Basketball team

Is this year’s PC basketball team really as good as its record? Should PC fans be worried?

Thursday 03 February 2022

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Nate Watson PICTURE: PC

wow! How many of us predicted that this year’s Providence College basketball team would go 19-2 on Feb. 2 and lead the Big East Conference with a 9-1 record? Nobody for sure, not even Ed Cooley, PC’s inspirational blue-collar coach. Should we start dreaming of a Sweet Sixteen PC slot when March Madness arrives? Or is this version of PC roundballers just lucky, and will luck run out in the NCAA with a first-round loss?

Full disclosure, I’ve been a rabid PC basketball fan ever since Johnny Egan and Lenny Wilkens dazzled fans playing on the hardwoods at Alumni Hall. I’m excited and proud of this year’s team, but cautious about the road ahead. My inevitable caution of an empty half-cup comes from the experience of a lifetime of Red Sox disappointments before 2004.

The Vegas betting line for the PC-St. John’s game on Tuesday night Feb. 1 inspired this article and my recent wariness about PC’s postseason chances. The Johnnies were favored by 2.5 points! Say what? Other betting sites were also pushing you to bet on St. John’s. How is it possible ? PC is ranked 15th in the AP and Coaches polls. St. John’s is unranked and finds inventive ways every night to lose games it should be winning.


While we PC fans love this team and their drive to win close games, it turns out that basketball pundits don’t buy this PC team as real. Yes, PC has a great record and has quality wins against Texas Tech, Wisconsin, and a host of Big East ranked teams. But this team is a real enigma – an excellent record with great wins and, therefore, a deserved ranking in 15th place, but the CP “metrics” are weak. Here are some of the attack and defense numbers (as of Feb. 1) that might give you and Vegas bettors pause on PC’s future success this season, or have you scratching your head trying to understand the success of PC to date:

– Score per game: 197th in the country at 71 pts/game, just behind Moorehead State
– Field goal %: 183rd in the country, just behind Stony Brook
– 3 pt field goal %: 171st in the country, just behind La Citadelle
Free Throw %: 97th in the nation at 74% (actually a solid number for PC compared to recent years)
– Assists/turnovers per game: 106th in the country
– Rebounds per game: 102nd in the country
– Steals per game: 321st in the country, just behind UT Rio Grande.

Basketball bettors also point to a non-metric factor: PC just got lucky. He beat several teams, such as Wisconsin, UCONN, Northwestern and Seton Hall when those teams didn’t have their best players available. And while we PC fans take any last-minute narrow wins by PC as a sign of the team’s resilience and good practice, many basketball pundits view it as pure luck. “CP cannot top any good team and there are only a limited number of close games you can win in a season. Their luck will soon turn.

So how do we PC fans explain the team’s success so far, and should we be worried about the post-season? Is this team just lucky and will their luck, like a series of slot machines, inevitably dwindle? Have the CP Dominican priests successfully organized prayer circles for this team?

Let’s look at some possible factors that have led to success so far.

A team of veterans. PC has never had a team with so many mature veteran players who have experience on this roster. The first seven players on this team include 4 graduate students, 2 seniors and 1 junior. No other team in the country has this kind of player profile. Veteran players tend to be driven (especially in running defenses), have on-court instincts that can’t be measured in metrics, and don’t panic in pressure situations.

A good example of veteran maturity is Justin Minaya, a 6’7″ grad student who played 4 years in the SEC in South Carolina. He is a containment defender. nationally as one of the top 15 defensive players of the year because he “don’t have the numbers”. His defensive skills have to be seen to be appreciated. He protects the best player from other teams by forcing the ball to go for less skillful options, he fends off balls, he dives downfield for stray balls, he yells instructions to teammates on defense, he’s likely to be the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Everyone contributes. PC has one certifiable star, Nate Watson, a Big East first-team member before the season. But it’s one of the most balanced PC teams I’ve ever seen. Virtually every game there are at least 4 players scoring in double digits. If the teams double Team Watson, PC has other answers. Noah Horchler leads the team in rebounds and 3-point field goal percentage. Crosswell comes off the bench and is a safe shooter – he leads the team in field goal percentage (a ridiculous 71%). At the end of a game, when it is absolutely necessary to make free throws, PC makes sure that Al Durham, shooter with 83% of free throws, has the ball. In the recent St John’s game, he made 8 consecutive free throws in the last minute of play to secure the PC victory.

Framing. In the Big East coaches pre-season poll, PC was chosen to finish 7th. They are in first place as of this date at 9-1 and will likely compete with Villanova at the end of the season to be the regular season champion. This season might be Cooley’s best training year, helped in large part by this team’s coachable veteran players and a talented assistant coaching staff. Cooley’s player rotation, his defensive strategies and the will to win he imparts to his players cannot be underestimated. Not all of PC’s narrow wins this year were down to luck. They reflect Cooley’s strategies and the execution of those strategies by his players.

Can PC fans be optimistic about the rest of the PC season? Yeah. They’re a good solid team, no matter what the metrics say. And good teams find ways to win. Will they provide PC fans with some March Madness excitement? Don’t look to Vegas for advice. Keep watching and cheering on this team and savor every game. This year is special. Come on Brothers!

Bob McMahon is the former superintendent of parks for the city of Providence and a longtime fan of PC fan Friar.

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