It’s been over a week since the Providence College Friars have taken the court. That may be a good thing.
Ed Cooley’s troops have been in a freefall ever since being ranked eighth in the country in early January. Seven losses later and the Friars find themselves unranked, and, if they’re not careful, they might find themselves on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament in March. Who would have thought?
The Friars (19-8) play at Seton Hall (19-7) on Thursday night. The two teams are going in very opposite directions. Providence arrives at Newark, New Jersey, losers of four of their last five, and five of their last seven. Seton Hall, on the other hand, has won six of their last seven.
The Friars have four games left to right the ship. What needs to be done?
Well, let’s start with Kris Dunn. Dunn has been exposed over the last month. The projected NBA lottery draft pick is showing that his shooting is not ready for the next level. Over his last four games, Dunn is just 4 of 15 (26.7%) from three-point range, with at least one of those being a banked-in brick. Dunn has shot over 50% from the field only twice in his last eleven games. Granted defenses have been locking down on Dunn, but he needs to be smarter with his shot selection.
The way Dunn can do that is by pushing the ball more. The Friars are a horrific team in the half court. They need to play fast-paced. They need to get defensive rebounds and sprint the court with the likes of Kyron Cartwright and Junior Lomomba. This team is at its best in transition.
Along those same lines, they need to lay off the three-pointers. They are the worst (32%) three-point shooting team in the Big East, yet they take the fourth-most amount of attempts of the ten teams. They need Dunn to penetrate. They need to feed Ben Bentil in the low post. Quit settling for the threes. That goes for you, Jalen Lindsey. Lindsey is shooting 25% from three-point range yet averages over four three-pointers per game. The 6’7″ sophomore needs to use his height more and get under the basket and try and retrieve Dunn and Bentil’s misses.
Rodney Bullock also needs to toughen up. He has been playing too soft in Big East play. You cannot play soft in Big East play. Bullock has been pushed around. He has bobbled easy passes underneath. He has mishandled rebounds. He has missed too many “bunny” layups. He needs to play stronger. He has the skills to emerge as the Friars’ third weapon on offense. He needs to want it.
Despite the Friars’ woes from three-point range, they may have an answer to their outside scoring problems. That answer is Ryan Fazekas. The freshman is finally finding his stroke after missing the month of December with mono. He has hit 11 of his last 30 three-pointers after making only 2 of 17 immediately following his medical leave. More importantly, the stroke looks good now. Why is Fazekas (36.1% three-point shooter) taking fewer three-point shots per game than Lindsey (25.7%)? Fazekas, Bentil, Bullock, and Dunn should be the only ones allowed to take three-pointers on this team.
The Friars need to get back to what made them successful in the first place. Put away the press clippings. Start playing with some heart and soul again. The Friars need to come right out of the gate focused. Their slow starts are killing them. Maybe quit with all the pregame horseplay and dancing. Maybe they are too loose at the start of games.
The Friars starting five needs to come out with their game faces on. They need to take better care of the ball. They need to push the ball up the court after every defensive rebound. They have the best collegiate point guard in the country. Utilize his strengths. When the Friars are forced into their half court offense, they need to stop settling for threes, except when it is to set up Fazekas. They need to crash the boards and dive for loose balls. Time is running out. There is too much talent on this team not to make a once-in-a-generation run in March.