Where Does PC Go From Here?

One of the best and most frustrating aspects of following a team of 18-22-year-olds is that they so often surprise, both good and bad. Providence has managed to surprise at both ends of the spectrum in just a matter of weeks.

Remembering the narrative

The narrative of this season has changed so much in the last month that it's important to remember where the Friars have been as a team.

After the non-conference season, PC was 11-2 and playing well enough for fans to think the team could compete in the Big East and perhaps finish 10th or 11th if things broke right.

After the first three conference games, fans felt a mix of frustration about the Friars' inability to close out winnable games but a hope -- perhaps an expectation -- that PC would be able to grab some wins against lesser opponents on the road.

After the Friars lost two winnable games at Rutgers and USF and were blown out in an embarrassing performance by West Virginia, hope and frustration turned into vitriolic furor or complete disillusionment from many fans. According to some, Keno Davis was on the verge of being fired, and many had formulated short lists and long lists and BABC-influenced lists and Nerlens Noel's list.

Suddenly, after two home wins against ranked opponents, including Wednesday's 15-point victory over No. 7/8 Villanova, the naysayers have been temporarily silenced in favor of the yahoo and optimist.

It's been a dizzying ride, and it's not even February.

I glanced on Thursday at my preseason projections for the Friars of what a 50th percentile season would look like. Perhaps my projections were pessimistic -- I had the Friars at 15-16 wins in the regular season -- but at this point of the season, I had PC at 11.5 wins, which means the Friars are overachieving my expectations by 1.5 wins despite the many close losses and frustrating performances.

Hopefully, that's a little perspective.

This year to last

Now that we're eight games into the Big East season, I'll compare how PC ranks in the major advanced statistical categories.

Stat 2009-10 Rank 2010-11 Rank
Eff. Margin -7.9 14 -7.3 13
Adj. Eff. Margin -7.0 14 -5.0 11
Off Eff 108.7 7 100.8 12
Adj Off Eff 109.4 7 101.7 9
eFG % 49.1 7 45.1 13
TO % 17.6 7 16.3 2
Off Reb % 39.1 2 32.7 10
Free-throw Rate 35.5 9 37.9 7
Def Eff 116.6 16 108.1 13
Adj Def Eff 116.4 16 106.7 11
eFG Def % 56.0 16 51.6 13
TO Forced % 18.8 8 20.3 6
Def Reb % 60.5 16 62.2 16
Free-throw Rate 39.5 12 36.3 6
Pace 73.9 1 72.0 1

Note: These statistics are based on conference games only. The 2009-10 stats are based on all conference games, including the Big East Tournament. Each game is taken as one entity, rather than using cumulative stats (this method prevents a multiple-overtime game or games with more possessions from having more weight than other games). Adjusted stats (Adj) factor in the quality of the competition and home court advantage.

Offensive changes

Looking at the individual factors, the offense is very different than it was last season. Last year's team was obviously dominant on the offensive glass behind Jamine Peterson, and this year's team is quite mediocre there. Bilal Dixon's tailspin after a solid start is an additional reason why that's the case.

It's also notable that, though last year's team was not a great shooting team, it was still above average in the Big East. This year's shooting is four percentage points worse. Peterson and Sharaud Curry were fairly efficient shooters, and their departure combined with a downtick in Vincent Council's shooting, as the sophomore's shots have increased, are the reasons why.

On the plus side, the Friars are now one of the best teams at holding on to the ball. Only Marquette has been better at limiting turnovers in conference games. Council is the only player on the team who has any issues with turnovers, and even his turnover figures are not egregious for someone with the ball in his hands as much as him. Marshon Brooks' ability to combine a huge workload on offense with infrequent turnovers is probably the biggest reason for this strength. There are few things more destructive for an offensive than a star who doesn't take care of the ball.

Free-throw rate has also been a key improvement. Brooks has made huge strides in this area, going from a player who rarely gets to the line to one who does so quite often. Kadeem Batts is also quite adept at getting there. The wins over Louisville and Villanova -- two of the most foul-prone teams in the league -- were keyed by free-throws. This could be a good omen for the future home date with Cincinnati, who is the most frequent fouling team in the league.

With the losses of Peterson and Curry, it wasn't hard to guess that PC would struggle to both make shots and hit the offensive glass in the same way it did last year. The improvements in the other areas have been essential for keeping the offense in the middle of the conference.

Defensive improvements

On defense, every factor has improved. The most significant improvement has been in field-goal defense where PC has been holding opponents to 4.4 percent worse than a season ago. The Friars had far and away the worst field-goal defense in the conference last season, and it sure looked like more of the same in the first five conference games, but the shooting defense has been greatly improved over the last three games.

The opportunistic defense by the Friars' small team has led to more turnovers than last year when PC was often playing with three players on defense (sorry, Sharaud and Greedy). PC has also done a better job of playing defense without fouling, but the small lineups continue to cost the Friars on the defensive glass. Field-goal defense and defensive rebounding are the two factors most tied to size, so it's no surprise that those remain the Friars greatest weaknesses.

Sample sizes

The frustration of the 0-6 start to the conference season cannot be explained away by statistics. At the same time, a combination of bad luck and a small sample of games -- namely, the three-game roadtrip -- made things seem worse than they were.

After eight league games, the Friars are basically in line with how they performed in the non-conference schedule. The offense has actually been a fair bit better, though the defense has been slightly worse.

Sample Off Def Total
Non-conference 7.2 4.3 11.5
Conference 8.5 3.7 12.2

Note: The figures above represent points per 100 possessions compared to the national average and adjusted for the opposition and home court advantage.

The Friars haven't had a noticeable drop-off in play in the conference. PC has played two of its four worst games (at Rutgers, at West Virginia) and two of its best three games (vs. Louisville, vs. Villanova) in the span of five performances. The Friars aren't who we saw in Morgantown (where they were -14.5 Points/100 worse than average), and they aren't who we saw on Wednesday night either (when they were 42.7 Points/100 better than average). The length of the season determines who you are, which is decidedly somewhere in between.

Numbers of note

35.6: The 35.6 effective field-goal percentage that Providence held Villanova to on Wednesday night was the worst for a Friars conference opponent since the conference opener against Marquette on Jan. 4, 2007, Tim Welsh's final season. PC won that game, 74-59, without Curry, who was suspended. Jerel McNeal missed that game for the Golden Eagles with an injury.

11-2: In the Keno Davis Era, Providence has an 11-2 record in conference games in which it holds opponents to less than a point per possession. This includes each of the last two wins. The two exceptions? The Jan. 1 loss to St. John's, and the loss to Louisville in the 2009 Big East Tournament. The biggest problem with this figure is that the Friars have only held the opposition to less than a point per possession in 13 of the 46 Big East games Davis has coached.

3: Providence has now held three straight conference opponents to an eFG worse than 50 percent. The last time that happened was the first three Big East games that Davis coached, wins over St. John's, DePaul and Cincinnati. This three-game run of defense is more impressive due to the competition. Those three opponents finished the 2008-09 season at 14-34 in conference; South Florida, Louisville and Villanova are currently 12-11.

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