The long wait is finally over. After the roller coaster of all rollercoaster offseasons, all became right in the world again as the Providence Friars secured a victory to go 1-0 on the season.
While media pundits, ourselves included, talked all offseason about a run and gun offense, it was the defense that was the calling card for tonight’s victory. All you needed to see was Coach English shouting with encouragement at his players after every loose ball dive and hustle play to know how he is wired. The tone for this team was set from the onset with two Ticket Gaines floor burns.
While English spoke to the NBA style he wants to implement, make no mistake that defense and intensity are going to be of paramount importance if you want to play for the Friars.
We highlight some of our takeaways from the game tonight.
1. Castro making his mark – There were questions abound around the depth in the frontcourt. I still think those questions have yet to be answered, but Castro certainly made an opening statement. You always have to take these performances with a grain of salt given the competition; however, Castro did exactly what you want a player to do when he gets minutes. In just 14 minutes, Castro poured in 13 points, added 6 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots. Most important, he added a dimension that the Friars don’t have anywhere else on the roster. I’d expect to see those minutes increase against Milwaukee.
If Castro can be a solid 5 man or (dare I say) play so well that you begin to wonder why he isn’t starting, Providence is in a great place in the frontcourt.
2. Ticket Gaines, the new X Factor – It took all of 2 minutes to understand why Kim English brought in Devonte “Ticket” Gaines. He set the tone early by hitting the ground for loose balls, much to the delight of Kim English. He’s not just a hustle player, though.
He’ll be this year’s version of Justin Minaya who helps out on the glass, impacts the game with winning plays not necessarily showing up on the box score, and makes a timely shot when the moment calls for it.
Gaines is the early leader for fan favorite in Friartown.
3. Carelessness with the ball – Not all was positive in the home opener, and I’m sure Kim English is somewhat happy with that so he has a few teaching moments. Columbia was able to hang around in the first half due to the sloppy ball handling and careless passing by the Friars. Providence finished with 18 turnovers to just 14 assists. I think you can chalk that up to opening night nerves, the expected difficulties of thrusting Pierre into the starting spot, and freshmen getting extended minutes.
At the risk of being a stickler, I will point out the five turnovers of Bryce Hopkins. That can’t happen. He was prone to trying to do too much last year, and I’m hopeful this was just a one game anomaly.
4. Subpar 3 point shooting – If you looked at the number of threes attempted and the success rate, you’d think we were watching a Providence team under Ed Cooley. Providence was 26% from the floor, going 6-23. Corey Floyd Jr. particularly had a rough night from deep, going 0-6 with many of the looks not being particularly close.
English has to walk a fine line between implementing his system and knowing who has the ability to fill it up from deep. I believe it will be an ongoing evaluation, but the first game makes me think we won’t be mistaking this team for a Creighton anytime soon.
5. Devin Carter, All Conference Lock – Devin Carter is nobody’s sidekick. While he is overshadowed nationally by Bryce Hopkins, he is a star in his own right. When the game was somewhat in doubt early, Carter took it upon himself to build out a lead with a series of basket makes and drives to the basket. He is the emotional leader of this team and seems to be the guy that Providence will turn to when adversity strikes. He seems well equipped to fill that role.
Carter does everything well. He is a stat sheet stuffer, finishing with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, and 1 block.
I don’t expect Devin to be around after this year, as I think the NBA will be his home next year.
6. Dual Injury Scare – The much anticipated college career start of Garwey Dual will have to be put on pause. Dual played a few minutes before existing with an apparent ankle injury. English didn’t know the severity post-game, but I’m hopeful it isn’t anything that is a multi-week injury. Providence needs him to reach its ceiling, and he needs to get game touches before conference play arrives.
7. Freshman Appearances and Initial Impressions – I liked what I saw from the freshmen, particularly Rich Barron. Barron is a big body that has a surprisingly nice stroke. The game appears a bit too fast for him at this juncture, and he needs to reshape his body, but you can tell Kim English trusts him. He may be a surprise rotational piece this year.
DeLaurier is still a few years away it appears. He needs to build up some bulk to compete at the Big East level. Counting on him for minutes this year isn’t a sound strategy.
Santoro got a few brief minutes at the conclusion, but there was nothing to take away from his showing.
8. The AMP floor issues continue, sadly – I don’t care if I’m going to be accused of being the old man shouting at the clouds, but I’m sick and tired of players slipping and falling on the court due to condensation from the hockey rink below the court. All it takes is one serious injury.
I saw a few players go down awkwardly, and the infuriating thing is this is completely preventable. Providence needs to read the riot act to the AMP faculty, as this has been a constant issue for years with no marked improvement (despite all the promises we heard all offseason). Okay, rant over.
9. Interior defense a pleasant surprise – The defense as a whole was spectacular. They held Columbia to 30% shooting and 23% from deep.
We knew that the backcourt and wings would be pests defensively. What surprised me was the lower body size of Oduro. He may not have the height of some of the giants in the Big East, but he is built in such a way that it may be hard to push him around in the paint. He’s well put together, and his size will help prevent bigs from getting to their place in the post.
In Summary, it was a nice first win for Kim English and the Providence Friars. I’m sure Coach English is happy to have the season here so they can focus on basketball. Providence’s next game is Saturday against Milwaukee at 6pm EST on FS2