Well…that certainly didn’t go as planned.
Starting with Boston College and going up until now something has been going on with this Friars team. We’ve added a McDonald’s AA, a top 100 frontcourt transfer, and a senior preseason All Big East point guard to the roster, and somehow we’ve regressed in all areas. Defensively we’re slower and struggling to keep up with the opposing team in man-to-man, or getting shredded like swiss in a 2-3 zone. Offensively we’re taking more shot attempts and not increasing our conversion rate. Adding more talent to the depth chart usually means you’d be more successful in these areas, so what the hell gives?
After a three game road trip the Friars came to the Dunk to open their Big East home play against DePaul, a team picked to finish a slot ahead of the Friars in the preseason Big East polls. For the past few years both teams have battled to keep out of last place, and after losing to DePaul at home two years ago the Friars got revenge on the road thanks to a last second shot by LaDontae Henton. Coming in as the 7.5 favorites many expected this game to go in the way of the Friars, but just the opposite happened.
Let’s get into it.
Pressure Defense: And no, I’m not talking about the bible of defensive sets as told by the guru of lock down D himself.
Big East play has been the equivalent of running into a brick wall for Providence thus far. In two games Providence has had 39 turnovers to their opponents’ collective 23. While the knee jerk reaction is to say “well one of those games was a top five Louisville team on the road, of course they’ll turn over the ball some” you need to remember that Providence turned the ball over 16 times against Louisville (a lot) compared to the 23 turnovers against DePaul at home (an unacceptable amount). Given the ball handlers we have on this team and the pace we’re able to play at, breaking a press like the ones Louisville and DePaul threw at us shouldn’t be an issue, and yet somehow against DePaul we came within a turnover of having a 1:2 assist to turnover ratio (the Friars had 12 assists collectively).
One argument is that there’s been plenty of backcourt injuries, maybe even enough to justify this amount of turnovers. We have Bryce Cotton with a knee injury, Vincent Council playing after recently damaging his hamstring, and Kris Dunn coming off a 6 month shoulder injury. Another argument is that this team, with so many recent additions (especially in the backcourt) will create chemistry issues, cause mistakes, and ultimately turnovers. Providing arguments one and two are true, that still doesn’t justify the fact that they’ve been careless with the ball, especially in passing. Too often now are passes tipped or full on intercepted, the ball wrestled away, or forced out of bounds. That’s not a problem with either of the pervious arguments, that’s a new manifestation the Friars are dealing with, and it’s concerning.
Defensive Drops: For the most part I hold players accountable for their own actions. Bad passes and poor shooting are on the shoulders of the players because it’s their responsibility to run the plays they’re meant to run successfully and hit the shots they’re meant to hit. Josh Fortune not hitting a single shot (went 0-7 from the field) is certainly on him to do better come game time.
However, the defensive situation does call for some coaching adjustments. The fact that the Friars are losing their men on defense or slowing down off a switch is a problem. This has been going on since BC and has caused one of two things to happen: either we can’t get over the scoring hump and are constantly playing “make up” on the next possession because the opponent answered our three with a three of their own (see: BC, Brown) or it allows the opponent to escape our grasp of competitiveness and run away with the game, leaving us to hope for a furious comeback run to keep the score dignified (see: Louisville, DePaul). This is an issue I believe needs to be met with the coaching staff, and not for lack of trying. When the staff saw the man to man defense begin to fail because players were losing their assignments, Cooley switched it to a 2-3 zone. That would work effectively for a few possessions, and then get torn to shreds like swiss cheese. Getting killed in the paint? Cooley adjusts to provide extra help. Now a player on the wing is left open and the opponent is raining threes on us. Start guarding the wing more aggressively? Now the opponent is driving and the defense is too slow to make the adjustment in time.
This isn’t a knock on Cooley’s coaching ability overall – I’m not shy to give praises to him, nor am I one to give free passes – but an observation on the changes that must be made. I’m not sure how Cooley will make these adjustments, nor am I sure there’s any one solution to re-create an effective defense that we’ve seen flashes of. I do know, however, that in the case of the defense this starts with Cooley.
Frontcourt Flashes: Now, I’m not saying our frontcourt is by any means perfect, or even where we need it to be, but against DePaul we finally saw some real levels of completion out of the frontcourt players. Of the five scholarship players in the frontcourt three saw the floor – Sidiki Johnson, Kadeem Batts, and LaDontae Henton – and while none of them had a “dayum”-esque performance, they all contributed in their own way.
Take Johnson for example. In what is easily his best college game so far he came off the bench for 20 minutes, ripped 13 boards, and added nine points for the Friars. Batts continued having solid performances, and you could even argue that he had a quiet night with only 17 points (the second highest scorer in the game, behind Bryce Cotton) as well as six rebounds. LaDontae Henton didn’t spark up anywhere significantly, and did have the worst performance of the three, but did still add six points and nine boards to his statline in 35 minutes.
Now, none of these numbers are overwhelming, and with the exception of Johnson it’s nothing we haven’t seen before (in fact, I would argue many of us have come to expect more) but the fact remains that this wasn’t a one-person effort up front, this was a complete performance by all three guys. It wasn’t enough to get us over the hump of DePaul, nor does it mean they’re exempt from the “needs improvement” category, but it is progress in an area Friar fans have waited to see progress in.
Turning Point: Within the first minute of the second half Providence had turned the ball over three times, allowing DePaul to score twice and take a 41-30 lead over the Friars. It was all downhill from there, and the Friars wouldn’t come within single digits until the 1:52 mark, where the Friars trailed 64-72. In fact, the Friars just barely saved themselves from a blowout, as a mere eight minutes earlier the Friars were down 40-62 and had only converted on four field goals in the half.
Performer of the Night: Normally this would be the “DAYUM” award, but since nobody played at that level it’s just a matter of “who played the best out there.” In this case my nod goes to Sidiki Johnson. He made the most out of his minutes, was effective in the glass (without his boards DePaul would’ve outrebounded us for sure), and shot the ball much better than in the past, going on 4-7 shooting. If he plays off the bench like this going forward it will be a huge relief.
Step your Game Up: Sorry Bryce Cotton, I know you’re injured and I know you’re giving it your all, but you just didn’t have the night you normally would have against this level of competition. Cotton finished the game (also coming off the bench) with 20 points in 30 minutes. While I’m not complaining in the least about that, Cotton only shot 4-13 from the field (including 3-10 from three) and only had four points at the half. Where’d the 20 come from then? He shot 9-11 from the free throw line. It wasn’t a good night for the clutch shooter, and I can definitely blame the knee on that one (he did have it drained), but there you go.
Coach Cooley Press Conference: