No. 12 Providence’s win at No. 9 Butler validates status as contender

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
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Kris Dunn scored 15 of his 20 points and handed out seven of his nine assists in the second half as No. 12 Providence erased an 11-point halftime deficit, knocking off No. 9 Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse, 81-73, which means that it is now time to seriously start discussing Providence as a Final Four contender.

The Friars, at this point, may very well be the best story in all of college basketball. There were legitimate discussions during the preseason about whether or not these Friars would actually have the ability to make the NCAA tournament. With LaDontae Henton gone, Providence didn’t have a proven secondary scorer. Ben Bentil has more than adequately filled that role, and with Rodney Bullock playing the way he did on Thursday, the Friars look every bit the part of a top ten team and a Big East contender.

Think about this, for a second: As of today, you could reasonably argue that Dunn is the National Player of the Year, head coach Ed Cooley is the National Coach of the Year and Bentil is the nation’s Most Improved Player.

Dunn completely took the game over in the second half after struggling with foul trouble in the first 20 minutes. He picked up his second foul midway through the first 20 minutes, and with Bentil also in foul trouble, the Friars struggled to find a source of offense, digging themselves a 36-25 hole at the break.

Bentil finished with 19 points and five boards, as he had a couple of key buckets and one really important block down the stretch, but the hero of this game was Rodney Bullock. The 6-foot-8 sophomore entered the day having shot just 7-for-26 from beyond the arc on the season. He was 6-for-9 from three on Thursday, hitting finishing with 25 points. Drew Edwards also added 10 points off the bench, including threes on back-to-back possessions early in the second half that helped spark the Providence run.

The Friars are now 13-1 on the season, their lone loss coming to No. 1 Michigan State when Denzel Valentine was in the middle of playing like Magic Johnson.

As far as Butler is concerned, I don’t think it’s time to panic quite yet. In the same way that they matched up well against Purdue the Bulldogs matched up poorly with Providence. They’re going to struggle with dynamic back court playmakers, and there is no one in the country that fits that mold better than Dunn.

It doesn’t help matters that Kellen Dunham is in the midst of one of the worst slumps I’ve ever seen a really good shooter go through. He was 3-for-14 from the floor and 0-for-5 from three on Thursday, meaning he’s now missed 23 straight threes and, in his last five games, is 10-for-60 (16.7%) from the floor and 2-for-32 (6.3%) from three.

This is a team that thrives on their offensive potency, and Dunham plays a huge part in that. He’s not much of a defender, the kind of player that makes up for the points he gives up by outscoring the guy that’s guarding him. With Roosevelt Jones and Kelan Martin playing the way that they currently are, Butler is going to be fine once they get their best scorer back on track.