PC is back in action at the Maui Invitational vs. Davidson Tuesday night. Photo courtesy Brian Spurlock/Camping World Maui Invitational
By KEVIN McNAMARA
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – It may seem like forever but only a year ago the Providence Friars showed up to one of these ESPN-created tournaments and embarrassed themselves.
It was last Thanksgiving Day and the Friars lost to lowly Long Beach State. The next day they couldn’t defend the wondrously talented Grant Riller and lost to Charleston. Those defeats left the Friars 4-4, only making losses to Northwestern and Pennsylvania sting even more.
There were some excuses for the ugly start, some fair, some not.
We all know the rest of the story. A PC team filled with seniors finally woke up, played with purpose, played together and played tough. The result was a late-charging group that knocked on the door of the Top 25 and was headed for the NCAA Tournament when the coronavirus hit and the sports world went up in smoke.
Fast forward to this year. The Friars are back in an ESPN event, the biggest of them all. While not in Maui, the team is nevertheless in the Maui Invitational spotlight and that was not a pretty thing Monday afternoon.
Matchup up against a poised, veteran Indiana team, the Friars were embarrassed once again in a 79-58 whitewash. The Hoosiers were better at everything – shooting, rebounding, passing, hustle plays. Soup to nuts.
We can search for reasons why the Friars weren’t ready for Prime Time while the Hoosiers clearly were but a legit Hoops Inspector shouldn’t take very long.
Indiana returns seven of its top nine scorers, including four starters, off last year’s team. Archie Miller’s group was no power last winter but it did compile a 20-12 record in what was a loaded, deep Big Ten. The Hoosiers have a pro prospect in Trayce Jackson-Davis and a slew of veterans who form the nucleus of a team that could be in the Top 25 by next Monday.
The Friars are not the team that won 19 games a year ago. Not by a long shot. They so dearly could’ve used Alpha Diallo against Indiana. And Luwane Pipkins. And the defense and rebounding of Kalif Young. Malik White would’ve played a ton, too. But those guys are gone (as is Emmitt Holt).
This PC team has some key holdovers, namely David Duke, Nate Watson and A.J. Reeves. But that’s it as far as serious experience goes.
This PC team needs Greg Gantt to step up and be good. Right now. Gantt, a sophomore, has never scored in double figures in a college game. He’s played more than 20 minutes only five times. He hasn’t shown he can be productive, as of yet.
This PC team needs transfers Jared Bynum and Noah Horchler to be good. Right away. Both transfers have shown promise. Bynum played 34 minutes at the point against Indiana and only turned the ball over one time. He also had just one assist and showed the aggression needed to force his own offense when the rest of his team couldn’t shift out of first gear. Horchler grabbed nine rebounds in 21 minutes and while his interior defense/communication must improve (a minus-16 plus/minus), he can clearly contribute at this level. He needs to play more.
The wild cards for this team right now may just be two more transfers, Brycen Goodine and Ed Croswell. Goodine hasn’t shown a thing at the college level due to a lack of playing time. He needs to see minutes at the backup point guard spot and hope Cooley gains some trust. Croswell is another proven collegiate rebounder, although his sedentary game may not translate to the center position against 6-10 and above studs like Indiana rolled out.
The rest of PC’s roster features third-year players Kris Monroe and Jimmy Nichols, two players with promise who have yet to show they can consistently produce or deserve consistent minutes. Who knows what freshman guard Alyn Breed can do but he has good size and instincts.
That’s it. Three experienced holdovers, four transfers, three forwards who haven’t shown they can consistently contribute and a freshman guard.
That’s a team that’s going to need time. Last year’s team didn’t own that excuse, and nearly blew its season before January 1. This year is a very different one. For starters the season is going to be shorter due to the pandemic. No team wants to dig itself an early hole, especially if the season only lasts 20 or so games.
That brings us to Tuesday night’s game against Davidson. The Wildcats were picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10, just behind the Rhode Island Rams. That may be a few notches too low.
Coached by one of the true gurus in the sport in Bob McKillop, Davidson nearly beat No. 17 Texas on Monday, 78-76. The Wildcats return four starters and seven of the top nine players from a 16-14 team. They also add an impact redshirt freshman in New Zealander Sam Mennenga, a 6-9 big man who had 17 points and five rebounds against Texas in his second collegiate game.
McKillop-coached teams run good, crisp offense. Even so, to see Davidson shoot 56 percent against Texas was an eye-opener.
That efficiency clearly caught the eyes of the PC coaching staff as they put together the scouting report late Monday night. Things need to change in a 24 hour span or the Friars won’t be smiling in Asheville.
Can this Friar team clamp down on defense, use their physicality and strength to slow down the Wildcats? That’s clearly Ed Cooley’s plan. No one wants to see this team copy last year’s slow-starting bunch but with a group that’s learning on the fly, hopes and dreams may not be grounded in reality at this point on the calendar.