10 THOUGHTS ON THE PROVIDENCE REMATCH
Providence (11-13, 1-9 Big East) gained its first Big East win with an 81-64 dismantling of the disinterested Scarlet Knights (8-13, 2-9 Big East) at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence. The Friars avenged a 72-67 loss at Rutgers on January 18th. The Friars led from the first television timeout and never looked back. The cold-shooting Scarlet Knights trailed 16-6 at 11:45. Rutgers narrowed the deficit to five at 19-14. However, Providence exploded on an 18-4 run on their way to a 37-22 halftime lead. The 2nd Half was a back-and-forth affair; it was less one-sided than the 1st Half but the Friars remained firmly in control. Providence extended its lead to 20, 48-28, at 16:45. The Scarlet Knights responded with a 14-4 run to trim the lead to ten at 12:18 and later to six with eight minutes remaining. But Providence countered Rutgers last push with a 9-2 run and the rest of the game was garbage time. Here are ten thoughts on the Providence rematch.
1. Road Kill. Rutgers is now 2-27 in Big East road games under Gary Waters. The inability to win on the road cost Rutgers NCAA bids in 2002 and 2004. The Scarlet Knights were winless on the road in 2003 and appear headed that way in 2005. Last spring, I predicted that Rutgers would be winless this year in Big East road games. I felt a bit sheepish when somebody noted that Rutgers surely would win at badly depleted St. Johns. But there was reasoning behind my prediction. Rutgers does not play with defensive intensity on the road and operates a poorly conceived offense that does not generate good shots. The proof lies in the net point differential in home-and-home series against common foes. Minus 2 against Georgetown (after blowing a late ten point lead in DC). Minus 15 versus Seton Hall. Minus 22 versus Providence. Rutgers Head Coach Gary Waters talks about "holding serve at our place." That message simply reinforces the notion that losing on the road is acceptable.
2. Ryan Gomes. Providence Head Coach Tim Welsh severely lacks wing players. As a result, he is forced to play versatile Sr PF Ryan Gomes out of position at SF. Gomes has worked hard to develop his skills and is now a viable perimeter shooter. However, Ryan's versatility is compromised at SF. He cannot beat smaller, quicker players off the dribble. And a lineup with three big men makes it difficult for Gomes to find space inside against smaller defenders. In the Friars' earlier loss at Rutgers, Gomes loitered too much around the perimeter, where he was harassed into 6 of 18 FG shooting. In the rematch, Gomes was much more aggressive, especially inside. Against first zone defense and then man-to-man, Gomes used motion to establish inside position and then carved the collapsing Scarlet Knight defense with low post moves or passes to open teammates. Gomes wrought the sort of havoc that I expected in the first game, scoring 22 points (9 of 16 FGAs, 3 of 4 3PAs, and 1 of 1 FTA) and dishing 6 assists.
3. Frontcourt vs Backcourt. Only at Rutgers do the big men shoot 56% while the guards shoot 38% yet the guards take nearly twice as many shots. Fr PF Ollie Bailey and So C Byron Joynes combined to make 9 of 16 FGAs while Sr SG Ricky Shields, So SG Quincy Douby, and Sr PG Juel Wiggan combined for 15 of 39 FGAs. Each guard attempted 13 FGAs. None made more than six. The poor shot selection and the failure to work for high percentage shots has been an ongoing failure of the Waters regime. Dating back to Year One when Rashod Kent patrolled the low post.
4. Press Break. After watching Syracuse disrupt Rutgers with a full-court press, Welsh elected to use a four-forward lineup and press the smaller Scarlet Knights. Rutgers – with a smaller, quicker three-guard lineup – should have shredded the press and punished Providence with easy baskets. In theory. In practice, the Scarlet Knight big men handled the basketball in the middle of the court and couldn't find the guards. As a result, big men not accustomed to dribbling in space brought the ball across halfcourt. With the inevitable TOs. When the Scarlet Knights broke the Friar press, Rutgers failed to convert the resulting fast break opportunities into easy transition baskets. And force Welsh to lift the press. Rutgers employed this same passive press break tactic under former Head Coach Kevin Bannon. The complaint then was that opponents could generate TOs in the backcourt and easy baskets off the TOs – without paying at the other end of the court. It was a free point scam perpetuated on the clueless Scarlet Knight coach. Waters arrived promising to unleash a press of his own making. Surely, such a team would know how to attack and punish an opposing press. Then again, maybe not.
5. Waters Pressure. Full court press. Halfcourt press. Relentless man-to-man defense. TOs. Transition baskets. These were the traits of Waters' Kent State Golden Flashes that steamrolled Kevin Bannon's squad in the 2000 NIT. These also were the expectations that Waters brought with him from Kent State when he replaced Bannon at Rutgers. Expectations that the coach promoted. Waters partially implemented his pressure schemes during his first year and completed the installation in his second year. But a combination of player attrition – seven premature departures in the first three years – and poor recruiting depleted Waters' roster and left him too shorthanded to attempt, much less sustain, full court pressure in Year 3. The current squad is not only short-handed. It lacks the long, quick, athletic players needed to man Waters' defensive schemes. With the Scarlet Knights struggling with their halfcourt defense – allowing a Big East worst 46% FG shooting – Waters has vowed to employ more full court pressure as a desperation measure. So, when Welsh fielded a lineup with only one guard, what better opportunity to unleash the Rutgers press. Yet it remained sheathed in its scabbard. Waters allowed Welsh to press without pressing him in kind. Without Waters' trademark defensive pressure, the Scarlet Knights have lost their identity and look lost on the defensive end. A team that can't score now cannot stop the opponent from scoring.
6. Byron Joynes. Byron played his second consecutive full game for the first time all season. He played 34 minutes without committing a single foul. He scored 10 points (on 4 of 7 FGAs and 2 of 4 FTAs) and collected 7 rebounds. Joynes was one of the few players to give Waters a full effort. It's a said state of affairs when a role player and garbage man, who didn't even belong on the court in November, is leading the team in February. Which is no slight against Joynes. Byron has shown tremendous progress this season. He has become a serviceable Big East center.
7. Marquis Webb. Webb was fouled on Rutgers' opening possession of the game and missed both of the resulting FTAs. That would be as close as Rutgers would come to the lead. And it would set the tone for Webb's day. Webb struggled immensely in only 19 minutes of action. He was scoreless (0 of 2 on FGAs and 0 of 2 on FTAs). He did not grab any rebounds. During a season in which Rutgers struggled to score, Webb's continuing inability to score is a tremendous disappointment. I don't buy the argument that playing PG has compromised Marquis' game. Roles aren't that strictly defined. Players share responsibilities on offense as they move around the court. That is, when they move around the court. Webb needs to throw caution to the wind and take control of the team. Douby and Shields won't lead the team. It must be Webb. No more deferring to guys who aren't leaders. Be the man.
8. Ricky Shields. For the second consecutive game, Shields did not start. And, for the second consecutive time, he struggled in his reserve role. While he scored 13 points (5 of 13 FGAs and 3 of 9 3PAs), he was largely invisible. He grabbed only 3 rebounds in 28 minutes. His defense was typically unimpressive. His shot selection was most troubling – drifting jump shots (not square) or crazy drives. He clanged plenty of open threes. Shields' general uselessness was symbolized in the 2nd Half by a half-assed driving, double-pumping left-handed scoop shot that missed badly with 5:30 remaining and Rutgers trailing by 11. That kind of nonsense just demoralizes the team. Waters has apparently lost Shields. His heart and his mind doesn't seem to be there.
9. Manny Quezada. Quezada has been compared to former Scarlet Knight Luis Flores, who transferred to Manhattan, where he enjoyed a successful career after a disappointing freshman season at Rutgers. Bannon underused Flores and did not show the necessary patience required to develop most freshmen through the inevitable growing pains. Ruthlessly yanked from the court after a single mistake, Flores only played tighter as Bannon demonstrated decreasing patience. By the end of the season, when a freshman should be playing his best basketball, Flores was a non-factor. Waters has showed similar tendencies with Quezada. Like Flores, Quezada struggled terribly with his defense and committed frequent TOs early in the season. Like Bannon, Waters has severely limited Quezada's playing time. The result? Quezada is essentially a non-contributor in February. He played a whopping four minutes in a game where many Scarlet Knights showed a lack of intensity. Don't be surprised if Quezada is the next player to run away from Waters' "family".
10. Donnie McGrath. McGrath arrived at Providence as a sharpshooting PG. He lost confidence in his shot late last season and sank deeper into a funk early this season. McGrath's inability to make 3PAs compromised the Friar offense. However, McGrath has rediscovered his outside shot in conference play. He entered the game shooting 68% on 3PAs in his prior six games. It appeared as if Rutgers didn't read the scouting report. Too often, defensive rotations left McGrath uncovered and the Friars found their sniper with crisp ball movement. The result? Seventeen points on 5 of 8 FGAs, 5 of 7 3PAs, and 2 of 2 FTAs. McGrath exemplified the efficient shooting of Gomes' supporting cast as the Friars repeatedly punished Rutgers for swarming to Gomes.
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