Losses Mount for Friars

When an undermanned team faces game after game against top 10 opponents, it eventually catches up to them. The odds caught Providence Wednesday, as an injury and some team illness lead to an ugly first half deficit that the Friars would never be able to overcome in an 88-74 loss to West Virginia.

West Virginia was not about to lose three games in a row. The Mountaineers had lost two tough games to Villanova and Pittsburgh, and came out determined not to let Providence jump out to a lead. They accomplished that and more as they absolutely locked down the Friars in the first twenty minutes that included a nasty 25-4 run.

The defensive breakdowns for Providence were most apparent in the Friars giving up 5 conventional three point opportunities in the first half, which may be some sort of Providence record. The Friars were sluggish and flat on defense, and even more anemic on offense. By half time, the home team was down 18 points.

There were some reasons to explain some of the half time deficit. Bilal Dixon was limited in his movement with a bad ankle, and three other Friars were battling sickness this week which explained part of the poor play. West Virginia's outstanding defensive effort played a big part too, as they were highly motivated to avoid another collapse like they suffered at Pittsburgh.

Coach Bob Huggins spoke after the game how Devon Ebanks' defense on the Friar ball handlers was the key to taking Providence out of their offense. The Friars simply couldn't run any normal sets against West Virgina's suffocating defense, length, and seamless switches on screens. Providence was forced to spread the floor and rely on one on one penetration much of game.

The second half showed some fight from the Friars, who to their credit never quit and worked very hard to get back into the game. Over the first four minutes of the second half, the Friars pressed and trapped their way into a handful of steals and stops, and also converted some layups and three point shots to cut the lead to six.

That comeback effort expended a lot of energy, and after a timeout by West Virginia, the Mountaineers were able to compose themselves and work their half court offense more effectively. Keno Davis was critical of himself in the press conference for allowing West Virginia to slow the pace of the game and recreate more of a half court game that forced the Friars from continuing with the extra small but quick lineup that was so successful in the early part of the second half.

The lead ballooned back to 15 points, and while Providence would whittle it back down to 10 at several points, the Friars never threatened again. Providence was simply outmatched by a better team in this game, and illness and injury on the Friar roster only made it worse.

You need really need some great athletes plus some size to beat West Virginia. Preferably you need a big post player to force the Mountaineers to double down on your center or power forward so you can kick out for open shots. Bilal Dixon's immobility in this game really hurt badly in this contest. Sharaud Curry feeling weak and going 0-10 from the field didn't help either. Keno Davis had no choice but to spread the offense and try to get penetration. To their credit, Greedy Peterson and Vincent Council did a good job penetrating to the basket and Peterson would have put up even better numbers had he been able to knock down his free throws.

Fans are naturally upset with the losing streak now, which stands at six games. Even with preseason expectations that were the lowest since 2006, this is the Big East, and Friartown wants to be in the mix no matter the season. Being in the mix obviously is not in the cards this year, but building for the future is. Keno Davis spoke about stressing improvement in his young roster as well as recruiting more talent to the program, but some fans feel the style of play is as much the problem as anything.

Should the Friar offense be more deliberate? After all, there have been plenty of quick, ill advised shots taken in just about every game this season. Would the Friars have more wins right now if they had played differently?

Bad shots certainly do lead to bad defense and the defense is the biggest problem on this team. This Friar team has some gunners on the roster who all can score but often don't take good shots. The problem is who are the other players who can get the ball in good spots and score to replace their sometimes streaky offense? There aren't a lot of answers to that. Some of this is a product of a talent deficit - not enough of it, and too much of it that is raw. Is it not true that the less talented teams are always the ones that seem to have most chuckers? Keno Davis says he is trying to address that with recruiting and player development.

Let's pose a question. If the Friars were to average say eight or so passes a possession to try and get the elusive 'good shot', how would things be different? From this writer's seat, I think the Friars defense would appear better because they'd give up fewer fast break shot opportunities to the other teams, but I also think they would be one of the lowest scoring teams in the Big East this year if they played a slower, more deliberate style.

As West Virginia plainly exposed, Providence simply doesn't have enough players who are strong enough with the ball or have enough size; they don't have more than 3 good passers right now, and they have very limited post play. It is very possible that with a more deliberate style this season, the Friars would have turned the ball over a whole lot more with picked off passes, experienced shot clock violation problems, and still shot a lot of contested shots. Would that style cut down on easy baskets by the opposition? Of course, and I don't think that is debatable. However, the losing deficits might be just as bad or worse this year and moreover, a plodding offensive style would do nothing to help attract talented athletes to the program that Keno Davis is so desperately working to acquire.

Just take a quick look at Indiana under a proven coach like Tom Crean, who is also rebuilding a program that's fallen on hard times. The Hoosiers are 9-16 right now, and playing a much more deliberate, pass oriented style than Providence. In theory, by passing the ball more, they should be taking much better shots than the Friars, yet they are shooting 4% lower than Providence in overall field goal percentage, and have over 50 more turnovers on the season. Crean needs time to improve his team's talent and overall numbers, and the same holds true for Keno Davis. The point here is that a more deliberate playing style wouldn't necessarily make the Friars any better this year. In fact, it could have made them worse. Just a little Friar food for thought as we await the next heavyweight to show up at the Dunk next Tuesday in #5 Syracuse.

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