Providence’s development from 2012 to 2013 was fairly dramatic: In Chris Gabrielli’s first season in Friartown, Providence went from a team that finished 2012 ranked 53rd nationally in adjusted efficiency margin and Pythagorean win expectation to one that ended 2013 ranked 35th in the same metrics. Only three teams – Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Holy Cross – eclipsed the Friars' season-to-season improvement (interestingly, Providence’s growth almost mirrored that of Towson). Gabrielli’s charge for 2014 is to try and keep the Friars' momentum moving forward in a hostile Big East environment.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
Stand Your Ground
March 1: Quinnipiac; March 4: @Fairfield; March 11: @Massachusetts; March 22: @Brown; March 25: Bryant
If Gabrielli has cemented Providence in the meaty middle of the nation (and there’s no guarantee that the Friars have taken that step; one-year performance anomalies aren’t unheard of in Division I lacrosse), the Friars need to show well in their games against programs that sit in the same relative tier as where Providence finished a season ago. None of these dates are particularly easy and all present unique challenges: Quinnipiac, like Providence, is attempting to carry forward its purpose from last year; Fairfield is looking to square itself after a somewhat disappointing 2013 campaign; any trip to Garber –- regardless of Massachusetts’ actual ability –- is a pain in the ass for opposing teams; and Brown and Bryant will challenge Providence for the Ocean State Cup, which is an actual thing that exists and stuff. These are season-defining games in the sense that Providence’s positioning in the tiering of Division I lacrosse is heavily dictated by how the Friars perform in these games.
A Taste of Caviar
March 29: St. John’s; April 1: Yale; April 19: Denver
There’s a lot to be excited about in Friartown: Gabrielli showed well in his first effort in Southern New England with a team that many wrote off before the season began; the school is investing heavily in lacrosse, creating facility infrastructure that should benefit Providence down the line; and there is a modicum of talent kicking around for Gabrielli to utilize. All of that aside, the Friars are still a notable distance away from throwing hands –- and succeeding –- against some of the nation’s elite teams. Luckily, the Friars' three most difficult games in 2014 come at home, an opportunity to potentially bag a big kill. More importantly, it’s a chance to compete against top 20-quality opponents in an effort to gauge just where Providence is in its revitalization.
March 15: Rutgers; April 5: @Georgetown; April 12: @Marquette; April 26: @Villanova
Even with a major surge driving Providence toward the unknown in 2013, the Friars still struggled in conference play, going just 1-5 with the lone victory coming against Rutgers in overtime. Providence was, in scoring aggregate, minus-32 (59-91) against Big East competition last season, a depressing mark considering the Friars’ overall record. Where Providence needs to make its money in 2014 is against the conference’s non-elite teams: In 2013, the Friars' scoring aggregate against Syracuse and Notre Dame was minus-14; against the rest of the league, Providence was minus-18. If the Friars are able to compete with the expected middle and bottom of the Big East –- at this point, that sect looks like every club other than St. John’s and Denver -– in manageable fashion, the Friars should be okay.