With the Bulls going up to play Providence College at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Kevin Farrahar from FriarBasketball blog was nice enought to answer a few questions from Voodoo Five. We talk about the previous USF-PC game in late January, PC's terrific 2012 recruiting class, and Vincent Council's underrated season. Also referenced is one of the greatest names in Big East basketball history, God Shammgod.
1. The Friars are one of the better scoring teams in the Big East, but the Bulls were able to match the scoring and win the previous game, 81-78, in late January. What did you take from that game and what do the Friars need to do to get the upper hand on Saturday?
The most surprising aspect of that loss for Providence was South Florida's guards matching those of the Friars. PC is woefully thin at the 4 and 5 spots and the thought was they would get devoured in the paint, but if they could get the game up and down at bit they'd stand a good chance. While USF bullied them down low early (their first 12 points were through either makes at the rim or fouls shots after being hit in the paint) it was Collins and Fitzpatrick who beat them with deep shooting, while PC's best player, Vincent Council, had his worst game in weeks.
For Providence to win Saturday, Council will have to revert back to form, especially playing against a freshman point guard, albeit one who has been very solid in year 1. That's the advantage for PC. If this thing is back in the high 70s or low 80s again that will be a very good thing for the Friars.
Another player to watch, who was a virtual no-show in Tampa, is sophomore guard Gerard Coleman who has played well since that loss. He had 15 points and 7 rebounds against Rutgers, and torched West Virginia for 30 points and 16 more versus Nova earlier this week.
2. Can you talk a little bit about the home court advantage the Friars get at the Dunkin Donuts Center (AKA The Dunk)?
It's funny, Providence hasn't drawn well in recent years, and even with homegrown Ed Cooley at the helm the crowds haven't been great. That being said, this team is a pretty tough out at home, as evidenced by their 30-point lashing of Louisville and a back and forth contest with Syracuse in early January.
They had West Virginia beat last week (up 15 after starting 16-18 from the field), but faltered down the stretch late, losing in overtime.
What makes them so much tougher at home is they play with just a little more energy at the Dunk, key to a team that prefers to get out and run. With such a shallow roster they are prone to hitting walls (a blown 19-point lead at Villanova this week is a fine example) and sometimes that home crowd gives them that little extra nudge they need when the legs get heavy.
3. In Billy Donovan, Eric Murdock, John Linehan, God Shammgod, and Marshon Brooks, PC has a history of great guard play. Can you talk about the current guards, and where Vincent Council fits along the PC lineage? (Sorry, I could not not make a God Shammgod reference).
It's unfortunate for Council that he'll have spent at least 75% of his Providence career on really bad teams because he's a terrific passer and blindingly quick. On a better team his career is remembered far differently and would get far more love nationally. He's a 16 ppg scorer and dishes out 7.6 assists per, great numbers, but even more impressive when you take a closer look at how this Providence team gets their points.
There really aren't many of those Rondo to Ray Allen assists where the point guard racks up easy ones by being surrounded by great jump shooters in the halfcourt set. Plus, Providence gets next to nothing offensively out of the 4/5 spots, so it's rare that he's dumping the ball inside for a cheapie as well. A few assists per game are seemingly fumbled away as well.
Next year should really define how he is remember. Council is clearly the top pure distributer since Shammgod, and it's not even close. What will eventually determine how he is remembered is how the Friars fare next season. Yes, they have a pair of All-American guards coming in, but Council will be the senior leader, and one who suddenly has a ridiculous amount of options with the ball in his hands. They already have kids like LaDontae Henton, Bryce Cotton and Coleman who have all gone for 30+ this year at some point to go along with Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. Should be a point guard's dream -- and a real opportunity to change how he is remembered.
4. PC hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2004. New coach Ed Cooley, a local guy, has increased PC's recruiting profile. Can you talk about the 2012 recruiting class, and the near future for PC basketball?
Well, I touched on it a bit in my previous answer, but Cooley has completely, and shockingly, changed the image of Providence College in recruiting circles in under a year. I thought he'd have to prove it somewhat on the court before he started landing studs, but he has the two All-Americans coming in, 6'8 Sidiki Johnson was a top-100 2011 kid transferring from Arizona who will be eligible second semester next year, and Josh Fortune is a sharp shooting 3.
Those four alone would make up the best class PC has seen since the mid-90s, but they appear to be in terrific shape with JaKarr Sampson (they'll battle heavyweights like Kansas, Baylor, Florida, etc for him) as Cooley has basically camped out at every one of Sampson's games - which are over three hours away in New Hampshire.
The Friars refuse to go away in the Nerlens Noel sweepstakes, despite the popular belief that it's Syracuse, Kentucky and everyone else. Noel was on campus this past weekend and it wasn't the first time he's been there.
The class is already ranked in the top 10 nationally per ESPN, a huge accomplishment for Providence, and the commitments of Sampson (a top-35 kid a season ago before he didn't qualify at St. John's) or Noel would set this place on fire.
5. How do you see this game going?
I'll be interesting to see how PC's legs hold up and how they come out mentally after blowing leads of 15 and 19 the last two games. This team is basically playing six kids right now and that killed them against Nova Tuesday, as four kids played 42+ minutes just two days prior against West Virginia. While their record is ugly, if they had held on to those two leads this team would be entering Saturday on a three-game winning streak. In other words, while this team played to their record a season ago, this is a more dangerous team that most probably anticipate coming in.
That being said, USF's size is going to be a big problem for the Friars. Kadeem Batts, who played very well in Tampa last season, has really struggled of late, leaving Bilal Dixon as the lone big body to defend the paint. They'll need more from Batts in this one and can't let Ron Anderson torch them, as he did early the last time out.
It's all going to come down to USF's frontcourt versus PC's backcourt. With Councll, Cotton and Coleman all playing well at the same time once again, this team can compete with most in the Big East if their froncourt is serviceable. This should be a nip and tuck game which comes down to who executes better in the final two minutes.
If it's that close late, and it slows down to a halfcourt game, I'll always favor the big team who can grab a key offensive rebound and force the action inside.