Welp, it’s official. It’s really official. We have a win streak. Three in a row. Road wins? Not a fluke. Protecting the home court? Not a fluke.
It’s really real.
What’s the deal with this though? I mean, honestly – is this a showing of things to come, or are we just hitting a temporary stroke of good luck? Well, let’s talk about it!
Composure – A Case for the Future: Look, there’s a lot that goes into winning a basketball game. Talent is on there, for certain. Executing is another big thing. Chemistry - you bet. But, probably one of the most important things that come to winning a game is a full 40 minutes of composure. This is what made later Tim Welsh and Keno Davis teams fail (among a million other things). And this, Friar fans, is exhibit A of something that’s giving me hope that this team really is turning a corner.
Look at it from a team perspective. You’re on the road against a team that, last season went to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. They’re down on their luck this season but they’ve known to play competitive, at least in the first half, and they didn’t disappoint this time. The Bulls shot 55% from the field, lead 20-7 at one point, and seemed to completely slice through the Providence defense like a samurai. Meanwhile, Providence was getting no love from their offense, with their leading scorer unable to convert on anything until the final minutes of the first half. Their defense was falling apart, and the crowd was not going to be sympathetic to the visiting Friars.
Did that so much as shake the Friars? Of course not. The Friars went on a friggin’ 23-2 run to start the second half. They went from shooting 37% in the first half to a whooping 66% in the second. They converted on 17 of their 19 second half free throw attempts. Kadeem Batts looked like the second coming of Dr. Jay out there. They played tough, rugged, and raw. South Florida had, for lack of a better term, no answer. It’s like when a bully (see? Referencing the title? Foresight.) is pushing around another kid, and when the other kid pushes back harder the bully withers and cries like a bitch. South Florida only hit 9 of their 29 shot attempts in the second half. They were outscored 51-30, and that 30 seems generous based on how the second half played out. It was like USF forgot they were still playing, like pausing an online multiplayer match of Call of Duty. Doesn’t work that way. And they paid for it.
House Cooley, King in the North: Okay, so, clearly this team can keep their cool in tight situations. That’s a reflection of good coaching and good on court leadership. And who cooler than our guards with Dunn, Cotton, Council, and – aw hell, why not? – Josh Fortune. Of course, who can forget the frontcourt too? Henton is finally playing defense again and Batts is looking like a savage in the post.
Well, that’s how they look. I can look like Michael Jordan if I play against the right opponent.
So, is it the team that’s getting better, or are we just becoming more efficient against worse opponents? I’d argue that the team is getting better. And before I make this argument, no, it’s not because we played Syracuse close and came close to beating some really good opponents. I came really close to getting into PC when I applied the first time too, but the rejection still meant I’d have to reapply and try again as a transfer student. Losses are losses, whether they be to Boston College, Brown, Syracuse, or UConn.
This partly relates to team composure, but on a more meta level, team mentality. This team isn’t relying on the other opponent having an off night, or hoping that their prayers of shots they throw up fall when they need to. No, this team is actually playing the game, and believing that if they play to the game plan that Cooley has given them, they’ll win. That’s fundamental to the team’s success, but it’s not omnipresent in the dissection. The fact is that no matter who was on the floor, if Keno Davis was coaching this team we would’ve lost this game. Sorry, that’s the truth of it. I don’t much like hypotheticals, but the reality is that Cooley has ensured this team would build on one another, acting as a strong foundation for the team to build itself up from and support itself around. At the same time, Cooley isn’t out there doing this for them – the team is executing with confidence and playing the roles they’re supposed to play. That’s a marked sign of improvement, and it’s why we were able to win on the road against SHU, USF, and Nova, and win at home against Nova and Cincy.
The next step in this? Continue to get over the hump. You don’t call yourself a conqueror if you can only hold claim to certain lands. Aegon Targaryen, the first of his name, taught me that. The fact is we’re on our way to becoming a respected team, a thorn in the sides of our opponents, but until we beat them we won’t have their respect. And we will beat them, as the rightful heir to Westeros, we will take back the Iron Throne.
What Comes Next?: Listen, this isn’t so much a summary of the USF game as an outlook on where we’re at. When you’re in a position like the Friars are in now, it’s not about slapping yourself on the back and thinking “wow this is great, I’m so happy” because, honestly, as great as this is, there’s a lot more exciting things to come. And, with so many places already relishing in the recent success, I don’t feel a need to continue that repetition because, well, I’m really excited for what we have in store for the future.
But what is that? Is it Big East titles? Top 25 rankings? NCAA berths? Truthfully, I have no idea, but I have a good feeling. As for the short term, we got Notre Dame on Saturday, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t keep the momentum going right through the Fighting Irish.
Player of the Game: Kadeem? Yeah, Kadeem Batts deserves it I’d say. 8-16 shooting, aggressive as hell on defense, and never once did he back down so far that he couldn’t get back up. We’re all very excited about the future of our backcourt next year with Ledo sticking around (positive projections people, this isn’t confirmed!) and Dunn, Austin, Cotton, Fortune, and who knows who else in the backcourt, but the frontcourt should be equally strong with Batts at the helm. He’ll need to be for his big matchup against Nerlens Noel when we play Kentucky December 1 at Barclays! (note: I have no idea if Nerlens Noel is sticking around, but I would like to see him to).
The “You Had One Job!” of the Game: Whoever does the graphics for ESPN. Dude, you messed up not just Josh Fortune but Kris Dunn’s pictures?! I mean, I understand you work on constraints but c’mon, there has to be a QA department SOMEWHERE! You had ONE JOB!