Pitt Gives Friars The Slip

For the last time ever, the Providence Friars faced off against the Pittsburgh Panthers in a regular season Big East matchup. The series, which in recent memory has included a Friar win when Pitt was ranked #1 in the country, came to a close Wednesday night in front of 7,452 fans and saw Pitt survive the Providence defense for a 68-64 win.

Full Strength, Limited Power: The Friars are finally at the full depth of their roster after eligibility issues and injuries passed, but Ed Cooley has been limiting the minutes of his bench players with each passing game. While the starting five of LaDontae Henton, Kadeem Batts, Bryce Cotton, Vincent Council, and now Kris Dunn remains the go-to for playing options, the roster options beyond that is seemingly becoming scarce.

Sidiki Johnson and Josh Fortune are both seeing limited minutes off the bench (significant for Fortune especially after starting for a bulk of the first half of the season), and their productivity has been limited. In the matchup against Pitt, Johnson only had two boards in 13 minutes of action, while Josh Fortune converted on 1-3 shot attempts while adding an assist and two boards in 16 minutes. It's no secret that Fortune has been struggling to adjust his game to the college level, often missing shots and making mistakes on defense, but the limited role of Sidiki Johnson is something else entirely. He has been steadily improving from game to game, and while not the best defender he could have possibly helped limit Pitt from getting 34 points in the paint.

For the starting five the minutes seem largely intact. Although Kris Dunn played the fewest minutes of the starters with 24, Cooley noted in his press conference that this limitation was attributed to Dunn playing with the flu (he was vomiting at the half) and not something Cooley wants to continue. Cooley said that Dunn provides the team with an identity, especially on defense, and that his aggressiveness will help the team overcome these types of games.

Silly Mistakes: One fatal flaw for the Friars was their mistakes with the basketball. There were open shots missed, and easy passes turned over without any interference. This is not the trend of the Friars, but is a problem that Cooley felt needed addressing in the post game interview. Ensuring crispness and completeness in the plays are critical to win, and while Cooley is working towards getting his team there he also noted that this is part of a rebuilding team. If this sounds familiar it's because it's been said before, but a team that continues to make mistakes while the coach continues to try and fix them is either a result of poor coaching or players struggling. In this case it's the latter – the mistakes being made are ones that are looking to be improved, and careful observation will show effort to adjust these from the players, but the capability of fixing them simply isn't enough to change it overnight. Despite this, the team is showing that it is turning a corner, and it's not just floundering in a puddle and coming up with the same excuses.

Counciling: Vincent Council, after coming off an injury, is starting to make a return to his old self. He finished the game shooting 5-10, and had seven assists to his five turnovers. The passing game has been back with Council for some time now, but it's the scoring that's been elusive to him, partly because of his inability to get a full jump on his jump shot due to his injury. Council turned a corner, however, and showed he can still take his old trick shots that just barely graze the rim but snap through the nets.

The Dynamic Duo: While not every game these two play in are perfect, it's becoming more evident that Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts make a hell of a pair on the court. While Batts fell a rebound short of a double-double he put in a phenomenal shooting night on 8-12 with 17 points total. Foul trouble has continued to plague Batts, but his aggressiveness on defense will not be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, what can be said about Bryce Cotton that hasn't already been said? He's the leading scorer in the Big East, talented off the ball, and increasing his basketball IQ seemingly every game. He shot 9-16 against Pitt and rounded out the game with 24 points. He's the offensive spark the Friars need, and in this game it helped get the motor going on a struggling LaDontae Henton.

Unfortunately for these two players they'll need help within their specialties. Batts is proving that this offseason helped him improve in the post, but he'll need support down low to limit the beatings from frontcourt-focused teams (to reiterate, Pitt had 34 points in the paint). Cotton, meanwhile, can't be the only scoring option for the Friars all the time. When the Friars go dry on offense Bryce Cotton can get that spark to reignite the shooting game for PC, but if he's relied on too heavily defenders will lock him down even further and create scoreless stretches for the Friars that could result in games getting out of hand.

The Friars take the road to face off against Catholic 7 foe Marquette Saturday at 2.

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