Bryce Golden takes a shot during a game this season. Golden and the Butler men’s basketball team play at Providence on Jan. 10. Chandler Hart / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
In its first game since being ranked sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 poll – the highest in program history – the Butler men’s basketball team travels to Rhode Island to take on Providence on Friday night. Here’s everything else you need to know as the Bulldogs look for their first win at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center since March 2015:
Who: No. 6 Butler (14-1, 2-0 Big East) vs. Providence (10-6, 3-0 Big East)
When: Jan. 10, 9 p.m.
Where: Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Providence, Rhode Island
How to watch/listen: FS1, 93.1FM
- Providence is off to an impressive start to Big East play after a rough nonconference performance.
Just a few weeks ago Ed Cooley’s team was 6-6, with losses to Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State and Charleston on its resume. It was still early, but Providence, the only Big East team not receiving votes in the AP top 25, looked like a team that should have no place in an NCAA Tournament conversation.
Since then, well, things have changed quite drastically. Providence wrapped up nonconference play with a 22-point victory over Texas and has started its Big East slate 3-0 for the first time in 11 seasons. The Friars defeated Georgetown at home, DePaul on the road, and most impressively, took down Maquette on the road 81-80 in overtime on Jan. 7 despite 39 points from Markus Howard, the nation’s leading scorer. Now in the midst of a four-game winning streak, Providence has shown that no Big East team can be counted out this early, and that the conference is perhaps more wide open than ever before.
- Getting off to a strong start – particularly on the road – and rebounding will be key for the Bulldogs against the Friars, who’ve seemingly had their number over the last few years.
Despite consistently finishing around the middle of the conference standings for the past few seasons, Providence has been a thorn in Butler’s side both at home and on the road. Since 2014, the Bulldogs are 3-11 against the Friars, including just 1-5 in Rhode Island. Last season, Butler faced Providence three times in just over a two-week period from late February to mid-March, losing all three times. That consisted of losses at home in overtime, in Rhode Island by 13 points, and in the Big East Tournament first round by 23 points.
There are a few big aspects that stand out from last year’s matchups: the beginning of games and rebounding. Butler outscored Providence by at least five points in the second half in both of their regular season meetings, but that was after the Friars jumped out in front early on. In the Bulldogs’ loss in Rhode Island last season, they shot just under 35% from the field in the first half and were outscored 48-27. To avoid another rough start, the Bulldogs will need to follow one of their key mantras this season and dictate the tone and pace of the game early, no easy feat inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
With regard to rebounding, the Bulldogs lost the battle on the boards in all three games against the Friars last season. In total, Providence out-rebounded Butler 108-81 in their three games combined. Butler’s frontcourt has shown substantial improvements from a season ago, with Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze both impressing in their roles and Derrik Smits emerging as an impactful bench option since returning from injury. While Providence’s 2-point shooting has been, frankly, bad this season – more on that in a moment – the Friars do get their fair share of offensive rebounds, with their mark of 13.4 per game second-best in the Big East. Winning the battle in the paint and on boards could go a long way to picking up a road win over the Friars.
- Providence has strong depth, but lacks high volume scoring options and generally shoots the ball poorly.
Perhaps no one stat better illustrates the Friars depth than this: in the team’s 81-80 upset win at Marquette in overtime on Jan. 7, 42 of the team’s points, or nearly 52%, came from reserves. Six Providence players are averaging 8.5 points or more per game, while three of those are averaging double figures.
Senior forward Alpha Diallo is Providence’s leading scorer and an all-around contributor, averaging 13.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per contest. Sophomore David Duke and graduate student Luwane Pipkins make up the team’s primary backcourt. Duke is second on the team with 11.8 points per game along with 4.3 rebounds while Pipkins averages 9.3 points and 2.9 boards. But while the Friars have plenty of scoring options, they lack a prolific scorer capable of frequently putting the team on his shoulders.
Providence also simply doesn’t shoot the ball all that well as a team. Through games on Jan. 8, the Friars field goal percentage of 41.7% is 283rd in the country. Providence is shooting just 46.3% on 2-point attempts – 271st in the nation – and 33.7% from beyond the arc, good for 160th in the country. The Friars have shot a bit better in their recent winning streak, but for Providence, volume of shots from a variety of players and solid defense has been the key. If Butler can defend well enough both on the perimeter and in the paint and take advantage of the Friars’ flaws, as well as control the tempo of the game, they’ll be well on their way toward their second road win of Big East play.