Friars on the rebound
MORGANTOWN - Bob Huggins joked last month that he was like evangelist Ernest Angley in that he seemingly had the power to heal opposing players right before they faced his West Virginia basketball team.
Well, he might want to amend that. It seems like entire opposing teams get better right about the time the Mountaineers show up on the schedule.
Monday it was Pitt, which is now on a three-game winning streak after making West Virginia its third-straight victim after an eight-game losing streak.
And now on Sunday the Mountaineers face Providence, which is still mired in last place in the 16-team Big East but showing signs of life.
Wednesday night the Friars beat Rutgers 78-67 to snap a four-game losing streak. That came on the heels of competitive losses to No. 15 Marquette and then to Pitt and South Florida on the road.
"We thought we'd been competitive in our previous three games, really close against Marquette, Pittsburgh and South Florida,'' first-year coach Providence coach Ed Cooley said Thursday. "We had some mental breakdowns, but we were able to get over the hump [against Rutgers].''
Now for the Friars (13-10, 2-8 Big East) comes West Virginia (15-8, 5-5). The teams play at noon Sunday in Providence, a game to be televised by the Big East Network.
West Virginia goes into the game mired in a three-game slump after losing to St. John's and No. 2 Syracuse on the road and then the loss at home to Pitt.
But while the Mountaineers are stumbling, Providence is improving. The Friars had already proven that when things go right they can be as competitive as anyone. Three weeks ago Providence put a 90-59 drubbing on Louisville.
That was followed by a lopsided loss at Syracuse, but since then the Friars have not been out of any game. Cooley is seeing progress.
"We got here in March and I'm very proud of our progress,'' Cooley said. "I don't think our progress is shown in wins or losses because this is a brutal league. But I am encouraged about our effort, what our players have done in the classroom, what we've done in the community, and we're right there in our games.
"We're just short on depth and a little bit of talent, but hopefully we can address that in the recruiting process.''
Cooley has already begun that process, working on what so far is a highly rated recruiting class. Earlier this week, the Friars pulled in 6-foot-9 Sidiki Johnson, who is transferring from Arizona but won't be eligible for a year.
As for the team that will face West Virginia on Sunday, that's led by 6-2 junior guard Vincent Council, who is averaging 16.1 points and leading the Big East in assists. He had 14 in the win over Rutgers, his second 14-assist game of the season.
The Friars also have 6-6 freshman LaDontae Henton, who averages 13.7 points and is fourth in the league in rebounding (8.9). Bryce Cotton (15.7), a 6-1 sophomore guard, and 6-4 sophomore guard Gerard Coleman (13.5) also can score, giving Providence more consistent scoring weapons than most teams in the league. Cotton is one of the best 3-point shooters in the league, ranking fourth in 3-pointers made and shooting 41.4 percent. The Friars shoot fewer 3s than anyone else in the Big East, but they make them count, ranking third in 3-point percentage.
Providence also has shot blockers in 6-9 junior Bilal Dixon, 6-8 freshman Brice Kofane and Henton, all of whom rank in the top 15 in the league.
The Friars don't have a lot of depth, though, with Cotton, Council and Henton ranking first, second and fifth in the Big East in minutes played. They also rank next-to-last in opponent field goal percentage in league play, last in steals and next-to-last in turnover margin.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1