Providence College lost its third straight game, dropping a 78-61 decision to the Butler Bulldogs at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. With the loss, the Friars drop to 10-5 on the season and 0-2 in the Big East.
What’s troubling isn’t the loss. Few fans expected Providence to go on the road to Cincinnati and face 10th ranked Xavier and then travel to Indianapolis to take on 13th ranked Butler and emerge with wins. No, the 0-2 start to the Big East season was somewhat expected by those with a more realistic bent. What’s troubling is how the losses have occurred and how the Friars have played.
Providence really has played six straight subpar halves of basketball, going back to the pre-Christmas debacle at Conte Forum against Boston College. Coming into that game, PC was 10-2 with an RPI of 26 and riding a tough defense that ranked in the Top 40 nationally in most metrics. A listless first half against BC led to a 54 point second half avalanche by the Eagles and PC hasn’t been the same since.
Three straight losses, three straight double digit losses and three straight games featuring an opponent who has poured in at least 45 points in a half in each game. Providence has been torched from the perimeter and scored on with ease inside. Defense is supposed to be a constant, while offense can fluctuate, but PC’s defense is nothing like what it was earlier in the season against the better teams on the non-conference schedule, like URI, Virginia and Memphis. Clearly, something has shifted.
Not only has the defense collapsed, the offense is sputtering at best. As Xavier did in a 82-56 win, Butler pounced early on the Friars, as only Kyron Cartwright seemed to exhibit any offensive spark. As a result, the Friars found themselves down, 45-26 at the half and a 19-point deficit on the road against a balanced, top team is all but insurmountable.
Sure, every team has a run in them, and PC is to be commended for showing more fight in the second half, as Rodney Bullock awoke from his multi-game slumber and joined Cartwright in the scoring column. Cartwright nailed a three to make it 56-46 with 12 minutes to play, and Jalen Lindsey buried a three to make it 65-56 with just over 6 minutes left. However, Lindsey then tossed an airball on a three, Kamar Baldwin, Andrew Chrabascz and Nate Fowler all hit shots and the game was once again out of reach.
Offensively, Cartwright poured in a career-high 26 points, on 10-22 shooting, and Bullock contributed 17 on 6-11 shooting, but PC had just 9 assists on 22 field goals and shot just 38 percent and 27 percent from three. The Friars settled for too many one-on-one jumpers and have stopped moving the ball as they did earlier in the season. Offensive balance is gone. Emmitt Holt has really struggled against better competition and had just 6 points on 2-6 shooting. Lindsey had 5 points but contributed zero rebounds and had several defensive lapses.
Then, there was the free throw shooting. PC hit 11-22 for the game, and any chance of staying close was negated by the points that they left at the charity stripe. Rebounding? Butler won the battle of the boards by a 30-26 margin, continuing a season-long trend of PC being bullied on the glass. All of these trends point to not enough players showing up with the kind of desire and effort necessary to win these types of games.s
So what’s wrong and what can be done to fix it? Providence is not necessarily a young team but is a relatively inexperienced team. Most of last season’s scoring and rebounding departed for the NBA draft, graduation and transfer. Right now, the Friars are being outsized and out-talented. Boston College had a much superior backcourt and that led to a barrage of three pointers and scoring from the guards that PC could not overcome. Xavier and Butler simply have more experienced, deeper rosters and are very tough at home.
The Friars have no seniors, save for walk-on Casey Woodring and juniors Bullock and Lindsey are not consistent take over a game threats. Bullock has been invisible for long stretches of games and has the potential of getting hot, but is he a player that can be counted on, game to game? Lindsey is a defensive stopper and has shown great improvement offensively, but is not a ‘create your own offense’ type of player. The other junior, Cartwright, has done a generally good job at the point, but if players aren’t knocking down their shots, his assist totals will continue to drop.
The sophomore class, criticized here at the time for their generally low recruiting rankings, has played to those rankings. Ryan Fazekas has yet to develop into a reliable outside shooter, which is his primary strength, Ricky Council can’t get off the bench, Isaiah Jackson has largely been a very quiet player this season, Quadree Smith showed little D-1 aptitude and transferred and Drew Edwards, right from the start the most promising member of the class, may redshirt this season. It’s very difficult for high-level programs to get little to no contributions from an entire class.
The freshman class has potential, but just hasn't looked ready yet. The highest rated prospect, Alpha Diallo, has struggled in the two Big East games, Kalif Young was scoreless against Butler, but at least had 5 boards and has shown enough to be considered a high-upside, if raw, big man. And Maliek White is not yet ready to run a team and must develop his handle but does have some scoring ability.
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The rallying cry has been that the Friars play much better at home than on the road this season and so, the hope is that a better performance is right around the corner on Wednesday, when the Georgetown Hoyas visit the Dunk for a 7 p.m. game. The Hoyas are also winless in their first two league games, but played Xavier to a tough 81-76 loss. A Top 10 Creighton squad invades the Dunk on Saturday. Will home cooking be just what the Friars need or will their road issues follow them home? Teams have fragile psyches, and if Providence wants to avoid fulfilling the prognosticator’s 9th place – or worse – picks for the league season, a turnaround in effort, grit and fortune has to start on Wednesday.