For many Providence fans, this might feel like deja vu.
The Friars were playing in the Big East Tournament with NCAA hopes. They were starting in a tough 4/5 game followed by an even more vital semifinals matchup. The Friars surprised both times and took care of business. This year the Friars pulled it off by beating Creighton and top-seeded Xavier – both in overtime. In the latter of these two games the Friars rallied from down 17 and struck hard and fast when the Musketeers dropped their guard.
Now, much like in 2014, the college basketball world will be watching as the Friars come in as an underdog in the Big East Championship against a two seed. Four years ago it was the talent-laced Creighton Bluejays. Tonight it’s the talent-laced Villanova Wildcats. In 2014 the Friars upset Creighton at the Dunk. This year the Friars upset Villanova at the Dunk. In 2014 Providence was a scrappy team of bandits looking to shock everyone. This year, the Friars are a scrappy team of bandits looking to shock everyone.
And, like in 2014, I was the one standing in the bar, watching the buzzer sound to put Providence’s victory in the record books, simultaneously screaming in joy and pointing to my friends.
‘We’re going!’ I rallied. ‘We have to go! They’re playing in the Championship!’
Sure, the circumstances for my travel are a bit different. Four years ago I convoyed from West Warwick into New York City, whereas today I’m writing this article from the passenger seat of a car driving me to O’Hare so I can make my 12:30 pm flight. I had booked the flight from the comfort of my neighborhood Friars bar, quickly scanning the best deals with only one goal in mind: see the Friars.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s a bit cliche, but I’m noticing it to be more valid with every season that passes under head coach Ed Cooley. Years ago, when I was a new fan, making it to the Big East finals seemed insurmountable. Now it was something I said I could see happening in my tournament preview. We used to hope to be that team that was simultaneously surprising in how well they performed while somehow also carrying a degree of expectation along with them. Now we are that team. And it’s become normal. As fans we expect this of the program not because we deserve this, but because we know this program’s potential and capability – we just want to see the Friars live up to it.
This week, they did that.
If last night’s game was the Friars playing with house money, tonight’s game is the Friars looking to continue their advancement into the national spotlight. But for many fans, the Friars are already there in a way. Sure, this season has had it’s ups and downs – the Friars had rough losses, many questioned if they would even make the NCAA Tournament – but when the chips came down the Friars showed they were not only worthy of a bid, but also that they might even do some damage in the Tournament. The Big East Tournament is just more evidence of that.
Tonight, the Friars are taking on the Villanova Wildcats for another Big East Championship banner. Tomorrow the Friars will find out their next opponent. But, for many, this program and season has become memorable and meaningful for all the right reasons. Just like the Friars in 2014, and I’m sure just like the Friars in 2019 and beyond.