After winning a pair of home games to start conference play, Georgetown hits the road this week for a tricky three-game swing. The first stop comes on Wednesday at Providence, whose ambitions to rise up the conference standings have been stifled by a player shortage.
The Big Picture. Friar head coach Ed Cooley is in his third year at Providence, and his tenure in some ways resembles Steve Lavin's at St. John's. Both coaches injected energy, particularly on the recruiting trail, into previously dormant programs. Both have yet to fully translate those recruiting successes onto the court, in part because prize recruits never actually suit up. Injury, ineligibility, and transfer out have hampered both programs' revitalization.
Last season, the Friars suffered the absences of two McDonald's All-American freshman. One, Ricky Ledo, never qualified academically before departing for the NBA. The other, freshman guard Kris Dunn, battled injuries throughout the year. Still, the Friars closed strong, winning seven of their last nine games to finish at 9-9 in Big East play, the first time since 2009 that Providence had won more than 4 conference games. That strong finish appeared to set the table for this season, when the Friars' top three scorers would return, a pair of incoming transfers would be eligible, Dunn presumably would be healthy, and another highly regarded recruit would arrive.
Things haven't exactly worked out that way, though the Friars remain game. Dunn reinjured his shoulder and is out for the year. In an ugly twist, his father reportedly has questioned Providence's handling of his son's injury. Dunn's injury compounded a perimeter drain that began when this year's two recruits, Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock were suspended for the entire season for an off-the-court issue. Austin was expected to contribute heavily, and now instead reportedly has left school entirely over the winter break.
Still, Cooley has his charges competing, and the Friars have notched a few decent wins, including over Vanderbilt, LaSalle, and intrastate rival Rhode Island. Big East play opened with a pair of losses, the first a close but still embarrassing home loss to Seton Hall, and the second a not close and still embarrassing 30-point loss at Villanova. The Friars aren't as bad as those results suggest, and will be itching to prove as much when Georgetown arrives.
Providence on the Interwebs. Charles P. Pierce can be insufferable, but onetime Providence great Marvin Barnes is always entertaining, including in this Grantland piece.
Roster rundown. Back court. Providence's once-promising back court has been depleted by Dunn's injury and Austin's suspension, leaving an all-conference guard with almost no supporting cast. Bryce Cotton (20.2 ppg, 5.6 apg, 3.3 rpg, 1.3 stl pg) remains Providence's leading scorer and, with all the defections from the back court, has become its leading distributor as well. Cotton isn't big but can create offense off the bounce. He also will shoot from the perimeter, though full-time ball-handling has put a dent in his shooting percentages (33.7 3FG%, 40.4 FG%). Flanking Cotton is sophomore Josh Fortune (6.1 ppg, 1.7 apg, 32.1 3FG%), who was billed as a shooter but is still finding his form from deep. The bench offers little relief as the only real reserve guard is senior walk-on Ted Bancroft (7.2 min pg), who played a fair amount during last year's rash of injuries and has seen more time of late.
Front court. The Friars' front court remains relatively intact. Junior LaDontae Henton (12.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.9 stl pg) has shifted from small-ball four to the wing and remains an inside-outside threat who will pound the boards and also drain the occasional triple. N.C. State transfer Tyler Harris (13.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 33.3 3FG%), who comes from the same skilled forward mold that yielded his brother Tobias, has been productive since becoming eligible this season. Down low, Kadeem Batts (12 ppg, 6.9 rpg) provides solid rebounding and post offense in decent numbers, if not decent efficiency. Off the pine, Wake Forest transfer Carson Desrosiers (5.0 rpg, 2.5 blk pg) contributes post defense and rebounding.
Providence on twitter. This wasn't so long ago,
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Amazing how few people are talking about Providence. Friars are officially the sleeper in the Big East. Strong starting 5 + improved depth.</p>— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) <a href="https://twitter.com/JonRothstein/statuses/384829475495477248">September 30, 2013</a></blockquote>
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but now, we're here...
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>"What else can go wrong with the Providence Friars" -announcer</p>— Michelle Desjardins (@Michelle12xo) <a href="https://twitter.com/Michelle12xo/statuses/420005942554796032">January 6, 2014</a></blockquote>
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When Providence has the ball.
- Friar to watch: Cotton. Cotton plays basically the entire game (6th most minutes in the country), is the team's primary ball-handler, scorer, and passer, and probably will take 6 or more threes, 6 or more free-throws, and a bunch more shots from inside the arc Wednesday. So, he's worth watching.
- Hoya to watch: Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen. This may be the only opponent over which Georgetown has superior back-court depth. Wednesday will be a good opportunity for the Hoyas to run the Friars ragged with the press JT3 has employed more of late. Trawick and Bowen have been effective at the top of that press, obscuring passing lanes and swiping at loose balls.
- Number to watch: offensive rebounds. Georgetown was feisty on the defensive glass against St. John's, but generally this season has struggled to limit opponents to just one shot per trip. Sliding Henton to small forward has given Providence a large front line that pounds the offensive glass. The Friars grab over 37 percent of their own misses, and rank 2nd in the conference in offensive rebounding rate. Limiting second chances is a must.
- Feeling delusional because...Providence may struggle to make a shot. The Friars have been really bad at shooting from the field, ranking 290th in the country in effective field goal percentage and making just 44 percent of two-pointers on the season. For its part, Georgetown has contested nearly everything, holding opponents to a 43 percent effective field-goal percentage, a top-15 mark nationally.
- Feeling cyncial because....The Friars may still get a lot of shots. Their offensive rebounding could make for some very long possessions for the Hoyas. And, while Providence doesn't get to the line much, watch out if the foul-prone Hoyas send them there: the Friars rank second in the country in free-throw percentage at 80.5.
When Georgetown has the ball.
- Hoya to watch: Markel Starks. Coming off a very good game against St. John's in which he helped create transition offense, Starks may have the opportunity for a headlining performance Wednesday. Cotton's heavy minutes burden makes it difficult for him to keep up defensive intensity throughout. Providence as a whole has struggled defensively against stiffer conference competition, particularly in denying clean looks to opponents. Starks figures to enjoy a few of those open looks, especially from the perimeter, Wednesday.
- Friar to watch: LaDontae Henton. Henton forces a fair number of turnovers, nabbing 1.9 steals per game and even blocking the occasional shot. Wednesday, he will square off against a pair of wings, Trawick and Bowen, who have been sloppy with the ball this season. Hentnon also leads Providence's very good glass protection service, hauling in better than 5 defensive rebounds per game.
- Number to watch: free-throw attempts. The Friars don't foul often, committing fouls at a top-30 rate nationally. Georgetown has powered its way to the line nearly as well as Providence has avoided fouling: the Hoyas rank in the top 30 in the country, and tops in the conference, in free-throw rate. While Georgetown has had only middling success at the free-throw line, free throws mean fouls, which could rapidly deplete a thin Friar roster.
- Feeling delusional because...Despite its large front line, Providence doesn't do a great job of contesting shots inside. The Friars allow a fairly porous 47.2 percent from inside the arc, and allow nearly 58 percent of opponents' points to come from two, one of the worst marks in the country. Georgetown shoots 56 percent from two, one of the best 10 marks in the country, and get a high volume of its point from inside the arc. The Hoyas' strength against the Friars' weakness should allow for some easy baskets.
- Feeling cynical because...Georgetown may take a lot fewer shots than Providence. The Friars generally controlled the control the defensive boards and force turnovers on a healthy 19.6 percent of possessions. As a result, the Hoyas may shoot a higher percentage than the Friars but see minimal benefit.
Conclusion. Georgetown hasn't lost to Providence since JT3's first season, a seven-game winning streak. Runs like that makes me nervous because reversion has to happen at some point. With the Hoyas and Friars now slated to meet twice every year, turnabout will come, and winning on the road in the Big East is no easy task. A road win may be tougher for this year's Hoyas, who lost their one true road game so far in embarrassing fashion. Still, I see Georgetown maintaining Saturday's energy on both ends of the floor to overpower a feisty but undermanned Friar squad.