Tuesday, February 12, 2008


February 12, 2008

Providence is quickly watching an anticipated season get away from them before their very eyes. The potential of missing the Big East Tournament is very real for a squad that was quietly picked by many to challenge foe a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Their fortunes turned sour when Sharaud Curry broke his foot prior to the season.

Speaking of tough breaks, Pittsburgh lost their floor general to a broken foot six weeks ago. This was two days after Mike Cook was lost for the season with a knee injury. However, the Panthers have remained above water and are 6-4 in the Big East and very well could have Levance Fields back on the court tonigth.

Here are the local media previews and stories on tonight's match-up:

Pitt's Fields Likely to Rejoin Team (Tribune-Review)
Pitt's Fields a Gametime Decision for Tuesday (Beaver County Times)
Panthers Face Rough Road for Stretch Drive (Post-Gazette)
Welsh Enters Center of Fan's Ire as Friars Stumble in Big East (Providence Journal)
PC @ Pitt Preview (Providence Journal)
It's Time for PC to End Welsh Era (Providence Journal)

It might be the night that the Pittsburgh players and fans have been waiting for since December 29th, the return of Levance Fields. The status of Fields and his likely return kind of sums up the direction of the two programs. Although Pitt is 3-3 in their last six since beating Georgetown, the Panthers have some optimism heading down the stretch and they stayed alove while Fields was out injured. Providence, on the other hand, has lost five of their last six since a stunning win at Connecticut. The win over UConn represents their lone road victory in Big East play as they sit at 4-7 with a tough stretch of games to finish out conference play. Making the Big East Tournament looks like a tough task as of this morning.

However, teams can sometimes rally around a cause and right now, that cause could be saving coach Tim Welsh's job. The pressure from fans and media is mounting on the Friar head man whose in his 10th season at PC. In those 10 years, Welsh has yet to win a game in the NCAA Tournament and they have made the Big Dance just two times. In what is widely regarded as the toughest job in the conference, there are legit concerns if Welsh would ever get the Friars to move up in the 'New' Big East. This was the season he pointed to, with an experienced and talented group, however, the injury to Curry has set them back, but injuries have been very common around the Big East and other teams have overcome them.

Looking at the Friars, you still see pieces that should be foing better than they are, but for some reason, the sum of the whole is less than it's parts. The Friars still struggle rebounding and defending, a common shortcoming of recent Friar teams, and spend an awful lot of time depending on the three-point attack. While Dwain Williams, Jeff Xavier and Brian McKenzie are all excellent three-point shootets, that seems to be their attack, pass around the perimeter hoping a three-point opportunity presents itself. When they are falling, like at UConn, they can look pretty good. When they are not falling, it can be disaster, especially with out Curry to create.

Still, the Friars seem to match-up pretty well here, but they will be tested inside by Pitt's DeJaun Blair. The big frosh has the beef and quickness inside that really tests the Friars inside game of Randall Hanke, Jonathan Kale and Ray Hall. The Friars will need to try to get Blair in foul trouble, if they are able to, it evens the match-up considerably. Sam Young and McDermott could be a physical battle at the forward position. PC does not run enough of its offense through McDermott and Young will look to attack him off the dribble. Any foul trouble here for either team is a big blow.

Pitt's senior guards Ron Ramon and Keith Benjamin have played really well in place of Fields, but getting Fields back should energize this group and make this unit deeper and stronger. Brad Wanamaker has gained valuable experience and fellow freshman Gilbert Brown is an exciting wing that seems to be on the verge of taking off.

Pitt has a tough schedule down the stretch and after this game they have back to back road games with Marquette and Notre Dame. Hitting this stretch with a win tonight will be a big lift. If Levance Fields enters the game, the place could go crazy and the energy lift Pitt needs from their emotional leader returning to the court could give them an extra push. The Friars, as 9-point underdogs, will rely on their three's, but if they are not falling, Pittsburgh should handle them well.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 71 Providence 61


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Friday, February 08, 2008


February 9, 2008

The Provience Friars travel to New York City to take on the St. John's Redstorm in a Big East conference showdown Saturday afternoon. Just one game seperates the two teams in the conference standings and that one game could be the deciding factor between participation in the Big East Conference Tournament or staying home in March.

St. John's has come back to life a bit with wins over South Florida and Rutgers in the last week. Although those wins do not really mean a whole lot, since they were the two teams below SJU in the standings, they both did come on the road and has put St. John's in position to challenge for a spot in the conference's Garden Party next month.

The most impressive item out of their two wins was that the victory against Rutgers came without the services of their best player, Anthony Mason Jr, who missed the contest with an ankle injury.

Against Rutgers, St. John's was not pretty, winning 52-45, but they hunkered down on defense, hit the boards hard and scrapped their way to a win. They have players who are athletic and strong, just not overly skilled on offense. After being beaten badly in their previous three games, they have turned things around and now have a chance to pick up more steam at home.

Providence needed a 2nd half rally to save, at least momentarily, their season. While dropping four consecutive games to drop to 3-6 in the Big East, pressure was mounting as fans were getting louder and louder with their 'Fire Welsh' chants in reference to PC head coach Tim Welsh. In 10 seasons as the Friars' head coach, Welsh has no wins in the NCAA Tournament. This was the year they hoped would change that, but a preseason injury to Sharaud Curry has limited the point guard to just 8 minutes all season and he is officially out for the year.

Without Curry, PC has been VERY inconsistent offensively. They rely on the perimeter shooting touch of Dwain Williams, Brian McKenzie and Jeff Xavier for most of their offense. Geoff McDermott battles a sore knee to play the forward spot and the effecient Randall Hanke makes good of his opportunities, but he has a tendency to be pushed around the post too often.

With the lack of a true point guard, the Friars are not able to consistently distribute the ball to make scoring easier for their players. They will pressure St. John's with their outside shooting and if Weyinmi Efejuku can give Tim Welsh what he is looking for in terms of consistent effort, the Friars should have too many offensive options for SJU.

The Redstorm was effective packing it in against the poor shooting Scarlet Knights on Wednesday, but that strategy will be hard to execute against a better shooting Providence club. Freshman Justin Burrell is an athletic forward who faces an interesting battle against McDermott. Larry Wright has had a disappointing season as a sophomore for the 'Storm, but he is capable of scoring, if Mason Jr. is out or limited because of his ankle, they will need Wright to provide some scoring punch, otherwise, it will be very tough for SJU to score points, even against a defense that allows a lot of them.

With Mason being an unknown, I have to side with the deeper and better shooting Friars in this one.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Providence 67 St. John's 58


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Tuesday, February 05, 2008


February 5, 2008

Something has to give tonight as both Providence and DePaul bring losing streaks into their contest at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence. The 'Fire Welsh' chants were out in full force as the Friars dropped their fourth straight Saturday night against West Virginia. The Friars are now just 3-6 in conference play. At DePaul, the Blue Demons have lost three in a row and are finding themselves in a fight for the last Big East Tournament berth after a promising start in the conference, which included a 70-65 win over PC at Allstate Arena on January 5th.

Here are the local media preview stories on tonight's game:

DePaul Not Hot Going into Providence Rematch (Courier News)
Game Preview: DePaul @ PC (Providence Journal)
DePaul Needs Big Hit to Keep its Season Alive (Chicago Tribune)
Lack of Consistency on Offense, Defense Has PC's Welsh in a Bind (Providence Journal)
PC Has Left Welsh to the Boo-Birds (Providence Journal)

Providence looks to snap a four-game losing streak and get revenge for a 70-65 road loss earlier in the season at the hands of DePaul. In the earlier game, PC played without a point guard as sophomore Dwain Williams missed the game with an injured ankle. Williams' return to the line-up helped spark the Friars to a three-game winning streak, which included a road win at UConn, but it has been downhill since for the Friars and their fans have taken their frustrations out towards Tim Welsh in recent games.

The same problems continue to plague the Friars as they remain inconsistent on defense and on the boards. With Williams' injury issues and Sharaud Curry missing all but 8 minutes of the season, the offense has been inconsistent as well. The Friars seem to rely solely on the perimter shooting touch of Williams, Brian McKenzie and Jeff Xavier for their offense. Geoff McDermott is bothered by an injured knee and Randall Hanke tends to get pushed around often in the Big East.

DePaul is a similar team as Providence where they also struggle with consistency. The Blue Demons definitely pass the look test with a line-up of strong and athletic players, but they struggle shooting the ball consistently and getting the ball inside the paint. Draelon Burns is their leading scorer and his role is to score points, sometimes it leads to ill-advised shots, but he is given the offensive freedom to score for the Blue Demons. The very promising freshman duo of Mac Koshwal and Dar Tucker have also stepped up as the season moves on, but after those three, you never know what else you will get from Jerry Wainwright's squad.

The Friars are 7-pt favorites in tonight's contest. I do expect them to come out with a strong effort as they know the opinion of th efans of their recent play. They heard the boo-birds during their loss to Seton Hall and it was only louder at the end of the West Virginia loss.

Shooting the ball will be the key, on their home floor, look for PC to hit their three's at a solid clip and pressure the DePaul guards into tough shots. DePaul will keep it close with their size and they are more than capable of stealing this one on the road, but I am giving the edge to the home team tonight.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Providence 72 DePaul 67


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Friday, February 01, 2008


February 2, 2008

There probably is no other team more anxious to get back on the court than the West Virginia Mountaineers. One, it allows them to put the bad taste of Wednesday night's debacle out of their mouths. Two, it gets them out of practice and film sessions with coach Bob Huggins who undoubtedly can not be happy with his team after they were bombed by Cincinnati and his former assistant, Mick Cronin, 62-39.

Providence also needs to get back onto the floor, but this is a very quick turnaround after they literally let one slip away against Notre Dame Thursday night. The Friars were just 6-16 from the foul line in an OT loss to the Irish and a turnover in the last 20 seconds by Geoff McDermott led to two Luke Harangody free throws to force the extra session which was dominated by the Irish.

This is nearly a must-win for each team, as always, it is more important for the home team. Providence entered the season with plans to be, at least, on the NCAA bubble this year. An injury to Sharaud Curry has definitely dampened those hopes, but a loss at home to West Virginia would mean a four-game losing streak and put the Friars on the outside-looking in at the 12 teams in position to make the Big East Tournament at the halfway mark. Not exactly the bubble they were planning to be on...

For West Virginia, a loss would slide them out of the congested Big East middle and into the lower rungs of the conference, with Providence. There is little room for error in the Big East. A two-game win streak can put a team into 2nd place in the Big East, a two game losing streak and your staring at 12th or even 13th place! That is true for 11 teams...UNREAL! The life expectancy of coaches in this league is going down by the minute...

West Virginia has to put Wenesday's 10-50 shooting effort against Cincinnati behind them. Bob Huggins has spent the last couple days telling his club they are not tough enough and they need to rebound, etc, etc. With this club, that could be like trying to get blood from a stone, that is not their personality or comfort zone. However, they are not as good of a shooting team as previous Mountaineer clubs either. They seem to hit their shots in bunches and success is contagious among their players, but if they are not in a comfort zone and being forced to create, it can be an ugly scene. They also seemed to be flat coming off the agonizing loss to Georgetown the weekend prior. What they hoped to be a 2-0 homestand ended up being an 0-2 disaster.

It was supposed to come together this season for Tim Welsh. Instead, the injury to Curry, the slow development of Randall Hanke rounding back into shape and now an issue with Weyinmi Efejuku is not how his highly thought of junior class was suppsoed to respond in a season of hope. Efejuku did not get off the bench for the Friars on Thursday night in the OT loss at Notre Dame. Efejuku was scoreless in the previous game, a loss to Syracuse and Welsh has been frustrated previously with inconsistent efforts from Efejuku. Sophomore guards Dwain Williams and Brian McKenzie can be hot or cold and junior transfer Jeff Xavier the same from the arc. If PC is hitting from 3, they are very dangerous. That type of threat led them to an impressive win at UConn earlier, but its been downhill since. Without Curry, nobody seems to be able to create for others, leaving big men Hanke, Jonathan Kale and Ray Hall alone in the middle. Geoff McDermott puts forth a big effort each time out, but his limited array of offensive skills can force him to be bottled up inside.

This is a game that can really go either way. I flip-flop back and forth often with this one. I like the WVU core group of Darris Nichols, Alex Ruoff, DaSean Butler and Joe Alxander to lead the Mountaineers in a bounce back effort.

NBE Bloggers' Prediction: West Virginia 73 Providence 70


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