The Friars have heard about the Connecticut Huskies endlessly all year. How many times have we heard some iteration of, “Connecticut is the dominant team in the Big East, they are back to the glory days under Calhoun, etc.”? Push came to shove Wednesday night, and Providence made a statement to the Connecticut program that talk is cheap. At least for now, the Big East still runs through Providence.
Providence was everything that Connecticut thought it was: tough, hard nosed, and the bullies of the Big East. Providence, despite the massive size disadvantage, out-scrapped the Huskies, beat them to 50/50 balls, and welcomed with open arms the physical nature of the game. The Friars hit the Huskies in the mouth, and Connecticut had no answer.
Below, we detail how Providence was able to upset the #4 team in the nation and what this win says about the trajectory of this team and season.
Revisiting Keys to Game
If you missed it, we did a thorough preview of the Connecticut game and what the Friars needed to accomplish to defeat Goliath, I mean the Huskies (https://theprovidencecrier.com/2023/01/03/a-classic-new-england-battle-providence-vs-uconn-game-preview/#more-5655).
PC’s Frontcourt – I had to triple check what I saw in the box score. Providence, whose tallest player at times is 6’8, outrebounded the NBA sized Huskies?! Providence brought its lunch pail and hard hat to this game, outrebounding Connecticut 41-39. It was a total team effort and needed to be. Connecticut has size everywhere with 6’10 Sanogo, 7 foot Clingan, and 6’7/6’8 Andre Jackson. When the game started, I must admit the size discrepancy, even amongst the guards, was shocking. I thought that if Providence could keep the score close in the first half, the crowd would will the team to a victory. They did that and then some (how about that Corey Floyd Jr. three ball?!).
Ed Croswell had heard enough about Preseason Big East Player of the Year Adama Sanogo and took this match-up personally. Despite the lack of publicity for the PC big man, Croswell got the best of Sanogo in this match-up. Croswell went for 13 and 13 compared to Sanogo’s 11 and 7.
We said that the frontcourt had to play Connecticut’s frontcourt to a standstill to even had a chance of an upset. Never in my wildest dreams did I think you could make the argument PC’s frontcourt outplayed the Huskies.
Disclaimer: Donovan Clingan is going to be a problem. Even when PC fronted him, Connecticut was able to get him the ball. He’ll be an All-Big East player as soon as next year. He absolutely should be getting more minutes.
Prevent Transition Buckets – Getting Andre Jackson in foul trouble made achieving this goal much easier. We forced Connecticut to play this game in a half court set, and it was one of the primary reasons Providence won. Connecticut was 36.5% from the floor and 22.7% from 3. PC’s man to man defense was incredible and clearly stifled the potent Connecticut offense. Connecticut scored 20 points below their season average. That isn’t a fluke. Providence slowed the game down and made life miserable for the Connecticut offense.
Hopkins and Carter are the Offensive X-Factors – If it wasn’t apparent before this game, it is apparent now: Bryce Hopkins is the frontrunner for Big East Player of the Year. While I think Hopkins was going to get “his” regardless, Hurley made life quite easy for him by matching Karaban on Hopkins. Hopkins finished with 27 and 5 and seemed like he could get wherever he wanted on the court.
Assigning Karaban to Hopkins was coaching malpractice by Hurley and may hurt Karaban long term with confidence. I think it would have been a more prudent move to have Jackson matched against Hopkins. Jackson may not have fared any better, but Hurley essentially put his weakest defensive player on the opposing team’s best offensive player. Not a wise strategy. In the re-match, I can almost guarantee Jackson starts the game on Hopkins.
Bynum Out, No Problem – Remember when we heard about how the win last year at Connecticut didn’t count because Sanogo missed the game? Well, Providence’s All-Conference point guard only played 9 minutes before hurting himself and missing the rest of the game. No matter. Providence went by the mantra of “next man up”, and Alyn Breed stepped in to do a fantastic job manning the lead guard spot.
As everybody knows, I am a huge Breed fan. Cooley has described him as a “silent assassin”. Breed may never be the flashiest of players, but he is ALWAYS game ready. He plays really strong defense, makes decisive decisions with the ball, and doesn’t force anything.
With Bynum out, I must admit I was nervous. I thought the wheels may come off due to the size and length of the Connecticut team on top of the endless full court ball pressure. Breed did a bit of everything. He had 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Most important, he only had 2 turnovers.
For those who wanted to run Breed off this squad, I hope the crow tastes great today. He is the type of role player every NCAA caliber tournament needs.
Andre Jackson, Let’s Pump the Brakes – In our preview, we highlighted how incredible Jackson is in the open court and how he can effect the game in so many different ways as a quintessential point forward. I acknowledge how much of a swiss army knife he is and how he is on a different level athletically than most on a college basketball court.
With all that said, the praise during the game was unbearable. At some point, you need to produce on the court before having lavish praise thrown at you. If you just listened to the commentators, you would think Jackson put up a Hopkins stat line. Jackson went 1-7 and 0-3 from deep and was a non-factor all game. The only time he was heavily in the mix was when he got in an altercation with Croswell when the game was already decided. It got to the point where the PC faithful at the AMP were begging Jackson to shoot.
Jackson is going to be in the NBA. I am fairly certain of that. The potential at this point doesn’t match the production, and it is okay to accept that. Jackson’s ceiling may be higher than anybody else’s that was on the court last night, but he has a few huge holes in his game that need to be fixed.
Locke’s Time to Shine – We talked on our podcast about how we needed somebody other than Bynum, Carter, Hopkins, and Croswell to carry the scoring load. Locke did that and then some. It was his best game as a Friar and came at a time where Providence desperately needed him. Locke was an efficient 6-11 from the floor and 3-6 from deep, pouring in 17 points.
What opened my eyes the most were the many different ways in which he scored. He drove to the hoop, finished in the mid-range, and snared a few key rebounds to get to the foul line. Locke is slowly turning into a Cooley-type player, and that is an incredible development.
Hat tip to Locke for an impressive game. The Friars needed it.
When entering Big East play, I was apprehensive about this squad due to the following:
- Frontcourt Play
- Bench Production
- Bynum Returning to Form
- Defensive Lapses
All of the above concerns can be washed away. Providence’s frontcourt can play with anybody in the Big East. Breed has shown to be a super sub off the bench. Bynum, despite last night’s injury, is close to his All-Conference form. Lastly, the defense is now playing as well as any Ed Cooley defense (what a compliment that is).
This Connecticut win showed that the early season Big East production was not a fluke and result of playing cupcakes early. The Friars are legitimate and trending towards playing for seeding in the NCAA tournament, not necessarily playing to get into the tournament. Who would have thought that in November?
I won’t say it yet, but with a win this weekend, we can seriously start talking about the “R” word. Not yet. But we’re close.