Friar Basketball

Nonchalant Effort Puts Friars in Tough Spot

Bullock Wide Shot

“I’m as shocked as you guys are.”

That was Ed Cooley following Providence’s listless 80-63 home loss to DePaul.

In front of 12,000 Dunkin Donuts Center fans, and with the opportunity to add a needed win to their NCAA Tournament portfolio (and equally as important, avoid a bad loss), the Friars never showed up.

Perhaps it is due to the fact that the core of this group hasn’t felt the pain of barely missing the Big Dance, or that they have survived nonchalant efforts against the likes of Stony Brook, Rider, Brown, and most recently, Georgetown this season, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that a true sense of urgency is lacking.

Over the past four years this senior class has survived every low and still found a way to dance come March.

As freshmen, their Friars started 17-3, went through a brutal 2-6 stretch late in the season, and closed with three straight wins before throttling Butler in the Big East Tournament. It was another year with a check mark next to the NCAA Tournament box, but the swoon also led to a season-ending loss to top seeded North Carolina in North Carolina.

Last year they started 1-4 in the Big East, then sat at 4-8 through 12 games and came out just fine.

We’ve become accustomed to Cooley’s teams turning it on when necessary.

They did just that in January, kicking off a four-game winning streak by soundly taking out then #5 Xavier. Wins at DePaul and over probable tournament teams Creighton and Butler followed, and surely enough, it appeared as though the team that struggled in November and December had once again turned it on when they had to.

Injuries played a factor in the first semester struggles, and last night Jalen Lindsey sat with a concussion while Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock had the flu, but Cooley quickly dismissed illness as an excuse. Sickness or not, there’s no reason for Providence to trail by over 30 points at home to DePaul. The Blue Demons are improved, but still sat at 2-9 in the conference before this one. PC trailed by 15 at halftime and let up an 18-2 run out of the break.

Now the NCAA Tournament picture is cloudy. With the loss, Providence’s RPI drops from a comfortable 27 to 44. With six games to play they very well could need 11 conference wins to make the tournament. PC is currently 7-5 and the road ahead is daunting:

2/14 vs. Villanova

2/17 at Butler

2/21 vs. Seton Hall

2/24 at Georgetown

2/28 at Xavier

3/3 vs. St. John’s

That’s two games against top five teams nationally, two more versus opponents capable of winning two games in the NCAA Tournament, and two others with bottom rung Big East teams who just so happen to be playing very good basketball down the stretch.

If Providence is to finish strong they’ll need more from Rodney Bullock.

When the Friars were in a first semester malaise Bullock was the constant — not only putting up big numbers, but playing with energy and toughness. The overtime win against Brown becomes a crippling loss without Bullock taking over in the second half, and he was the only Friar to show up at Mohegan Sun versus Houston.

He had scored in double figures in every game since a mid-November loss to Minnesota, but he’s been a non-factor over the past three games. Bullock has made just six field goals in those three games and grabbed five rebounds in that stretch.

Neither Bullock or senior point guard Kyron Cartwright has made a 3-pointer since Providence fell to Villanova on 1/23 — a stretch of four games.

The coinciding breakouts of Alpha Diallo and Isaiah Jackson have masked these struggles, but Saturday’s loss puts Providence in a position in which they need to be terrific, not just good, down the stretch to reach a fifth straight tourney. They’ll need the assertive Bullock we saw earlier in the season to do so.

It didn’t have to be this way, but we’ll see if this bunch can turn it on one more time before their careers close out.

One Comment

  1. Irish Spectre

    February 13, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    If you want to start naming names, then you have to look at Kyron, too. He seems to vacillate between being a spark plug, and routinely disappearing for long stretches, including for entire games. They must get Lindsey back, also, and he needs to score when he returns. It feels like on-court leadership is an issue, too, which shouldn’t be the case w/ three good, starting seniors. What kills me is thinking about how good this team could/would be if ever it hit on all cylinders.

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