To say the 2023 off-season was a wild one for the Providence Friars would be an understatement. After a painful break-up, Providence found themselves searching for a new identity for the first time since 2011. When the dust had settled, Friars fans found themselves with a little known coach from the Atlantic 10, himself just a few years removed from his NBA career.
Not a ton was known about Kim English's play-style, partially because he himself admitted last year was a poor indication. But with five games down in the early season, English's style is turning heads. The Friars started the season ranked 61st in defense on KenPom; as of today they rank 23rd. Let's take a closer look at some of the tape from Providence's matchup against Wisconsin and highlight the high-level play we are seeing.
This is the first defensive possession of the game for the Friars. This set is supposed to be a Hi-Lo action for Wisconsin #22, but Josh Oduro and Byrce Hopkins do a great job preventing the pass. Ball swings to Wisconsin #2 who attacks Ticket Gaines in isolation. Great 1-on-1 defense here culminating in a tough contest and defensive rebound for Gaines.
About a minute later now and we get our first example of Kim English's Pick n Roll coverage. Providence is playing 6'9 Oduro in drop-coverage. Oduro is at a disadvantage in drop-coverage because he is undersized at the 5. This situation puts a lot of the onus on Providence guards to make strong contests after the screen. Luckily for the Friars Devin Carter is one of the highest-motor defenders in the country. Carter gets over and a hand in the face in time to force a miss.
This is one of my favorite defensive sequences I've seen on the young season. Ticket Gaines is attacked in the Pick n Roll guarding (arguably) Wisconsin's best scorer. Gaines beats him to the spot and strips the ball. From there it's all hustle as Gaines earns some bruises. Ticket Gaines is a really special defensive talent.
Here's another good example of English's Pick n Roll coverage with Josh Oduro on the floor. #2 is again attacking Oduro, this time taking it right into his chest. Oduro keeps his arms vertical earning the block. Corey Floyd Jr and Ticket Gaines then add two nice contests to prevent any late shotclock baskets. Great team defense.
This possession results in a basket for the Badgers, but I still want to highlight the Friars defensive effort here. Wisconsin is running off-ball screens and cuts to try to get something downhill. Providence blows up every single action by sticking on their man. Play results in a tough end of shotclock midrange shot for Wisconsin.
Late in the First Half and English is throwing a little full-court press/trap. Garwey Dual's length at the top of this press is scary. Wisconsin breaks the press, but expect to see this one again in a close game. Badgers then look to attack Castro, Providence's backup center. Castro is also playing drop-coverage, but he is every bit of the listed 6'11. Castro forces a push-shot from the foul line over his outstretched arm. Not bad for the backup.
One last clip because it's Ticket Gaines. Simple isolation post for #2 to attack Gaines. Gaines puts his chest on him multiple times, contests the ball and forces a travel. Special stuff.
The best defenses we see in College Basketball always combine a culture of defense paired with a few special defensive talents. Right now the culture around Providence defense looks different, players like Bryce Hopkins and Jayden Pierre are battling in ways we frankly did not see last year. The energy is higher and the effort has been outstanding. Now add two Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Devin Carter and Ticket Gaines and this Friars defense has the potential to be something special.
Eight months ago there were legitimate questions about the future and direction of the Providence Friars. Today I'm wondering just how quickly Kim English can put this all together.