PROVIDENCE — While some Friar fans are ready to dismiss the team’s shaky start after the recent four-game winning streak righted the ship, the players and coaches aren’t ready to follow suit.
As the Friars scuffed their way to a 6-6 start, especially with two ugly losses in Anaheim in the Wooden Legacy, the players could hardly believe what was happening. Those losses to Long Beach State and the College of Charleston stuck in the team’s collective craw and left a feeling no one wants to suffer through again.
“It was kind of embarrassing for us to come out there and look that way. We don’t ever want to look that way,” said sophomore guard A.J. Reeves. “We know what we can do as a team and as individuals and we want to show our best every time we go out there and leave it all on the court.”
After an ugly 32-point loss to Florida, coach Ed Cooley put the team’s shaky play in frank terms: It was time to play or see the season go up in smoke.
“We dug ourselves a big hole and each game we’re treating like a championship-level game in respect that there’s no margin of error left,” Cooley said. “It is a long season. It’s not where you started, it’s where you want to go. The margin of error is so thin and the buy-in has to be 100 percent.”
Reeves said there were several low points over the season’s opening 13 games but the Florida loss was a defining one.
“Like, what are we doing? We came back out the next day in practice and got to it. It was definitely a gut-check thing. We couldn’t come out and do that anymore.”
Slow but effective
As usual, the 10 Big East teams are flashing an array of styles this season. Some teams shine on defense, others pile up the points. Some teams press, others bomb away from the 3-point line.
Butler has been a surprise this season largely because of an elite defense. The Bulldogs allow just 54.1 points a game, fourth in the country. Their adjusted defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) is fifth in the country. Seton Hall’s defense is ninth.
The other dominant quality of Butler’s style is a deliberate tempo. While St. John’s (19th) and Marquette (20th) prefer to run and shoot, Butler is 327th of 353 teams in adjusted tempo.
“Their pace of play is one of the slowest in the country,” Cooley said, “so there are going to be limited possessions in the game. You can’t turn the ball over very much against them.”
Where do the Friars pick up style points? They are digging in on defense with a physical man-to-man that’s allowed them to rate 44th in adjusted defense. PC is allowing 66.1 points per game.
After winning the last two games on the final play, the emphasis on late-game execution was emphasized even more for the Friars. Despite escaping with two one-point wins, the final minute of the DePaul and Marquette games were marred by missed free throws, turnovers and twice fouling a 3-point shooter with a three-point lead.
Flawless execution in those situations is all but impossible but Cooley feels experience is the best teacher. Asked what he tells his team in the final media timeout with four minutes to play, the coach said, “If we’re down eight, we lock in and try to get three (defensive) stops in a row. Anybody that can get three consecutive stops in under four minute situations, for the most part, is going to win the game. If we’re up eight, you want to make sure you use clock, and understand time and score. We practice those situations all the time.”
On Twitter: @KevinMcNamara33