"The Big East is a whole different monster," Clark said back in December. "In order to play deep into March, we have to prove that we can win basketball games in January and February. All we have to do to accomplish that is get victories in perhaps the most competitive men's basketball conference in America."
The Hurricanes have another chance to add to their NCAA Tournament resume this Saturday (Jan. 19, noon) when they host the Providence Friars at the Miami Arena. The Friars, 1-3 on the road before playing at Connecticut Wednesday, will bring three starters scoring in double figures and a productive bench when they touch down in South Florida.
Miami will be playing their second of five straight games at the Arena after a 14-day road trip through the conference. Despite having problems producing points in the paint and at times being forced out on the perimeter, all five UM starters are averaging in double-figure points per game.
Providence just might be what the doctor ordered for the Hurricanes, still recovering from playing five games in the last 15 days. The Friars, 10th in the Big East in scoring offense (71.6) through Wednesday, have struggled to score on a regular basis. Already this year, they have suffered a 20-point loss and several 19-point setbacks.
The Friars defense is 9th in the Big East, allowing 66.6 points a game. Providence has given up 76 points or less in all their games but three this year. The Friars surrendered over 80 points in losses to Austin Peay, Oklahoma State and George Washington.
The Friars have been inconsistent all season, with winning streaks of three and four games sprinkled in between to Brown University, Oklahoma State, George Washington and South Carolina. Providence dropped their first two conference games before defeating St. John's last week.
Despite giving away size and being outrebounded 420-383 (through Jan. 15) as a team, junior guard Abdul Mills has developed into the Friars main option in a offense that is well-balanced. Mills, the 18th leading scorer in the conference, leads the Friars in scoring (14.9) and is averaging 3.5 rebounds a game.
Just a 37 percent shooter from the floor, Mills is 14th in the Big East with 36 made three-pointers. Mills also has 49 assists, 25 steals and four blocks. The 6-3, 190-pounder has led the Friars in scoring in seven games this season (season-high 21 vs. Texas El-Paso) is closely guarded by the opposition.
Freshman forward Ryan Gomes has been a surprise, averaging 13.6 points a game and a team-leading 7.7 rebounds. Gomes is one of the top players in the Big East with a 60 percent field goal percentage (53-88).
Senior guard John Linehan is the team leader and plays a large part in creating most of the Friars offense. Aside from scoring 11.1 points per game, Linehan has 73 assists and a conference-best 65 steals. Linehan is averaging 3.80 steals a game and 4.29 assists a contest.
6-10 forward Marcus Douthit (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Sheiku Kabba (4.6, 1.4) and Romuald Augustin (4.4 ppg, 1.2 rpg) lend help off the bench. Douthit is the 20th leading-rebounder in the Big East.
The Hurricanes may not have the quality of depth on their roster to match the Friars, although they may not need it. Unlike in several of their past performances, the Hurricanes could have their way inside against a small-starting lineup.
Senior Elton Tyler (5.1 rpg), Darius Rice (6.2 rpg) , John Salmons (6.2 rpg) and James Jones (6.7 rpg) could potentially cause problems for the Friars. Miami was outrebounded in the last three games of their recent road trip.
After taking on the Friars, the Hurricanes will host the Villanova Wildcats at the Arena, Thursday, Jan. 24.
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