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Providence is ending 2016 with some concerns

December 30, 2016 Columns No Comments

Was Providence’s 79-67 loss at Boston College to close non-conference play a case of the Friars being out of character or being exposed? Only time will tell, to be sure, but at first glance it doesn’t bode well. And that was before the Friars opened Big East play by getting thumped at Xavier on Wednesday night.

It was not a good start to conference play at all, but based on the opponent (Xavier has the best RPI of any Providence opponent to this point) and the Friars’ body of work beforehand, not entirely shocking. But there’s more to be concerned about than just the bottom line result.

Providence exited non-conference play with a 10-3 record, a good one for a group that lost two big stars. They came in as a bit of an unknown, a team that was carried by departed stars Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, the former with both his play and leadership. What remains is a lot of good pieces, but no one who at first glance looks to be of the caliber of Dunn or Bentil in the sense of being a sure first team all-conference player.

Rodney Bullock may be that player, but the jury is still out on that. Kyron Cartwright quietly had a solid season backing up Dunn a year ago and has done a very nice job running the team as the primary floor leader this season, but he’s a far cry from Dunn. That means other players need to emerge to support them, and that’s still an ongoing process right now aside from Emmitt Holt and Jalen Lindsey.

This also means the Friars have had to hang their hat on their defense, and until the last two games, they did that. They have surrendered the two highest point totals on the season in the last two games – 79 at Boston College and 82 at Xavier. Two prior opponents had shot 50 percent or better, both of them losses, and the Eagles shot 52.6 percent from the field and Xavier shot 60.4 percent, the latter best by an opponent this season.

The Friars pressed well against BC once a 25-2 Eagle run put them down 20, and it worked. It forced a number of turnovers against a turnover-prone team, and they got right back in the game. But it was too little, too late, and as Cooley noted, “that’s not our identity.”

There is talent surrounding Bullock and Cartwright, with the aforementioned Holt and Lindsey chief among them. Holt has been a presence inside, but is just 6’7″, so the Friars will go small often. Lindsey is starting to emerge with an expanded role, shooting well from long range on the season. Younger players from Kalif Young to Maliek White can help this team. Because their progress is unknown, how this will look later in the season remains to be seen. Young is the tallest Friar at 6’9″, so he allows them to play a little bigger.

Credit the Friars’ staff for putting together a non-conference schedule designed to help them win games and gain confidence. It does mean that their resume is thin entering Big East play – Providence is 0-2 against top 25 teams and 2-3 against the top 100 – but there will be chances to get good wins later on, at which point the Friars will in theory be better. They will need them even more because Boston College has an RPI above 200, though that will rise in ACC play and thus not be quite as bad a loss in the numbers – how much depends on the Eagles’ performance, which should at least be better than last year’s winless ACC showing.

It may be as simple as this group of Friars not being ready to win a key road game just yet. Wednesday night’s game was just the third true road game of the year, all against tougher opponents than they have faced in most of their home games. They played one of their best opponents, Virginia, at a neutral site. With the Big East slate having most of their road games in the first month – six of their nine conference road games will be played before February – the Friars have to be able to win on the road soon.

Big East play continues with another tough road game at Butler to close out 2016 before the Friars come home. They have allowed two straight opponents to shoot well, and of all they have to be concerned about, that trend is the one that most urgently needs to stop.

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