This is the biggest game of the year for the Pirates.
Sure, you could say that about every game for a team that's 9-12, but this game, coming off the biggest upset in college basketball this year over #10 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, is crucial for the Pirates. Coming off such a big win, this game against the Friars is the proverbial "Let-Down" game, which the Pirates must avoid if they are to continue their strong play over from Tuesday.
The full report:
2010-11 record: 13-8 (2-6 Big East)
2009-10 record: 12-19 (4-14 Big East)
Key losses: Jamine Peterson, Sharaud Curry, Brian McKenzie
Key returnees: Marshon Brooks, Vincent Council, Bilal Dixon, Gerard Coleman (freshman), Kadeem Batts, Duke Mondy
The Friars last year were, well, awful. They had 20-10 guy Jamine Peterson, a veteran point guard in Sharaud Curry, and a solid wing scorer in Marshon Brooks, yet lost their last 10 Big East games in the regular season, 1 in the Big East Tournament to Seton Hall, then their first six Big East games this year.
But they have gotten off the schneid in a huge way, upsetting both Louisville and Villanova (both at home) to get their first two Big East wins this year. Providence got those wins in a rather strange way- they played some defense, turning the Cards over 18 times and throwing a stingy man-to-man at the Wildcats that forced them into tough shot after tough shot, of which 'Nova made almost none. So, just like the Pirates, the Friars roll into Sunday's matchup with a lot of confidence.
We've mentioned Jeremy Hazell and his huge game against Syracuse, but no one is talking about Marshon Brooks, who happens to be averaging only 1 less point per game than conference-leader Kemba Walker of UConn (23.4 PTS). Brooks is like Jeremy Hazell-Lite, a tough guard who really has a knack for scoring the ball. As with any great scorer, Brooks gets to the foul line fairly often, although the comparisons to Hazell end with Brooks' range (no one outside of BYU's Jimmer Fredette has Hazell's range). Nevertheless, Brooks is hitting 37% from deep on 117 attempts, most on the Friars. He also leads the team with 7.5 REB. Brooks will be a tough guard on Sunday, and I would thouroughly enjoy if the 6'5" Hazell and the 6'5" Brooks match up because they are so similar in both their games and their roles of alpha dog and leader on their respective teams.
The other piece of the Providence 2-headed backcourt monster is sophomore guard Vincent Council. Council is a unique player in that he does a little (and sometimes a lot) of everything. Averaging 14.3 PTS, 4.6 REB, 6.4 AST and 1.7 STL, Council appears to do so many things for the Friars. That 6.4 AST number leads the Big East. But despite that, Council isn't even in the top 10 in the Big East in assist/turnover ratio, indicating that he often hurts his team with turnovers. He also struggles to make shots, shooting it at 36% from the field and just 29% from deep. So while he is PC's best playmaker, he also is their most mistake-prone player. Council is the type of guy who can either win the game for you, or lose it. Rarely is Council in between those two outcomes.
Long and athletic freshman swingman Gerard Coleman (11 PTS) rounds out the PC backcourt. In the frontcourt, Dixon and Kadeem Batts are relied upon heavily by Keno Davis. Batts is more of a long, athletic-type big man who averages 7.8 PTS and 5.5 REB while having the ability (when forced to) to hit an outside shot. Dixon is physical down in the paint, averaging 6 PTS and 7.2 REB with 2 BLK added in.
Davis is more than willing to go small with sixth man Duke Mondy. The impression I get from watching Mondy is that of a prototypical 6th man; he's an energy guy who can fill it up quickly when he's on, but is also incredibly streaky with his main weapon- his outside shot. He averages 5 more minutes per game than Batts, another indication of Davis' inclinations to use him to create mismatches for opponents.
The Friars play up-tempo basketball, running as often as possible to try and fill up the scoreboard. They are 4th in the conference in scoring this year, but like last year, are not a good defensive team, giving up the second-most poinst per contest in the Big East. But as I mentioned before, they have shown some good defense in their last two games. The Pirates need to defend well in this game, and since the Friars are a quantity over quality shooting team, if the Pirates can force Providence to take long jump shots, those may lead to transition opportunities for Seton Hall. That is a good scenario given the Friars defensive struggles, although too much running will play right into Providence's hands.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- They manage to get either Council or Brooks into foul trouble. They are 2nd and 3rd in the Big East in minutes per game, and are relied upon tremendously by Providence. If the Pirates can take one or both of them out of the equation, Jordan Theodore and Jeremy Hazell should dominate.
- Herb Pope and Jeff Robinson own the paint. With a ton of rebounds likely up for grabs on Sunday, Pope and Robinson will need to fight the tough Dixon and the long Batts for the lion's share of the boards. Safe to say whoever wins this battle will have an inside track on the win.
- The Pirates keep up the energy and emotion. The Pirates on Tuesday played with a ton of emotion and passion, and if they can avoid the let-down thing, they have enough weapons to beat Providence, especially at home.
FRIARS WILL WIN IF:
- Council outplays Jordan Theodore. In their regular season meeting last year (a game I was on color for at the Dunkin Donuts Center up in Providence), Theodore destroyed Council on defense and the Pirates won handily. If Council can handle Theodore this time around, it will be a good thing for Providence.
- Dixon and/or Batts step up and score. If Batts and Dixon can get the Friars some unusual points in the paint and provide an inside scoring presence, Keno Davis' squad can use that to make the lives of Brooks and Council easier.
- Duke Mondy makes shots. When Mondy makes his shots, it gives them a reliable scorer off the bench, something that Seton Hall just doesn't have right now (no, Eniel Polynice does not count).
The first 10 minutes of this game are big for the Pirates. They have to maintain a high level of energy to avoid the letdown. After the first 10 minutes, we will know if the Syracuse win was a fluke or a sign of things to come.