PROVIDENCE — In need of a well-thought-out PC Friar basketball perspective from someone in the know? Joe Hassett, former Friar long-distance shooter extraordinaire who always demonstrates the importance of analytical syntax whenever he’s broadcasting a Providence hoop game on the radio, checks off all the important boxes when it comes to sizing up the current state of affairs.
The circumstances for Providence are two straight losses heading into Saturday night’s 8 p.m. tip against Big East frontrunner Seton Hall at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
For the second straight year, the Friars (13-12, 6-6 Big East) are a team that doesn’t exactly resemble NCAA Tournament timber.
For the second straight year, the lack of a capable floor general lies at the root of why Ed Cooley’s crew resembles the choppy motion of ocean waves.
Let’s bring in Hassett, the Friar voice of reason who was reached via phone Friday. Outside of the coaching staff, Hassett tops the eyewitness list when it comes to seeing Providence up-close and personal. In compliance with his radio duties, he travels with the team when they hit the road and spends many PC game days at the visiting arena as final preparations are made.
To hear him talk in pure basketball terms about the Friars’ noticeable lack of a pure point guard is an area that quite frankly has been tough to mask.
“The biggest glaring problem really showed its head during the St. John’s game [season-high 24 turnovers in Wednesday’s 80-69 loss]. The point guard position has been an issue so far this year,” said Hassett. “They have good players, but there’s not what you would say is a true point guard.”
Hassett believed Luwane Pipkins was the solution to the point-guard woes that also hindered last year’s PC team.
“Pipkins can really shoot, but he doesn’t like to dribble the ball at all. He’s uncomfortable handling it. He would rather come off screens. He has a shooter’s mentality. If he had another point guard out there with him, he would probably be more effective,” said Hassett. “Then you look at David Duke, who I think is a terrific player. He’s a big-time talent, but he’s not a point guard. He can handle the point in a pinch, but he’s not a push-the-ball-down-the-floor-and-penetrate-and-find-the-open-man player. He’s more of a finisher. Maliek White is a nice stopgap as a point guard. Maybe you put him out there for six or seven minutes to rest your regular point guard, but he’s more of a scorer, too.
“I think those three are very good players, but they’re playing out of position in terms of running the team.”
The vital nature of the point spot becomes clearer when you size up the five Big East teams in this week’s national rankings (Seton Hall, Marquette, Villanova, Creighton, Butler).
“Those teams have pass-first guards, some of them have two,” said Hassett.
From Hassett’s vantage point, the lack of a true point guard from the 2019-20 arsenal is a cardinal sin that overshadows the talent level he believes is in place.
“I really like the team. They really battle. They should have swept Creighton and beaten Villanova. They beat Butler at Butler. No one wins at Butler,” he said. “The point guard position is the most important position in today’s basketball, whether it’s college or the NBA. The Friars have good players. It’s just that no one can settle in and push the ball.
“Just referencing the last true point guard [on a Cooley-led Friar roster] in Kyron Cartwright … if PC had him the other night against St. John’s when [the Red Storm] pressed, it would have been dunk fest and it would have been ridiculous. There would have been 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 breaks the whole game. They didn’t have that,” said Hassett. “This PC team can play in a half-court game and they can be physical. Their shooting would be better if they had a point guard who can penetrate, draw some defenders, and throw it back out for an open look. If you don’t have someone who can run the show, you can really suffer. They have guys who can finish. They don’t have someone who’s comfortable running the point. That’s the issue and why they’re around .500.”
Hassett has high hopes for Jared Bynum, the St. Joseph’s transfer who’s sitting out this season and could prove to be the long-awaited answer to PC’s point-guard conundrum.
“But that doesn’t help you this year. It’s two years in a row where they’ve struggled at the point position,” he said. “If you had a point guard on this team … overall, it’s probably the best collection of talent since Coach Cooley has been here. The point guard has to set everyone up and he doesn’t have that type of guy right now.”
In closing about where the Friars go from here, Hassett told a story about a conversation he had with former Friar head coach Pete Gillen the day after a loss at Miami during his tenue in the 90s.
“I’ll never forget his line,” Hassett started out. “Pete was having a coffee and looking at the stat sheet. We were talking about the game and he said, ‘You know what Joe, these are my guys. I can’t trade anybody. I’ve got to figure it out.’
“Going back to this current PC team, they’re capable of beating anyone. They definitely have the skill level and have showed it at times this year,” said Hassett.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03