(WPRI) – We have reached the point in the college basketball season equivalent to ‘Moving Day’ in golf. The term is often used by commentators to describe the third round of four in a tournament. By then, half of the tournament is over and the third round is the time to make a push. It’s when players can either position themselves for a chance to be in contention for a championship during the final 18 holes on Sunday, or fall off the pace and finish in the middle to bottom part of the pack.
As nice as it is to think about the warmer weather and a round at your local club, let’s bring the analogy back to hoops. We’ve crossed the midway point of the season. Teams are creeping up on having played 20 games. Instead of Moving Day, we’ll call it Moving Time. Moving Time on the hardwood is the final two weeks of January. Can PC get to 9-1 in the Big East putting itself in a spot to repeat as regular season champions? Can URI continue to improve and stay within striking distance of a first round bye in Brooklyn? Can Bryant keep pace atop the America East in Year No. 1? And can Brown cash in on a few opportunities to breakthrough to the postseason come early March?
It’s not impossible to slip up now and hit a heater in February. But that’s un-needed pressure if business is handled. The next 4-5 games for each program will play a major factor when the bright lights come in six weeks.
With that, let’s get to the latest edition of the WPRI12 College Hoops Column.
Thoughts and observations are below. You can always reach out via email firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @MHershgordon.
No. 22 Providence
Record: 14-4 (6-1 in Big East, 2nd place)
Last: 73-67 loss at Creighton
This Week: Visit No. 20 Marquette Jan. 18 at 9 p.m., Host DePaul Jan. 21 at 2 p.m.
Plain and Simple: No shame in first loss of Big East play
Saturday was the perfect storm for the Friars to drop their first Big East game. Jared Bynum remained out. A few other players were limited in practice leading up. And Creighton desperately needed a win to avoid what would have been their ninth loss in their last 12. Down 16 in the second half at the preseason favorite, PC clawed its way back to tie the game on two separate occasions. It showed great poise on the road. Defensively the Friars held their own. Ultimately, the offense never hit a groove for long stretches. Poor shooting did the Friars in and they didn’t get to the foul line enough.
Hard Truth: Two-game skid could happen
The nine-game winning streak PC had entering Saturday’s game in Omaha was the longest the program has had since 1988-89. Though it wouldn’t be shocking if the Friars weren’t able to get right back on track. They’ll have to earn it this week. A date with Marquette on Wednesday night looms as a pair of Top 25 teams clash in Milwaukee. Cumberland native Tyler Kolek had yet another monster offensive game on Sunday against Xavier (25 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds). The Musketeers outlasted the Golden Eagles and Shaka Smart’s squad still has a sour taste in their mouth from PC’s 2OT win on Dec. 20 at the AMP. It’s not always about who you play, but when you play them. And the Friars second straight road game against a desperate team will be no easy feat.
Record: 6-11 (2-3 in Atlantic 10, tied for 10th)
Last: 75-65 loss at UMass
This Week: At Richmond Jan. 17 at 7 p.m., Host George Mason Jan. 21 at 12 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Carey, like Leggett, playing the best ball of his career
Archie Miller was outspoken in his praise for Jalen Carey when he took the job last April. Miller recruited Carey out of high school to Indiana. Now he’s got the chance to coach him and the Harlem, NY guard is improving by the game. Miller has given Carey a sense of confidence he lacked the first few years of his career. The freedom has allowed Carey to play his game and utilize his athleticism. He’s up over 11 points per game and six rebounds per game in A10 play. As mentioned last week with Ish Leggett, Miller’s impact on Rhody’s backcourt can not be understated.
Hard Truth: Some old habits are resurfacing
URI has made significant progress in the first year under new head coach Archie Miller. But success isn’t always a straight line from Point A to Point B. On Wednesday the Rams nearly gave up a game at home to St. Bonaventure and then lost at UMass on Saturday. In those two, ball security has been an issue. They were back up over 15 turnovers a game after a four-game stretch where they did a better job of it, highlighted by just nine at Duquesne in the league opener. The team isn’t skilled enough to overcome wasted possessions. Richmond is among the top teams in the conference with the least giveaways per game.
Record 12-6 (3-2 in America East, tied for 3rd)
This Week: Host NJIT Jan. 19 at 7 p.m., Visit UMass Lowell Jan. 22 at 1 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Antwan Walker has found a true home in Smithfield
In his third and final stop of his collegiate career, Antwan Walker is taking full advantage of his opportunity at Bryant. It’s only for one season but Walker has reshaped his body and his game has reached a level it seldom got to in Kingston. Chalk it up to a combination of coaching, playing style, and maturity, the fifth year forward is routinely one of Bryant’s best players. Walker is the reigning America East Conference Player of the Week and averaging 14.7 ppg and 7.4 rpg. He is shooting 57% from the field, which is 46th nationally.
Hard Truth: Can Bulldogs maintain good habits?
Jared Grasso was hard on his team following a 20-point loss to Liberty last month. He mentioned his team needed to go through a lopsided defeat to humble his guys as he observed championship habits not being followed. The team responded well with victories over Towson and Binghamton. Then, another tough week came with consecutive losses to Vermont and UMBC. Grasso made similar comments to the ones in mid-December. The team then picked up wins against UAlbany and New Hampshire. Can the Bulldogs stay on the straight and narrow going forward? That’s not to say ball games won’t be lost. But a good seed is needed in the America East if they want to play home games to reach the Big Dance.
Record: 9-8 (2-2 in Ivy League, tied for 3rd)
Last: 72-70 win vs. Princeton
This Week: Visit Yale Jan. 16 at 5 p.m., Host Columbia Jan. 21 at 4 p.m.
Plain and Simple: Brown saved it’s season on Saturday
Last week the ‘Plain and Simple’ section was titled “Brown is good enough to make the Ivy League playoffs”. They proved that on Saturday with a thrilling victory over preseason favorite Princeton. Kino Lilly Jr. was the hero as he hit a pull-up, midrange jumper to win it with less than five seconds to go. The win kept Brown afloat at 2-2 in the league instead of in a hole at 1-3 and should be used as a blueprint for the Bears to use as they will be in more one-possession games in conference play. They’d been snake-bitten in tight contests and now the hope is that Saturday’s win can have a snowball effect for the program.
Hard Truth: Swing game against Yale
Brown has a chance to bury Yale on MLK Day. The Bears go to New Haven to face the Bulldogs at 5 p.m. and it’s a chance for Bruno to create some separation in the league. With momentum, Mike Martin’s team will attempt to improve to 3-2 and drop Yale to 1-4 in the standings nearing the halfway point. A loss would muddy the waters in the race for the playoffs. Both squads would be 2-3 with the Bulldogs having then upper hand by virtue of a win on Monday night.