Wheels Come Off at West Virginia

Some losses are so bad they force you to question almost everything that you are doing as a basketball team. A 93-63 beat down at West Virginia is one of those games. There is not much the Providence basketball team is doing well right now, and it's time for Keno Davis to make some significant changes.

Bob Huggins is a Hall of Fame type coach who sometimes has very talented teams. Look no further than his team's Final Four appearance last year to understand that. However, this year's West Virginia team is not his most talented. They are a solid team without question, but they were only 2-2 in Big East play coming into a home game against Providence, and had struggled at times to score.

Not so last night at the WV Coliseum. The Mountaineer's simply pummeled the Friars with intense defense and excellent ball movement that demonstrated discipline in their offensive sets. West Virginia limited Providence to 31% shooting and a shocking 19% in the first half when they sprinted out to a 26 point lead at the half. The Mountaineers had 22 assists and only 11 turnovers, an impressive 2-1 ratio as a team. Bob Huggins' teams usually feast on opponents who lack discipline on the court. Providence right now is one of those teams.

Just about the entire Providence team played poorly in this one, with the exception of bench players Ray Hall and Ron Giplaye. The senior Hall was 4-5 from the field for 9 points with 9 rebounds in 9 minutes of play. Giplaye came in and worked hard as well, scoring 7 points and 3 rebounds in only 8 minutes of play. Marshon Brooks was largely handcuffed (13pts) by the defense of John Flowers and the inability of anyone else on Providence to generate any kind of offense. It was the first time since November that Brooks was held under 20 points. This brings us to asking the questions that must be asked when a team gets beat by 30 points. (It could have been 40 had Huggins put in his walk-ons).

Why does this team suddenly look so bad?

While most fans knew Providence was in a major rebuilding season that would not produce many Big East wins, they did expect the team to play hard all the time and continue to improve as the season went on. That appeared to be the case to some degree up through the Pittsburgh loss. However, the last two road games at Rutgers and West Virginia have really forced a revaluation of what progress has actually been made.

Keno Davis has always tried to implement a spread dribble-drive motion offense. In order to run that offense, you need excellent spacing, quick ball movement, a high assist, play making point guard, some outside shooters, players with the ability to get to the basket, and big men who can at least can screen well and score off interior passes from the point guard. Where is Providence deficient in these areas?

1. Play making point guard: Vincent Council is capable of being very good. However, he tried to do too much himself in the non-conference part of the schedule. It worked for him then because his talent allowed him to be successful. Now it's backfiring. Big East teams cannot be beaten with one on one play and are making Council and the Friars pay for it. While his overall assist numbers are still relatively high, how much of that is due to the fast pace the Friars play? Given the number of shots Providence takes, you could argue that Council's assist numbers could be significantly higher. Council's numbers have begun to fall off recently as teams play him to shoot first. He on had one assist and four turnovers versus West Virginia.

There also have been reports from around the program that Council's ‘go it alone' approach of doing things with the way he runs the offense in games and in practice have been causing some team frustration and problems since the Alabama game. If your point guard (who is the extension of the coach on the court) is not running the offense they way it is intended, you have no shot to win. Keno Davis has to get his point guard to direct a much more pass oriented style on the break and in the half court that makes an admittedly flawed offense as productive as it can possibly be. The responsibility to correct that is squarely on the shoulders of Council and his head coach.

2. Spacing: The Friar spacing on the court is often poor. Too much standing around and not getting to the open space has bogged down the offense and made it easy for defenses like West Virginia.

3. Ball movement: Whether on the break or in the half court, Providence is dribbling too much and not passing enough. Effective fast breaks pass up the court for transition baskets and get defenses off balance through the pass rather than coast to coast dribbling. Providence is easy to guard because they show an excessive tendency for over dribbling and one on one offense. How often does Providence pass up the court for a layup? This has been true of not only the point guard, but Brooks and Colman as well.

In the half court sets, more set plays from the head coach are necessary. This current team doesn't have the experience or developed skill to properly identify defensive looks well enough and adjust on the fly. They need more direction from the bench in the half court offense to maximize the skill they have. The players also need to execute those directions or take a seat.

4. Outside Shooting: Providence is not a very good outside shooting team outside of Brooks, but they could improve their chances with better ball movement, spacing, and taking more quality shots. How many times has a Providence player launched a contested three point shot with 25 seconds on the shot clock? You can get that sort of shot anytime and it is a clear indication of a deficit of on-court discipline. Providence has been held to roughly 30% shooting the last two games. It can't keep happening without consequences.

5. Big Men Positioning: The Friar front court is limited in post skills this year, but they still can be more effective if are in position to receive passes from guards penetrating toward the basket. Last year, Providence big men got a lot of easy baseline dunks and lay-ups simply from being in good position to receive the ball when the guards penetrate. Dixon and Batts must get involved in the offense early in the game so they stay active throughout. They also must set better screens. When things have gotten difficult there have been too many half hearted picks set by frustrated big men.

After showing a lot of energy with their defense and press in the non-conference and early Big East losses through the Pittsburgh game, Providence has once again reverted to sieve the last two games on the defensive side of the ball. What's changed that's making the Friar defense suddenly look like a rerun of last year?

1. Road Rules: First off, outside of perhaps the Syracuse game, Providence has yet to put up a quality defensive effort in any road game. Moreover, giving up 85 points to an offensively challenged team like Rutgers and over ninety to a West Virginia team that hadn't put up 90 points since the their first game of the season is fairly telling. Providence goes from streaky to flat out awful on defense once they hit the road. Providence has to play with more pride under adverse conditions in hostile environment.

2. Lack of interior defense: When freshman big men like Gilvydas Biruta from Rutgers and defensive specialists like John Flowers start lighting you up, it's a red flag. The Friar big men are too often out of position in their half court defense and late on rotations. When they stop the first shot opportunity, they too often give up the second chance shot for an easy put back. West Virginia forward Kevin Jones alone had 8 offensive rebounds against the Friars and feasted on second shot opportunities for 19 points. This is how you end up getting blown out.

3. Setting the Press: Providence's press and perimeter defense is the area the defense is usually most effective. However, when the Friars aren't making any shots like the last two games, the press is not a factor at all. Moreover, pressing requires a lot of energy and teamwork. When the Friars get down, so does their defensive energy which totally defeats the point of pressure defense. Providence was also repeatedly beat for loose balls by the Mountaineers.

4. Toughness: How many times do the Friars have to get dunked on inside before they start getting physical and making their opponents think twice on their way to the basket? No one is advocating for dirty or cheap play, but with both Ray Hall and Ron Giplaye on the bench and more than ready to use their fouls and strength to send a message, it's up to Keno Davis to insert some enforcers into the game to stop the HOV lane to the basket with some hard fouls where necessary when Batts and Dixon aren't getting the job done getting stops.

5. Gambling Guards: With a pressing defense, you have to gamble some to force turnovers. That is understandable, but the Providence guards are doing too much gambling in their half court defense. That is dangerous because it often leads to open three point shots when opponents swing the ball to an open man who has been left by his defender and the defense is now off balance. It also puts players out of position to assume box out responsibilities which have become a bigger problem lately. Some of this is a product of youth on the Friars, and some of it is simply not smart basketball. The Friars have to learn to stop over relying on gambling for turnovers and to get stops and just limit opponents to one shot.

Providence is a very young team, and as a result they may be the least equipped team in the Big East this year. Many of their problems can only be solved with more experience and a lot more practice, but not all of them. Effort and following instructions are not dependent on talent or experience. Those things must be addressed immediately.

Keno Davis has to adjust his coaching to address the current hole the Friars have dug themselves. He has to get them back to improving from game to game. That's not happening right now, and some of it could be the price of having to play freshman too many minutes. A freshman like Gerard Coleman likely would be better served as a 6th man his freshman year, but Providence has had to throw him and Kadeem Batts to the wolves.

The Friars also appear to have very little depth they can use this season. That is unfortunate, because an under skilled team can sometimes overcome that with energy and fresh bodies on the court. If Keno Davis does not feel he can use his bench players more, he likely shouldn't have recruited them in the first place.

Filling up the roster with too many players who can't compete at the Big East level hamstrings you as it prevents you from ever getting enough quality players on the court. Keno Davis is still a young coach learning on the job with a young team, but it's clear right now he has to change course some right now with the way he's coaching this team. The team is not responding the way they need to keep getting better this year, and Keno must begin to correct what is killing them right now, or he will squander his gains on the recruiting trail and his chances for any success.

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