Tonight the Friars will make the drive down I-95 to square off against the Houston Cougars at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut. The game is part of a doubleheader in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase with St. Johns and St. Joes taking the floor in the first game. The Houston Cougars (9-2) are coming off a 20-point victory over Prairie View A&M, while the Friars (8-3) once again cut it close against an inferior opponent in a 62-60 win over Stony Brook. The Friars are dealing with a slew of injuries with Kyron Cartwright and Maleik White most likely both being out for tonight and there’s a strong possibility Alpha Diallo will miss the game as well. The Cougars are led in scoring by senior guard Rob Gray (20.4 ppg) and rebounding by senior forward Devin Davis (7.4 rpg). The game represents a big opportunity for the Friars to add to what so far is a lackluster tournament resume, so with that lets get to the keys to the game.
Crier’s Keys to the Game
Contain Rob Gray
Rob Gray is a 6’1″ guard out of Cary, NC and is the reigning American Conference leading scorer from a year ago. Gray has the ability to score from attacking the basket off the dribble and has deep range. Gray has shown the ability to put up points in an efficient manner this season. He is shooting 50.4% from the floor and 44.2% from 3 on around 12 shots per game. Gray also has the ability to get to the line where he attempts close to 7 shots per game and converts at a rate of 85%. The Friars have struggled against scoring guards all year long giving up 17 points to Nate Mason, 19 points to Ky Bowman, 28 to Jerome Allen, 20 to “Fatts” Russell and 30 points to Lawane Pipkins. It may mean that the Friars play zone tonight to get Gray out of rhythm but they need to do something slow down the opposition’s scoring guard.
The only time the Friars offense was fluid against Stony Brooke was late in the game when the Friars switched to a press and created turnovers and getting the team out in transition. With Cartwright most likely out tonight the Friars are going to have to find ways to create offense and I think their best offense tonight may have to be their defense. I don’t think this will happen because Cooley has never done it but I wouldn’t mind the Friars opening up with a press tonight. If they did that and got turnovers and scored easy buckets early it could do wonders for their confidence on offense in the half court.
Use Height Advantage
Despite playing plenty of opponents who had inferior size than the Friars, the team has yet to take full advantage of their size mismatch. A lot of this has to do with the inconsistencies that stem from playing young big men but the Friars are going to need them to step up. Houston is actually a pretty good rebounding team but don’t have anyone that plays more than 20 minutes a game that’s taller than 6’6″. I would like to see Kalif Young and Nate Watson want the ball in the paint and be aggressive. With all the injuries why not give Dajour Dickens some minutes? He’s only appeared in 3 games and while he may not be polished the Friars don’t have many other options at this point. I think playing Dickens can give the Friars a different look and he’s someone who can at the very least protect the rim.
Three years ago the Providence Friars had a program defining moment occur at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville. Coming off a year in which they made a surprising run to the NCAA Tournament after winning the Big East Championship the Friars were looking to see if they could have sustained success. Over a weekend in November the Friars would make a statement that their program was here to stay. They blew out Florida State in their first game and then won a tightly contested battle vs a Notre Dame team that ended up going to the Elite 8 that year. If we fast forward to today the Friars have made 4 consecutive NCAA tournaments however with success comes great expectations and so far this year’s team isn’t living up to them. While losing Emmitt Holt in the beginning of the year hurt and losing 2 more starters (Cartwright and Diallo) and a key reserve (White) has made things difficult the Friars could still be playing better than they are right now. The Crier feels like Rodney Bullock and Makai Ashton-Langford are trying to do too much themselves on the offensive side of the ball and forcing shots. While I would love to think the casino air would reenergize the team and they’d player better tonight I just don’t see it. The Friars are too shorthanded and wont have enough scoring to beat Houston. Over the past 4 games the Friars have only scored 66 points per game and that’s not good facing a team that scores over 80 a contest. I think a pro-PC crowd will keep the Friars close but they ultimately fall short.
Cougars 76 Friars 70
The good news is the Crier’s predictions have been way off this year so hopefully I’m wrong.