(WPRI) – Every month on the college basketball calendar looks the same except for one. The month that is different for teams across the country is December. And here we are approaching the midway point of the month with the four squads in our area all at different points of their seasons.
After 10 days, Providence turns its attention to the Big East with the opener just days away. Rhode Island and Bryant still have time to work out some kinks with a few non-conference games left before conference play heats up on New Year’s Eve. And Brown hits the floor only twice in the month’s final 21 days as academics are the focal point in the Ivy. The league opener isn’t until we flip to 2023.
With that, let’s get to the latest WPRI College Hoops Column.
Thoughts and observations are below. You can always reach out via email email@example.com or Twitter @MHershgordon. Let’s keep everything rational. It’s the holiday season.
Last: 93-55 win against Albany
This Week: At Seton Hall Saturday, Dec. 17 at 12:30 p.m. on FOX Providence
Plain and Simple: The Friars earn a C+ in the non-conference
Here’s Prof. Hershgordon’s grading scale: A for excellent, B for above average, C for average. With one of the nation’s weakest non-conference schedules the Friars finished a pedestrian 8-3. They lost both of their “up” games to Miami and TCU, lost a neutral court game to St. Louis and padded their record with a bunch of low- and mid-major wins. The road victory at URI is listed as a Quad 4 win right now. Prof. Hershgordon did take into account the dominant performances of the last three games and the fact that Friars seem to be gelling heading into Big East play. Therefore, he added the “+” since PC is on the upswing. Though, all in all, a disappointing first month-plus of the year.
Hard truth: Friars have their work cut out for them
By the looks of it, the Friars are improving. The body language is better. The product on the floor is better. The execution is better. That’s all good and well. But now the season truly begins. Ed Cooley’s group has 20 games in the rugged Big East to earn an at-large berth NCAA Tournament and avoid pressure in March at Madison Square Garden. It begins Saturday at Seton Hall at 12:30 p.m. live on FOX Providence. The game has a similar feel to last year’s conference opener at UConn. PC grinded out a hard-fought road win, then came home and won the home opener and then went out to the Midwest and earned a split to begin 3-1. Cloning that start from a season ago would be ideal for this group. A record of 12-8 in league would put the Friars at 20-11 overall and should be enough to go dancing. It’s time to go make it happen.
Last: 77-67 win against Army
This Week: Host UMass Lowell Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.; Visit Georgia State Dec. 18 at 2 p.m.
Plain and Simple: The Rams learned how to win a close one
URI’s record in two-possession games is still 0-5 but Saturday’s win against Army was a big step in the right direction with regards to pulling out a close game. The final score is a bit deceiving. After leading by 16 at the half, Rhody let the Black Knights pull to within one possession with 3:10 remaining. From there out, Archie Miller’s team did not commit one turnover and converted on all six free throws. For the game Rhody was plus-17 on the glass and dished out a season-high 20 assists. Each night there seems to be one aspect that improves. Now the hope is by Dec. 31 they can put it all together, consistently, for 40 minutes.
Hard Truth: Lack of long-range success needs to improve
The Rams shot better than 44 percent from the floor just once in their first seven games before eclipsing that mark in each of their last three. That’s the good part. The part they continue to struggle with is shooting from deep. They currently sit 34th out of 352 teams in three-point field goal percentage at 27.06%. If that mark continues to hover below 30% opponents will continue to pack it in on the Rams which could make for some long, frustrating nights.
Last: 104-97 overtime win at Manhattan
This Week: Face Liberty Dec. 17 at 12:30 p.m. (Hall of Fame Classic in Springfield, Mass.)
Plain and Simple: Adversity has built character in Smithfield
It’s been well documented what the Bulldogs have endured the last week-plus. Four games in 10 days, a trip to the midwest and most importantly forward Kvonn Cramer’s improved health after a scary situation with the flu. The Bulldogs battled through every bit of it. They’ve played in honor of their teammate and in memory of their head coach’s father who was a star figure in NYC basketball. And the result was two wins in span of 48 hours.
Hard Truth: Time off is much-needed
With everything going on around the program, the extended rest and recovery time will aid Jared Grasso’s group. The Bulldogs play only two more games before New Year’s Eve’s league opener vs. Binghamton. The December lull can help or hurt programs. The belief is that the Dogs will benefit following a taxing few weeks emotionally.
Last: 69-50 loss at Michigan State
This Week: No games
Plain and Simple: Bears are state champs, again
Mike Martin coined the phrase in Dec. 2019 and now he can tout it again for the second time in four year. Road wins at Bryant and URI put the Bears at 2-0 in the state, better than PC at 1-0. There’s been plenty of chatter about the Friars’ weak strength of schedule and there’s no reason they shouldn’t play the Bears (and Bryant) annually at the AMP. A win for the state, the programs and the marketing departments. And it would save every program plenty of money. (How? That’s a conversation for another time.)
Hard Truth: Hopefully long break doesn’t stunt recent success
Bruno is 5-1 in its last six games. Now comes the annual extended time off during finals. The program will play just one game from Dec. 10 to Dec. 28 which is a home matchup with New Hampshire on Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. Just as the Bears are beginning to hit their stride, the hope is that the time away from competition won’t stunt their growth.