At the beginning of the decade of the 2010s a record of 17-14 would have been a great season for the Providence College Friars. Now it is a major disappointment.
After many years of subpar play under Keno Davis, and three straight 15-17 seasons the Friars moved on to a young energetic coach from South Providence, Ed Cooley. Since then, PC made the moves necessary to pay dividends to the team’s success and culture.
In his first six seasons, Cooley has led the Friars to five NCAA tournament appearances. With a young team, and a lack of impact seniors the Friars will not find themselves dancing this March.
How PC got to where they are
The season has been consistently inconsistent. Every game is a surprise, you have no clue what type of basketball team will be taking the floor. Some games the Friars play scratch and claw defensive battles like their 59-50 rivalry win over Rhode Island, and then the next game they fill up the stat sheet with a 100-95 win at Boston College. Polar opposite games happen only days apart.
The only aspect of their game that became a constant was their lack of ability to close out games in Big East play.
In so many games they were playing down the wire, but faltering when the game was on the line. Like when they had Georgetown beaten twice, and happened to give up three pointers at the buzzer in regulation and overtime, eventually losing in double overtime 96-90.
The Friars are not a bad team, but their lack of experience showed its ugly face in crunch time over and over as the season progressed. As I earlier predicted Providence finished Big East play with a record of 7-11, their worst since the 2011-12 season which was Cooley’s inaugural campaign at the helm.
PC’s lack of scoring prowess hurt them, and many games even their trademark hard-nosed defense was subpar. Thankfully for the Friars, they were tenacious on the offensive boards grabbing 31% of rebounds on that end, leading to second chance baskets. Without that, Providence’s offense would have been towards the bottom in the nation.
They rank 191st in the nation with 71.4 points a game, but who knows how bad that could’ve been without their second chance scoring. The Friars had an astounding lack of efficiency, ranking 301st in the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 47.8%. Providence also ranked 295th in two point shooting percentage at 46.9%, and 239th in three point percentage at 33%.
Cooley will have to look internally this offseason, and consider making some changes, such as getting away from the stagnant “flex” offense. Many possessions look hopeless, and lead to no open shots. Providence needs scorers. Anyone can play defense, but not everyone can put the ball in the basket. Without that more mediocrity will ensue for years.
If it wasn’t for their solid defense allowing 69.7 points a game, Providence’s record could look much worse than it currently does.
The Road Ahead
The Friars stumble into the Big East Tournament Wednesday as the #8 seed, facing off with a 16-15 Butler Bulldog team who they’ve beaten twice in the last three games of the regular season.
The first meeting was the stereotypical physical, tough Big East game. PC was able to pull it out in overtime 73-67. The second meeting was nothing less than a blowout. For a majority of the game, Providence led by 20+ points, and if not for a late run in garbage time the score would’ve been much uglier than 83-70.
The Friars have historically dominated Butler, in 13 games Providence leads the all-time series at 10-3, winning three out of the last four times the teams have met.
This is a Butler team that surprisingly has not been very good this year. After an average year, many expected them to rebound with a good season. That hasn’t happened.
Instead, the Bulldogs have been their worst since 2013-14. Butler has always been a high scoring team, especially throughout the last decade. This year they’re only averaging 72 points a game which is 6.5 less than they averaged last season.
Butler also has one of the worst defensive ratings in the country, tallying at a 103.6 rating, 223rd in the nation. This is not a great team, and they’re not necessarily extremely talented either. Providence would have to be disappointed to not win at least one game at the BET this season, and they’ve been set up well with a weaker Butler squad.
Although I have always believed that it is extremely difficult for one team to beat the other three times in a season, it has happened many times before. If the Friars can show up to MSG, and play inspired basketball they should have no problem dispatching the Bulldogs. Providence should take this first round game somewhere in the range of 72-63.
It’s no secret that the Friars need to win the Big East title to earn their way into the big dance. No matter how well they do in the tournament, they will at best be subjected to the NIT, and even then they have little to no chance of making that secondary tournament. If PC is able to get past Butler, they will be faced off with long time rival Villanova, who although has won two of the last three national championships is having a down year compared to recent success.
If the Friars somehow sneak by Villanova, who they are 0-2 against this season, they will be matched up with either Creighton or Xavier. Both teams are hot at the moment, and hold a combined record of 3-1 versus Providence this year. Marquette or Seton Hall would be the hypothetical opponents in a finals matchup.
All that being said, it seemed clear from the start of this season that the Friars were going through a rebuilding year. If they can sneak out one win against Butler, and then avoid embarrassment in the next round versus Villanova I would consider that a successful tournament for this team.
It has been an up and down year, but this will serve well as a stepping stone into next season. The experience the young guys on the team have gotten will help them get back into the big dance for the 2019-20 season, and even make a run at the Big East Championship.
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