Battle with Villanova proves Friars can hang with the Big Boys, but need to change defensive scheme

Updated: 6 days ago

This was a game that the #8 Providence Friars had circled on their calendars for quite some time.


After all, it’s not every day that one of the nation’s best programs - year after year - comes to town. It’s definitely a rare occurrence that this particular challenger happens to be ranked lower than the Providence Friars.


The buzz was real. Sources tell College Hoops Digest that most classes at Providence College were barely 50% full. Popular campus bars like Bradley Cafe and Old Irish Social Club (just known by the Friar faithful as “Brad’s” and “Old’s”) had the drinks flowing before 11am. Nearly 3,000 of the 4,100+ undergrad students enrolled at the school filled the student sections, and they flooded the lobby of the Dunkin Donuts’ Center nearly 4 hours before tipoff…2 hours before the doors opened.


But inside, the titan we know as the Villanova Wildcats awaited.


Ultimately, the Friars played Villanova to a hard-fought matchup in front of 12,636 fans that was never really over until the last few minutes. Sure, an 89-84 score might have an asterisk due to a near half-court heave, but the game stayed close until the final whistle.


It was Collin Gillespie’s night, and he wouldn’t be denied his win. His 33 points were a career high for the veteran, shooting 63% from downtown and 59% from the field. Take it from Ed Cooley; “'Collin really showed up today…showed his experience & showed his toughness,” he told the media after the game.


Overall, there are some positives and negatives to take away from Tuesday’s primetime battle. For one, Providence was able to put up 84 points against a defense consistently ranked in the top 30 in the nation, and was able to hang punch-for-punch with the Wildcats in this true slugfest.


But there are things to fix for the 21-3 Friars in order to not let their dream season fall off the tracks. It all falls on the defense.


“It wasn't our offense today. That's for damn sure. Our defense was left on Eaton Street.”


You can say that again, Ed.


Credit to Matt St. Jean of Big East Coast Bias for clipping these up, but it was a dreaded defensive game for Providence…and it started in the early minutes. A common obstacle that the Friars couldn’t overcome was the high ball screens that Villanova ran early and often. The Wildcats’ ability to recognize situations to run pick-and-pop offense was certainly admirable, and yielded an 18-point first-half performance for Justin Moore. It set a tempo Providence could not control, and in the blink of an eye, Villanova had 46 points heading into the locker room.

Eventually, too many high-octane shooters were left open, and Ed Cooley knew it. “For us to leave (Gillespie) that wide open, that naked, is inexcusable,” he said afterwards. And sure enough, that was the dagger.

The Friars need to clean a few things up; sure, Villanova’s offense is about as efficient as they come, but Providence did not seem to meet the challenge on Tuesday night. In theory, a Sunday date with Butler could steer things back on the right track, but we’ll have to see what Providence decides to emphasize defensively this week.


HOUSEKEEPING:


Al Durham playing hurt

It’s unclear exactly what the Indiana transfer is experiencing injury-wise, but all we know is that he is “nursing an injury.” Ed Cooley addressed it briefly after the game, but only in a broad context: “He's definitely nursing an injury…for him to play through it, he's very resilient.” There were no comments on his status in the coming games.


Morey Hershgordon makes a good point with what could be next for Al Durham; although Cooley is not known to rest players, could this be the time?

Justin Minaya’s hopes of DPOY dwindling

There was public outcry from Friartown when Justin Minaya was left off the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year watchlist. Minaya, regarded as one of the best defensive players in the Big East, was snubbed in favor of 15 candidates - mostly from the SEC (4x) & Big 12 (3x), as well as Chet Holmgren (Gonzaga), Posh Alexander (St. John’s), and Mark Wiliams (Duke). Ed Cooley’s response? “That’s some bullshit, man.”


So, with no edits to this list in sight, it appears Minaya’s hopes of winning the DPOY award have vanished. React as you will…but your anger is justified, in our opinion.

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