When: Tuesday, December 17th @ 7PM EST
Records: Providence 6-5 (75 KenPom, 146 NET) Florida 6-3 (38 KenPom, 78 NET)
Where: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY (part of the Air Force Reserve Hall Of Fame Invitational)
Television: ESPN2 (stream on the ESPN App)
The Friars take on the Gators in this battle between two underperforming teams looking to salvage the non-conference portions of their schedule. For each, it represents one of the few remaining opportunities left to pick up a valuable win over another big school before conference play begins. They’ll both be approaching this game the way I approached asking one of my few remaining, available classmates to the 8th grade dance: sweaty, desperate and hoping for anything resembling a positive outcome.
Here’s What’s Been Going On
Florida came into the season with plenty of buzz behind the addition of the top grad transfer in the country (Kerry Blackshear Jr.) and the lofty preseason ranking of #6 in the AP Top 25. However, surprising early losses to rival Florida State and a still rebuilding UConn team knocked them off course. Unimpressive, too-close-for-comfort wins over should-be cupcake opponents also contributed to the narrative that the Gators weren’t meeting expectations. A frantic, come-from-behind victory over a bad Marshall team was the final straw that the formally, fawning AP voters needed as they tossed Mike White’s squad out of the Top 25 and into the cold, unforgiving wilderness of the unranked. A 14-point spanking by Butler in their last game didn’t help matters.
Providence on the other hand has been cruising. Excuse me. Let me try that again: Providence on the other hand has been on cruise control…and nobody is at the wheel. The Friars didn’t have the same national accolades that Florida did but they were viewed as a likely NCAA tournament team, returning a ton of talent and adding a shiny new grad transfer of their own in former UMass guard Luwane Pipkins. They recently had a very rough stretch, which saw them drop 4 out of 5 games (and here’s the gut punch) all to teams they were favored against.
Here’s My Take
Both teams clearly have plenty of talent. The question is when either will begin to play to their talent level. They’re similar in that they seem to be suffering from a crisis of confidence. For Florida you can see it in their 3pt shooting. They’re currently shooting 29.1% from 3-point range. That’s good for 256th in the nation. Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke are both well below their percentages from last season. If I’m Providence, I stay in their face and keep them out of rhythm. That would be a good start. The last thing you want to do is give open looks to good shooters who are struggling.
The Friars can win this game but a change is needed and I think it’s mostly mental. Somebody needs to get Rafiki (that old monkey from The Lion King) in the Friar locker room for a pre-game pep talk (“Remember WHO YOU ARE.”) If that doesn’t work (Rafiki is most likely unavailable on account of being extremely busy as well as a fictional character) then get Alpha Diallo going. He was one of the best all-around players in the conference last season and has been a shell of his former self with offensive numbers down across the board. He’s the engine.
I don’t trust either of these teams but the Friars need to show me something before I can believe again. 72-60 with the win going to the Gators.