How to Turn Around the Season: What the Friars can do to Make the NCAA’s

At 9-9 and 5-7 in the Big East, there is little optimism around the Friar program. Hope is not all lost, however. It wasn’t too long ago that the Providence program was in even more dire straits before they went on a tear to end the 2019-2020 regular season. Damn you, COVID.

This season offers up a whole new set of challenges, especially with the late breaking news that Nichols is out indefinitely.

We at The Providence Crier offer some ideas on line-up and personnel changes to kickstart this Friar team to make their typical late season run into the NCAA tournament.

  1. Get Bynum on the Court – This statement is probably met with an eye roll, with readers claiming, “No kidding, guys”. Bynum has been questionable to play for a few games now. I think, even if Bynum is hovering around 50-75% health, he needs to see the court. The offense is stagnant and needs another ballhandler out there. If Bynum offers nothing else, a veteran presence out there who can distribute the ball is sorely needed.

It is not as if Providence’s defense is flourishing in his absence, so even if he is a defensive liability out there, so be it. A less than 100% Bynum will offer up a needed change on the offensive end that could spark a run of sorts.

It is the antithesis of Cooley’s coaching DNA to wave the white flag on the defensive end, but maybe Cooley realizes this team will never be a top defensive squad. Why not just try to outscore the opponents? (I’d never thought I’d type those words covering the Cooley led Providence Friars).

2. Go Small – This is intricately tied to item #1. I think Providence needs to ditch the Breed, Duke, Reeves, 4 Man, Watson line-up. If Bynum is healthy enough to step on the court, I’d like to see the Friars go guard heavy with a Bynum, Breed, Duke, Reeves, Watson starting line-up. If Bynum is still too hurt to play, I think Cooley needs to try out a Breed, Goodine, Duke, Reeves, Watson line-up. Goodine showed me enough in extended minutes against Seton Hall to warrant a consistent uptick in minutes moving forward.

There is no question this line-up will at times get exposed defensively and on the boards. Not to state the obvious, but isn’t that happening already? Providence is staring down a sub .500 record as of this writing. What the Friars are doing now isn’t working. Why not give this line-up a shot to play with better pace and spreading of the floor? Also, it may offer some advantages on the offensive end for the Friars. Can you imagine a power forward trying to guard Reeves as Reeves comes off screens and readies himself beyond the arc? This line-up could create some mismatches that Providence can exploit to their benefit.

Lastly, the 4-out, 1-in line-up proposed above will give Nate Watson more room to operate. It is no surprise that Watson has struggled of late. With a Nichols or Horchler in the game alongside Watson, the paint tends to get clogged. Watson often gets doubled without a lot of options to kick the ball out to an open man. In this proposed scenario, a double from the defense will leave a guard open to shoot the 3 or drive into the lane. This line-up will provide some more breathing room for all Friar personnel on the floor.

3. Duke Adjust Offensive Game-plan – We’d like to see David Duke attacking the basket more and getting to the foul line rather than settling for jumpers and perimeter shots. He is such a big bodied guard that settling for those type of offensive shots is letting the opposing defense off easy. Put pressure on guards to guard him as he attacks.

Apart from the offensive game-plan, I’d hope that the staff is telling Duke he needs to start acting more like a leader on the court. His body language and overall demeanor is not great, and this energy then permeates through the rest of the team.

Kyron Cartwright never possessed the height and length and overall skills Duke has, but what he lacked he made up for with a burning passion to win and compete. He wanted the ball at the end of the game and was vocal towards both his teammates and the opposition.

I’d like to see Duke take on that persona a bit. Be a bit of a bully towards the opposing team, and the rest of the Friars will feed off that. He’s too passive of a player right now when he should be letting it known he thinks he is the best player on the court. Swagger is contagious, and I think the team needs a bit of that.

4. Win the Big East Tournament – If none of the above adjustments are made by Cooley (or, sadly, work), Cooley needs to look back to the 2014 team that won the Big East Tournament and dial up some of the same motivational tactics. Heading into that tournament, Providence likely wasn’t making the NCAA’s unless they won the whole thing. Even heading into the Creighton game, there were statements made that Providence likely wasn’t making it if they lost that championship game.

Unfortunately for the Friars today, the scenario from 2014 seems eerily similar.

Cooley and his teams are at their best with his back against the wall. Playing in the Garden (albeit without fans) may be an unforeseen catalyst that propels this team to make a BET run and into the NCAA’s. Cooley needs to be ready to inspire his team to play every game like it is their last. Due to how the season has gone, that statement unfortunately isn’t a hyperbolic one.

Conclusion – The last scenario is not one we’d recommend believing is a real possibility. Nothing the team has shown to this point makes it seem like anything more than a pipe dream.

We think that inserting Bynum (or even Goodine) into the line-up and truly embracing a 4 guard offense will provide a shift that leads to Providence reeling off a few wins. As of now, they can’t stick with the same type of line-up and rotation. Nothing on offense or defense is really working, so this line-up shift may be just what the Friars need to repeat a run similar to last year. Let’s see if Providence and Cooley have the courage to make this dramatic of a change.

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