Big Picture Takeaway After Providence Escapes with a Win Against Butler 71-70

A win is a win. That is without question, especially this time of year. Rather than break down the game itself, The Crier and I are going to pivot and provide some high level thoughts on this Friar squad as they make the homestretch towards the Big East Tournament and NCAA’s. After watching every game of the Friars this season, we have a good feel for what the Friars do well and where they need to improve if they want to be a second weekend NCAA team.

  1. The on and off court leader of this team is Al Durham – Besides the fact that Durham effectively closes out games with his incredible free throw shooting ability, it was apparent after the Butler game that Durham is without question the emotional leader of this Friar squad. Even though he wasn’t playing against Butler, you saw Durham continue to be in the middle of the huddle encouraging his team. This was not a one-off thing. Even when Durham is struggling in games, you see him constantly talking to his teammates in a positive tone. The ceiling of this Friar team may be contingent on the health and return of Durham. They need him on the court during end of game situations as well, exemplified by the horrific free throw shooting in the closing minutes of regulation against Butler.
  2. Bynum is peaking at the right time – In the past 5 games, Bynum has averaged 22.4 points. I don’t particularly think it is a fluke, either. He has shown that he can knock down the deep ball, and he can consistently get to the rim against whomever is guarding him. Bynum elevating his game offensively gives Cooley what he needs. All of Cooley’s historically strong Friar teams have had a lead guard that is the catalyst for the rest of the offense. Bynum has turned into that, and I personally do not think it will be viewed after this season as an anomaly. This is my favorite in-season development of the 2021-2022 Friars.
  3. Half court offensive sets should start in the paint – The Friars are incredibly streaky from deep. They can be incredibly cold from beyond the arc, apparent in the loss to Villanova and first half against Butler. Where the offense is stable, however, is when Watson gets touches in the paint. There aren’t many big men in the Big East that can effectively shut down Watson, and I’d prefer the Providence offense emphasizes Watson as the focal point moving forward. Watson is leading the team in points per game at an incredibly efficient 56.4% from the floor. Relying on the three ball is a roller coaster ride, and I’d prefer if Providence stabilizes its offensive output by getting Big Nate touches as frequent as possible.
  4. Biggest adjustment needs to be ball screen defense – Marquette and Villanova gave the rest of the Big East (and nation) a blueprint on how to defeat the Providence Friars. If Providence is to make a push in the Big East Tournament and NCAA’s, they need to find a way to better defend the pick and roll. If they don’t, it could be an early exit in both tournaments. More communication is needed, and the bigs need to jump out and force the guards to try and beat them off the dribble (rather than allowing a 3 point shot).
  5. Friar fans need to live with the streakiness of A.J. Reeves because he delivers when it counts – When Reeves is on, he is ON. When Reeves isn’t on, well, it can get frustrating. Friar fans need to accept this because Reeves brings something to this team that not many others do – the willingness to have the ball in his hands to make a big shot with the game on the line. He willed this team to a victory with two massive 3’s after being ice cold the entirety of the Butler game. We’ve seen throughout his career that he has a reputation for hitting the big shot. Additionally, a hot Reeves opens up the entire floor for the rest of the Friar squad. Take the good with the bad and hope the good outweighs the bad at the end of the game.

Summary

While this team is by no means perfect, it is special. Providence has already tied its most Big East wins ever, which is incredible given Providence had 3 games cancelled and still has 3 games remaining. Providence should end up as a top 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, with the potential to raise their profile much higher in the coming weeks. Enjoy this season, Friar fans. As Cooley said yesterday, there is something special in the water with this Friar squad. Providence’s next game is against Xavier at home Wednesday at 7pm EST.

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