UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Another installment of casino basketball is on tap for the Providence Friars this weekend with games scheduled Saturday (against South Carolina) and Sunday (against either Michigan or George Washington) at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
PC is very familiar with the cozy and intimate setting that’s located in southeastern Connecticut. Four years ago, a Friar squad led by LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn played in the exact same event (Hall of Fame Tipoff) that now awaits A.J. Reeves and David Duke. Last year, PC ventured to Mohegan Sun for a charity exhibition game against UConn and a non-conference tilt against Houston.
“This event has been in the mix for the past three years,” said head coach Ed Cooley.
Getting past South Carolina and likely facing a Michigan squad that walloped Villanova by 27 points earlier this week … it might behoove Cooley to see if Lady Luck can take a break from assisting the gambling patrons and ask if she wouldn’t mind sneaking inside Mohegan’s hardwood configuration. It’s a two-game card that on paper appears to be a case of too much too soon, given the makeup of the Friar roster and the heavily reliance on freshmen. From the glass-is-half-full vantage point, Cooley’s crew is staring at a legitimate measuring stick that will offer more insight than if the Friars loaded up on cupcake opponents for the pure sake of inflating the win total.
“It’s going to be a tough weekend, but hopefully we can improve,” said Cooley. “Whether we’re ready or not, here we go. This will give us a barometer of where we could be and how much more improvement we will have to have.”
With that as the backdrop, here are a few Friar-related items to keep in mind as one Power 5 school awaits with hopefully another on deck:
• Scoring the ball hasn’t been Reeves’ problem, witnessed by the Big East Rookie of the Week laurel he picked up after averaging 24 points through the season’s first two games. Like many first-year college players, the 6-foot-6 guard is learning that getting down and dirty on the defensive end isn’t an option. It’s imperative.
When PC surged to a 20-2 second-half run against Holy Cross earlier this week, Reeves was on the bench. Cooley wasn’t about to disrupt the synergy that was created by Duke, Isaiah Jackson, Maliek White, Nate Watson and Alpha Diallo. They had it rolling, so why breakup a good thing? Looking back, the time on the pine enabled Reeves to see firsthand the importance of getting after it defensively. The 25 minutes that White logged versus the Crusaders largely stemmed from making the correct play when Holy Cross was on the attack.
“The attention to detail is very important … we emphasize ball-gap help,” said Reeves. “In high school and AAU, you can kind of take plays off. You can’t do that in college. Everybody out there is good. You have to play hard and not take anything for granted. If you play hard through your mistakes, I feel the basketball gods will reward you.”
Of the three freshmen that Cooley is counting on, Duke is ahead of Reeves and Jimmy Nichols when it comes to the defensive curve. Nichols played only token minutes against Holy Cross and was taken out after getting beaten on backdoor cuts on consecutive possessions. In a short time, Cooley is hoping to see fewer and fewer missed assignments. The head coach is also counting down the games when he can peel off the freshman label.
“They’re learning and growing, but they’re five or six games away from being called just Providence College players,” said Cooley. “They’ve been in college since May. They know what they signed up for.”
• The stat line compiled by Diallo through three games have been Big East First Team worthy. The junior is averaging a double-double, yet his leadership has also taken a major step forward. During a dead ball situation in the second half against Holy Cross, Cooley huddled up with his go-to Friar, no doubt providing instruction that would be relayed to the rest of the guys on the floor.
“He knows what to say and how to say it … how to be tough on his teammates and himself. He’s become very vocal,” said Cooley about Diallo. “He’s doing a good job so far, but nothing has really hit the fan yet. We’ll see what happens.”
• It’s a bit puzzling, seeing Emmitt Holt go from starting and logging 26 minutes in an exhibition game to totaling just 14 minutes after three regular-season contests. From the sound of it, the minutes crunch has nothing to do with Holt’s health.
“Where can Emmitt help us when he’s not the same player from a couple of years ago?” said Cooley. “He’s still growing into this quote-on-quote new body. Mentally and emotionally is what I’m most concerned about with him, but I’m just grateful he’s on the floor with us. He’s one of our more excitable personalities and that’s something we’re going to need the whole year.”
• It would appear that Cooley is a big fan of South Carolina boss Frank Martin, who two seasons ago took the Gamecocks on a surprising Final Four run. Like the Friars, South Carolina is a tad on the young side. One key player is Chris Silva, a 6-foot-9 senior who’s regarded as one of the top defenders in the SEC and has a knack to getting to the free-throw line (283 trips last season. Silva is off to a slow start this season but has the skill set to land either one of PC’s big men, Nate Watson and Kalif Young, in foul trouble.
As for Martin’s coaching personality, Cooley said, “Intensity-wise, we mirror each other. To me, he’s one of the great guys in our business. He’s fun to be around. I’ve known him for close to 20 years. He loves golf and that’s led to plenty of conversations. What I like the most about Frank is that he cares about other people and does a lot for the South Carolina public schools. I think he’s a great ambassador for college basketball.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03