Friar Basketball

“20 in 60”: #18 Importance of Starting Strong in Conference


Simplistic as it may sound, how quickly Providence gets out of the gate in Big East play has had a lasting impact on how the rest of the schedule played out.

Since 2001-02, Providence has had four seasons in which they finished .500 or better in conference play (8-8 in 2003, 11-5 in 2004, 8-8 in 2007 and 10-8 in 2009). In each of those seasons they started 2-0 in conference play, with the lone exception being the best team of the bunch, the 2003-04 squad that began 5-1 in conference play, despite losing its conference opener (that team very well could have started 6-0, but Rutgers hit a buzzer-beating three point field goal to erase a 5 point deficit with 10 seconds to play – this a game after a painful loss at the buzzer to Texas).

Put another way, in the last 10 years Providence has never been below .500 after three games and finished at or above .500.

History also tells us that when they start slow it tends to spiral – quickly.

Perhaps no team better exemplifies this than the 2004-05 bunch of Ryan Gomes’ senior year.  Gomes was dominating in the conference opener on the road against 12-0 Boston College (Craig Smith, Jared Dudley), as Providence led 50-38 in the second half before a Sean Williams interior assault led to a comeback victory for the Eagles.

The next night out Gomes was once again a monster (28 points, 11 rebounds) and Herb Hill showed flashes of his future (15 points, 12 rebounds, 9 blocks), but they were playing a Villanova team that would go on to bigger things (the Foye/Sumpter/Fraser/Ray class were all juniors and they added Kyle Lowrie that season) who defeated them in overtime.

That was followed by another tough loss (75-71) to another top team in Hakim Warrick, Gerry McNamara and Syracuse.

By season’s end, Syracuse was 27-6, BC  24-4 and Nova 22-7 (they lost by a point in the Elite Eight to eventual champion North Carolina before making the Final Four the next season).  Providence could have defeated any one of them, teams that were as talented as any they’d see all season, but the early losses began the spiral, confidence waned, and they opened conference play 0-9 before finishing 4-12.

No other season so dramatically emphasizes how difficult early season losses have unraveled the Friars, but the last decade proves they’ve been unable to get on the right side of .500 after falling in an early hole.

A more recent example came in Marshon Brooks’ senior season two years ago.  Once again, Providence was competitive early, playing Syracuse well on the road in the opener (losing 81-74), fumbled away their home opener against a tournament team in St. John’s (67-65) and blew a four point lead with 1:30 remaining in falling to #5 Pittsburgh at home.  These losses were followed up with three uninspired road defeats and at 0-6 the season was virtually over.

This isn’t to say Providence fans should go into a state of panic should they open conference play with a pair of losses, but recent history shows they haven’t been able to recover when losing their first couple in the Big East.  The depth of the conference makes it very difficult to dig out of an early hole.

A look at the numbers since 2002:

2001-02: started 1-4, finished 6-9

2002-03: started 2-0, finished 8-8

2003-04: started 5-1, finished 11-5

2004-05: started 0-9, finished 4-12

2005-06: started 1-4, finished 5-11

2006-07: started 2-0, finished 8-8

2007-08: started 0-2, finished 6-12

2008-09: started 3-0, finished 10-8

2009-10: started 1-2, finished 4-14

2010-11: started 0-6, finished 4-14

2011-12: started 1-8, finished 4-14


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