What went wrong against Dayton

The Friars’ season came crashing to an end with a thud last Friday, as Providence lost badly to the Dayton Flyers, 66-53 in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament.

On the surface, a 22-12 record and a second consecutive trip to the NCAA’s can hardly be considered disappointing, however, no one expected the season to end as it did. With a bit of time to reflect on this disappointing loss, our panel of contributors all have ideas as to why it happened.

Richard Coren
Those who know me, know that, while everyone was celebrating on Sunday night when the Friars’ name came up on the TV screen, I immediately had a negative reaction when I saw what the Selection Committee had done to Providence. I didn’t like not knowing who PC’s opponent would be on Sunday and I didn’t like the fact that, if Dayton won on Wednesday, the Friars would be facing a school with a rabid fan base in Ohio, turning what should have been a neutral situation into a difficult road game.

Now, I know that the Atlantic-10 was weak this year, but I also know that Dayton in Ohio is no easy matter. And the teams that Providence struggled against this season – smaller, quicker, athletic teams – resembled Dayton. And that, unlike, say, St. John’s, Dayton is actually a well-coached team. All of this had the makings of a bad recipe.

Add in referees who had to be Dayton alums – did they really call that a flagrant-1 against Kris Dunn and a technical foul against Ed Cooley?? – and a beyond ridiculous delay in a late night starting time and just about everything that could go wrong for the Friars did.

In terms of the actual game, there were a few things that PC couldn’t afford. The Friars couldn’t afford to get off to a poor start and the two quick fouls on Dunn helped to ensure that happened. The Friars couldn’t afford to have Dunn and LaDontae Henton not be the two best players on the court. They weren’t. Dunn couldn’t operate cleanly against Dayton’s doubling defense, couldn’t hit a shot and committed 7 turnovers. Henton was clearly over-amped and forced shot after shot, driving into double-teams and missing inside and out. The Friars had to take advantage of their height advantage and they didn’t. Dayton had scouted PC’s best two players perfectly. People refer to the Brown loss when comparing this game; it was more like the Boston College loss.

We’d caught glimpses of PC’s warts all season but they were glaringly obvious in this game. As a team, not quick enough or athletic enough. No one other than Dunn who could put the ball on the floor and create. A lack of options for outside shooting and extremely inconsistent outside shooting. Poor post play, leading to few easy chances and too many missed bunnies. And an inability to prevent dribble penetration due to the quickness and athleticism issues.

Ultimately, PC’s defense wasn’t the biggest problem in this game. The Friars’ length bothered Dayton’s offense enough, although the fouls piled up as Dayton was able to spread the floor and drive the ball inside, creating contact. No, the problem on this night was the offense and the realization that if Henton and Dunn are not supermen, PC will struggle to score. Dayton jumped the Friars’ flex and ball screens and PC had no other answers. The Friars never really attempted to run their offense through Carson Desrosiers at the post, who had a clear height advantage over any defenders.

On top of PC’s offensive woes – and credit Dayton here for their defense and scouting report – the free throw disparity pretty much short circuited any hopes for a comeback. Dayton’s parade to the line negated the Friars’ attempts at any runs and the whistles that blew when Dayton drove the ball into contact never materialized when PC likewise drove the ball into contact. And it wasn’t as if the Flyers weren’t playing physical defense. But that’s life on the road.

All in all, a very good season for Providence and one that continues the incredible rebuilding job that Cooley and company are crafting. Unfortunately, it was a bad time to have a stinker of a performance and one that was exacerbated by many elements outside of Providence’s control.

Steve Hartnett
The hostile location was just bad fortune for Providence. The two technicals were a bad officiating. However, Providence's 2 stars could never make a run. That's why they lost. Dunn's early fouls kept him from setting the tone early, and Henton played into Dayton's hands by taking one contested shot after another while being smothered by Flyer defenders. Dayton was quick and athletic enough to give Providence the same issues that had previously plagued them in regular season losses to St. John's and Villanova. While the Friar defense was adequate, the offense struggled mightily.

In recent weeks, Providence has relied too exclusively on the pick 'n roll offense designed to allow a Kris Dunn to be creative, and the flex offense was increasingly ineffective versus good teams as the season progressed, in part because the Friars saw more and more zone defense from opponents.

The NCAA Tournament always exposes your team's flaws. For Providence, it's the lack reliable outside shooting, the fact they haven't developed any big men yet that can consistently post people up and score, and perhaps most importantly, they don't have enough players who can put the ball on the floor and drive the paint.

Kris Dunn is spectacular at times, but good NCAA quality teams can slow him and his team until the Friars liabilities are addressed. The Big East Player of the Year needs some help on offense. Most of the time, LaDontae Henton provided that help, but it just didn't materialize in Columbus.

So what really was an overachieving season ended on a sour note, but overall it was an excellent season for Friar hoops.

What a disaster. The draw of playing an 11 seed 75 miles from their home was a tough way to start things. The refs seemingly having a home whistle didn't help. But the three things that really did Providence in were thus: 16 turnovers, 33.9% field goal shooting and the free throw disparity of 3/7 vs. 22/30.

Turnovers have plagued the Friars at times this season. Kris Dunn had the second most turnovers in a single season in school history and he contributed 7 of the Friars 16 giveaways. While Dayton had 12 turnovers of their own, the Flyers certainly capitalized better on Providence's to the tune of 17 points off the PC turnovers against just 7 points of Dayton's 12.

Field goal percentage and just scoring the ball in general were not things Providence excelled at for much of the season. The Friars were 127th nationally in field goal percentage and 98th in points per game so it shouldn't come as a total surprise that they struggled to convert from the field. In fact the Friars played Villanova to the bitter end of the Big East Tournament semifinals and only shot 35% from the field. But the game against Dayton was especially putrid. LaDontae Henton had a forgettable finish to his fantastic career by contributing 19 missed shots to Providence's total of 59 taken. You still can't sell me on telling him to stop shooting. I could see taking him out for a minute or two to re-focus but I'm not sure it would have done any good. Dayton's scrappy defense was a factor but the Friars picked a rough night for a total offensive stinker.

The final factor is the free throw disparity. Certainly the refs played a role in this disparity. Dayton had attempted 14 free throws before Providence even got to the line once. The feeling inside Nationwide Arena was that this was a Dayton home game and the refs were calling it as such. The technical foul called on Cooley by referee Terry Ogelsby was atrocious and the explanation given by NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams was laughable. Cooley and the Friars weren't laughing after the game though. One last note on the home cooking; the fact that Dayton was the home team was even made clear during the postgame press conferences. When Cooley, Henton and Dunn were up on the stage and the moderator was pointing to reporters to ask questions he would say things like "down here on the right" or "in the middle in the back". But when it was Archie Miller, Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre on the stage the moderator was pointing to reporters and saying "Tom" and "Joe". It was just another little reminder that this was Dayton-North for the night.

The season ending in this fashion and the Providence careers ending for Henton, Tyler Harris, Carson Desrosiers and Ted Bancroft will certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of Friar fans for some time. I don't want to keep living in the negative though. I want to remind everyone of the positives. This is year 4 of the Cooley regime at Providence and in those 4 years they have made it to the NIT quarterfinals, won a Big East Tournament Championship and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Not bad for the first 4 years and the future is still brighter as Cooley continues to march to "win big" as he said during his introductory press conference on March 23, 2011.

I usually like to stick to objective measures, but it seemed clear that the presence of such a large set of loud Dayton Flyers helped get the Friars off their game from the opening tip. Dunn then picked up two quick fouls and the offense never got on track even after his return. In fact, it was Providence's second worst offensive game of the season at .81 points per possession, surpassed only by the loss at Kentucky. PC committed turnovers on nearly a quarter of its possessions, its greatest share since the loss at Marquette. The Friars shot only seven free throws (and made just three). Both were their smallest totals of the season. PC took bad shots, made bad decisions and generally missed when they got good looks.
LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn were expected to be the two best players on the floor. Instead, they made just 11 of the 39 shots they attempted, and Dunn committed seven turnovers. The Flyers were aggressive defensively but weren't called for fouls, despite many drives by Dunn and Henton that could have led to calls. Part of that has to do with the officials, but a lot of it had to do Dayton's season-long penchant for avoiding fouls, not to mention so many of Dunn's and especially Henton's shots being ill-advised and forced. They weren't going to get a bail-out whistle. Still, it was the second fewest free throws taken by a team vs. Dayton this season.

On defense, PC was playing with fire by permitting so many open 3-point looks to a good shooting team. Eventually, Dayton was going to hit some and eventually UD did. The Friars also played a poor zone, particularly in the second half. They failed to prevent simple passed into the gaps of the zone and made poor decisions to leave shooters. To add insult to injury, the rotations were late as well. All season, we saw several different kinds of teams create matchup issues for Providence, but primarily teams gave PC problem when it had several guards and wings who could both drive and shoot. The Friars were unable (or not allowed) to keep the driving Flyers off the line, and the 19-free-throw margin was more than enough for victory.

I've criticized the defense, but the offense was the main problem. I've grown weary watching the tight flex. It would be nice if Providence started to institute some of the ball movement on offense that has come to define the best offenses in college and the pros. Use the high ball screen and horns sets, sure, but create more movement off the ball and allow several players to be aggressive off the bounce. That's part a personal issue and part a tactical issue. You need more than one guard who can dribble. Finally, PC has consistently acquiesced to the will of the opponent, going small too often in losses to St. John's, Villanova and now Dayton. I get that Carson Desrosiers and Paschal Chukwu had trouble hedging ball screens far away from the basket, but without one of them on the floor, opponents had no concern about resistance at the rim, which allowed them to be more aggressive and get to the line more readily. Along with integrating more players who can attack off the dribble, Coach Ed Cooley needs to figure out how he can impose his team's will on his opponents and run a more fluid offense. Better players will solve some of these issues but not all of them.

Undercover Friar
Losing to Dayton was a tough one. All year Providence fans were exhilarated with a chance to make a solid run in the NCAA tournament come March. With expectations so high, the loss to Dayton hurts much more. With Bob Simon leading the way scouting Dayton, he knew the Friars didn’t have an easy out going against a tough and gritty A-10 team. With a significant height advantage, the Friars could never take control of the game. From start to finish, Dayton was in control. Kris Dunn couldn’t get it going. LaDontae Henton couldn’t get it going. And as Ed Cooley once said, “As Kris and LaDontae go, we go.” The team struggled shooting the ball, forcing shots all night. Dunn and Henton shot a combined 11/39 while the rest of the team shot 8/18. It seemed the Friars couldn’t get in transition too much which is something they can excel at. The half-court offense wasn’t efficient, as Dayton’s game plan taking Dunn and Henton out of the game was tremendous. Not having that third scoring option was significant also, as a scoring two-guard was greatly needed. One imperative course of action Ed Cooley praises his team and staff on is preparation. With the Friars being rewarded not knowing who they were going to play until a couple days in advance, the team wasn’t able to be consistent on their preparation leading up to the game. And in the end, it was a tough Dayton squad who pulled off the W.

Personally, this loss hurts… a lot. Seeing one of the best 1-2 duos in the country this year was something we might not see for a long time. Having LaDontae lead this program for four years was something Providence College needed. He was one of the must humble Friars I’ve been around in a long time, and anyone who’s ever met him can only wish the best for the Michigan native. With LaDontae, Carson, Tyler, and Teddy leaving, the Friars will have options next year. Ricky Council will fill that scoring two guard slot and have his days scoring the basketball. Along with Ricky, Providence will have sharpshooter Ryan Fazekas playing a valuable role hitting down the outside shot. Drew Edwards is a combo guard, who can help facilitate the ball and can also score in many ways. And the third Friar recruit, Alex Owens, who is awaiting his ACT score still, is a monster rebounder that can play a big role for the Friars. Providence will have a great backcourt for years to come with Paschal Chukwu and Ben Bentil showing what they’re capable of doing. I expect a healthy Rodney Bullock to be a huge contributor next year, as he will surprise a lot of people, the kid can play.

And enter Kris Dunn. I can’t remember one Friar who has come in with every fan excited to see him play. His expectations were off the charts when he came here, with obviously his injuries setting him back. Now, he has shown the country on how good he is on both sides of the ball. Working with God Shammgod has helped his game tremendously, working on his ball handling and pick and rolls. With a another great recruiting class coming in along with a solid returning core, I expect Kris Dunn to lead Providence to its third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament…

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