Team preview: Providence

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

There is talent, and there is winning. Often, the two intersect. But there are times when the qualities don't quite get together, for whatever reason. Perhaps there is a breakdown in discipline or commitment. Or maybe bad luck intervenes. In the case of Providence, the meeting between the two was torpedoed last year by inexperience. It's one thing to be good and another to win.

In 2005-06, the Friars lost two Big East games in the final 15 seconds and saw another drift away in the final minute. In a league where close shaves are standard, nobody can afford to fail to close out a trio of games, especially when two of them are at home. As a result, the Friars finished 5-11 in league play and didn't earn a trip to Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament, about the worst way to end a season.

It would be easy for coach Tim Welsh to blame youth for the travails, because four of the Friars' main eight players were freshmen. It would also be easy for him to look ahead to 2006-07 with optimism, because seven of the team's eight top scorers return, and a recruiting class delivers another trio of potential contributors. But Welsh isn't doing that. Again, it's the winning thing.

"You have to go out and win games; you have to prove it," he said. "The league is unforgiving. We have a chance to make it to another part of the league standings, and the thing I like about this group is that it has proved it can play at this level and compete. Now it has to prove it can win.

"As our friend [Dallas Cowboys coach Bill] Parcells says, 'You are who you are,' and last year we won five [Big East] games. We had significant leads in the three games we lost, and if we had won those three games, we would have been .500 in the league. That comes with experience and hard work over the summer."

The Friars would take a big step toward success if they would play better defense than they did last year. In 2005-06, Providence opponents averaged 74.7 points, shot 44 percent from the field and made 36.6 percent of their three-pointers. That's no way to make it in the Big East, or anywhere else for that matter.

"We were fourth in the league in scoring and last in defense," Welsh said. "You can't give up 75 points and expect to win. We can't play run and gun. We have to grind out wins with hard-nosed defense."

Providence will go after that with a roster that has significant capability. Whether its contents will commit at the defensive end is another thing all together. First up, the Friars must move on after the departure of four-year starting guard Donnie McGrath (15.1 ppg), their leading scorer, most prolific three-point shooter and steadiest hand.

"He was significant in what he did on and off the court," Welsh said. "The team knew it had a guy who could knock down shots. I hope the group as a whole can step up. But he taught a lot of guys a lot of things."