I’m not one of the “sky is falling” type fans after every loss (although some of my network may disagree), but I do think it is important to analyze why the Providence Friars have hit a downward trend of recent.
To start, this isn’t a gut reaction to one loss. If you have read our previews and listened to our podcasts, we have clearly pointed out a few things we’ve noticed of recent that are causing some concern between Mike and myself. Below, we break down what we think needs to be improved upon so that the Friars can find some March magic.
Culprit #1 – Defense is Lacking
It is not just the loss against Xavier that prompts me to bring up the defense. Yes, Providence let up 94 points in regulation and at one point were down by 20+ in the first half. This just highlighted a concerning trend on defense. Providence allowed Connecticut to score 87 points a week ago, with the Huskies shooting 53% from the floor and 48% from deep. Even in the 20 point win over Georgetown, Providence allowed the Hoyas, a team that shoots 31% from deep on the season, to shoot 39% from three.
In the last 8 games, Providence is 4-4, which is miles away from the 6-0 conference start that PC had at the start of Big East play. In the aforementioned last 8 games, Providence has allowed just over 78 points a game. In that 6-0 start, Providence allowed 69.5 points/game. Quite a stark contrast.
Providence over the last 3 games is letting its opponents get too many easy looks from deep. That is not knowing your assignments on defense and falling asleep in transition. Seeing Nunge get two wide open looks from deep to start in the most recent game shows a lack of attention to knowing your opposition.
Resolution – Know the Scouting Report & Care on Defense
My biggest frustration with the team of recent is the apparent indifference to playing defense. Defense is not skill or traits based. It’s an effort and attitude part of the game that is lacking.
Fans are quick to jump all over Bynum, and I think the vitriol is a bit misguided. I agree that he is a defensive liability at 5 foot 9; however, that isn’t his fault. He at least tries on the defensive end. He is what he is, an undersized guard in a power conference. You have to live with that because he can get very hot from deep and is our best point guard on the roster at this moment.
Same goes with Locke. He is an undersized 2 guard that can fill it up offensively, but is limited defensively. He has made strides on the defensive end since the start of this year, but nobody is going to confuse him with being a defensive stopper.
Hopkins is one that frustrates me the most because he has all the talent in the world and exerts maximum energy on the offensive end and on the glass; however, he doesn’t seem to want to put forth much effort on defense. In the Xavier game alone, his contests on shooters were passive at best. He nonchalantly went under screens and didn’t really care to fight through picks set to contest open shooters.
Communication team-wide on the defensive end has to improve. There were too many lapses against Xavier that were a result of the players not speaking with each other. Boum and Jones had way too many easy looks offensively, and it was often due to Providence players not knowing their assignment and properly passing the player off to the next defender. That is Defense 101.
The bottom line is that you have to earn minutes on this team, and a lot of players seem to think scoring on one end is doing enough to play for the Friars. It isn’t if you are letting up just as many points as you are scoring on the defensive end. I saw a post on the internet that put it best: the issue Cooley faces is our 3 best offensive players (Bynum, Locke, Hopkins) are our 3 worst defensive players. It’s a really great point. I would edit that statement a bit and say that the issue with Hopkins is effort related. He is an NBA talent whose effort on the defensive end isn’t acceptable right now, especially if he wants to claim to be a leader on the team.
Culprit #2 – Slow Starts
For all intents and purposes, both Xavier games were over ten minutes into the game. In the first match-up, Providence found itself down double digits ten minutes into the game. They clawed back, but fell short, which is a theme that has transpired all too often this season. At home against Xavier this go around, Providence was down 21 at one point in the first before fighting back and getting the game within one possession.
The issue with these comebacks is that it often masks how horrific of a start Providence has. Even with these gritty comebacks (2 Xavier games, Creighton road game, Marquette road game), the end result is the same: Loss. Providence exerts so much energy to get back to even that they cannot ultimately get over the hump.
In the NCAA tournament, one slow start, and the Friar season is over.
Resolution – Higher Quality Looks on Offensive End, Along with Playing Defense from the Opening Tip
We’ve been saying it all year at The Crier that Providence often settles for jumpers and the deep ball early when they should be heavily reliant on attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line from the start of the game. It is almost as if the lightbulb goes off, and PC realizes it has the athletes to beat their man off the dribble once they are down 10.
I’m not sure if the team is trying to showcase their versatile skillset early and impress those in the stands, but Cooley should be trying to get Croswell, Carter, and Hopkins touches in the paint to maximize the chances of scoring early. It also puts the opposition in potential foul trouble.
The other resolution points back to issue #1 – defense. Providence historically has had subpar offenses, but were in every game because their defense was so stingy. Now, things are completely reversed, which is a weird sight as a Providence fan. When Providence cannot get the ball in the hoop early, their matador defense allows teams to get up on them quickly. So, while the slow starts are certainly bad, the lack of defense compounds the problems. It’s a snowball rolling down the hill.
Culprit #3 – Lack of Dominant Lead Guard
This one, to me, is the hardest to solve. Bynum has received far too much criticism. Cries (no pun intended) to bench him are ill informed. The Villanova road game where he went on his own personal scoring run exemplified why he absolutely is the guy at the starting guard spot. Offensively, there is no question.
The issue is good coaches and teams regularly expose him on the defensive end. Whether it is Marquette, Xavier, Creighton, even St. Louis, Bynum’s lack of size have at times killed the Friars defensively. The opposition will put him on an island and ask him to guard a guy driving downhill who has 3-4 inches on him. This will lead to other Friars playing help D, which in turn leads to open looks for the guys they are guarding. To my point made in item #1, it is not an effort thing with Jared. He just has physical limitations that hurt him defensively.
Insert Alyn Breed. Breed is probably the best all around defender at the guard spot that the Friars have. He plays solid defense, rebounds incredibly well, and has the prerequisite size at guard at 6’3. So, BOC, just swap him as starter, right? In theory, yes. The problem, as we saw against Xavier, is he can’t hit a single thing offensively right now, and that has been the issue for the past two years. Cooley is trying to get him to grasp the starting guard spot, but you are essentially playing 4 on 5 offensively with him on the court.
So, do you sacrifice offense for defense with Breed or do you live with the defensive shortcomings of Bynum? It’s one I don’t have the answer to, and I’m not sure anybody really does at this juncture.
This all may be a moot point if the Friars make a Sweet 16 run, and we look back and see that Connecticut and Xavier were also Sweet 16 (or better) teams. I imagine that may be the case, but it is healthy and okay to point out where Providence is coming up short. The slow starts can be a bit hit or miss, and the guard play will likely never be resolved this year.
Where Cooley can get this team playing better is by ratcheting up the defensive effort, playing with more energy, and knowing your personnel on the defensive end. If the defense can even marginally improve, Providence has the offensive firepower to mask the warts. If the defense can play up to the Ed Cooley standards, this team is an absolute threat to make a deep run in March. We just need the players to realize the importance of defense. Time will tell.