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Men’s Basketball: Irish prepare for Providence

Andrew Gastelum | Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An end-of-season trip to Providence could have been divined as an easy win to finish an 11-day road trip. Think again — after all, this is the Big East.

Although the Friars (14-13, 3-11) dwell in the cellars of one of America’s premier basketball conferences, they logged back-to-back wins against No. 15 Villanova and No. 16 Louisville in January while barely losing to No. 6 Pittsburgh. Even though the Friars are currently laboring through a rough four-game losing streak, Irish coach Mike Brey is still concerned by their progress, especially at home.

“They scare the heck out of me,” he said. “The law of averages says [the Providence team that beat Villanova and Louisville] is what we get. But I don’t want to overanalyze things with this group.”

The player who troubles Brey the most is Providence forward Marshon Brooks, who is one of the Big East’s leading scorers at 24.4 points per game. On the team’s current four-game losing streak the senior has averaged 30.8 points per game, highlighted by a 43-point performance in an 83-81 loss at Georgetown.

“[I’m] concerned,” Brey said of the forward, who has only been held under 20 points once in Big East play this year. “The guy has go-off ability. It has certainly got to be a real team awareness to stop a guy like this. The ability to just get 25 to 30 points is scary.”

Meanwhile, the No. 9 Irish (21-5, 10-4) have worries of their own, coming off of a torrid shooting day, connecting on only 35 percent from the field in their 72-58 loss to West Virginia.

“Our concentration level wasn’t where it needed to be,” Brey said. “We missed some great looks, we were late to shooters and we didn’t finish the defensive possession by rebounding. If we are not good in this area [Wednesday night] we will get beat there too.”

But senior guard Ben Hansbrough has been a bright spot all season long. Over the last seven games, Hansbrough has averaged 21.7 points per game with 4.7 assists, while drawing ruthless jeering from opposing crowds.

“If someone were to be the lightning rod on this team other than me, it would be [Hansbrough],” Brey said of his sharpshooter. “He is the leader. He’s surpassed where I thought he was going to be but he is where he thought he would be and that is what is important.”

But Brey said concerns are arising for this veteran Irish group, as each senior starter logs over 30 minutes per game.

“We’ve had consistent success with this nucleus who knows who they are,” Brey said. “Depth is one of the most overrated things in college basketball. Familiarity breeds intelligent play and your key guys have to be on the floor [in crunch time].”

The Irish close out their road trip, hoping to avoid a losing streak, at the Dunkin Donuts Center at 7 p.m. tonight against a Providence team hoping to break a losing streak of their own.