WASHINGTON, D.C. — No matter how glaring their biggest weakness is, saying that the No. 10 Providence Friars have a fatal flaw probably isn’t a fair thing to do.
Basketball teams don’t win 18 of their first 22 games if they have a fatal flaw. They don’t beat Arizona and they don’t sweep Butler and they don’t win at Villanova, what may end up being one of the five best wins of the entire college basketball season when we’re all said and done, if they have a fatal flaw. A lot can be overcome when the nation’s best point guard (Kris Dunn) shares the floor with the Big East’s leading scorer (Ben Bentil). Both stars had 26 points in Saturday night’s 73-69 win at Georgetown.
That said, the Friars do have one glaring weakness:
Entering Saturday night, the Friars were shooting 30.6 percent from three on the season, which is good for 320th nationally out of 351 teams. That’s bad, but not quite as bad as the 27.8 percent they were shooting from beyond the arc in league play. Only seven teams in high-major leagues (Tulane, Rutgers, Northwestern, Missouri, South Carolina, Stanford, North Carolina) shot that poorly from beyond the arc in conference play. Of those seven, only UNC has a real shot of doing more than scrapping their way into a double-digit seed, and the Tar Heels are only shooting that poorly because Marcus Paige had been mired in a 1-for-22 shooting slump from beyond the arc.
Long story short, Providence cannot shoot.
“If you watched us the last four or five games you saw some missiles being fired,” head coach Ed Cooley said.
He’s not wrong.
The Friars have fired up some of the most hideous jumpers that you’ll see from a really good team this season. The backboards of the Dunkin Donuts center must be made from bullet-proof glass, and while Dunn has been the culprit on couple of different occasions, for the most part, the kid whose shooting ability has been knocked by just about everyone has been terrific. In league play, he’s shooting 45.2 percent from beyond the arc himself, which means that, entering Saturday, the rest of Dunn’s team was knocking down a paltry 23.0 percent of the threes the shot.
Those teammates were shooting 19 threes per game.
That’s not exactly a recipe for success, which is why we’ve seen Providence lose to the likes of Marquette and Seton Hall, and why Creighton took this team to within one banked-in Dunn jumper from beating them in Omaha.
It’s also by design.
Dunn is not exactly a secret at this point. Everyone in the conference — everyone in the country — knows how good he is and how difficult he is to stop when he’s allowed to turn a corner and get downhill. So opposing defenses pack the paint, forcing Dunn into a decision: Try to go one-on-two or three, or make the smart pass to an open teammate. More often than not, it’s the latter.
“We’ve been played every imaginable way with him. Zone, man, two on the ball. He’s in a crowd every game,” Cooley said. “We see that every game. That’s where the third and fourth guys have to step up and make plays.”
We’ve talked about this quite a bit this season, how the Friars will go as far as Dunn’s supporting cast will carry him. Generally speaking, that conversation has usually centered around whether or not the likes of Kyron Cartwright, Junior Lomomba and Rodney Bullock are actually hitting their threes on that night, but that changed on Saturday night in the Verizon Center. Providence shot just 11 threes against the Hoyas, by far the fewest triples they’ve taken in Big East play the first time since their three-point rate — the percentage of field goals attempted that came from beyond the arc — was that low in a game since Dec. 5th.
“That was our plan,” Cooley said. He’s not dumb. He saw what the rest of us saw. He knew those shooting percentages better than anyone. He knew he team needed to stop settling and attack the rim. “We wanted to make some adjustments out of that. We wanted to go, go, go, go. And it paid big dividends.”
Dunn still did Kris Dunn things, including one three-possession stretch late in the first half when he scored on a ridiculous drive to the rim off of a ball-screen (video below), dribbled through traffic and found Bentil for a dunk, and followed that up with another tough, driving layup.
And while those three plays are what will stick in the mind of people watching the game, it was really the only point in the game where he was able to use the dribble to break down a set Georgetown defense.
“They did a really good job, it’s just that he scored in transition, he made two threes,” Cooley said. “He controls the game.”
In other words, it was business as usual for teams trying to slow down Dunn, but on Saturday, when he would find his open teammates on the perimeter, instead of simply settling for semi-open jumpers, they were putting the ball on the floor and trying to get into the paint. Providence eventually shot 5-for-11 from three, getting to the line 33 times.
And it made a difference.
The Friars landed their sixth-straight win on the road and will held into February just two games behind Villanova in the Big East regular season title race.