Flat Friars Bow To 'Cocks

The Friars saw their non-conference record drop to 5-3 with a tough, 68-67 loss to South Carolina in the BIG EAST/SEC Challenge in Philadelphia. Now the question for PC is, how to ressurect this season, which began with so much promise?

After a promising start in Puerto Rico, PC rolled into the Rhode Island game with a 5-1 record, and good wins on neutral courts over Arkansas and Boston College. Four days later, the Friars are 5-3, after a blowout loss to URI and a heartbreaking dud against South Carolina.

The time to make hay for PC was in the non-conference schedule. Opportunities abounded in a difficult, but not impossible, schedule that would pay dividends in March if the Friars could take care of their end. That seemed to be the case, as PC's RPI heading into the URI game was 3, due in large part to those away from home wins over the Eagles and Razorbacks.

On second look, though, the tough stretch of away from home games may have been too tough for a flawed basketball team. With six of the first eight games away from home, and a tough three game road stretch in six days, PC's holes were exposed, and the Friars put their backs squarely up against the wall.

Now, one game remains before a much needed ten day exam break. Sunday, Brown strolls into the Dunk, and it's a Brown team that PC can't take lightly. On the heels of a 68-52 win over New Hampshire, the Bears are also 5-3 and have played well against decent competition. Then there's the matter of Brown having beat PC last year, and the Bears won't be awed by their Big East foes.

After the break, PC will face Sacred Heart and St. Peter's in what should be wins, but also Florida State in what could be another toss-up game. If PC closes out its non-conference schedule at, say, 8-4 , the Friars would be hard pressed to do enough in the league to make the Big Dance. Even if PC runs the table and finishes at 9-3, it won't be easy. The Big East looks loaded, and PC's flaws are ripe for the physical and athletic play in the conference.

So where did this season start to go wrong? Well, start with Sharaud Curry's broken foot. The only true point guard on the roster and the leading returning scorer, Curry has been sorely missed. His ability to run the offense is a key factor and takes pressure off of Geoff McDermott. His return is pegged at Christmas time, and hopefully that won't be too late.

The graduation of Herbert Hill has left the PC frontcourt thin and exposed. Hill's presence helped to allow McDermott and Jonathan Kale to operate inside, and without Hill, both have struggled with inconsistent performances this year. It was hoped that junior Randall Hanke would be ready to resume his play, but the center has simply not fought back fully from the year long layoff, and isn't ready. That's a shame, because this team desperately needs a big man in the middle.

From the get-go, its been readily apparent that PC lacks size and athleticism in the frontcourt. Kale has battled injuries, but doesn't have exceptional lift or quickness and Ray Hall is hampered by short arms, and also a lack of quickness and lift. Jamine Peterson has been a pleasant addition, but he's a 6'5 power forward that has great hops but is undersized, at his best in an up and down game and often gets stuffed inside.

As a result, PC has become largely dependent on its perimeter game. With Dwain Williams, Jeff Xavier, Brian McKenzie and Weyinme Efejuku, the Friars have a quartet of explosive three point shooters… however, live by the outside shot, die by the outside shot. And over the past two games, that cliché has come home to bite PC. In addition, Williams has filled in valiantly for Curry, but has been exposed in the last two games for what he is: a two guard in a point guard's body, trying to play point guard. Against bigger, more physical backcourts, Williams and Xavier get muscled, have difficulty stopping penetration and struggle to find shooting space.

In the end, this is a deeply flawed team, but its also a veteran, experienced team. This team should be led by its upperclassmen, who have all been through the basketball wars by now. Yet, you still never know what you're going to get out of McDermott. It could be a four point, three rebound, zero assist game, like against URI, or a 16 point, 10 rebound game, as against South Carolina. And you can get 21 points out of Efejuku, or six with a missed free throw with the game on the line. The upperclassmen have to step up, with consistency.

And the coaching doesn't get a pass, either. Al McGwire was never a great Xs and Os coach, but he had Hank Raymond at his side for that. What McGwire was great at, was motivating his teams. How does PC come out flat and maybe a little intimidated against URI? How do they sleepwalk through the first 25 minutes against South Carolina? Where's the energy and the urgency? Somehow, the staff does not seem to be translating how important these games are to the players. The sense of urgency should be a constant.

At he beginning of the year, it was thought that this would primarily be a man to man defensive team. As soon as we saw the weaknesses up front, there was a suspicion that Tim Welsh would be forced to revert to zone for long stretches. But, what happened to the switching defenses that we saw against Maine? With a big lead, Welsh was comfortable to switch from man to zone and back, to throw full and three quarter presses and traps. That's disappeared in the past two games. Now Welsh is switching up only when desperate. Surely, the staff saw that South Carolina had played very well against man, so they decided to open in zone. But when your team is lethargic and getting beat like a drum in zone, why wait 30 minutes to switch to man? PC needs to play man to force the action, and needs to switch up constantly so that the opponent never knows what's coming. Staying in any defense too long only exposes the Friars' weaknesses.

The clock is now ticking on this season. When South Carolina lost to Clemson to fall to 4-4, Devon Downey called for a gut check. Will anyone on the Friars call for a similar gut check? In the first week of December, this season has already devolved into a game by game referendum on the staff and players, in the slow march towards March.

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