With less than a month until Selection Sunday the Providence Friars (16-9, 7-5) have an opportunity for their biggest resume builder to date, as they square off against the Villanova Wildcats at the Dunk on Valentine’s Day. Villanova (23-3, 10-2) may be a lock for the tournament but have plenty to play for with a #1 seed in mind and have to keep pace with the Xavier Musketeers in the standings if they want to win their 5th consecutive Big East regular season title. The Wildcats are led in scoring by junior guard and National POY candidate Jalen Brunson (20.1 ppg) and in rebounding by redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman (7.7 rpg). PC is coming off a horrendous loss at home to DePaul 80-63 on Saturday, while Nova was able to get revenge against Butler 86-75 however they did recently suffer a similarly shocking defeat at the hands of St. Johns whom at the time didn’t have a Big East victory. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day the Crier has decided to go away from his Keys to the Game and move towards a different approach. Are you familiar with the candy Necco Sweethearts? It’s the heart shaped candy that tastes like chalk, have the printed phrases on them and are all the rage on Valentine’s Day. So instead of my keys to the game we will go with the Sweethearts of the Game.
Crier’s Sweethearts of the Game
I’m not saying the Friars should call on me personally to get them the win, standing at four feet tall that would be disastrous, rather they need to dial long distance in this one. In their last four games the Friars have gone ice cold from three-point land shooting a horrid 12/66 (18%) from deep. Remember this is the same Friars team that led the nation in 3-point percentage six games into the season. This recent shooting spell has dropped the Friars all the way down to 177th in the nation at 35% from 3 on the year. Obviously the availability of Jalen Lindsey (46%) will play a big role in the Friars being able to hit 3-pointers but there are others who are capable. Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock have yet to hit a 3-pointer since the last time PC played Nova and that must change in this one. Isaiah Jackson is another guy who is more than capable of making a 3 (38%) but he needs to get out of a shooting funk as well, making only 2 of 12 in his last four games. We know Villanova will make threes in this game, 15th nationally at 40.8%, so the Friars are going to need to make threes of their own to win the game.
If the Friars want a chance to beat Villanova then Kyron Cartwright has to have his fingerprints all over this basketball game. In wins at St. Johns, vs Xavier, vs Butler, vs Creighton and most recently at Marquette Kyron Cartwright was able to impact the game in a variety of ways. In those games he scored the basketball effectively and facilitated to his teammates brilliantly. He also took care of the basketball, got timely steals and chipped in with rebounding. Kyron doesn’t necessarily have to out play Jalen Brunson but he needs to make a major impact in this game for the Friars to have a chance. It’s Cartwright’s last go around and he needs to make it count. One could argue that this game against Villanova could be the biggest game of his career and he needs to come through.
Heart and Soul has been the culture that Coach Ed Cooley has tried to instill in his program since taking over at PC. For the most part Ed Cooley coached teams played with that fire, passion, grittiness and toughness, especially at home, but then came the DePaul game on Saturday. The Crier happened to fall into tickets last minute and made the trip to the Dunk. Besides the good friends, food, drink and conversation the trip was a complete waste of my time. I left the Dunk wondering why I decided to show up if the team wasn’t going to. Give credit to DePaul they did come out and lay the first punch but the Friars response was just pathetic. No one was diving on the floor for loose balls, the rotations on shooters was lazy and it seemed like no played with any passion. None of the players even seemed upset with what was going on they just sat back and took it. I hate to harp on one game but I was just so shocked with what I saw. If the Friars want any chance in hell to beat Villanova they have to play with that heart and soul we are accustomed to seeing. I don’t think it will happen but if the Friars give the same effort on Wednesday night as they did against DePaul they will get buried and the margin won’t be 17 points it will be closer to 30.
In the first game against Villanova the Friars came out hot and 12 minutes into the game built a 9-point lead. Kyron Cartwright came out guns blazing scoring or assisting on 11 of the team’s first 13 points. It was all down hill from there as sloppy play (14 turnovers) and Villanova getting hot from downtown (12/29) ultimately led to a 20-point victory for the Wildcats. In his post game press conference Cooley in as many words mentioned he was proud of the way they played early on and he couldn’t wait to get another shot at the Cats. I absolutely believe Coach Cooley meant it when he said he couldn’t wait to play them again. I believe Cooley thinks his guys can beat Villanova if they stick to the game plan and limit their mistakes. The team will definitely play a lot harder, Carwright will have a bounce back game but Villanova is really good (even without Booth and Paschall) and the way the Friars played Saturday I can’t bring myself to pick the Friars in this one.
Friars 72 Villanova 80