Providence and Connecticut, two passionate New England rivals with no love lost between fanbases, are meeting for the third time this season after splitting the two games in Big East conference play. The 2:30 afternoon match-up is building up to be the most anticipated quarterfinal match-ups in Big East Tournament history. Ticket prices certainly reflect that. PC and UConn fans will be descending upon The World’s Most Famous Arena and the adjacent watering holes early Thursday.
This game is in many ways a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions. For Connecticut, it is a chance to build on the late season momentum they currently possess and potentially secure a 2 or 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Providence, on the other hand, is looking to find its footing after an abysmal close to an otherwise successful season.
The Huskies open as 7 point favorites, and the game will be jam-packed for a Thursday afternoon quarterfinal match-up. This is the first time Providence and Connecticut are matching up in the Big East Tournament since 1998.
Below, we break down what we’ll be watching for and what the Friars need to do to secure the victory.
Reviewing Previous Two Games
Keys to Game
Role of Jared Bynum – After the Seton Hall debacle, Cooley made some remarks about changes coming. At The Crier, we thought the only change may be swapping Pierre/Floyd/Breed for Bynum. Based off the Big East promo that was released that highlighted Breed alongside Hopkins, Carter, and Croswell, it may be a fair assumption to believe Breed gets the start in place of Bynum.
Breed getting the start has more to do with the composition of UConn than anything else, in my opinion. We’ve talked all year about Bynum’s deficiencies as a defender due to his size. Connecticut is massive. Newton is all of 6’3/6’4 as the lead guard. Bynum would be giving up 7 or 8 inches guarding him, and that is not putting Jared in a position to succeed defensively. Breed is known as a defensive stopper as a guard, and he has shown to have success against Connecticut as he was the primary ball handler in the win over Connecticut earlier this year. If Breed can play sound defense and avoid careless turnovers that lead to transition for Connecticut, he’ll have done his job perfectly. If he can add some offense to that, that is the cherry on top.
This also allows Bynum to come off the bench in a role he is extremely comfortable with as a microwave scorer and sixth man. For whatever reason, the consistency hasn’t been there with Bynum this year, and this is a chance for him to rewrite the narrative as we head into postseason play. Some folks may do better coming off the bench, and that may be the case for Jared. He certainly has the scoring chops to take over a game. Him coming off the bench also allows him to be matched up against the likes of Calcaterra, Diarra, and Alleyne. It could be a savvy strategic move by Cooley.
Hopkins Needs to Take Over – Providence doesn’t win unless Bryce Hopkins has a First Team All-Big East type game. He did that in the first match-up, but was kept in check at Storrs. I still think Karaban on Hopkins is coaching malpractice by Hurley, but it worked in the second game. I’m hopeful Hurley has a similar strategy. Hopkins needs to attack off the dribble and force Karaban to guard. He doesn’t have the footspeed or quickness to keep up with Hopkins. Settling for jumpers does Karaban a favor.
Bryce needs to be ready for probably the most physical game of his career and absorb the contact at the rim and try to finish. The refs are going to dictate the flow of this game, but Hopkins needs to be ready to be in a street fight. This is what this game is going to be.
Defensive Strategy: Identify Hawkins & Limit Transition – Easier said than done, right? Providence has a bit of a quagmire on its hands, as you want PC to be relentless on the glass. At the same time, sending bodies to rebound gives Connecticut the chance to get out and run. Cooley needs to decide if he lives with a lack of offensive rebounds and pulls his guys back to prevent transition buckets. I think that is the smarter strategy, while imploring your team to not allow too many offensive rebounds for Connecticut.
Devin Carter was, in my opinion, snubbed for Defensive Player of the Year. He has a chance to show it was a snub by guarding one of the best shooters in college basketball in Jordan Hawkins. Hawkins got the better of him in the second match-up, but a lot of those makes were in transition and off scramble offensive rebounds that led to easy kick outs. I love Carter’s make-up, and I think he’ll be ready for this one.
Be Even on the Glass – Connecticut is a force on the glass due to their size and athleticism in the 1-5 positions. Providence in the first game slightly outrebounded the Huskies, whereas in the second game Connecticut outrebounded them by 20. To my point above, I think Cooley needs to live with not getting many offensive rebounds and getting back to set up the defense; however, they absolutely cannot allow the Huskies to get too many second chance opportunities. Connecticut is too explosive of a team and playing too well to give them second and third chance opportunities.
Need Locke & Bynum to Show Up From Deep – Connecticut has the size in the frontcourt and expecting Croswell to go for something like 15 and 10 isn’t realistic against the likes of Sanogo and Clingan. What Providence does need is Locke & Bynum to get hot from deep in this one. If PC can count on Locke and Bynum to make 6+ threes on no more than 15 attempts, it will open up the offense in a massive way. This will allow Carter and Hopkins the space to drive to the rim, while giving Croswell more space to operate in the post. I want Providence to limit the number of threes attempted, as that just isn’t their game, but Locke (and Bynum) have to have the green light at all times.
BOC: I think PC comes ready to play in this one. We’ve heard about the demise of the Friars for far too long, and I love Ed Cooley in these type of settings. Despite all of the hoopla surrounding this team of recent, they haven’t forgotten about the last match-up about Connecticut. Cooley will have the boys ready. I think PC goes into half with a lead, but the size and athleticism of Connecticut prevails in the end. Connecticut 73, PC 69. Providence enters Sunday slightly sweating, but attains a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Crier: Honestly, my biggest hope is that the Friars get back to playing competitive basketball even if it’s at the expense of a loss. If they get back to playing the brand of basketball they’ve played all year it will make me feel much better going into the NCAA Tournament. While vibes aren’t great with the team right now I think we can all say we’ve had a bad week before. I think the Friars are ready to go in this one and if they can make UConn a jump shooting team they can get the victory. Friars survive and advance 75-74.