PROVIDENCE — The wins haven’t exactly come against Murderers’ Row. Certainly that’s food for thought with the Providence Friars in the midst of a 10-day exam period, Ed Cooley’s first PC team standing at 9-2.
To the Providence mentor, the fact that the Friars own an RPI of 130 and a strength of schedule of 300 (out of a possible 344 teams, according to realtimeRPI.com) heading into Monday’s action is inconsequential. Cooley is more concerned with the here-and-now, hence why he took the time following Saturday’s game against Bryant to scoff at the notion that the Friars’ record is Charmin soft.
“If you would have told us back on March 22 [the day Cooley was hired] transitioning to take over another program that we’d be 9-2 regardless of who you’re playing, I’d kiss everyone on the lips,” said Cooley, speaking words that are probably more suited for a visual setting rather than in print in order to get the complete effect. “When it’s all said and done it’s about wins.”
The days of poor chemistry and defensive woes appear to be over as melding the holdovers from the Keno Davis years with a coach who doesn’t pull any punches has been far from a painstaking transition. That this aforementioned culture shift has taken place in a relatively short amount of time is a testament to the booming presence of Cooley, someone who’s not afraid to wield the hammer and show he’s in complete command (see Kadeem Batts).
With 11 games in the books, here are a few more items we’ve learned about the Friars:
Rising to the occasion
For the most part the Friars have resembled an actual T-E-A-M, one that is 9-2 not because of loading up on nondescript cannon fodder, but because Cooley’s message of playing hard and together has not fallen on deaf ears.
You could point to a number of games — ones against Fairfield, Holy Cross, Boston College and Bryant immediately spring to mind — where the Friars were in trouble before digging deep and scratching their way toward the final buzzer. When was the last time you could say that about a PC team?
A disturbing lack of late-game execution was one of Davis’ downfalls as PC’s coach with the Friars resembling nothing more than a turnstile on defense while showing little attention to the concept of sharing the ball. That’s why it was so refreshing on Saturday to see leading scorer Vincent Council drive and dish to Bryce Cotton, whose 3-pointer from the corner put the Friars up four against the Bulldogs with under three minutes left.
In that same game Providence dug in defensively, holding the visitors to without a field goal for over six minutes. That the clampdown job came one game after PC held Boston College to nine points in the final 8:17 emphasizes the point that these Friars under Cooley won’t resemble a cadaver come crunch time.
Ride ‘em hard
The most surprising stat isn’t the 64.1 ppg the Friars are surrendering, a figure down significantly from the Davis era. Cooley’s forte is defense so to see Providence shed off points isn’t totally unexpected.
What jumps out are the heavy minutes logged by Council (37.5), Cotton (37.3), LaDontae Henton (36.5) and Gerard Coleman (33.7). To see one of these players taking an extended breather is rare. As Cotton noted, he and his fellow running mates expect to shoulder the burden to the point that growing tired simply is not an option — not on a PC team that is thin roster-wise to begin with.
“We’re well-conditioned and I feel our bodies have adopted to the point where we’re used to this type of play,” Cotton said. “There’s going to be some aches and pains but it’s not too much to handle.”
It’s worth noting that Cooley changed his stance from the start of the season when he remarked that the Friars should be able to withstand the workload due to young legs. Such a belief likely stems from Cooley holding out hope that the Kiwi Gardner situation would ene favorably and provide the Friars with a much-needed additional body. After 11 games in less than a month’s time in which Cooley had little choice but to lean on the Friars’ core, there’s no question that the 10-day respite is most welcome.
“Our personnel, it is what it is,” said Cooley, stealing a line from Bill Belichick’s vernacular. “If we’re going to have four guys score, well, they have to score enough for the Friars to win.
“We got right to the finish line before studies,” Cooley went on. “If we played (the day following the Bryant game), I don’t know what happens, but we’re not.”
Paging the bigs
Why Council, Cotton, Henton and Coleman have so much on their plate stems from the lack of an inside presence. Combine the stat lines of Bilal Dixon, Ron Giplaye, Brice Kofane and Lee Goldsbrough and you have the production that equates to roughly eight points and 15 rebounds. Such paucity could result in some long, lonely nights along the Big East trail for Providence.
It’s clear where this Friar team is trending, but it would be nice to see someone from the forward spot step to the forefront and provide some relief. Lets hope for the sake of argument that Batts has learned his lesson and is back on the floor come next Tuesday against New Hampshire.
LaDontae Henton is a keeper
It’s rare to see a Friar first-year player make an immediate impact, but Henton has been the exception. His baptism-by-fire to the college game has gone exceedingly well to the point that Monday saw the Michigan native earn Big East Rookie of the Week honors for the second consecutive week.
Henton has been so consistent (14 ppg, 8,5 rebounds) that it’s reached the point where well-rounded games are not only expected of him but necessary if the Friars are going to make noise come conference play.