By Jake Zimmer
Plagued with subpar performance from veterans and turnovers-galore, the Friars look to get back on the right track
PROVIDENCE, RI – Ed Cooley knows what’s going on in Friartown. “Fans just booed Tom Brady, so I get the drill. We’ll worry about ourselves and figure this out.”
It’s no secret – New England sports fans are not the most forgiving individuals. Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, you name it…when expectations aren’t hit (and often, when they’re not exceeded), there’ll be backlash from the New England faithful.
The same goes for Ed Cooley’s 2019-20 contingent in Friartown. Providence College (5-5), coming into the season tied for fourth-place in the Big East with Marquette, is under-delivering on what many believe could’ve been a fast-track to the top of the early conference rankings. Over the past few weeks, the Friars have gone a rather dismal 1-4, with only one of those losses coming to a team ranked over the 100-mark according to KenPom.com. The only win over that stretch? An 80-77 victory won in the last couple of minutes over Pepperdine, who sports a painfully mediocre 4-6 record.
It’s no secret that the Friars are bleeding. Their turnover rates are high – at 19.7%, the Friars rank 185th in the nation with nearly 1 turnover every 5 plays. Seniors like Alpha Diallo are not contributing in the same elite ways of the season prior –sloppiness is unquestionably a defining characteristic of the team so far this year.
When asked what needs to improve as the last four games of 2019 approach, Ed Cooley says it’s a little bit (or, maybe a lot) of everything. “Our decision making, our ball-handling, our level of intensity, attention to detail. We have to do a better job collectively, together, in order to try to get a win against a really good Stony Brook team.”
But, the Stony Brook Seawolves, proudly representing Long Island’s own Suffolk County, now look to continue riding a nicely-performed beginning of the year in order to halt the Friars. There’s most certainly a chip on their shoulders – a win tonight against PC would notch an 8-4 record to start the year before the ‘Wolves head off to Charlottesville to take on the defending national champion Virginia Cavaliers.
It’s safe to say that Cooley has his work cut out for him. As the next three opponents are Florida, Texas, and Georgetown, the Friars’ remaining schedule of 2019 is not redeeming in any way.
Here are three ways that Ed Cooley might go about putting the wheels back on tonight:
1. Shoot more effectively from the 3-point line. The Friars rank 8th in the Big East in 3-point shooting accuracy at 32.7%, and only 29.9% of their points are coming from beyond the arc in any given game. Simply put, their long-distance shooting needs to improve.
2. Give Nate Watson a chance to shine. If you ask any of his Friar teammates or Ed Cooley, Watson’s presence might be the game-changer going forward. He ranks second on the team in percentage of possessions used, which testifies to his teammates’ confidence in his ability to make plays in the paint. While Watson knows his worth, he won’t take any credit – when asked if he could be the difference-maker for the Friars this year, he said “I definitely agree with that, but it’s a team effort.” Pure humility.
3. Bench the veterans, and see what the younger guys are made of. The “people’s choice” as some may say, is what most Friars fans advocate for. While Maliek White and Luwane Pipkins – both seniors – are finding their place in the offense, we’ll see how much freshman Greg Gantt or sophomore Jimmy Nichols (both forwards) will be involved. This may, however, cannibalize the playing time of senior center Kalif Young, who hasn’t made the splash he & the Friartown faithful had been expecting this year.