Game Preview: Providence vs. Vanderbilt

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Providence Friars, off to a 4-0 start, are looking to extend their success into St. Thomas for the Virgin Islands Paradise Jam Tournament. Their first opponent, Vanderbilt Commodores, will be the first test for PC in the tournament.

Five details about the game:

  • Date: Friday, November 22nd, 2013, 6:30 PM
  • Location: Virgin Islands Sports/Fitness Center, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
  • Broadcast (Video): CBS Sports Network
  • Broadcast (Audio): WEEI 103.7 FM
  • Last Meeting: Vanderbilt 72, Friars 66 (Nov. 9, 1998)

Four keys to Providence's success:

  • Kris Dunn made his return against UVM this past Monday after a preseason game injury left the sophomore point guard sidelined. Dunn was in full form upon his return with eight assists in 21 minutes, but his mere presence on the court set a different tone for the Friars squad. The team moved fluidly, looked confident and executed much better with a true point guard at the helm. Dunn's performance against Vanderbilt will be critical -- both for his ability to feed the ball and create plays, as well as keeping the spirits high on the floor.
  • Providence has improved their free throws from the past few seasons and is top 10 in the nation for their free throw percentage. In the first two games both wins could be attributed to how well the Friars performed at the charity stripe. Conversely, Vandy struggles where Providence excels -- only converting on 61 percent to Providence's 82 percent. Taking advantage of these free points should help secure a win.
  • Attacking the backboard will be huge for Providence. Currently they outdo the Commodores on rebounds averaging 41 rpg to 36. Vanderbilt is especially weak in recovering their own missed shots, only averaging 8.3 orpg to Providence's 14.8. With Dunn back in the fold Providence should be looking to exploit missed opportunities to turn into fast break scoring.
  • Along with the free throws, Providence shouldn't hesitate to exploit a Vandy team that has a hard time keeping their hands to themselves. Vanderbilt is averaging 23 fpg. If Providence can get the Commodores into foul trouble early not only to they capitalize on the free throws, they also take advantage of creating an eased off defensive situation or getting the Vanderbilt players some extra time on the pine.

Three strengths Vanderbilt has:

  • Vanderbilt does know how to find the bottom of the net very well. Currently the Commodores are averaging 81 ppg on 52.3 percent shooting, including 41.8% from three. Providence's best opportunity will be when Vanderbilt misses, but in order to do that Providence will need to make sure no shot goes up uncontested. One trend with the Friars (seen in the Brown and Vermont games) is that Providence tends to ease off the defensive gas after they've built a comfortable lead. With Vanderbilt that could put the game out of control very quickly, so locking down early and staying locked down is essential.
  • The scoring doesn't come from a solo talent on the Commodore's squad either. There are a number of talented players that Vanderbilt has to dispose on offense, and the Friars need to be prepared for all of them. Eric McClellan is leading the Commodores in scoring with 20 ppg on 42.9 percent shooting, but Rod Odom (16 ppg) and backup Damian Jones (11.6 ppg) are not far behind. Providence bigs Carson Desrosiers and Kadeem Batts will be relied upon in this game to clog up the paint, while Dunn, Bryce Cotton and Josh Fortune will need to make sure the perimeter is secure to eliminate any three point opportunities.
  • While Vanderbilt doesn't perform as well overall on the boards, they do outdo Providence on the defensive glass slightly - 28.3 drpg to Providence's 26.5. Though not a wide margin Providence can't afford to have shooting droughts turn into offensive opportunities for Vanderbilt. It's important that Providence protects their own glass and shoots the ball well, otherwise it could end up feeling like a very long night for the Friars.

Two questions for the game:

  • Will Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock be playing? And if so, how will they be worked into the lineup? And how will it affect the chemistry on the court? The two freshman have yet to see any game action due to an indefinite suspension for not upholding student-athlete standards, and while they weren't on the flight out with the team on Wednesday there were reports coming out on Thursday that the two took a commercial flight down and are reunited with the team. If these two do take action on Friday there will be a lot of questions, but there won't be much time to work out the answers and these two will have to adjust on the fly for the good of the team.
  • How will Providence respond to playing in a different environment? Away games are a struggle for any team, but the Friars have struggled especially hard in away games involving preseason tournaments. Last year the Friars had a disappointing outing in the Puerto Rico Tip Off tournament, only going 1-2 in the three-game weekend. While it's understandable that the Friars underperformed last season - they were down to only five scholarship players and six active players - this type of record wasn't atypical of this team. With higher expectations, a full roster and an upgrade in overall talent the Friars will be expected to win out, if not at least make it to the championship game.

One prediction:

The Friars will match up evenly with the Commodores and struggle to overtake a lead early, but as the Friars find their rhythm and exploit fouls they eventually take a lead that the Commodores cannot overcome. The Friars will win by nine.

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