(23) Providence Friars: 11-3 (2-1)
Meanwhile over in Rhode Island, Providence was spending the early portion of their schedule proving the naysayers wrong. Coming into the season with a new, young head coach leading a fresh roster, Kim English and Co. wasted no time cementing themselves as a true threat in the Big East.
After wrapping up their out of conference schedule to the tune of a 9-2 record, the Friars put the rest of the conference on notice with a commanding 72-57 win over top-ranked Marquette. In the scoring department, the Friars’ duo of Devin Carter and Davonte "Ticket" Gaines combined for 40 points, 30 of which coming from behind the arc. Down low, George Mason transfer Josh Oduro and Bryce Hopkins were effective at controlling the glass, each securing nine rebounds a piece. Freshman Garwey Dual helped move the rock for Providence, putting together a “Rajon Rondo-esque” stat line with seven assists and zero points while coming off the bench.
Tyler Kolek, the reigning Big East Player of the Year, tried to fend off the upset with 23 points and nine rebounds, but the Friars managed to disrupt the point guard’s passing game. Marquette was held to only seven assists, less than half of their season average of 15.6, and as a result, Shaka Smart’s free-flowing offence grinded to a halt.
The Friars continued their winning ways three days later against the Butler Bulldogs - but this time, it was far less convincing.
Butler came into the matchup riding a seven-game winning streak and provided the ultimate “trap game” situation for Providence. Despite cruising for the early portion of the game, the Bulldogs began chipping away at the lead. After knocking down two free throws, Butler found themselves with a three-point lead with nine seconds to go. If not for a heave from Gaines with two seconds remaining in the second half, Butler would have escaped Rhode Island with a win. Carter stepped up with a pair of threes in the extra frame to help Providence secure the victory, but the final game before the holiday break left some feelings of uncertainty for fans heading into the new year.
That uncertainty turned to reality in Providence’s last game against Seton Hall. The big story from this contest came from the injury sheet, as Bryce Hopkins went down early in the second half with a knee injury that could result in a lengthy recovery. Despite stretches where the Friars looked nearly unstoppable scoring the ball, inconsistency plagued this offence without Hopkins down the stretch. The final buzzer sounded, and Providence’s home winning streak finally came to an end with a 61-57 upset loss.
Now, as the team prepares to head out for a square dance in Omaha, Kim English will need to find a way to keep his team afloat without a major piece of his starting five.