Updated: Dec 3, 2022
After an 0-2 weekend, with losses to Miami and Saint Louis, the Friars head back home with some identity searching ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
So, I’m going to make this one quick, because honestly there isn’t a ton to say here.
This past weekend saw the Providence Friars, who had gotten out to a somewhat convincing 3-0 start to the season, drop back-to-back games against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday, and the Saint Louis Billikens on Sunday.
These aren’t necessarily bad losses, per say, but they are losses that exposed a lot of the flaws that this Friars team has. Defensive inefficiencies, and lack of cohesion are the two that come to mind. And for this Friars team to be successful down the line, those two things are going to have to change.
This wasn’t necessarily a BAD weekend for the Friars, with respect to their NCAA tournament resume. Come March, the selection committee isn’t going to penalize you too harshly for neutral site losses to Miami and Saint Louis – two schools who are talented enough to make the big dance.
But what is cause for concern, however, is that this was the first litmus test of the season for this young Friars squad, and they did not perform to the best of their ability against two top-50 KenPom opponents.
Not to mention that now, the opportunity for a quality non-conference resume-building win comes in the form of a road trip to TCU.
Okay, so, maybe I lied in that opening sentence. There is a lot to talk about here. Let’s get into it.
Saturday Recap: Miami
On Saturday, the Friars fell to the Miami Hurricanes, 74-64. The Friars trailed by as many as 15 points in this one, and looked to struggle against Miami’s athleticism.
The Hurricanes were led in scoring by Norchad Omier, who logged 19 points and 12 rebounds on 7-for-12 shooting. Omier was joined in double-figures by Isaiah Wong (19 points, 7-14FG), and Nijel Pack (11 points, 5-12FG).
As a team, the Hurricanes shot a healthy 42.9% from the field, 30.8% from deep, and 88.9% from the free throw line. Miami also out-rebounded the Friars, 38 to 29, out-scored the Friars in the paint, 38 to 28, scored 16 second chance points, and scored 19 points off of 14 Providence turnovers. Woof.
Now for the Friars.
Ed Cooley’s squad was led in scoring by Bryce Hopkins, who logged 16 points and 8 boards on 6-for-8 shooting from the floor. Hopkins’ size and athleticism were a bright spot in the second half, as the Hurricanes often found themselves struggling to guard him in the post. He also had 6 turnovers…
Hopkins was joined in double-figures by Jared Bynum (14 points, 3 assists, 5-12FG), and Devin Carter (11 points, 3-9FG). Noah Locke chipped in with 9 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
As a whole, the Friars shot 42% from the field, 23.8% from three, and 77.3% from the free throw line. And as I mentioned earlier, the Friars were out-scored in the paint by Miami, out-rebounded by Miami and essentially out-hustled by Miami.
All things considered; this wasn’t a terrible loss for the Friars. Miami is a good team, and is currently receiving votes in the AP Top-25 poll for the third straight week. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not happy with the loss, but I can certainly live with it. If you play mediocre basketball against a good team, chances are you’re going to lose – and that’s exactly what the Friars did, they played mediocre basketball against a good team. That’s a pill I can swallow.
And that was my mentality for most of the evening and the next morning following the loss.
Enter Saint Louis.
Sunday Recap: Saint Louis
Sunday’s loss to the Saint Louis Billikens is arguably one of the more frustrating losses in recent memory for this Providence program. I’d go as far as saying that this loss lives up there, in terms of “Most Frustrating Friars Losses,” with the Long Beach State Thanksgiving Day upset of 2019 – not in terms of the quality of the loss (the Long Beach State loss being very bad), but in terms of losing a game that you should have won.
Three minutes into the second half, the Friars were ahead by 13 points. Saint Louis would go on to outscore the Friars 42 to 26 from this point forward, and take the lead with 26 seconds left on the clock. Saint Louis would then win by 3 points...
In short, this is a game the Friars should have won. Give credit to Saint Louis, because they pieced together one hell of a comeback, but Providence should have won this game.
All five starters for the Billikens scored in double-figures, and were led in scoring by Yuri Collins, who logged 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists on 9-for-13 shooting. Javonte Perkins added 14 points, and Gibson Jimerson, Javon Pickett and Francis Okoro all added 10 points apiece.
As a team, the Billikens shot 48.3% from the field, 20% from three, and 88.2% from the line. The Billikens outscored the Friars in the paint, 40 to 26, and scored 21 points off of 11 Friar turnovers.
On the other end of the court, the Friars shot 35.9% from the floor, 35% from three, and an immaculate 100% from the free throw line, 20-for-20. For the second night in a row, the Friars were led by Bryce Hopkins, who flirted with a double-double, logging 20 points and 9 rebounds on 60% shooting from the field. Jared Bynum added 15 points, Devin Carter added 10, and Ed Croswell recorded his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
On paper, this is a game the Friars should have won. Four of five starters scoring in double-figures (which almost included two double-doubles, mind you), a 13-point lead in the second half, and what was essentially home-court advantage. But games aren’t played on paper. And the result in the record book does not care about the what-if’s and the should-have’s. You are what your record says you are.
And that’s why this loss is a harder pill to swallow than the Miami loss. The Friars led for the entire second half, up until the 26-second mark. That is unacceptable. This game should have been won, and the frustration from Ed Cooley was evident in the post-game press conference.
“Grit, will, energy, and effort. That’s what it takes to win. And right now, our group at Providence College is not there yet.” is what Cooley had to say following the team’s loss on Sunday.
I agree, Coach.
The Friars could have come out of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament with a 1-1 record, losing to a good team, and beating a good team. But instead, they left 0-2, after a heartbreaking loss and some serious defensive hiccups.
Really, there is nothing new here. If you’re an avid listener to my podcast, The Flex, you know very well that I’ve been preaching since game one that this Friars squad has some holes defensively. This weekend put that on full display. The only difference between this weekend’s games, and the Friars’ first three games is that, unlike the first three games, the Friars could not be bailed out by their offense this weekend. The result is an 0-2 record against top-50 KenPom opponents, and a team that is staring in the mirror, looking to find its identity.
And as I mentioned in the introduction, this weekend presented a tremendous opportunity for this team to steal two quality wins “away from home” against some really talented opponents. This opportunity was squandered and now the Friars find themselves in a position where they’ll have to finish out non-conference play really strong, which will need to include a competitive game (and hopefully a win) against a good TCU team down in Texas.
Not to mention, that the rest of the games on the non-conference slate, not including TCU, are against teams outside of the KenPom top-100 (as of 11/22/22) – which means that with the exception of TCU, the Friars will need to win out the rest of their non-conference games.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far in the season, going 6-0 (or 5-1) to end the non-conference slate might be a very tough ask for this Friars squad. Accomplishing such a feat will need to include back-to-back road wins at TCU, then again at Rhode Island. Mind you, this would mean flying down to Texas, beating a good TCU squad on their own court, then flying back home to play in a hostile Ryan Center on the campus of the University of Rhode Island, all in a four-day span. For a young team that is clearly having cohesion issues, this is a very, very tall order.
Okay. That was my negative take on things. Here’s the positive:
Five games into the season, Bryce Hopkins has lived up to expectations. He’s averaging 16 points per game, and just under 8.5 rebounds per game, all while shooting at a very healthy 53.3% clip. He is also the minutes leader on the team at this point in the season, having logged a total of 171 minutes played (34.2 minutes per game).
In terms of the Big East, Hopkins currently sits at 8th in overall scoring, and 6th in overall rebounding. Comparatively, he is out-rebounding fellow big man “favorites” in the conference including Adama Sanogo, Zach Freemantle, Qudus Wahab, Jack Nunge, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Eric Dixon. For what it’s worth, Ed Croswell is ALSO out-rebounding all of those guys, minus Sanogo.
I know, it’s only five games in, I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself here. But I must say, Hopkins’ performance thus far has been really promising. Against Miami, he imposed his will in the paint in the second half, and looked to have upped his physicality down low as well. He’s been a vacuum on the glass through all five games, and has hardly come off the floor in each of them.
If you listened to our most recent episode of The Flex, you’ll recall that we discussed how important the power forward/4-man spot is to a successful Ed Cooley team. Think about the contributions from Rodney Bullock and Isaiah Jackson to the 2017-18 Big East Tournament Championship game team, or the contributions from Alpha Diallo to the 2019-20 “what could have been/COVID” team, or the contributions from Noah Horchler to last season’s Big East Regular Season Championship and Sweet Sixteen team. The thing that all of those teams had in common was an anchor at the forward spot. Bullock, Jackson, Diallo, and Horchler were all those guys. And only five games into the season, it seems we’ve uncovered the next power forward that has the potential to become a household name amongst the Friar Faithful, in Bryce Hopkins.
I know, we’re only five games into his career with Providence, so I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself here. But what we’ve seen through these first five games has been promising. And tying this back to what I said earlier: if the Friars are going to make a run in the back half of this non-conference slate, and potentially win out ahead of conference play, it is going to start with Bryce Hopkins.
Up next, the Friars will return to the AMP (man, I really hate calling it that) to host the Merrimack Warriors. The Warriors come into this one boasting a 1-4 record, on the heels of a loss to St. Thomas, 72-61.
The Warriors are led in scoring by Jordan Minor, who’s averaging 17 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per game. Weirdly enough, however, Minor has not played for the Warriors since their 64-48 win over the Clark Cougars (Division III opponent) on November 11th. With that in mind, be on the lookout for Ziggy Reid, who is the team’s second leading scorer, averaging 12.6 points per game, with a 43.6% field goal percentage.
Currently, the Warriors sit at 319 in KenPom, 250 spots beneath the Friars who sit at 69. Something to keep in mind about this matchup is that Merrimack gave St. John’s (who is now 5-0) a competitive first half during the Johnnies’ home opener. I’d expect the Warriors to bring that same energy to Providence this week, in hopes of knocking-off a power conference opponent who is limping out of the weekend.
As I’m writing this on Tuesday morning, there are currently no odds available for the game, but I’d expect the Friars to be favored. By how much? I’m not sure.
This game will be on Thanksgiving Eve, Wednesday, November 23rd at 7:00pm. You can catch the game on FS2. As always, be sure to stay connected to House Enterprise, Road to the Garden, and The Flex for all of your Friars and Big East coverage this season.