Reflections On The 2011-12 Season

The end of a season brings a time for reflection... what went right, what went wrong, and what we learned. In a three-part series, we take a look at the Friars' season from several different angles.

Part I: The games

Over the course of the season the Friars managed to record an 11-2 out of conference record and go 4-14 in Big East play, a mirror image of last years record. However, the games had an entirely different feel to them thanks to Ed Cooley's change in culture. In this segment of the season review, we'll examine some of the most important games that were played, what we learned from them, and the kind of impact these games had on the season.

1. at Fairfield
Why was this game important?
For the beginning of the season the Friars couldn't have drawn a more interesting opponent to travel to. Not only was Fairfield coming off a solid season which saw them as the MAAC regular season champs and in the second round of the NIT, but the new Providence head coach had sprinted home by leaving the Fairfield job to coach the Friars. Furthermore, a lack of luck for the traveling Friars made many fans nervous for an early road loss, something they'd been accustomed to since the last win on the road came in January 2010 against a bad DePaul team. For many this game was coming too early in the season to know what the Friars were made of and many wrote the game off as a loss.

What happened?
The Friars, in front of a sellout crowd that was eager to see their former coach, prevailed for the victory. Despite early struggles and defensive lapses that allowed the Stags to continue to hang (and at one point surpass) the Friars, Providence showed a discipline that many hadn't seen in years to pull out an early W.

What did it mean?
Ed Cooley is not Keno Davis in that his team didn't continue to try the same things, and he is not Tim Welsh in that he gives up once he's down a couple of buckets. Ed Cooley showed us discipline is taught, and that it is the reason you can win games. Fans were also treated to early flashes of what Cooley's style of play would look like on both ends of the court, but that a young team with a new coach was prone to lapses and breakdowns, which we all saw.

2. vs. South Padre Invitational
Why were these games important?
The back-to-back matchups against Iowa State and Northern Iowa would complete the team's pregame tournament, the South Padre Invitational. Already going 2-0 at home, the fans were hopeful that team would finish at least 3-1 for the tournament. On top of this, the Northern Iowa game would be shown on the CBS Sports Network for national viewing.

What happened?
The game against Iowa State was not available for viewing, but the Friars kept it competitive in a 9 point loss. Many fans felt that it would be the hardest game, and that if the Friars could eclipse Northern Iowa then the Friars would have met expectations. Just the opposite happened. As Cooley noted later, "We just shouldn't have left the hotel that day." The Friars put up a rough performance in a 17 point loss that didn't show much of what Cooley had built upon early in the season.

What did it mean?
At the time fans didn't know to see it, but it meant this team was thinner than originally anticipated. This would become the song of the season when Big East arrived, but a thin roster meant tired legs, and this was an early sign of things to come for the shallow roster.

3. at South Carolina
Why was this game important?
Beating Fairfield on the road was a nice way to start the season, but a road game against an SEC team in the Big East/SEC Challenge was considered a must win for a few reasons. Fans were hungry for wins over BCS conference teams, and with the showcase kicking off the Challenge on ESPN many fans saw this game as a national stage to prove the Friars were on the return. On top of that, the game was viewed as a chance for the team to help redeem the haunting losses from the South Padre Invitational.

What happened?
Great performances by the frontcourt (an area many considered to be the death wish for the Friars) pulled out a W that solidified a few key components in the minds of fans. Cooley's defense was for real; the team did have a front court presence, however rare it may be, and this team could play on the road.

What did it mean?
For frontcourt enigma Bilal Dixon, it meant he could play... when he wanted to. The young man struggled throughout his PC career but would show flashes of promise when he'd been all but written off. Unfortunately the rest of the season would continue to be a rollercoaster of play with Dixon, but one of his highlight performances helped result in a great W in the OOC.

4. at St. John's
Why was this game important?
The first Big East game saw a trip to St. John's, and you couldn't have found a team more down on its luck to start off conference play. Losing half of their nationally ranked recruiting class hurt the Johnnies, but not as much as losing their head coach while he recovered from prostate cancer. With a bench that was (somehow) thinner than Providence, the Friars felt good going into Red Storm territory.

What happened?
Providence was shot down 81-67 in a deflating performance. Vincent Council had a 4 assist and 7 turnover night, while Bryce Cotton was a nonfactor in scoring, only logging 7 points for the game. Although Providence would go deeper into its bench this game than most Big East games this past season, it was clear that the South Padre games were no lie – the team was thin and needed depth to rest the tired legs of the backcourt.

What did it mean?
While a spotlight was shone on the thin roster, another thing was learned – if even one of our shooters has an off night we have nowhere to turn. Bryce Cotton, a shooter who will experience slumps as an undersized shooting guard, struggled – and because of that the team struggled. One bad night for one player could spell disaster for a team whose plan is to rely on one another to bring out the wins.

5. at Villanova
Why was this game important?
Villanova was down on its luck this season, and much like it's in-state counterpart Pittsburgh, nobody could understand why. The Friars had just gone 1-1 in the past two games – beating Rutgers and then losing a heartbreaker OT game to West Virginia University. Villanova stood as a point of redemption in the season, and a chance to break the in-conference road game losing streak.

What happened?
After lighting it up in the first half from three point territory, Bryce Cotton went ice cold and couldn't seem to conjure an encore performance in the second half. The team, up by 19, lost by two, in part due to defensive lapses and, more importantly, frontcourt mishaps.

What did it mean?
The holes in our frontcourt were completely exposed. Time and time again the Wildcats would dish to the paint and score without any resistance. Arguably the team shouldn't have been uprooted from the 19 point lead they had, but the frontcourt failed to stop the bleeding where it hurt the most – in the paint.

6. vs. UCONN
Why was this game important?
A senior night matchup game against a rival team with many ties to Providence. Enough said.

What happened?
Providence was outmatched by the Huskies in every position, and on paper it looked as though the game could be a blowout in UCONN's favor… and Providence won. A hard fought battle that once saw the Friars down 14, the team put together well executed runs and made defensive stops when needed, pulling out a 72-70 win.

What did it mean?
This team will not look at a sheet and see a loss, ever. They can be outmatched, but they won this game with heart and hustle, things that can only be taught by a coach. The influence Cooley has had on the development in this team – both on the court and mentally – was shown against UCONN, and gave fans a promising look to the future.

7. vs. Seton Hall (BET)
Why was this game important?
Entering the Big East Tournament against a familiar foe, the Friars looked to avenge their earlier loss to the Pirates and advance to the next game against Louisville, whom the Friars had already beaten earlier in the season. The Pirates were coming in on the hunt for an NCAA at-large bid.

What happened?
The Friars came out of the gate hot with a 9-0 lead, showing signs of life and looking to nail the coffin shut on Seton Hall's season. The Pirates showed signs of life (and effectively drained the Friars of their own) and rallied back early to grab a lead and hang onto it for the remainder of the game. The Friars, shut down, couldn't buy a basket and struggled on defense. The front court holes were again exposed and the Friars lost, ending their season after just arriving in New York.

What did it mean?
The Friars were far from a stacked team, but after the way they reinvented themselves throughout the season, many expected better than this. Was it the fault of the coach, the players, the bright lights? Possibly the only place blame could've been put was on the fact that this team was young and learning a new system that would take longer than a season to fully implement. This game served as a reminder of the growing pains a team will go through at points when learning a new system. If anything, the game served as a reminder of what we saw the past few years under prior coaching staffs, as well as a reminder of what we're moving away from.

Part 2 - The Players

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