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Providence, USC pick up where they left off

03.14.17 at 6:24 pm ET
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The Friars are ready to go in Dayton. (John Rooke photo)

The Friars are ready to go in Dayton. (John Rooke photo)

It isn’t a long and storied history between the two programs, but their most recent meeting on the hardwood has had lingering effects for both sides.

As Providence and USC prepare for their Wednesday night First Four meeting in Dayton, Ohio, March Madness fans might recall the two teams tipped-off the “madness” part of it all in last year’s tournament. As the 9-seed against USC’s 8th seeded Trojans, the Friars got a layup from Rodney Bullock with 1.5 seconds remaining off an inbounds pass from Drew Edwards, advancing PC to the 2nd round.

USC gave the Friars the opportunity to win, however, thanks to missing the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw on the other end of the floor. And while the key players on both teams have largely changed over the past year, for those that were in Raleigh, North Carolina last March they remember it well.

“We remember it,” said Jordan McLaughlin, an honorable mention all-Pac-12 guard this season for the Trojans, who scored 15 points with 5 assists and 4 steals in the one point loss. “It’s something that’s in the back of our minds.”

“Last year, that was a great experience,” was Rodney Bullock’s recollection, a 2nd team all-Big East forward this year who put up a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Trojans and scored the decisive basket. “I felt like that helped us (this year), and just hopefully we need to make shots and just carry out our game plan, and I think we’ll be fine.”

USC’s team has had the greater turnover of the two teams from a year ago, with only three players returning this season who had a significant impact on that 70-69 final in Raleigh. But those three appear to be the Trojans’ main threat to gaining at least a measure of revenge against Providence this year. McLaughlin, 6-10 sophomore forward Bennie Boatwright, 6-5 junior Elijah Stewart and 6-11 sophomore center Chimezie Metu, who was a role player a year ago (and Pac-12 Most Improved this year) will have the Friars busy trying to defend them.

“This kid McLaughlin, I think, is their glue guy,” Ed Cooley explained. “He’s very talented. He’s the maestro for them, one of the best guards in the country. We’ve got our hands full with him.

“I think both teams are totally different,” Cooley added. “We have five of our nine-man rotation that are first-year guys. I know USC has a very young team, but they have a core group of guys that played in the game much like ours, but same systems, different personalities.”

One thing seems certain, however, as the Friars and Trojans meet on the basketball court for just the 3rd time in their storied pasts. Both teams, using last year as the stepping stone, believe this season’s appearance in the NCAA Tournament is validation for what they’re trying to build.

“We’re 328 out of 351 (teams) in experience in the country,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “We replaced our upperclassmen (on that team) with four freshmen and we had two transfers. This is the NCAA Tournament. And this is what you work hard for all season, we’re excited to be here.”

“There’s a different excitement in me,” Cooley explained. “This is the fourth excitement I’ve had. I’m happy. I can’t tell you how happy and how blessed I am to be sitting here in front of you. I’m still pinching myself. I can’t believe we’re here. Don’t forget, we were picked ninth in the Big East.”

Seems like the happy feeling on both sides could last a while longer – at least until the final buzzer Wednesday night, that is.

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Friars arrive in Dayton, prep for USC

03.14.17 at 9:16 am ET
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There’s something to be said for getting out of town, at just the right time.

With a snowstorm barreling down on the northeast, travel plans involving east coast teams in this week’s NCAA tournament have been adjusted and in some cases, moved up so the weather won’t keep anyone from arriving for their appointed dates on the dance card.

In Providence’s case, the 11th seeded Friars are scheduled to face fellow-11th seed Southern Cal in the First Four at Dayton, Ohio Wednesday night. But because of the snow, it took most of the day Monday for the NCAA to work out the team charter flight sending the players, coaches, band, cheerleaders, media and some supporters out of Rhode Island.

Once arrangements had been set, the charter flight left T.F. Green at 5:30 p.m. Monday evening and arrived two-and-a-half hours later in Dayton, Ohio, to bagpipes playing the school fight song (“When the Saints go Marching In”) and local organizers greeting the team and personnel.

The First Four games in Dayton tip-off Tuesday night, with 16-seeds Mount St. Mary’s (the Northeast Conference champ) and New Orleans (winner of the Southland Conference) squaring off at 6:40 p.m. ET, followed by 11-seeds Wake Forest (ACC at-large) and Kansas State (Big 12 at large).

Those four teams arrived earlier Tuesday, in time for open workouts and interview sessions at the University of Dayton Arena which were previously scheduled. In places like Buffalo, for instance, where games begin Thursday there was an effort to move those eight schools into the area 24-hours earlier than previously scheduled because of the storm bearing down on the northeast.

Top-seeded Villanova was expected to depart Philadelphia Monday evening, ahead of a predicted 8-to-12 inches of snow there, while other schools affected by the east coast snow include Maryland, Seton Hall, VCU, Vermont, Virginia and Rhode Island – as well as Providence.

In Rhode Island’s case, as of early Monday they were prepared to wait out the storm and depart for Sacramento, CA and their 1st round game with Creighton on Wednesday.

The Friars will have an open workout at UD Arena Tuesday afternoon at 2:20 p.m., with media interviews taking place just prior. Wednesday, North Carolina Central faces Cal-Davis in a match-up of 16-seeds at 6:40 p.m., followed by the Friars and Trojans at approximately 9:10.

All post-season broadcasts for the Friars will air on 103.7 WEEI-FM and friars.com.

Friars reach NCAA’s, but Rams bump them down the dance card

03.12.17 at 9:01 pm ET
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They’ve met 127 times previously on the basketball floor and Rhode Island has certainly won its’ share over the past 97 years. But without playing a game this time, Rhody’s Rams may have dealt Providence’s Friars a loss they weren’t expecting.

As expected, Providence reached the NCAA Tournament as at large pick and one of seven Big East teams selected. But NCAA Tournament Committee chairman Mark Hollis confirmed to Westwood One Radio that Rhode Island’s Atlantic-10 title win over VCU Sunday knocked the Friars down a peg when it came to seeding.

“Rhode Island won (their conference), so they couldn’t qualify as one of the 36 at-large teams,” Hollis told Westwood One. “They pushed Providence down the board by winning, so perhaps that’ll be a big story in Rhode Island?”

Instead of a 9, 10 or even an 11 seed, the Friars did receive an 11 seed for the tournament, but they will face USC in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio Wednesday night in a “play in” contest, with the winner moving on in the East Regional to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a Friday game against 6th seeded (and American Athletic Conference winner) SMU.

Bottom line – Providence was one of the Last Four teams into the tournament per the selection committee chair, despite finishing in a tie for third in the Big East Conference and finishing 3-1 against Marquette and Xavier. Both the Golden Eagles (10 seed in the East against South Carolina) and the Musketeers (11 seed in the West, playing Maryland) received higher seeds and avoided the First Four “play in.”

“We’re excited to be back,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said as the brackets were revealed, as the Friars reach the NCAA’s for a school-record fourth straight year. “We’ve earned our way into the tournament. As long as you’re there, you have a chance to advance. We have a quick turnaround, they (USC’s Trojans) have a quick turnaround, and we’ve got to do a great job as a staff to get our team familiar with the way they play.”

That shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as the Friars faced USC last year in an NCAA first-round game at Raleigh, North Carolina. Ninth-seeded PC beat the No.8  Trojans 70-69 last March 17th, as Rodney Bullock converted an in-bounds play for a layup at the end. Still, it’s highly unusual to see a rematch occur from a 1st round contest from the previous season.

“Our key guys were in that game,” Cooley said. “Jalen (Lindsey), Kyron (Cartwright), Rodney (Bullock), we have an older person in Emmitt (Holt) and Isaiah Jackson. We’ve got to make sure our younger guys are emotionally prepared for that stage, and hopefully we will be.

“We’ve always played with a chip on our shoulder,” Cooley added. “Remember, we were picked 9th in the league and we ended up in 3rd. That’s the way I coach. I want our kids to be edgy, but I want them to be respectful of the game.”

Even if the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee wasn’t terribly respectful of the Friars, in return.

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Lowell destroys UNH in decisive Game 3; Hockey East semifinals set

03.12.17 at 6:50 pm ET
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It was surprising that top-seeded UMass Lowell didn’t sweep 10th-seeded New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarterfinals. It wasn’t surprising at all that Lowell blew the doors off UNH in Sunday’s decisive Game 3 at the Tsongas Center, winning by a rather convincing 8-2 margin.

The River Hawks had, as expected, been the better team all weekend. Even in the Game 1 loss on Friday, they outshot UNH 35-12. Then after falling behind 1-0 in Game 2, they took control and wound up cruising to a 3-1 win, once again holding UNH under 20 shots on goal.

But they took dominance to another level Sunday, especially in the first period. The River Hawks struck first with a power-play goal from John Edwardh 3:36 into the game. The only glimmer of hope all night for UNH came two minutes later when Marcus Vela tied things up.

Lowell had no interest in letting the Wildcats hang around and quickly slammed the door on any chance the underdogs had of pulling off the upset. Kenny Hausinger scored two goals four minutes apart, and then C.J. Smith scored 29 seconds after Hausinger’s second goal to put UNH in a 4-1 hole.

In case that wasn’t enough, Connor Wilson set up Colin O’Neill for a shorthanded goal two and a half minutes later and then Smith added his second goal of the period at the 18:32 mark. The first period wasn’t even over and it was 6-1. Good night, folks. Drive safe.

With the win, the River Hawks advanced to the Hockey East semifinals for the fifth straight year. They’ll take on fourth-seeded Notre Dame in the first semifinal Friday at 5 p.m. at TD Garden. Second-seeded Boston University takes on third-seeded Boston College in the second game at 8 p.m.

Lowell and BU are already 100 percent locks to make the NCAA tournament according to College Hockey News’ “Pairwise Probability Matrix,” while Notre Dame and Providence (whom Notre Dame swept this weekend) are pretty much locked in as well. BC, meanwhile, will most likely not get an at-large bid and therefore needs to win the Hockey East championship to make it.

For UNH, it was another early end to a disappointing season. The Wildcats will miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year, something that would’ve seemed crazy not too long ago given that they made NCAAs 10 straight years from 2002-2011 and 18 times in 22 years from 1992-2013.

There are already questions about whether this is the end for head coach Dick Umile, who took over the program in 1990. He signed a three-year extension in 2015 and said at the time that he would retire when that deal was up in 2018, with the plan being for associate head coach Mike Souza to take over. But with the poor seasons now piling up, there have been whispers that the handoff could be accelerated by a year.

When asked after the game if he would be returning next season, Umile offered a simple, “No comment.”

College hockey: BU, BC, Harvard complete quarterfinal sweeps; Lowell forces Game 3

03.11.17 at 11:14 pm ET
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It was déjà vu all over again in the Hockey East quarterfinals at Agganis Arena Saturday night. For the second night in a row, Boston University fell behind Northeastern 2-0 by the middle of the first period. For the second night in a row, BU cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period and then tied the game in the third. And for the second night in a row, the Terriers won on a late (or overtime) power-play goal, sending them to TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals and ending Northeastern’s season.

In Friday night’s Game 1, BU killed off two late Northeastern power plays to force overtime, then won on a man advantage of their own 3:11 into the extra session when Clayton Keller set up Jordan Greenway.

In Saturday’s Game 2, Bruins prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson drew a hooking call against Garret Cockerill with 1:34 left in regulation, and BU made Northeastern pay. Forsbacka Karlsson threw a shot on goal from the left side of the net, creating a juicy rebound that freshman defenseman Chad Krys buried into a yawning net.

Forsbacka Karlsson was the man of the night. He also scored BU’s first goal of the game on a nice redirect of a Keller saucer pass and assisted on the tying tally when he set up Nick Roberto. On top of all that, he matched up against Northeastern’s top line — which features the nation’s leading scorer in Zach Aston-Reese — for most of the weekend and helped limit their damage about as much as could be reasonably expected, especially Saturday.

“He was huge,” BU coach David Quinn said of Forsbacka Karlsson. “He’s been a little snakebitten in the point department, but when we needed him most, he stood tall. … Jakob not only had three points, but he played well for 200 feet.”

The series wasn’t without controversy, as Northeastern coach Jim Madigan seemed to indicate he had a problem with the penalty call in overtime Friday night, then confirmed that Saturday night when he limited his press conference to a 40-second statement that was mostly focused on “two calls” with which he had a problem.

“My mom told me if you can’t say anything nice about people, don’t say anything at all,” Madigan said. “I can’t talk about this series without two calls that didn’t go our way. For me, that was the difference in the game and in the series. I just don’t want to go there, because I don’t want to risk a future suspension.”

It’s unclear if the second call he had a problem with was the late penalty Saturday or Roberto’s goal, which was upheld after a lengthy offsides review. From this reporter’s perspective, the late penalty call Saturday looked like a clear penalty, the overtime penalty Friday looked like a penalty but one that was maybe a little on the soft side, and the offsides review looked to be about as close as you can possibly get (and it’s worth mentioning that the call on the ice was onsides).

The Huskies had a miniscule shot at an at-large NCAA bid entering Saturday night, but the season-ending loss ends that dream. The most interesting thing to watch now as it relates to Northeastern will be which NHL team signs Aston-Reese. The senior was never drafted and is thus a free agent, and reports have indicated that at least 15 teams have shown interest in him.

The Terriers will now wait for Sunday’s UMass Lowell-New Hampshire Game 3 to find out their opponent in the semifinals. If Lowell wins, they’ll face Boston College. If UNH wins, they’ll face UNH.

-Speaking of UMass Lowell vs. New Hampshire, the top-seeded River Hawks forced a decisive Game 3 by winning 3-1 Saturday night after suffering a surprise 3-1 loss Friday. The series will be decided at the Tsongas Center Sunday at 4 p.m.

Lowell held UNH to one shot in the first period after also allowing just one shot in the third period Friday night, but the game was tied 1-1 after one. John Edwardh gave the River Hawks the lead 3:07 into the second and Ryan Dmowski made it 3-1 later in the period.

The River Hawks are looking to reach the Garden for the fifth straight year.

– Third-seeded Boston College rolled to a two-game sweep over sixth-seeded Vermont, winning 7-4 Saturday night after cruising to a 7-0 smackdown Friday.

The Eagles stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first nine minutes of Game 2, with JD Dudek scoring twice and Connor Moore notching his first goal of the season. Vermont scored a pair of power-play goals later in the period to make things interesting, but then Austin Cangelosi scored two power-play goals of his own in the second as BC regained the three-goal advantage.

The Catamounts cut it to 5-3, but then BC scored two more in the third. Cangelosi had three goals and an assist on the weekend, while Colin White had a goal and four assists. The Eagles will face either BU or Notre Dame in the semifinals next Friday.

For BC, the convincing sweep was a welcome sign after a dreadful finish to the regular season. The Eagles went 0-5-2 from the Beanpot on and weren’t able to clinch an outright Hockey East regular-season title, although they did still grab a share of it (along with BU and Lowell). They also pretty much played themselves out of contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament — they’ll most likely need to win the Hockey East championship next weekend in order to make NCAAs.

– Rounding out the Hockey East series, Notre Dame completed a sweep of Providence, winning 5-2 Saturday after cruising to a 5-o victory Friday. The Fighting Irish advance to the Garden in their final season in Hockey East.

The silver lining for the Friars is that they will still most likely get an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, although they’re not a 100 percent lock.

– In the ECAC, top-seeded Harvard completed a sweep of Yale with a 4-3 win Saturday after taking Friday’s opener 6-4. Yale led 3-2 after two periods, but Tyler Moy tied the game 5:46 into the third and Lewis Zerter-Gossage scored what proved to be the winner with a power-play tally 50 seconds later.

Luke Esposito had three goals and an assist on the weekend, Tyler Moy had two goals and three assists, and Sean Malone had a goal and five assists. The Crimson will face either St. Lawrence, Quinnipiac or Clarkson in the semifinals, depending on what happens in Sunday’s Game 3s.

Villanova rules supreme over Big East, beats Creighton for tournament title

03.11.17 at 8:26 pm ET
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Ask the Friars. Turnovers can hurt a team’s chances to win a game, about as quickly as a pickpocket can take your wallet on a New York subway.

Ten first half turnovers for Creighton got the ball rolling in Villanova’s direction – not that the defending national champs needed any help – and the Wildcats connected on seven-of-16 three’s in the 1st half as well to put a relatively early end to any BlueJays’ hopes for a Big East title.

Instead, the regular-season champ Cats dumped Creighton 74-60 to win their 3rd ever post-season Big East title, and put themselves in a good position to defend their national championship with a possible #1 overall seed for next week’s NCAA Tournament.

34 of Nova’s 36 1st half points (they led 36-22 at halftime) were scored by the Wildcats’ tested triumvirate of (Josh) Hart, (Jalen) Brunson and (Kris) Jenkins, with the two seniors Hart and Jenkins connecting on 5-of-10 from three.

Meanwhile, Creighton – known for its’ shooting prowess during the regular season – couldn’t connect as they usually do. A mere 2-for-12 (16 percent) from deep helped put the BlueJays in an early hole, one they ultimately could not climb out from. The 10 turnovers also led to an 11-0 Villanova scoring advantage off the mistakes.

Villanova’s lead grew to as large as 20 (46-26) in the opening five minutes of the second half, before a methodical charge back by Creighton pulled the Jays within 12 (54-42) on a Cole Huff three just before the under eight-minute time out.

The margin was still 12 with 3:34 to play, when the Big East Freshman of the Year, Creighton’s 7-foot center Justin Patton, picked up his fourth foul. The Wildcats then forced Patton into his 5th foul less than a half-minute later with Hart, the Big East Player of the Year, attacking the Jays’ middle and ultimately sealing Creighton’s fate.

Hart led Villanova with 29 points, and was named the Dave Gavitt Big East Tournament MVP for the second time in three years. Brunson added 17 more for the Wildcats. Huff led Creighton with 13 points, and 1st team all-Big East guard Marcus Foster also scored 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. The Jays tied a season high with 17 total turnovers.

“We just had to set a tone,” Hart said. “Seton Hall came out and punched us in the mouth yesterday (Friday). Accolades are nice, but all I care about is winning.”

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Villanova, Creighton advance to Big East Final

03.10.17 at 11:15 pm ET
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It was close for the defending national champs. Real close.

Yes, Villanova won the NCAA crown a year ago, but they couldn’t win the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Instead, Seton Hall managed to put their own name in the league record book by beating the Wildcats in the 2016 league finals.

Friday night’s first semifinal of 2017 featured a rematch of last season’s title game, and the Pirates almost forced the Cats to walk the plank, again. That is, until the Player of the Year played the role of swashbuckler, swooping in to save his team in the end. Josh Hart scored 19 points with 10 rebounds, including the game-winner with 9.6 seconds to play on a put-back of a Kris Jenkins miss, and it was Villanova coming from behind to beat Seton Hall 55-53 at a sold-out Garden in New York.

Hart’s rebound of Jenkins’ miss, plus a free throw, provided the winning margin – that almost wasn’t. The Pirates’ Angel Delgado missed a point-blank jump hook with a second left on the Garden clock that could have forced overtime, but his shot rimmed out. After the miss Delgado, the nation’s leading rebounder this season, was inconsolable as he lay face-down on the Garden floor, as his teammates attempted to pick him up.

Seton Hall carried a 7-point lead into the halftime locker room thanks to an outstanding defensive effort, and some poor Nova foul shooting, limiting the Wildcats to a mere 20 points in the opening 20 minutes. Villanova scored 108 points in Thursday’s quarterfinal win against St. John’s.

But while Hart and Jalen Brunson (13 points) largely led a renewed 2nd half effort against the Pirates, the Hall kept up the pace and Khadeen Carrington’s 3-point play gave his team a 53-52 lead with 1:43 left. Both teams had two more chances to score, but came up empty, until Hart’s rebound and foul off Jenkins’ miss.

Seton Hall had a five-game winning streak snapped with the loss, and ended a run that had seen them win six of seven at MSG, with three wins over nationally-ranked teams dating back to last season.

For Villanova, which had beaten the Pirates by an average of 26 points in two regular season wins, the 20 points in the first half was a season-low. In their previous low effort (22 against Virginia), the Cats managed to come from behind and win that one as well.

Perhaps that’s as good a reason as any why Villanova is a national champ, as they look toward a possible repeat. But they’ve got one more to play closer to home Saturday night – and that’s one they couldn’t get a year ago.

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Friars fumble their way out of Big East Tournament

03.10.17 at 7:19 am ET
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Ed Cooley and the Friars lost in the Big East Tournament. (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports)

Ed Cooley and the Friars lost in the Big East Tournament. (Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty simple, really.

Hold onto the ball, and the other team gets fewer shots at the basket. But holding onto the ball was a real problem for Providence the entire night against the Creighton BlueJays, and the third-seeded Friars dropped a surprising 70-58 decision to the sixth-seeded Jays in the Big East tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden in New York late Thursday night.

“Well, that was a masterpiece there,” PC coach Ed Cooley said in the aftermath of the turnover-fest, watching his team commit a season high 22 miscues leading to 26 Creighton points. “We just didn’t play well. I give Creighton a lot of credit. That was, pick who played worse in that game.”

Cooley would pick his Friars, for certain. The BlueJays outscored PC 26-8 on the turnovers, and coupling that with a less-than-mediocre performance from the free throw line as well (14-for-26), “stinker” pretty much sums it up.

“I thought we were lackadaisical. We just didn’t play well,” Cooley reasoned further. “We picked a bad time to play our worst game in probably five or six weeks.

“If you had told me that they (Creighton) would be 4-for-20 (from three) and miss those free throws and have only seven assists I’d like to say we have a chance to win the game,” Cooley added. “But again, give them credit.”

Providence played with a strong defensive effort in the opening 20 minutes, holding the Big East’s best field goal shooting team (51 percent on the year) to a mere 37 percent performance from the floor, and the Friars led by 30-27 at the break.

But the BlueJays came out in the second half with their own strong effort, scoring 10 unanswered points to seize the lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way. The Friars had their chances – numerous chances – to catch the Jays, only to either end up fumbling away a possession, or miss free throws down the stretch.

“I think a lot of them were mental mistakes, they really were,” Cooley explained. “For whatever reason, guys, it happens. You get games like that, normally games like that in November and December. But come March you’ve got to try to play as clean as you can and we just didn’t play clean.”

That might serve as the understatement of the season, at least to this point. Providence has its season-best six-game winning streak snapped as the Friars fall to 20-12 overall, and they now await their fate from the NCAA Selection Committee coming Sunday.

Pretty simple, really.

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Providence’s Ed Cooley named Big East Coach of the Year by NBC Sports

03.08.17 at 7:22 pm ET
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NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Providence

Ed Cooley was named Big East Coach of the Year by NBC Sports. (Stew Milne/USA Today Sports)

Remember when the Friars lost to Boston College two days before Christmas?

Providence was rolling along through the non-conference portion of the schedule at 10-2, and building momentum for what ultimately proved to be a tough start to the Big East slate.

Then, the Eagles burst the balloon at Conte Forum, rolling over PC 79-67 and exposing a team that physically had not arrived. They were too immature. And mentally, they weren’t ready for the road ahead, either.

Ed Cooley knew he had a job on his hands, or the season could have quickly spiraled down the drain.

It took a while to figure this team out. The Friars struggled out of the Big East gate on the road at Xavier and Butler to start the New Year, and following a home win over Georgetown, quickly dropped two more – including a shocker at DePaul, where Kyron Cartwright missed a layup at the buzzer that could have won it.

Providence had a seven-point lead in the game with 90 seconds to play. Nope, they just weren’t ready to play in this league. Yet.

What transpired thereafter took some time to build, but it was a slow-build to the point where the Friars are now the hottest team in the Big East with six straight wins going into the tournament at Madison Square Garden this week.

And Ed Cooley’s coaching job is getting noticed, after being named the Big East Coach of the Year Wednesday by NBCSports.com. The official league coaching honor (by vote of the 10 head coaches) went to Butler’s Chris Holtmann (over Cooley and Villanova’s Jay Wright), as the Bulldogs took 2nd place in the league after being picked for sixth in the preseason.
Included in that #2 finish were two wins over the regular season champ Villanova Wildcats. The Bulldogs finished 23-7 overall.

“I definitely thought Chris Holtmann deserved it,” Cooley said Wednesday afternoon in New York, prior to his radio show (on WEEI-FM 103.7). “He did a great job from start to finish. Butler is a very good team, but we’ve got our hands full with Creighton.”

When you consider some of the coaching names in PC’s Big East past (Rick Pitino, Rick Barnes, Pete Gillen, Tim Welsh) who also had title-contending teams, it’s a bit of a surprise no Friar head coach has ever managed to win the league’s top coaching honor.

Providence was a pre-season pick for 9th – next to last – in the 10-team league. They finished third. And after missing that layup at DePaul,

Cartwright was named 1st team All-District 1 by the USBWA (along with junior forward and PC leading scorer Rodney Bullock), the District 1 Player of the Year, and the Most Improved Player in the Big East Conference.

Quite the turnaround over two months’ time.

The Friars rebounded from a 3-6 start to conference play (settling at 4-8) before winning seven of nine in the second half, and ripping off six consecutive wins to end the regular season. Included in the run were consecutive wins over Top 25 RPI teams (Butler, Xavier, @ Creighton) that should have them in good shape come Selection Sunday.

A 4th straight 20-win season and a potential 4th straight NCAA berth seemed unlikely back in December. And that BC game?

That was a long time ago for these Friars, and their coach.

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Big East tournament preview: Who will cut down nets Saturday night?

03.07.17 at 12:20 pm ET
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NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Georgetown

Villanova appears to be the favorites to win the Big East Tournament. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

So often at this time of year, you’ll hear the phrase “it’s wide open” when it comes to the Madness that is March.

As in this game, this tournament, this championship – being wide open, meaning anyone can win. But in the Big East, after the season the league has had this year, is this really the case?

And let’s go back a year, and consider the trail that Villanova’s Wildcats have blazed. A national championship, followed by an unprecedented fourth straight Big East regular season championship won over these past few months.

So, exactly how wide open is this tournament in New York this week?

Now, we’ll throw you a little cliché – this is why they play the games. It’s the 35th anniversary of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, and through the years, the Hall-of-Fame coaches and all-star players that have participated have always had one common thread.

Uncertainty.

Take last year, for example. Villanova won the Big East regular season, but lost to Seton Hall in the Tournament title game. The Wildcats went on to win the national crown, too. But in the Big East, where family bragging rights are on the line and the lights shine as brightly as any in the country, it’s hard to stay dominant over your kinfolk.

Sometimes, it’s just easier playing (and beating) someone you don’t know as intimately.

And in a year where the Big East has been one of the top two or three-rated RPI conferences in the country, there will be pressure to play well – and beat up on – teams from other leagues when the NCAA Tournament rolls around next week. Should the Big East receive seven bids to the Big Dance (70 percent of the league population), which is possible, the spotlight will shine on everyone as brightly as it ever has.

As for this week, it’s a simple Family Feud. When the shots start falling, and the screaming grows louder, and the pressure builds higher…there won’t be much of anything wide open. Except maybe for the lines to the concession stands or the restrooms.

March Madness has a way of rearranging priorities.

Tournament Favorite: Villanova

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