The first nine games were certainly a mixed bag for the Friars. There were resounding wins over Boston College, George Washington and URI. There was a baffling loss to lightly regarded Brown. And the Friars tried, but couldn't hang, with nationally ranked Florida.
So, questions remain… questions that some thought might have been answered in the first nine games. Here are eight of them, in no particular order:
1. ARE THE FRIARS A ZONE TEAM OR A MAN TEAM?
It's hard to tell. This is a team with no real identity yet on defense. From game to game, Tim Welsh has tried both zones and man to man. In some games, the man to man has worked well. In others, the zone has proved to be the stopper. But neither defense has been consistent in stopping opponents. Teams with good three point threats seem to find open shots against both the zone and the man to man, while teams with low post beasts seem to have no problem making the entry pass against either defense. To PC's credit, the staff has switched defenses well, for the most part, and the switches have fixed most of the problems. The guess here is that this team will rely on both defenses for the remainder of the season, depending on the opponent's personnel. The team just isn't quite experienced enough to step up as either a zone team or a man team this year. But they have to start stopping people.
2. WILL THE FRIARS FIGURE OUT HOW TO ATTACK A ZONE?
This is a little more problematic. Brown confused PC with a variety of 1-3-1 and 3-2 zone looks in their 51-41 upset win. PC has a tendency to become a lateral offensive team, passing around the perimeter to excess as the shot clock winds down. Welsh has said that against these zones, he doesn't want the young Friars to think… he wants them to find gaps, attack, and make plays. So far, Weyinmi Efejuku and Sharaud Curry have shown the ability to do that, but not every Friar has the ability to create off the dribble and get into gaps. Also, PC has struggled making the entry pass to the low post and exploiting the baseline against zones. The team may need a few more structured plays in attacking the zone.
3. IS HERB HILL AS DOMINANT AS HE'S LOOKED?
Certainly against most of the teams that the Friars have played so far, Herbert Hill has been a man among boys. He's playing with confidence, he's stronger, and his offensive repertoire has expanded. When matched up against shorter opponents, like Kaheim Seawright of URI, Hill has been unstoppable. But against Florida, with its NBA sized front line, Hill struggled mightily, missed several layups, and looked out of sorts. With the Big East portion of the schedule approaching, Hill will see a number of talented post players, and his ability to adapt and rise to the challenge, may be one of the determining factors in the Friars season.
4. CAN SHARAUD CURRY CONTINUE PLAYING 35-40 MINUTES A GAME?
Point guard is the most physically exhausting position on the floor and the one with the most responsibility. As a sophomore, Curry has shown that he is one of the very best point guards in the Big East. Tim Welsh has also said that he's one of those guys who never gets tired, and who can play all night. But at a certain point, be it from foul trouble or fatigue, Curry will need a break. So, who backs him up at point guard? The easy answer is freshman Dwain Williams, who has been an impressive outside shooter so far, but Williams is slight of build, and hasn't shown Curry's instinct for getting his teammates involved yet. When the Big East schedule rolls around, along with the more physical guards, Williams is likely to get pushed from his spots. Efejuku can handle the ball a bit, while Jamal Barney and Brian McKenzie have not shown great handles. Pray for Curry's ability to stay fresh and out of foul trouble.
5. HOW GOOD ARE THE KIDS?
This is one of the more intriguing questions. How good are the freshmen and how much can Welsh expect them to help this year? Unquestionably, Williams has made the biggest impact so far. Despite an unorthodox release, Williams has proven to be a dead-eye three point shooter, and instant offense off the bench. At times, he's played very well alongside Curry in a small lineup. PC will need continued development from him as the season wears on, and some extra time in the weight room wouldn't hurt. Ray Hall, the 6'11 freshman center, has had his moments and is a fan favorite. His strengths are soft hands, an immovable frame, and a willingness to work hard. His weaknesses usually show up against quicker, more athletic frontcourt players, and an ability to control rebounds. Playing Hall allows Welsh to slot Hill out on the wing, which is very effective, but Hall will have games where he's effective and others where he's invisible. Barney and McKenzie need time. Barney can be effective as a pest on defense, but he's looked lost on offense. He needs to finish better and more emphatically on drives to the hoop and improve consistency on his outside shot. Slowed by illness and injuries, McKenzie has not shown the outside shot that he's reputed to have yet. The development of these four is critical to the success of this year's Friars, because Welsh needs a dependable bench.
6. CAN THIS TEAM BE SHUT DOWN OFFENSIVELY?
The Friars have a lot of weapons on offense, and so far, PC has run its offense very well. Certainly, there was the aberration against Brown… but other teams have tried that defense against PC since, and to no avail. The Friars are routinely piling up 80-90 points a game, and have been one of the highest scoring Big East teams so far. A look at the Florida game raises some flags, however. The Gators certainly present opponents with challenges that are unusual, and won't be seen often, but long scoreless droughts, coupled with Florida runs, doomed PC in that game. As the competition increases in the second half of the season, there are bound to be games where the Friars struggle to score, but don't look for that to happen often. For the most part, expect PC to get its points.
7. WILL RANDALL HANKE PLAY THIS YEAR?
Right now, it's looking like Randall will redshirt this season. As a redshirt, he can work in the weight room, get stronger, and practice with the team. Even though he received an academic waiver from the NCAA, he can also use the extra time to get caught up on his academics. It should be understood, though, that a redshirt season can end at any time, and there is always the possibility that Hanke could play this season. If Hill were to go down, or if it looked like he might be the difference between a special season or an ordinary one, he could play. At this time, though, redshirting is the likely option.
8. CAN THE FRIARS MAKE A RUN TO THE NCAA'S?
Absolutely. The Big East has looked ordinary during the early part of the season… some good wins, some bad losses. There is no reason why Providence can't be among the top six or so teams in the conference. Likely, that will be determined by the Friars play in close games, of which there figure to be a number during the league season. As for the remainder of the out of conference schedule, PC must take care of business against a dangerous Holy Cross team, whack Harvard and Longwood, and a win against Florida State sure wouldn't hurt, either. Boston College and George Washington will end up being quality wins… winning on the road at Florida State would be a bonus. At worst, PC needs to be 10-3 going into the Big East. Do that, and there's legitimate hope for a run to a bid. In any case, barring unforeseen injuries, this is a tournament team of some type.
So... enjoy the second half. And look for the answers to these eight questions, because they'll go a long way towards determining the fate of the Friars.
Eight Questions After Nine Games
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