PC Friars

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Friars threaten to set an all-time low on defense

01:00 AM EST on Thursday, March 4, 2010

By KEVIN McNAMARA

Journal Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH So this is whats its come to for Providence Colleges sliding basketball fortunes.

As the Friars exited their chartered plane here in preparation for a road test against the Pittsburgh Panthers Thursday night, the local press was waiting.

Consider the first sentence in a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that read, Providence might not be the worst defensive team in Big East history, but the Friars rank right up there. Or, perhaps, down there.

Ouch.

Thats the second such shot at the Friars defensive woes in three days. During ESPNs Big Monday national telecast of Georgetown at West Virginia, analyst Jay Bilas whacked away, saying, Providence has the worst defense in Big East history.

Double ouch.

What theyre saying is true, of course. PC is allowing 85.7 points through 16 Big East games. Unless something changes quickly, that will be the worst defensive showing in conference history, eclipsing the 83.5 given up by the Friars 1990 team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament in Rick Barnes first season as coach.

In all games, PCs defense ranks 332nd among 334 Division I teams, at 81.2 ppg.

The evolution of the defensive woes stems from when Keno Davis was hired from Drake in April of 2008. The newly minted national coach of the year came to town with a run-and-gun style that relied heavily on the 3-point shot and firing many more attempts than the opponent. But its not as if Drake played no defense in its run to the Missouri Valley championship. That team allowed just 62.1 points a game.

Davis says hes far from a proponent of run-and-gun, Loyola-Marymount-type basketball. Its just that mixing his new recruits with the leftovers from the Tim Welsh regime hasnt worked, at least on defense.

Last years team allowed a hefty 76.7 points a game. This years is averaging 82 points a game, second in the Big East and in the top 10 in the country. But defense is another matter.

Anybody can see that defense is going to be the No. 1 priority in the offseason, Davis said. With the redshirts (forward Kadeem Batts) and freshmen we have coming in, well have some of the quality depth that we lack right now.

Of course, the depth issue wasnt the plan five months ago. At that time, the Friars were counting on several players who simply havent performed much at all. Junior college transfers Kyle Wright (who has left the team) and Russ Permenter (little playing time) have disappointed. If they were rotation players, Davis would have the flexibility that he says he lacks when some of his regulars dont defend.

Turning things around defensively in the next week is all but impossible. Looking ahead to next year, Davis says defense and rebounding will be harped on just as much as shooting 3-pointers. That clearly would be a major switch.

As Pittsburgh coach Jaime Dixon says, the Friars up-and-down, no-defense style is not usually seen in the Big East and clearly cannot work. They do things a little different than Id say most teams in the Big East do, said Dixon. So, with that, you are going to have higher-scoring games.

Dixon has won oodles of games in his tenure with Pitt basically because of defense. In the last 10 years, Pitt has allowed 85 or more points a game just six times. The Friars have allowed that total 12 times this season.

Davis says he likes the promise that freshmen Vincent Council and Duke Mondy have shown on defense. He needs frontcourt leaders Bilal Dixon and Jamine Peterson to defend the rim much better, and players such as Marshon Brooks and incoming recruit Gerard Coleman both have the long, athletic bodies that should translate into pesky defenders.

Can our returning guys improve enough to keep the same minutes? Thats a good question, Davis said. Usually, its the younger guys that can improve the most defensively. When the season ends, our work does not end. Well be in the gym as many hours as the NCAA allows with our guys. It will really surprise me if a player or two doesnt make drastic improvements before next season.

kmcnamar@projo.com

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