Friars Lay An Egg Versus Rutgers

After playing with toughness and passion in its first three Big East games, the Friars came out with little energy and fell to Rutgers, 85-72. The loss drops Providence to 11-6 on the season and 0-4 in the league, and more importantly, raises a number of serious questions.

The first big question to be answered is, was this game an aberration or the beginning of a bad pattern? The Friars had played well in losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh and at least fairly well in a loss to St. John's, but had nothing to show for it. Against Rutgers, a team that looked to be very winnable on their schedule, Providence pulled a stinker of a performance.

The Friars, who have yet to win a true road game, played poorly on offense and defense, and gave up 85 points, including 52 in the second half, to a team that has struggled offensively. Rutgers carved up PC's defenses and scored at will in the paint. Freshman center Gilvydas Biruta manhandled PC's interior, as did forward Jonathan Mitchell. Although Rutgers outrebounded PC by just 41-35, the Friars' leading rebounder was guard Duke Mondy, with eight.

About the only Friar who performed well was Marshon Brooks. Brooks led a final surge in the first half with PC trailing 33-28, and his buzzer-beating lay-up put the Friars up by two at halftime, despite their ragged offensive play. In the second half. Brooks did most of his damage at the free throw line and only attempted six shots, finishing with 29 points. Brooks is having a senior season to remember, but has not had enough help. One of the questions coming into the season, was would Marshon disappear once Big East play rolled around, as he had in the past? So far, the answer is a resounding no, with 27 points against Syracuse, 20 versus St. John's, 28 against Pittsburgh and now 29 at Rutgers.

Getting more help for Brooks is a must. Sophomore point guard Vincent Council was disappointing against Rutgers, shooting just 2-13 from the field and with five turnovers against just three assists. Part of the reason for Council's struggles seem, to the eye, to stem from a lack of trust in his teammates. Council clearly trusts Brooks and he'll pass the ball to an open Mondy, but there have been times when he's grudgingly given the ball to Gerard Coleman and has not exhibited trust in feeding the ball to the Friar bigs. As a result, Council has forced some bad shots, missed open teammates and overdribbled at times, all while playing on tired legs.

The Friar frontcourt has underperformed in a big way as well. Bilal Dixon played just 14 minutes at Rutgers, scored two points and had zero rebounds. Speculation has suggested that all of the attention given to Greedy Peterson last year opened Bilal up for open looks and easy converts and that he's missing that this year, but Peterson's absence does not account for zero rebounds against Rutgers. Another theory is that Dixon is not fully healthy. Earlier in the year, there was a report of knee problems which resulted in his getting a knee drained and its possible that this injury is still hindering him and robbing him of his lift. Whatever the case, Bilal Dixon has not been the same player this year.

The other big who has been seeing significant time has been Kadeem Batts. Batts has clearly improved but still has a ways to go. He also struggled against Rutgers and while his offense is coming around, his defense leaves a lot to be desired. At times, Batts plays soft, and without an effective Dixon, PC's interior is vulnerable. Make that more than vulnerable. In the past several games, PC has been getting torched in the paint, especially when opposing teams break the Friar pressure. Add to that the fact that PC's big men often bobble passes into the post and the production factor of the frontcourt becomes pronounced.

The shooting problems that PC has suffered this season, manifested themselves again versus Rutgers. Other than Brooks, this is just not a very good shooting team. Council shot 2-13, Coleman was 4-14 and has yet to play well on the road, Mondy shot 2-8 and is very inconsistent, Batts was 1-4. While these players have certainly put up better numbers in other games, to think that they will become a consistently good shooting team at this point, is wildly optimistic. Now, you can survive poor shooting performances if you play great, lock-down defense, but PC gave up 85 points to Rutgers, allowed Rutgers to shoot 54%, and is allowing teams to score easily and often inside.

After an 11-2 start with a reasonably soft non-conference schedule, this has become a season about getting better as a program and as individuals. Against Pittsburgh, PC played hard and tough and had every chance to win. They got better. They did not get better against Rutgers. In fact, they got appreciably worse.

There is little margin for error with this edition of the Friars. If Providence does not come out to play and to play hard in any game, they will likely lose. That is exactly what happened against Rutgers. Play that way for the rest of the season and PC will lose every game. Play hard and tough and smart, and the Friars have a chance at success and turning this around. All eyes will be on the West Virginia game on Thursday. That will begin to answer the question of whether the Rutgers game was an aberration, or if the disappointment of the previous losses have taken their toll on this team.

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