Providence welcomes Connecticut (13-5, 3-3) to the Dunkin Donuts Center on Thursday night (7pm, ESPN2) having beaten the Huskies in five of their past seven match-ups and eight of the last 12. The game should have special significance for Friar freshman Kris Dunn, the New London, CT native who was recruited by Jim Calhoun and his staff before deciding to join Ed Cooley’s reclamation project at PC.
Here’s what to watch for:
1. What could have been? While Dunn versus Connecticut is sure to be a headline, the Huskies feature sophomore scorer Ryan Boatright who was very nearly a Friar himself. Boatright attended PC’s Midnight Madness during his senior season and was apparently down to West Virginia and the Friars. He chose West Virginia days after visiting Providence, but de-committed soon after the Mountaineers welcomed another point guard in the same recruiting class.
Some believe then-Providence coach Keno Davis had moved on from Boatright after he de-committed, focusing his attention on Kyan Anderson who eventually ended up at TCU. Anderson originally committed to Providence, but reneged after Cooley came aboard that spring.
While Anderson has had his moments (35 points versus UAB, and a recent 19 point outburst against West Virginia, ironically), Boatright is one of the Big East’s best scorers in his second year. The 6’0 soph is averaging over 16 points per game in conference play, good for 10th in the league, and he’s also among the top ten in conference play in assists.
2. Veteran battle at the 1. With Boatright, Dunn and Bryce Cotton there should be terrific guard play in this one, but it may come down to which team gets a better effort from their leader at point guard.
Shabazz Napier is one of the country’s best, averaging a shade under 17 points per game to go along with four rebounds and four assists. In Big East play he’s scoring over 17 a night (4th in the BE) with nearly five assists, and his 2.3 three point field goals are good for third in conference play. He leads the league in assist to turnover ratio in conference games, and for a kid who probably isn’t six feet, he’s eighth in the league in defensive rebounds at nearly five per game.
Factor in 37% shooting from deep and over 80% at the free throw line, and Napier could make a push for First Team All Big East this year. His best performance of the season came in a 29 point, eight rebound effort against Marquette.
Council’s 7.1 assists in conference play is tops in the Big East, while he’s on Napier’s heels in assist to turnover ratio. He’s had his moments against UConn, notably an 11 assist night in last season’s win in Providence and a masterful eight point, eight assist, seven rebound game in a win during his freshman season.
Council will have to be on Thursday night against Napier who has been terrific as a junior.
3. Establishing Batts. Unlike traditional UConn teams, Kevin Ollie’s first year at the helm features a guard-heavy attack and little depth. Napier and Boatright make up a majority of the offense, while they get occasionally strong efforts from DeAndre Daniels and freshman Omar Calhoun.
Logging big minutes on the interior is Tyler Olander, a 6’9 forward whose production has waned of late. Connecticut does have 7’1 Enosch Wolf to help on the inside, but this is a team that Providence may be able to get Batts going against early.
4. Keep an eye on Daniels. There are times when the athletic, 6’8 forward shows breakout potential (34 points, 17 rebounds in back to back wins over DePaul and Notre Dame) and he could be a swing player for the Huskies on Thursday night.
The opportunity will certainly be there, as he plays 25-30 minute a night.
5. Keeping Cotton going. The book is out on Providence at this point. Cotton has been terrific all season, specifically in Big East play where he had a streak of six straight games of 20 points or more snapped when he had 19 at Marquette.
At this point, he’s the only Friar who has proven he can shoot from beyond the arc in Big East play. He’s a 42% shooter from deep and makes 3.6 a night, but unfortunately for Cooley, he’s the only threat PC currently has from beyond 20 feet right now.
Providence has only three other players who have made a three pointer in Big East play and the numbers aren’t pretty. Josh Fortune is 7-24, Council 4-15 and LaDontae Henton is 4-26. That’s 29, 26 and 15% from three point range.
Looks should be available for Cotton, as neither Boatright or Napier has much length. Cotton scored 22 in last year’s win on 5-9 from three point range.
PC versus UConn in 7 from last year.