With the Providence Friars (13-12, 6-6) in much need of a victory to keep their bleak at-large hopes alive, Myles Powell and the Seton Hall Pirates have their sights on a different prize. In the midst of a dream season in Orange #10 Seton Hall (18-6) enters Saturday’s game at the Dunk looking to continue their march to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Why is this important you ask? If the Pirates do get a #1 seed they’d likely be placed in the East Region where they could end up playing in Albany, NY for the first two rounds and if they can get past that would play in the East Regionals at Madison Square Garden. In order to do that they need to escape Providence with a victory and season sweep. Since taking a beating at Rutgers (Powell left with a concussion) the Pirates have been on an absolute tear, winning 12 of their last 14 games. After losing in Piscataway the Hall has won every road game since, taking their first 5 road tests in Big East play. Their opponent Saturday has been on an opposite trajectory.
After winning back-to-back games vs Top-25 teams PC has dropped their last two games on the road at Xavier and then at St. Johns on Wednesday. In my opinion, PC should try to get to at least a 19-14 to earn an at-large bid. Most seasons 14 losses would spell N.I.T. but in a wild season of college basketball, with a weak bubble, this could very well be enough to get them an invite, especially if you’d consider their SOS, Net ranking and Quad 1 wins. That is why their 24 turnovers in a losing effort vs a St. Johns team that had only beaten last-place DePaul in Big East play was extremely infuriating. PC now would have to go 5-1 down the stretch, plus get a Big East Tournament win to get them to 19-14. The one saving grace is the fact they have 4 of their final 6 regular-season games at the confines of the Dunkin Donuts Center and it starts with Seton Hall. So how does PC avenge a 73-64 loss at the hands of the Pirates in January?
If you listened to the latest episode The Providence Crier Podcast (available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts) I told you the biggest thing for the Friars would be to neutralize Jamaican center Romaro Gill, who absolutely terrorized the Friars in Newark. Gill, who potentially could take home Big East’s Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year awards, was an absolute beast against PC to the tune of 17 points, 6 rebounds and 8 blocks. Ed Cooley and staff need to work on a gameplan to stop him, especially on the pick and roll. In the first game PC was so concerned with Quincy McKnight and Myles Powell that they hedged all of the ball screens extremely hard, which allowed Gill to roll to the basket with ease. Nate Watson was an absolute disaster defensively and Kalif Young wasn’t much better as Pirate’s coach Kevin Willard kept exposing them. Gill allowed the Pirates to dominate points in the paint and shoot 58% from the floor in the game. Despite all this PC managed to only lose the game by 9 so for Cooley and company the goal should be to hold Gill to under double-digits scoring, as the Pirates are 7-1 in games when he scores 10 or more.
In the first meeting, the Friars did one of the best defensive jobs on guard Myles Powell that any team has done all year, holding him to 14 points on only 6 shot attempts. Considering the Naismith Player of the Year candidate is coming off an abysmal game in his last time out in a loss to Creighton (12 points, 3/16, 1/11 3pt) expect Powell to have a strong showing in his last trip to the Dunk. So the Friars want to make it tough on his running mates. Back in January, Gill picked up slack in the point department, as did Quincy McKnight (11 points) and Jared Rhoden (15 points). McKnight, a transfer from Sacred Heart, has been a steady Robin to Powell’s Batman scoring close to 12 points a game, while dishing out 5.5 assists. Granted McKnight is in his second season playing for the Pirates he has adapted well to playing stiffer Big East competition, unlike Luwane Pipkins. Rhoden is only a sophomore but serves as the x-factor for the Pirates as a player that can score inside and out. If PC can make life difficult against the role players of McKnight, Rhoden and Myles Cale, Myles Powell will try to do too much on his own and tire out. The great thing about Powell though is unlike Marquette’s Markus Howard he tends to look for his teammates to get involved early and often in games, so stopping the help will be critical.
Finally, my last key for the Friars to get a win has nothing to do with the Seton Hall Pirates. TAKE CARE OF THE DAMN BASKETBALL! In what was viewed as a must-win game on Wednesday, the Friars were absolutely atrocious with their ball security in a loss the Johnnies. Despite the 24 turnovers the undermanned and under matched Red Storm begged for the Friars to win the game, including getting two hook-and-hold flagrants and a technical foul in a matter of minutes in the second half. Instead of taking advantage of an inexperienced team’s mistakes the Friars continued to give the ball away. If they turn the ball over 24 times against Seton Hall they are going to get blown the fuck out. So our guards White, Pipkins?and Duke (combined 15 turnovers vs SJ) need to play with much better poise.
Saturday night will be an interesting one in Friartown. With a late tip and the #10 team in the country coming to town expect a raucous crowd but on a short leash. The mood of the fan base was salty after not showing up in an important game against a bottom feeder team with some even calling for Ed Cooley’s job. I’ve made my point on that matter very clear but fans have the right to be upset with the way the season has turned out. Lofty expectations to start the year have deteriorated to potentially a second consecutive season missing the NCAA Tournament after making it 5 seasons prior. If the team doesn’t come to play Saturday night the crowd could turn ugly. Yet as is life as a Friar fan when all hope appears to be lost the team sucks us back in for no reason. I expect no less on Saturday night. Even though the Hall has a lot to play for, the Friars always seem to play their best with their backs against the wall in desperation mode. A loss would all but end their at-large hopes and the Crier doesn’t see that happening, at least not yet, after all this is only February.
PC 76 Seton Hall 71