The Dunkin Donuts Center was rocking midway through the second half of this one, and unfortunately for Pioneers fans, it wasn’t because the game between Sacred Heart and Providence was a close one. No, sadly the highlight of the second half was the fact that everyone in attendance won a free Original Chicken Sandwich from Chick-Fil-A due to two missed SHU free throws. While that was far from the low point for SHU, there were not many positives to come from this game.
1. Providence proved to be a little more talented than their preseason rank (#30 according to Kenpom) would lend you to believe. Talk about depth, Providence had 38 points off their bench while SHU only managed 14 (12 of which came from Aaron Clarke). The Friars’ size and speed were too much for the Pioneers to handle all night. The real matchup that was exploited was the strength of Providence's guards, namely Luwane Pipkins, David Duke and Maliek White, who used their physicality on the defensive end to frustrate Parker and Ozier in their sophomore debuts. Of course, there are nights where the shots just don't fall, and this was an example of one of those nights. Struggling to really get the offense rolling, Providence closed out well on most three-point attempts, and caused fits for SHU offensively, forcing them to shoot 32% from the field for the game (37.3% eFG%).
2. Sacred Heart's transition and three-point defenses are areas that will need to improve drastically going forward. While Providence got hot from three-point range, there were clear issues throughout the game on the defensive end for the Pioneers. One of Providence’s primary offensive actions includes having the wing drop the ball down to the post, then screen the elbow, with the top guard going to the strong-side for a kick-out; the Pios struggled with communication on how to handle that screen (switch or go under/over), which continually left the Friars open from deep. Another glaring example of a communication blunder was in transition. Many times, the first defender back would try to guard the ball and then the first pass. This would lead to a scramble and inevitably an open three-pointer for the Friars. The good news is that these are simple solutions for the Pioneers, who are still a young team. Talking to each other on defense will be a key going forward, as will sprinting back in transition to make sure players are matched up. Playing against a team like Providence will just highlight deficiencies that many teams cannot exploit in such a fashion.
3. It wasn't all negative for the Pios. E.J. Anosike played like a grown man, and fully lived up to the hype he has been receiving (pre-season first-team All NEC). Forcing double teams and getting to the line, he was causing fits for Providence all night. I do not envy any team game-planning for the junior forward this season. While opposing teams may look to slow him down, it will be hard to match his intensity and his drive night in and night out. The kid is a flat-out worker. Another offensive bright spot was senior wing Kinnon LaRose, who took advantage of a couple of beautiful elevator screens to knock down two three-pointers in three attempts. Probably the sweetest looking jumper in the NEC, LaRose does not need much space to get his shot off. He is also solid with the ball and hustles his tail off. Being undersized at the 4 with Spellman or Anosike on the bench, LaRose never once backed down all night. He certainly led by example while diving out of bounds for loose balls and racking up 5 rebounds for the Pios. Aaron Clarke was also fearless offensively and showed his marksmanship by going 3/6 from 3 point range, adding in another 3 from the line for a solid 12 off the bench. The lefty will have to get stronger running the point with Parker out, but he did refuse to back down. Spellman also showed glimpses of brilliance, however he needs to convert closer to the hoop more consistently (3 for 8 from the field). His awareness and hands around the basket were impressive, now he just needs to finish.
4. This team will go as Parker and Ozier take them, as the two sophomore guards set the tone. Parker picked up right where he left off, dishing out five assists and seeing the floor well, however he (and Ozier) struggled with Providence’s ball screen coverages, specifically the speed of the Friar bigs. Providence had great success on showing on ball screens, which the two guards would try to split with the dribble, causing them to get into trouble (they combined for 8 turnovers). Additionally, the Friar defense made Ozier work to get shots off (his lone make on the night was a tough step back three on the wing). In NEC play Ozier can get his shot off pretty much anytime he wants, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday night.
5. Senior Zach Radz, who will is likely to miss the first couple of weeks due to a minor knee surgery, will give the Pios another lift off the bench when he returns. He and Tyler Thomas, who had a rough night from the field (0 for 2 in 16 minutes) but has earned playing time based on his play in practice, will combine with Clarke and 6’8” sophomore Zach Pfaffenberger (2 points and 2 boards in 14 minutes) to form a formidable second unit .