Friar Basketball

“20 in 60”: #17 Cotton as PC’s Momentum Changer

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Last season I made the case that Bryce Cotton’s sophomore season compared favorably to that of former Friar Donnie McGrath.  McGrath was a four year starter at Providence, one who came here with much fanfare as a top 100 prospect out of the Westchester County of New York and graduated the Friars’ all-time leader in minute played, games started and three point field goals made (274).

While McGrath may not be remembered as one of the elite players in Providence history, he’s one of the more respected guards to play here in recent seasons.  Any Friar fan would have gladly accepted it if they had been told that Cotton could put up numbers that rivaled those of McGrath’s.

As a point of clarity, McGrath and Cotton played different roles, on far different teams, as sophomores.  McGrath didn’t move off of the ball until Sharaud Curry arrived during his season season (a year in which McGrath saw a spike in production – 15 ppg), and he played alongside the best Friar of the last 15 years in Ryan Gomes prior to that.

Providence was a tournament team in McGrath’s sophomore season of 2003-04.

Both Cotton’s sophomore team and McGrath’s sophomore bunch had four men who scored in double figures.

While the roles were different, McGrath is remembered as one of the best shooters to play for Providence over the past 20 years, making Cotton’s numbers more noteworthy than he was probably credited for a season ago.

 

A look inside the numbers

Coming off of a season in which he made only 14 three pointers, Cotton knocked down 77 last season (tied for third all time at Providence – matching McGrath’s senior season total), while averaging 14.2 points per game.

Statistically, Cotton’s sophomore campaign was stronger than that of McGrath’s.  Here’s a look at the numbers:

Points per game: Advantage Cotton (14.2 versus 10.0)

Points per 40 minutes: Advantage Cotton (14.8 versus 11.8)

Field goal percentage: Advantage Cotton (41.3 versus 39.2)

Free throws made: Advantage Cotton (90 versus 32 – Cotton went to the line 101 times to McGrath’s 44 and shot 89% versus 72.7)

Three point field goals made: Advantage Cotton (77 versus 67, with Cotton shooting 37.9% against McGrath’s 36.8)

Assists: Advantage McGrath (3.4 versus 2.25)

 

One could  make the argument that McGrath had additional responsibilities as a point guard, yet even when he was moved off of the ball as a senior his numbers are nearly identical to those of Cotton’s last year.  McGrath was a 2nd team All Big East performer in his last year on campus.

Points: 15.1 vs 14.2, advantage McGrath

FG%: 41.3 versus 40.0, advantage Cotton

Free throws made: Cotton connected on 31 more (101 to 70, albeit Cotton played 200 more minutes)

Three point shooting: Both made 77 threes, with Cotton shooting a higher percentage (37.9 versus 35.3)

Cotton had 30 more rebounds, McGrath one more assist (73 to 72)

Both had 52 turnovers on the season.

 

What does it mean for 2012-13?

While built differently (Cotton is a 5’11 athlete and McGrath was a sturdier 6’3), a fair comparison can be made as both played a similar style: spot up shooter with limited ability to create off of the bounce.  Cotton’s numbers indicate a player who is more capable of getting to the line (his knack for getting an occasional offensive rebound goes under-appreciated).  Cotton is also more effective scoring from 10-12 feet with a consistent floater.

When McGrath was at his best he was stringing together groups of three pointers, as he did his freshman season in an upset at Boston College (23 points on 5-7 from three) or when he went 9-9 from three against Virginia as a senior.

Often in this space Cotton was referred to as PC’s swing player last year.  Typically, when he shot well the Friars played well.

He was 8-11 from the field in a tough road win over Fairfield.  Shot 11-16 from the field and 10-10 at the line on his way to 34 points in helping the Friars avoid a disaster against Bryant in December.  Perhaps his best stretch of the season came after he caught fire in a blowout of Louisville (5-5 from 3, 10-12 free throws), leading to a run in which he scored at least 15 points in seven of eight Big East games.  He scored over 20 points in four of those contests, hitting 29 three pointers over the eight games.

Not surprisingly, when Providence was at their worst a season ago Cotton struggled, with the low point coming when he shot 4-28 from three point range over a three game stretch in February – the three games following his terrific eight game stretch.

Cotton averaged over 21 points per game in Providence’s Big East victories last year and made five 3 pointers in three of the four victories. The one win in which he did not hit five 3 pointers, Cotton shot 8-14 (2-4 from three) and scored 19 points.

PC’s swing player, indeed.

 

Consistency the key in his junior season

Like McGrath before him, perhaps fans should get accustomed to shooters going through their cold stretches.  There were times when McGrath struggled for games at a time, and the PC offense suffered because of it.

Last year, Providence was heavily reliant on Cotton from three point territory, with freshman LaDontae Henton (39%) serving as the only other outside option on a team that featured a pair of guards in Vincent Council (29%) and Gerard Coleman (five made 3s all season) with subpar three point acumen.

Like McGrath, Cotton struggled to score off of the dribble, so when his jumper wasn’t falling his value depreciated considerably.

Still, he was Providence’s best player in two of their four Big East wins (27 versus Louisville, 22 on 5-9 from 3 against Connecticut) and made two late three pointers in a 20 second span versus Rutgers when it looked like the Friars were destined to cough up a 14 point halftime advantage.

Depending upon where Ricardo Ledo’s eligibility case lands, Cotton should also benefit from being on the floor with other shooters – notably Henton, Ledo and freshman Josh Fortune.

Assuming Kris Dunn can return from shoulder surgery and Ledo is eligible, the fate of the Friars will not rely as heavily on solid shooting nights from Cotton, but he will be one of the few experienced guards on the roster thanks to the departure of Gerard Coleman, who transferred to Gonzaga.

Cotton’s leap from his freshman to sophomore years was a huge one, but even if he can play at the level he did a year ago his numbers will be in line with one of the better guards to play in Providence over the last 10-15 years.

Providence fans would have taken that when he signed a week before classes started two years ago.

 

Email Kevin at kevin.farrahar@friarbasketball.com

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