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Catch Up with the Friars: Analytics, DePaul, Villanova & More

Updated: May 10, 2022

This has been quite a long six days for the Providence Friars, who last played on February 6, cruising to a victory over Georgetown. And if you’re a Friar fanatic, you’re certainly itching for “Them Dudes” to get back on the hardwood; with an astounding 20-2 record (13-1 overall), the Friars are certainly playing some of the best basketball in the nation right now.

Let’s dive into some key storylines to catch up on.

The analytic conundrum: is Providence (somehow) undervalued?

The cries are loud - arguably deafening - that the analytic formulas do not favor the 2021-22 Providence Friars as much as they should be. Surely, a team ranked 11 AP team should be in at least the top 25 or 30 in most metrics, right?

Think again.

We’ll start with the NET rankings, the formula that backs most of the decisions being made by the NCAA for seeding in its March Madness tournament. Today, Providence is ranked 25; sitting behind Marquette (24), Alabama (23), Xavier (22), and even St. Mary’s College (21). For those that wonder why Marquette - who split a season-series with the Friars - has the advantage, the Golden Eagles have a whopping 7 more Quad 1 games played than the Friars; despite going 7-6 in those contests, they have generally played their games close, especially on the road. The Friars, despite owning a 5-1 Quad 1 record, have been shellacked in their 2 losses (average loss margin of -25) - which drives down their overall analytic value. Sure, the metrics will not change, but it’s helpful to understand what is contributing to the Friars’ rankings this year.

KenPom, one of the most turned-to sources of college basketball analytics, has a target on its back for most Friar fans. It’s much less kind to the Friars, who are ranked 44 in the metric. Why, you ask? It all comes down to offensive (and defensive) efficiency. Providence owns the 53rd-best marker in AdjOE, and the 45th-best in AdjDE; basically, this means Providence does everything right, but other teams do it better than they do. Overall, it positions Providence as a complete team, but not more complete than others (43 of them, to be exact).

My take: Providence is, in some ways, defying analytics. Be careful how much you rely on these metrics, but be careful to ignore them altogether, too.

The good news? It’s been a crazy week in college hoops, and we haven’t even hit the weekend yet. #1 Auburn, #3 Purdue, #6 Houston, #7 Duke, #8 Kansas, and #9 Texas Tech have all lost this week. In theory, this means with a win on Saturday, the Friars are almost guaranteed a solid bump in the AP Top 25 Poll, potentially even up to #8 or #9 depending on Kansas & Texas Tech’s results this weekend.

The task at hand: DePaul (12-10, 3-9 BE)

DePaul has been a curious case this year. I’m not sure many thought they’d be too competitive in conference play in Year 1 of the Tony Stubblefield era, and rightfully so - there’s a big learning curve for most of the players and coaches in the Blue Demons program. They’re 3-9 in conference, but some key wins over Seton Hall and Xavier jump off the page. If you ask Ed Cooley, he’s locked in on this matchup and nothing else; and if history repeats itself, Providence should hastily take care of DePaul. Even though the Demons were favored by 1 in Chicago on New Year’s Day, the Friars steamrolled Tony Stubblefield & company en route to a 70-53 victory. Look for Justin Minaya’s lockdown defense to play a major role.

The impending monster: Villanova (twice)

The matchup that everyone’s been waiting for: Jay Wright and the #15 Villanova Wildcats come to town in what promises to be the most high-profile matchup of the Big East so far this year. Villanova, yet again, seems to be doing everything right: they own the 8th-best offensive efficiency rating in the nation, and their staunch defense has earned them #21 overall. Since we’ve learned to toss analytics out the window with the Friars, shall we also discard the Cats’ 3-point advantage at the Dunk, and 10-point advantage in Philly? That may be up to how well sophomore Eric Dixon and senior Jermaine Samuels defend Nate Watson, who is living up to expectations as a formidable big-man. It’s no stretch to believe Villanova’s perimeter defense stacks up as one of the best nationally, so we’re seeing the first couple of threats to Providence’s healthy distribution strategy when their go-to contributors have gone cold.

The road ahead: Butler, Xavier, Creighton

Maybe this analysis is for another day, but Providence welcomes Xavier and Creighton into the Dunk after hitting the road at Butler. On paper, these should all be wins - but you never know with Hinkle Fieldhouse’s world-class environment, and Xavier & Creighton have historically played the Friars to some tough games at the Dunk. Let’s get through these next couple of contests before rushing to judgment.


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