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Friars vs. Hoyas: At a Crossroad

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

 

Game time: Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 7:00 p.m.
Location: The Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, RI
Television: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 103.7 WEEI

Wednesday night at the Dunkin Donuts Center features two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions. Ed Cooley's Friars have lost their last three games, the latest a 91-61 drubbing at Villanova which capped off a difficult weekend for Providence.

The pain of back-to-back overtime losses to Massachusetts and Seton Hall were compounded when it was announced on Saturday night that highly touted freshman Brandon Austin was transferring following a suspension that kept him out of game action this season. Villanova then took advantage of a deflated Friar bunch, racing out to a 9-0 lead and never looking back in the second most lopsided loss in Cooley's tenure at Providence (the worst coming in the Big East Tournament in Cooley's first season -- a 79-47 loss to Seton Hall).

These are trying times for Cooley and Friartown, and while the coach doesn't have anything resembling the roster he trotted out in the exhibition season, he'll be tasked with avoiding what plagued his two predecessors -- watching the season fall apart in the face of adversity.

Some would argue Providence was at a lower point at this time last season, fresh off of losses to struggling Boston College, Brown and DePaul at home, but that was a team that rounded into form as they got healthy in February. This version of the Friars will have to get better from within.

Cooley would like nothing better than to see that start on Wednesday night against the Big East's premiere program.

Georgetown is a difficult team to get a read on this season. They've won nine of out ten games and their backcourt is perhaps as good as any in the Big East, but this isn't the Hoya team of a year ago that was led by the Big East's best player in Otto Porter.

John Thompson III's group relies heavily on their guard play this season. Sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera could well be the Big East's breakout performer. He had some huge moments for Georgetown a season ago, but he's taken his game to another level this season, averaging 17 points per game on ridiculous shooting numbers (.482 from the field, .478 from three, 82% free throws). Smith-Rivera and All Big East running mate Markel Starks (16 ppg) combined for nearly 45% of the Hoyas' scoring this season.

This is a Hoya team that isn't particularly deep, playing seven and sometimes eight players. Friar fans will get their first look at 6'10, 300+ pound UCLA transfer Josh Smith, who leads the conference in field goal percentage at 65%. Georgetown starts three guards with Jabril Trawick the third of a solid trio, while senior forward Nate Lubick is the team's leading rebounder (6.1) and starts in the frontcourt alongside Smith.

New England prep fans will remember Lubick from his days at St. Mark's, playing alongside Rhode Island natives Alex and Eric Murphy when Lubick was one of the top 50 players in the country coming out of high school.

Georgetown has started the Big East portion of the schedule 2-0 -- grinding out a win over DePaul on New Year's Eve and then thrashing a talented St. John's bunch their last time out. In the win over the Johnnies, Georgetown led 42-16 at halftime and used an effective 1-2-2 press that they could break out against a shorthanded Providence backcourt.

Yes, Providence is reeling, but if Cooley has his way they'll also be desperate. The Friars are wounded, but they've always been dangerous at the Dunkin Donuts Center. They need this one to not only get their season back on track, but to quell the avalanche of crushing news that began with the official announcement suspending the freshmen on Dec. 23, continued with a buzzer-beating loss to UMass, gained further momentum in a game they gave away to Seton Hall and climaxed in the blowout at Villanova.

Follow Kevin on Twitter: @Kevin_Farrahar

 

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