Friar Upset Bid: Not in the Cards

Providence traveled to Louisville with upset on their minds. That focus carried them for the first half at Freedom Hall where they shot 75% and led by one after 20 minutes. However, after Rick Pitino's team turned up the defensive heat in the 2nd half, the Cardinals were able to suffocate the Friar offense, ultimately pulling away convincingly for a 94-76 victory.

Keno Davis had to be pleased with the way his team came out to play in Louisville. Despite being given little chance to win, Providence did not play the role of intimidated visitor, shooting a blistering 75% from the field in the first half. The Friars shot free throws well (17-19), and battled Louisville on the boards too, out rebounding Louisville 34-26 for the game. A spirited effort combined with those good things gave the Friars a 46-45 lead at halftime, nearly sending Rick Pitino's blood pressure through the roof.

The one area that Providence didn't do a good job was avoiding turnovers. Louisville thrives off of points from turnovers, and despite dealing with the Friars hot shooting in the first half, the Cardinals still managed ten more shot attempts than the Friars. That kept things close, and prevented the Friars from jumping out to a big lead. Given the chance to regroup at halftime, Louisville refocused and turned up the defensive heat significantly. The Friars began to wilt under the pressure, and the Cardinals eventually took control. For the game, Louisville scored 29 points off of 22 Providence turnovers. That really was the key difference maker in the contest.

After both teams traded baskets in the first five minutes of the second half, Louisville finally put the clamps on the Friar offense, forcing four turnovers in five possessions, the beginning of a crushing 19-1 run that would decide the outcome. Providence was leading 53-50 with under 15 minutes to go in the contest, but Keno Davis' team came unraveled at that point.

The key to the Louisville run at the 14 minute mark may have been the switch of Preston Knowles to the assignment of guarding Sharaud Curry. Curry had played a tremendous first half, scoring 9 first half points (15 for the game) and largely breaking the Louisville pressure. However, with the taller and athletic Knowles guarding him, Curry had trouble against the Louisville traps, and the other Friars began rushing their passes in an attempt to avoid turnovers against the Louisville pressure. This only led to more unforced turnovers, and the Friar half court offense appeared to lose discipline and crumble in the pressure cooker of Freedom Hall.

The Friar defense was generally as generous as ever, as they allowed the Louisville offense to shoot nearly 55% for the game, although many of those baskets were easy conversions off of turnovers. Providence has also struggled to guard the corner three point shot throughout the Big East schedule, and it is a weakness of Keno Davis' 3-2 matchup zone for this team. Louisville shot nearly 40% from 3 point range on the game.

For the Friars, Jonathan Kale, Sharaud Curry, and Weyinme Efejuku, all had solid games, although Kale's 15 points off of 5-6 shooting from the field and from the free throw line were most impressive. The senior big man also pulled down 9 rebounds. Weyinme Efejuku had an impressive first half going to the basket for 10 points, but he only had five points in a quiet second half when the Friars needed someone to step up and execute against the Louisville pressure.

Geoff McDermott struggled all game long with passing turnovers, and Marshon Brooks had one of his quieter performances of the year, only scoring 7 points and struggling to rebound against the stronger Louisville front court. Jeff Xavier was 4-10 from the field, and Brian McKenzie did not score.

The loss at Louisville was further evidence that while Providence can score against the best teams for long stretches, their turnovers against good defenses combined with a leaky defense of their own simply cripple them down the stretch against elite competition. While the prospect of significant improvement on defense seems remote at this point, it is not unreasonable to expect that the Friars can do a better job of eliminating offensive turnovers which only make the defensive numbers worse.

It goes without saying that the next game against Notre Dame is a must win for Providence's NCAA hopes. The Fighting Irish do not play the defense of the elite teams of the Big East, but their offense is as good as or better than anyone's. This looks to be a high scoring affair, but it will be up to the Friar seniors to pull out a win in a game that will largely be decided by toughness, rebounding, and which offensive minded team defends better.

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