Ed Cooley is looking to install a new culture at Providence, and he's made no secret of his determination to do so. Kadeem Batts was suspended for the first semester to concentrate on academics, for example, and Vincent Council was a scratch from the Jan. 14 loss to Syracuse because of a coach's decision. But by and large, he's been able to get the Friars playing strong on both ends of the court, even if the results in Big East play haven't followed.
But ultimately he does have the same players as the Keno Davis era did, and the weaknesses sometimes become apparent.
The Friars defense isn't as bad as it was a year ago, and the effort on that end of the court is certainly there. But this still isn't a good defensive team, as the Friar fans saw again last weekend when Marquette torched the team for 68-percent shooting in the second half on its way to a 79-72 win. Coach Ed Cooley bemoaned his team's lack of toughness afterwards, and said that would be addressed in practice this week.
For the game, the Golden Eagles went 9-of-11 from 3-point range, and Providence was less than diligent in making those challenging opportunities. It was a step back for Providence as it enters a critical phase in the Big East season.
Providence begins the week 1-6 in the Big East, but the most challenging portion of the season is over. Two of the losses have come to Syracuse, which was No. 1 in the country until getting knocked off by Notre Dame last weekend. Another was at a ranked Georgetown squad, and Marquette entered last weekend ranked in the top 25 as well. For a team that's young and growing, that's not exactly the early-season slate designed to bring confidence.
But the Friars' next seven games are against teams that were not ranked last week. Beginning Jan. 25 with a trip to winless Pittsburgh, the Friars remaining schedule is much more manageable. The Friars might still lose -- they were picked to finish near the bottom of the league for a reason -- but at least Cooley's squad will be playing a slightly lower-caliber opponent than it has to this point.
--One aspect of the game Providence has controlled in Big East play has been the rebounding. The Friars have outrebounded six of its seven league opponents following its 40-33 edge on the glass against Marquette. Not coincidently, that rebounding surge has come with Kadeem Batts' return to the lineup following his being sidelined for the first semester, as well as the emergence of LaDontae Henton as an All-Rookie candidate in the Big East.
--Providence coach Ed Cooley saw a familiar face on the Marquette sidelines last weekend. Golden Eagles assistant Aki Collins was an assistant coach under Cooley at Fairfield from 2006-2008.
--The Friars' defensive effort against Marquette in the second half overshadowed what had been a very solid first 20 minutes against a ranked Golden Eagles squad. Providence didn't shoot the ball well, but led by one at the break by being strong on the glass (scoring 10 points on put-backs) and at the free-throw line (with 13 of its 30 points coming from the charity stripe).
BY THE NUMBERS: 17-5 -- The game-clinching run by Marquette in the second half. The Golden Eagles and Friars were tied at 57 with just over 12 minutes to play, but Providence made just one basket over the following nine minutes to fall out of it.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Today was as winnable a game as we've had in about a month. Our lack of overall toughness from a physical standpoint and a mental standpoint defensively really, really bothered me today." -- Providence coach Ed Cooley told the Providence Journal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAMES:
--at Pittsburgh, Jan. 25
KEY MATCHUPS: Pitt is the one team below the Friars in the Big East standings, so Providence can expect to see a desperate Panthers team this week. Not much has gone right for Pitt this season, but Ashton Gibbs is a deadly shooter and Travon Woodall is working his way back into the rotation after a midseason injury, so that will be a challenging matchup for Vincent Council and Bryce Cotton.
--at South Florida, Jan. 29
KEY MATCHUPS: The Bulls were awful in non-conference play, but hit their stride in the Big East and find themselves among the league leaders. South Florida doesn't have one guy who dominates every night, but every player in the seven-man rotation is capable of being the hero on any given night. Gus Gilchrist is a strong paint presence, while Ron Anderson Jr. and Jawanza Poland are both difference makers whether they start or come off the bench.
FUTURES MARKET: Friars fans will get an early look at highly-ranked signee Kris Dunn in a couple of weeks. Dunn will bring his New London (Conn.) squad to Providence's Alumni Hall for a high school game against Mount Pleasant on Feb. 4.
--Vincent Council sat out the Syracuse game for undisclosed reasons, but he was back in the lineup against Marquette. He had a tough time shooting the basketball against the Golden Eagles, going 3-of-13 from the field, but he did dish out seven assists in the 79-72 defeat.
--Bryce Cotton is on a streak where every other game is one in which he fills up the scoring column. Over his last four games entering this week, he scored six against Seton Hall, 27 against Louisville, seven against Syracuse and 26 against Marquette.
--Kadeem Batts was the only starter to play less than 29 minutes against Marquette, and he has nobody to blame for that but himself. Batts fouled out in 23 minutes, probably costing him a double-double, as he finished with eight points to go with his 11 rebounds.