*Kalif Young (6’9” Jr.) has started all 10 games this season, while Jimmy Nichols (6’8” Fr.) has started the past 7 games. However, Jackson (69% of minutes) and Watson (56%) play significantly more minutes.
Best wins- A-#84 Boston College; N- #103 South Carolina; H- #115 Rhode Island
After Providence missed the NCAA Tournament in nine straight seasons from 2005 through 2013, Ed Cooley has this thing rolling. The Friars have made the Big Dance in each of the past five seasons, and sure they’ve won just one tournament game over that time-frame (2016 over USC), but this program has been relevant nationally since Cooley took over in 2011-12.
This season, however, there remains a lot of work to do for Providence to get back to the Big Dance. Playing a fairly weak schedule as far as Big East programs go (161st most difficult, according to Kenpom), PC has taken a couple of tough losses; last week it was a home loss to UMass (the same team with losses to Howard and Holy Cross), and early in November they lost to Wichita St. (currently 4-4) on a neutral. Their best win is probably a road game at Boston College a couple of weeks ago, though that game could easily have been a loss, as BC coach Jim Christian elected not to foul up three in the final seconds. Instead, AJ Reeves knocked down a three to send the game to overtime, and the Friars ultimately won 100-95. For a program expecting to make the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight season, it hasn’t been a great first couple of months to the season, as they are currently 112th in the NET.
However, there’s a lot to be excited about, as Cooley brought in perhaps his best recruiting class this season, which means the future is bright despite some growing pains. 6’6” freshman AJ Reeves has been the best of the newcomers, averaging 14 ppg and 3 rpg while shooting 45% from three. David Duke (8 ppg, 3 apg) and Jimmy Nichols (4 ppg and 2.5 rpg) have also had their moments, and should form a strong nucleus for the next few seasons. Unfortunately, for the Friars, Reeves will not play in this one as he is out 4-6 weeks with a foot injury.
Cooley’s success at Providence has been largely due to his commitment to defense; in each of the last four seasons, PC was ranked in the top 42 in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. However, they haven’t been consistently good on the offensive side of the ball; sure, they finished 30th in adjusted offensive efficiency back in 2014 and 42nd in 2015. However, in each of the last three seasons they’ve been between 92nd and 101st in the country- which isn’t terrible, but isn’t great for an NCAA Tournament team. And here’s the thing; it appears Ed Cooley has a two-point jumper problem.
His team is making just 28% of their two-point jump shot attempts, which is 21st worst in Division 1…which wouldn’t be so bad, except they take a lot (29% of their shot attempts). This is nothing new for Ed Cooley, as two-point jumpers made up ~30% of their attempts last season, though they did make significantly more (38%). And this has been an issue for Cooley coached teams before; in 2016-17, they took slightly fewer 2P Jumpers (28.3%), however one could argue it was still too many, as they made just 34% of their attempts, which was 291st in D1 (or 61st worst, depending on how you want to look at it). That followed up a 2015-16 season where they made just 31.6%, which was 32nd worst. So it’s no surprise that Providence has never rated higher than 126th in eFG% (16-17) since Cooley took over, and have rated outside of the top 200 in eFG% in five of his seven seasons.
What’s surprising about their struggles inside the arc this season (47.7% overall), is the fact that they’ve been really good from outside. Led by the aforementioned Reeves, the Friars are shooting 38% from three. They have no shortage of options either, as Reeves (45%), Alpha Diallo (41.5%), and Isaiah Jackson (43%) have all been dynamite so far. One would think they’d want to take more three-pointers (just 32.5% of their shots have been from behind the arc, which is 309th out of 353 teams).
Player to Watch: Alpha Diallo
After earning pre-season All-Big East honors, forward Alpha Diallo has probably exceeded expectations so far this season. The 6'7" junior leads the team in scoring (17.2 ppg), rebounding (8.6 ppg), assists (3.8 apg), and steals (1.6 spg), and is shooting 42% from three. Diallo has been nothing short of a star.
After averaging a solid 13.2 ppg for PC as a sophomore, Diallo went to work on his outside shot. Last season he was just 15 for 70 from three (21.4%). This season, however, the perimeter shot has become a much larger part of his game. Fans didn't have to wait long to see it in action, as Diallo was 10 for 19 in the team's first three games.
He's also getting to the free throw line significantly more; his 64 attempts through 10 games are already more than halfway to his total from last season (120 attempts) in 32 games. Add in his increased playmaking abilities (3.8 apg compared to 2.3 apg last year), and he's a threat to score at all three levels plus create for others. He will be a handful on Sunday, for sure.
Things to Watch
The Mid-Range Game
As mentioned above, Providence takes a ton of mid-range jumpers, and they haven’t exactly made a ton. Here are Providence’s eFG% as a team, broken out by shot type:
Shots at Rim- 62.3%
2-P Jumper- 28.9%
3P Jumper- 57.5%
Obviously it’s typical to be more efficient on layups and three-pointers (which is why teams’ have increasingly cut out the mid-range game from their offenses), but not many teams are a) as bad as Providence in the mid-range; and b) take as many.
For as well as the Friars shoot it from deep (38.3%), they don’t take many three-pointers (just 32.5% of their shots, which ranks near the bottom of Division 1). Plus, perhaps their best long-range shooter is out for the better part of two months.
Sure, it’s easier said than done, but if the CCSU defense can force Providence into taking a high percentage of mid-range shots, and keep them away from the rim, it'll go a long way toward keeping this game close.
PC on the Offensive Boards
The Friars have been killing opponents on the offensive boards so far this season, averaging 33.2%, which is 49th nationally. Nate Watson has been especially good, averaging 2.1 offensive rebounds per game in just 22.7 mpg, as has Alpha Diallo (2.7 offensive rebounds per game). Kalif Young and Isaiah Jackson are additional guys that will get it done on the offensive boards.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have struggled to grab defensive rebounds, allowing teams to snare 33.1% of their offensive rebounding opportunities.
We haven’t talked much about fouling, mostly because we’ve been too busy harping on turnovers and defensive rebounding. But somewhat surprisingly, foul issues have plagued this year’s Blue Devils. CCSU is allowing a 37.6 Free Throw Rate (or 0.376 free throws per field goal attempt), which is well above the average of 34.1.
Deion Bute continues to be foul prone (5.8 fouls per 40 mins., which matches last season), as have Karrington Wallace and Joe Hugley. Even Tyler Kohl is fouling more frequently this season (3.5 fouls per 40 compared with 2.3 last season).
Providence has gotten to the foul line quite a bit so far this season, as their free throw rate is 41.5 (53rd in D1). Nate Watson and Alpha Diallo have lived at the free throw line this season, while Isaiah Jackson leads the team in FTRate.
Sure, as a team they’ve struggled from the charity stripe (66.2%), but guys like Diallo (70%) and Jackson (74%) have made teams pay.
While there’s a whole lot of basketball left to play, it’s probably safe to say that, at least right now, the Friars aren’t as good as they have been over the past few years. It’s difficult when you lose guys like Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright off a team that finished 21-14 and made the NCAA Tournament.
However, Providence is still likely the 2nd best team CCSU will have faced this season (with Virginia Tech being the first), and the Friars are currently 4-0 against teams ranked outside the top 150 in Kenpom. Though if you look a bit closer, it’s not like PC is blowing these teams out. They beat #268 Siena by 10, #151 Holy Cross by 9, #207 Iona by 12, and #272 Fairleigh Dickinson by 10 (all home games).
Given the Reeves injury, don’t be surprised to see the Blue Devils hang around in this one. Plus, it’s this time of year (post-finals, pre-Christmas break, pre-conference play) where upsets seem to happen with more frequency.