DePaul head coach Dave Leitao and Providence boss Ed Cooley have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past nine months worrying about their players’ well-being.
Does that mean they won’t coach as passionately as always when the Blue Demons (1-0, 0-0) and Friars (5-3, 1-1) meet in a Big East clash Sunday afternoon at Providence’s Alumni Hall? Of course not. But they’ll try to balance being demanding with offering more understanding.
“When we talk about COVID-19, we talk about how to keep them safe,” Leitao said. “And there’s a million measures across the country to try to keep people safe. But there’s not nearly the same type of measures to talk about how to keep them well.”
“We want to make sure our kids stay emotionally and mentally healthy,” Cooley said. “I’m concerned because some of them miss their siblings and parents and loved ones — and they (weren’t) able to have an opportunity to go home and be with them. They’re young and they’re going through a tough time in their life and they’re also trying to compete at a high level. There’s a lot more on their minds than just basketball right now.”
Providence, at least, has been able to play since the season began Nov. 25. The Friars have traveled to North Carolina, Texas, New Jersey and Indiana to establish themselves as a Top 70 team in the Ken Pomeroy rankings.
The Friars ride Nate Watson (19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) and David Duke (19.1 points, 3.6 assists) as far as they can go. Cooley says of Watson:”For me, the best post player in the country.”
But Providence ranks among the nation’s worst 3-point shooting teams (25.9 percent) and Cooley didn’t like his team’s defense and rebounding in Wednesday’s 70-64 loss at Butler.
“We’ve got to defend and rebound better in order for us to be the team we want to be,” Cooley said. “Period. End of discussion on that.”
Meanwhile, DePaul is just grateful to get on the court. After enduring three pauses to quarantine and canceling or postponing its first 10 games, DePaul became the final major-conference team to make its debut during Wednesday’s 91-72 win over Western Illinois.
“There was a relief,” DePaul preseason all-league point guard Charlie Moore told the Chicago Tribune. “Having several games canceled, seeing other teams play, my team was just anxious to get out there and play. “
The Blue Demons played without a sizable portion of their roster — including returning starters Romeo Weems (COVID-19 protocol) and Jaylen Butz (personal reasons) — but Moore leads a versatile group of newcomers.
Valparaiso transfer Javon Freeman-Liberty, a first-team all-Missouri Valley selection last year, delivered 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals against Western Illinois.
Sophomore Nick Ongenda will battle Watson in the post after racking up six blocked shots in 23 minutes against Western Illinois.
–Field Level Media