Welcome to your midweek edition of the Crunch. Unfortunately for the many loyal readers of the weekend edition, I will be enjoying the sunny, 75 degree weather of Las Vegas this weekend, but don’t worry, if I can somehow wake up at 9AM Saturday morning, I should be able to catch the opening tip at the local sports book, where I would feel very confident betting on PC at this point in time, but that also means I won’t have the time or means to Crunch for you, so here we are.
Wanting to make sure the stat geeks out there can get their fix for the week, let’s talk Holy Cross, or check that, let’s took about how Providence just picked apart Holy Cross, mostly in the second half, on route to a 61-42 win. Granted, this game was not that close, and it was 61-31 at the under four minute timeout, before a royal rumble broke out and PC decided to stop playing defense. Coach Cooley’s head might have been ready to explode, but for a team who really only played six guys again tonight, another gutsy performance by the Friars.
Let’s start off this week’s Crunch with a little trivia question: When was the last time PC held a team to 42 or less points, and can you guess the team? And I’ll give you a bonus hint: Tim Higgins officiated that game! Oh wait, guess it seems he refs every game, doesn’t it?
Regardless, for that answer, you are just going to have to click to continue.
In what might have been one of the ugliest games of my childhood, the last time PC held an opponent to 42 or less points was on February 26, 2000, when PC won a 45-40 defensive battle at the Providence Civic Center against Boston College. Boston College shot 25.8% from the floor, while the Friars shot 29.1%. Three players finished in double figures in the game (BC – Kenny Harley; PC – Erron Maxey and Donta Wade), and despite Erron Maxey going off for 16 points and 21 rebounds, that game was super close, completely different from last night.
Holy Cross might not have played as bad as Boston College did that day, but it had to have been pretty close. For Holy Cross to win, they really had to do only a few things correctly: 1) Control Tempo 2) Shut Down Bryce Cotton 3) Limit 2nd Chance Points 4) Be able to Shoot Better than Average
So how did they do:
1) Tempo – Holy Cross is slow and deliberate. They don’t score the ball particularly well so for them to win, typically it’s to play too less possessions in order to limit the amount they have to score. They typically play at a pace just under 64 possessions per game, and in tonight’s game, they achieved that goal, as the game ended at 62 possessions. You would have to call that a win for the Crusaders, as they only gave up 8 Friar fast break points and 20 points in the paint overall.
2) Shut Down Bryce Cotton – This is going to be a problem for most teams this season, but Holy Cross really played into PC’s hand. For most of the game, Holy Cross ran a 1-3-1 zone, after realizing in the first 10 minutes of the game that they didn’t have the fire power to run a man-defense, as the pieces were not there to defend all five Friars as Bryce and Kadeem were getting into the middle at will. So they scraped the man and went to the zone. Problem with that was that now Bryce Cotton did not have to control the offense as much, as with the lack of ball pressure being exhibited by Holy Cross, PC was able to let him run off some screens and play off the ball more than he typically would without Vincent Council on the floor. As a result, he was able to shred the Crusader defense. He might have only finished the game 9/17 and 5/12 from three, but his shooting and fear of the shot was able to open up the defense for everyone else. He had his 27 points and 6 assists, and only 1 turnover. The other beneficiary: Josh Fortune. The lack of ball pressure allowed him to make better decisions and get the ball to Cotton. He finished the game with 8 assists and 1 turnover, although that 2/10 shooting needs some improvement.
3) 2nd Chance Points – This was actually a huge win for Holy Cross. PC scored only 12 second chance points, on what you would have to call a bad night for the PC bigs overall. They did not get particular good production out of Kadeem Batts tonight, who was supposed to be the anchor but only finished 3/8 from the floor and seemed to lose his touch in the 2nd half. Goldsbrough and Kofane struggled to hold onto the ball all night, so much so that Joe Hassett said that they should try to fudge the rules and get those guys some stick-em. PC may have had the height and athletic advantage but did not capitalize on that side of the ball, grabbing only 12 offensive rebounds.
4) Shoot Better than You Do on Average – The recipe for any upset, that you need to hit big shots, clutch shots, contested shots, any shot. Let’s be honest, for a while, Holy Cross was in this game, and after their big comeback against PC last year, they were not afraid. With 1:09 left in the first half, PC led only 25-19, and with 15:34 left in the 2nd, Holy Cross would score to make the game 39-27 Friars. PC would then go on a 13-0 run to extend the lead to 52-27 before a Holy Cross basket with 7:31 left to end a 8:03 scoreless drought. So why did this happen? Well, start with the obvious. Holy Cross shot 1-20 for 3, good for 5%. You aren’t going to beat anyone shooting outside like that, at least at a high major level. Let’s face it, PC did a good job contesting these shots, especially in the first half, but in the second half, they were missing a lot of open looks as well. At some point as a Coach, you need to look in the mirror and adjust. Crusader Cullen Hamilton shot 0-11 for the game, and 0-10 from 3. On at least three straight possessions in memory from the 2nd half, he took and missed open three point attempts. Holy Cross finished the game at only 33.3% from the floor, no ingredient for an upset.
So in the end, how did Holy Cross do? They won two battles and lost two battles, but the two battles they lost probably weighted about 75% of the equation. Providence did a great job of running their offense and being patient, and there were no bigger beneficiaries than Bryce Cotton and LaDontae Henton. Fine, Henton scored 7 points late when the game was over, a legitimate gripe I suppose, but I’ve always said it doesn’t matter how much you score, it matters how you play in the flow of an offense. I don’t care if a player takes 3 shots a game as long as the offense is clicking and he takes his shot when the opportunity comes his way, and he is definitely returning to the stroke that made him look like a talented Friar for years to come.
The other thing I noticed last night: The team seemed happy. Last year, it was a battle of body language and complaints. Kadeem, Bilal Dixon, and Gerard Coleman were all known for their pouting and temper tantrums when criticized or when asked to take a seat. You don’t see that so much this year, and when they came out of the tunnel at halftime, all of the players were laughing, joking, high-fiving. They seemed like a legitimate family, the type Cooley promised to build here at PC.
And more credit: Kadeem Batts, as he drew two more charges against Holy Cross. Coach Blaney was making fun of him on the post game for how he draws charge, but also seems to make them up on the other end, but it’s nice to see him giving up his body for the team. He helped inspire the crowd early on, as the 4,596 in attendance was not very lively tonight. Blame some of that on the weather and the people who stayed home, but it was very quiet tonight, and without some of those plays, momentum easily could have swung into the hands of Holy Cross.
And Holy Jim Burr, thought this guy retired? For some reason, that retired (insert word here) has officiated seven games this season, including UCONN-Michigan St. in Germany, three games in Maui (including the Butler/Illinois Championship) and in Providence lat night. He seemed a little mild tonight though, didn’t really get the Burr flavor of the game, perhaps because it was never close and there wasn’t an obvious call he could blow. And what about Higgins? Heard Maui Championship was his last game, but right now he and a few other refs tied for the lead in most fouls per game at 46.5 on average. He has called four games this year. Hope that nightmare is behind us.
Time to resume packing and test my gambling luck this weekend. I will be at the Dunk in spirit when PC takes on Mississippi St. on Saturday, and then we work into URI next week as well.
And of course remember, Go Friars!