Yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard it before. “Perennial Big East bottom feeder is a ‘must win’ game because the loss is much more damning than the win is helpful.”
Nothing to gain, everything to lose. That’s the way people usually describe games like these. After all, this is an opponent who made headlines for winning back-to-back Big East games the first time in five years. Why would this win be the most important one we’ve had this season? Am I really trying to tell you that beating the Blue Demons means more than Creighton, Xavier, Georgetown, St. John’s on the road…anyone?
Yup. Hit the jump and let’s play.
Listen, fans may not want to hear this but we had every reason to lose this game. Right at the top of the list we’re playing on the road. And that’s a pretty important thing to consider already, but stack that up against this: Providence was playing their second road game in less than 40 hours. And that first road game was against a Marquette team that, even in a down year, still knows how to be an absolute nightmare to their opponents. Point in case: Providence had their lowest half of scoring against Marquette on Thursday night at 14 points, and finished the game with 50. They shot 17% in the first half and 32% for the game. Their free throw shooting – you know, the thing that this team has been getting recognition for at points this season? – was an abysmal 58.8% against the Golden Eagles.
So yeah, Marquette took this team to the chopping block. Before we even get into the “why” of these things consider the fact that this team had to then turn around after a loss like this and get mentally readjusted to go out and try again while still on the road. There wasn’t a “touch back to Providence, get your head right, go back on the road in a few days.” These players left Milwaukee and went right into Chicago after the game. Comforts of a familiar bed, gym and locker room were out of the question. This team had to get their heads right while being totally out of their element.
Exhibit A why Cooley is a great coach: he did it. In a day and a half Cooley had his team mentally prepared to step and win on a court that doesn’t say “PROVIDENCE” across the middle. If we’re looking at this game purely from a final score standpoint then mission accomplished, article done. But there’s so much more digging we have to do, starting with…
There’s no need to even imagine it – fans could see it Saturday morning. This team looked exhausted. Anyone would be if they had to play two games in such a short timespan. Goes double when you add in the whole “playing on the road” aspect. You could even say that you have to triple it up because the team’s depth goes about as far down as an inflatable pool.
The nightly demands of any Big East team are enough to tire out even the best players, but it’s the teams that know how to manage fatigue that are able to succeed. Already Friar supporters have seen the change in tempo from a fast-attacking offense to one that manages the clock and looks to puncture holes into the defense. By the end of games it’s become a usual frustration to see some of the best free throw shooters on the team clang the front end of a one-and-one off the front of the rim, or overshoot/undershoot the corner three pointer.
Without the benefit of a bench the Friars have to rely on a very refined system to manage exhaustion with little to no room for error. Part of that system means turning around in less than two days to play another game. Teams know this and look to exploit it. There’s no coincidence here that DePaul pushed the Friars and that the Friars had to fend the Blue Demons off to keep them from eclipsing Providence on the scoreboard. Tired legs won’t change though. Put simply, the bat signal can stay lit but reinforcements won’t be here until next season. Providence’s goal is to manage the roster they have, no wish for the one they don’t. Cooley has shown he can keep his players on the floor and keep them from succumbing to the tiredness, which is both a testament to Cooley and the players.
And keep in mind Cooley doesn’t complain about what this team isn’t. NCAA expectations didn’t go out of the window for Cooley when times got hard. “They’re supposed to strive for that!” you might be thinking, and you’re right, but then consider the fact that this team is meeting those expectations now. Fatigue, thin roster, lack of players – it doesn’t matter. Coach and the team have a goal, and they’ve come one step closer to achieving that goal with their win against DePaul.
As mentioned though this article isn’t just about some of the things from this game, it’s about why this game is the most important game this season. In order to make that clear we have to understand what constitutes an important win. Obviously the circumstances (fatigue, two road games within two days, lack of depth, NCAA aspirations) make it an important one, but DePaul? Wouldn’t a higher rated win be a better acclimation for this?
Well, not if you consider the long term benefits of what this win does. Looking back at the past five seasons we’ve had we see a few things. First, we see that there’s only been two winning seasons: 08-09 (19-14, 10-8 BE) and 12-13 (19-15, 9-9 BE). Both those seasons had some pretty significant wins and ended with the NIT. But what kept us from the NCAAs? In my opinion it falls to who we lost to. Providence had some bad losses in both those seasons that really gave their resume a hit. On the flip side, the other three seasons we went 12-19 in 09-10, 15-17 in 10-11 and 11-12, and went 4-14 in the BE in each of those three seasons. No postseason in any of those seasons, obviously, but then we also had some pretty significant wins.
What’s the common demoninator in all of these five seasons? In every one of them we beat a team we weren’t supposed to beat because they were better than us, but we didn’t take care of business in the games we were supposed to. Now look at this season. We’re 16-6 and have one bad loss against Seton Hall in double OT. Those other five losses, well, we weren’t favored to win any of them. That means they’re not bad losses. It does a lot for us culturally too (students, fans, recognition, crown-of-New-England) but those are stories for another day.
Look back to DePaul: we’re put in a situation where we’re in the bubble and being discussed. We’ve made it past the play-in games in most fields and are now projected to be in the second round, crawling as high as an eighth seed at one point. If we want to make this discussion become a reality we need to take care of games we’re supposed to take care of. And against DePaul, that’s exactly what we did.