With tomorrow's first round matchup between USC and Providence set to get underway in Raleigh, N.C., we talked with Vijay Vemu from Big East Coast Bias to get a preview of the Friars.
1) For USC fans that don’t know a lot about Providence, can you give us a brief summary of their season?
This season has truly been a roller coaster of a ride for Providence. The season started out great in non-conference play as they went 13-1 in those games with wins over the likes of Arizona and they even stuck around with Michigan State. They looked fantastic going into conference play. But some early losses to Marquette and Seton Hall combined with injuries to star player Kris Dunn made things a rocky road for the Friars. It set the tone for conference play which turned out to be torturous for the Friars and their fans. They were very inconsistent down the stretch but had some good games in the Big East tournament before losing to Villanova in the semi-finals.
2) The Friars started off 17-3 and then finished the season by going 6-7. What went wrong?
Injuries were a big part of that slide. Both Ben Bentil and Kris Dunn both missed time for the Friars and both are crucial to Providence’s game. Another big part of what went wrong was the lack of shooting by Providence. The Friars have the potential to be a good shooting team as they have good shooters like Rodney Bullock. But their shots haven’t been falling. It was baffling to watch Providence go through a slump like that even when they were healthy. It was weird, they weren’t just playing well and they were so inconsistent. You never knew which Providence team you were going to get on any given night.
3) Kris Dunn is a potential top 10 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. What makes him so good?
Kris Dunn has been one of the best players in not only the Big East, but in the entire country. He’s a pretty big guy as he’s 6’4 with a 6’9 wingspan so he’s got the physical tools of a point guard. He’s a bigger point guard than people think and he uses that size to his advantage. His ability to drive to the basket and get anywhere he wants to on the court is a big reason why scouts love Dunn. He’s got an array of moves that can help him get to the rim and he’s great at finishing at the rim. His quickness also helps on the defensive end as he can step in front of passes and grab steals. He’s Mr. Do-It-All for Providence.
4) Besides Dunn, who is another play to keep an eye on?
Other than Dunn the player to watch is easily Ben Bentil. He really has become a star for Providence this season as the big man has led the team in scoring for much of conference play. He averaged 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds for Providence this season and is arguably their best player, even surpassing Dunn for that title at times for this team. He has the potential to go off any night as he showed in the Big East tournament when he scored 38 points off 16-24 shooting against Butler. He’s now a big part of the Providence offense as he and Dunn have formed a one two combo that works for this team. But the only problem is that he’s off, Providence struggles and they struggle bad.
5) What is Providence’s weakness and how can USC exploit?
One big weakness for the Friars is their lack of team depth in terms of scoring. Like I mean their supporting cast outside of the main guys. Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil, and Rodney Bullock are the only players that average more than double figures in scoring for the Friars. The closest player averages around eight points. If you take out Bentil or Dunn from the game, Providence doesn’t have any main options that USC will have to worry about.
Defense, specifically against the three-ball is also a problem. Although Providence only allows 69.7 points per game, they are horrible against defending the three-point line. Take their latest loss to Villanova in the Big East Semi-finals for example. The Friars gave up 41.7% shooting from three. That’s a lot. If USC can get the three-ball going, Providence is in trouble. The key for USC will be to limit the impact of Bentil and Dunn, make other guys beat you, and shoot well from three.
6) X-factor and prediction.
The X-Factor for the Friars is Rodney Bullock. Dunn and Bentil are superstars and will be the center of attention. But it will be Bullock who can put the Friars into real contender status in the tournament. He is the best shooter on the team and will have ample opportunities for shoot from kickout opportunities from Dunn driving or Bentil in the paint. If he can have a good tournament, Providence can go far. He will matter in this game.
In terms of predicitions I think this will be a surely high scoring game. Both teams love to score and the scoring will certainly be there. If USC can control the glass then I think they’ll have a good chance to win. But I think I’m going stick with the Friars on this one. The game is on the East Coast as well, which may play a factor in this game. But this will surely be close.
Providence 78 USC 70
Thanks to Vijay for taking time to answer questions.