Cincy Holds Off Friars

For many teams, it is a key offensive run that is often the difference between winning and losing. For Providence, it is the elusive key defensive run that is required for them to get wins, particularly on the road. That never really materialized at Cincinnati, and the Friars were edged by the Bearcats 92-88.

It is a well-known fact by now that Providence is struggling to improve their defense. While they managed to muster a gritty defensive effort in the 81-66 home win against rival Connecticut, Keno Davis knew it would be a tough order to replicate that defensive performance at Cincinnati. The Bearcats generally aren't a high scoring team, but they are solid on offense and with their tough defense, Cincinnati is still playing with dreams of making the NCAA tournament.

Providence was generally capable of handling the Bearcat defense in this game, particularly in the first half when they nearly shot the lights out with 50% shooting, both in total field goals as well as from the three point line (8-16). The concern was that Cincinnati was keeping pace, and that did not bode well for the second half.

The Friars mixed their defenses in the game, hoping to throw the Bearcats out of sync. However, Mick Cronin's team was shooting so uncharacteristically well from the perimeter that the Friars played more man-to-man defense than they've played in any Big East game to date this year. It resulted in fewer 3 point field goals for Cincy than they had in opening ten minutes, but also resulted in more dribble drives and interior conversions for the Bearcats.

While the game was tied at 44 at halftime, the Friars had to feel that any letup in their offense would lead to a quick deficit. That letup began around the 11-minute mark, while Greedy Peterson was on the bench with his third foul. Marshon Brooks had given the Friars a three point lead off of a steal and dunk with 12:36 to go, but then Providence's offense and rebounding began to struggle. Cincinnati began getting offensive rebounds, and forcing PC into bad shots and turnovers on the offensive end. It was a defensive run on Cincy's part that turned into easy transition points at the other end. It was the key stretch in the game, and the Bearcats opened up a 10 point lead with about 9 minutes left in the contest.

Providence never really overcame that deficit, largely due to the fact that the Friars can rarely string together multiple defensive stops. With some quick fouls and just dreadful free throw shooting by Cincinnati (20-41), the Friars were actually able to cut the lead to three with 5.6 seconds left on long three pointer by Sharaud Curry (27 points).

But PC's free throw shooting wasn't really any better in this game (9-18), and though they took far fewer attempts from the line, those misses were enough to let Cincinnati escape with the win by 4 points. Foul trouble on Jamine Peterson's part limited him to only 27 minutes in the game, another factor that played into the critical 16-2 Bearcat run midway through the 2nd half.

Surprisingly, it wasn't stars Lance Stephenson, Deonta Vaughn, or Yancy Gates that sunk the Friars. It was redshirt point guard Cashmere Wright, who absolutely lit up the Friars going 9-11 from the field for 24 points. Four other Bearcats scored in double figures. Providence had three double figure scorers in addition to Curry's game high 27 points.

In some ways, Providence has the tools to be a successful team in the Big East. They have one of the most high scoring offenses in the nation, they generally rebound the ball adequately, particularly on the offensive end, and they don't usually commit an excessive amount of turnovers, even with the fast pace that they play. That should go a long way toward success. The issue that is becoming emblazoned on their resume by now, is the 50+% defensive numbers the Friars are too often giving up. It simply negates all the other positive things they are doing.

While the half court defense is very poor, what really sinks the defensive numbers to atrocious levels are the easy transition hoops the Friars regularly give up. Cincinnati scored 22 fast break points, in contrast to Connecticut who may be one of the best transition teams in the nation and only put up 16 on the Friars. Too many ill advised three pointers attempts on offense lead to easy run outs for the opposition, and against Cincinnati the Friars took ten more threes (34) than they did in their impressive win over Connecticut. It's hard to argue that three point shots in excess of 20 attempts doesn't begin to translate into easy fast break layups for opposing Big East teams.

That point may be made even more clearly on Tuesday, as the Friars travel to the Carrier Dome for a matchup against top five Syracuse. The Orange love forcing teams into long, contested three point shots, and turning them into easy transition baskets on the other end. For Providence to compete against Syracuse, they will have to aggressively attack the gaps of the zone and limit their number of attempted long three point shots. Big games out of the Friar front court will be critical in this one, including good interior passing, to avoid the potential for a blowout at the Carrier Dome.

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