The Friars URI Problem … And Some Others

Friars Coach Ed Cooley and His Team – Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

A FAN’S PERSPECTIVE

That Rivalry Game on Friday…

It’s that time of year again; the most underappreciated rivalry in the country is about to take center stage. The Providence Friars will square up against a very talented Rhody Rams team, led by stud Fatts Russell, and, for the Friars, this could be a problem.

The Rams have been playing at a pretty high level, stealing a good win on the road and keeping it close with some strong teams, most recently LSU. With a homecourt advantage and a chip on their shoulder, the Rams will be ready to play.

 

 

I hope that the Friars feel the same. The lethargic play we saw in Anaheim will surely position the Rams to win by 40, as well they should if that’s the case. Teams that don’t come to play don’t deserve to win. The Rams have shown they come to play every game. The Friars need to prove they’re ready to do the same.

It’s been an oddly quiet scene from Providence fans surrounding this game. Maybe rightfully so. Many are reeling from recent performances. Others feel that the game is simply hopeless from the get-go. In journalistic terms, it’s super depressing.

 

 

But, rivalry games are kind of weird. They act as a sort of spark plug. Dormant teams suddenly wake up when it’s time to play a rival. These games excite and energize the teams as much as they do the fans.

New call-to-actionFrom a Providence Friars perspective, this could actually be just what the doctor ordered: a prebuilt reason for the Friars to put emotion into the game, and a motivation to execute with precision and play at their talent level. URI will absolutely come to play, but the Friars can do the same and maybe start to un-sink their season.

After a November for the record books (not in a good way) the Friars will need to show they want to get to March in December. It starts Friday with URI.

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URI’s Fatts Russell – Photo: Alan Hubbard

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Well, *that* didn’t go like I thought it would…

I was feeling optimistic when I published my first article after the Providence Friars started their season. Cocky, even. The Friars didn’t just win, they decimated their opponents through two games. And sure, it was against low-level teams – even I acknowledged that – but it was the way the Friars played that made it so satisfying.

Since then, well…not so much. Let’s get this out of the way: Friars lost to Northwestern, Penn, Long Beach State (“the Beach”), and finally Charleston. They barely squeaked by Pepperdine and were down by 12 to Merrimack at home before turning it on and winning by damn near forty. Not the start Providence, Ed Cooley, the fans, and myself anticipated.

And boy, the fans were not happy about it. What were they thinking, what are they thinking now, and what does this all mean? Let’s get into it.

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The NCAA Dream is Dead. Long Live the NCAA Dream…

It’s only November, but dreams of March has died for some Friartown fans already.

I’ve been asking fans how they’ve felt throughout the past couple of weeks, watching a few particular story lines progress as the lack of on-court development became more apparent. The most common narrative has been that the losses are too great, the performances too sloppy, and the motivation too nonexistent. In short: the Friars ain’t dancing in March.

 

 

Let’s break this down from two perspectives: it’s over and it’s not over. First, the “it’s over” crowd has some merit. The Friars are tanking so hard they look like the New York Jets going for a draft pick.

Their losses have, in some cases, affected their scheduling (losing to the Beach meant lesser competition in the Wooden Legacy, to which the Friars then lost as well anyway), their standings in almost every metric, and their media perception. The hype is dead, the numbers are down, and the opportunities for resume padding have already passed. Now the Friars have a steep uphill battle against better competition, and, in the eyes of these fans, it’s competition which will batter the Friars unless something changes quickly.

On the other side of the fence exists the fact that these opportunities do exist and the Friars can get better. The talent is there. The coaching – though lacking at points, but we’ll get to that – has demonstrated capabilities for success when backed against the wall.

With URI, Florida, and Texas in the non-conference, there are three potential solid wins the Friars could claim. The Big East will be as competitive as ever, but if the Friars can compete, March misery could be mitigated. This won’t get the Friars a 4 seed, but it could get them dancing.

 

 

For me personally? I try to lean optimistic. I think calling a season in November is short-sighted. That’s even before you factor in the insane amount of talent and depth on this roster. They won’t win on talent and depth alone, but I think this team is capable of success.

That said, I do absolutely see validity in the arguments of those who feel the season may have ended because it’s grim right now. I hate being an “I’m sitting on the fence” guy so I’ll err on the side of hopefulness in part because it is early in the season. However, I won’t pretend our current situation is ideal in the slightest.

That brings me to my next point…

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Forget the Blame Game, I Want the Responsibility!

Providence is falling apart. They left Chicago with a surprising loss, but they seemed to get it together after that. Then they lost to Penn without much energy or emotion. Then they dropped two in Anaheim while playing disorganized basketball. So, like any fanbase, the first thing the fans tried to do was assign blame.

Listen, I heard it everywhere and from every angle. The blame game is an exercise in venting. But for me, the conversation is misguided when it gets too hung up on placing fault. It’s not about who’s to blame. Instead, it should be about who’s going to take responsibility and step up to make this team better? What will be done to accomplish that?

Ladies and gentleman of Friartown, let me announce to you my new favorite Friar: David Duke.

 

 

Duke is a high profile recruit with a high profile talent. I’ve loved his game and believed all through last year that he was a special talent budding with potential. Much like Kris Dunn in his first year, Duke needed time to transition his game to the collegiate level. Flashes were there, and this season Duke has been more consistent, similar to how Dunn became more consistent over time.

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Friar David Duke – Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

But here’s where Duke impressed me the most: he’s a natural leader and is willing to step up. After the loss to Charleston, when things were bleak, Duke spoke with confidence and reassurance. He didn’t give up on his teammates, and didn’t plan to either. Instead, he wanted to take the time and work hard to improve and get the results Providence should be getting.

 

 

Cooley would be insane not to hand the keys directly to Duke right now. Duke is the leader the Friars need more than ever, and the one that Friartown deserves. Cooley has a lot to take responsibility for, and I believe he will as he has in the past, but the best place to start is to trust in his young point guard.

Duke is the future of this team, and, on top of possessing leadership skills, he’s also a sterling example of a student athlete. We should be proud to have him on the team, and, in my opinion, if he’s willing to step up for the team, then we should give him that responsibility.

Hopefully, that leads to my next point…

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Win or Lose, Just Have Fun Again (and be Fun)…

I asked fans what they thought went wrong with Providence over these games. I got a million different answers. A majority ranged from inadequate coaching adjustments, rotation issues, poor player performance, to a total lack of energy. All of these are valid criticisms and critiques.

But one observation was a good summary of all of these, and it’s a sentiment I echo as a fan. The Friars, it seems, are not having fun anymore. They’ve displaced the mirth, as Shakespeare would say if this was Macbeth. They ain’t happy.

 

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On the one hand, who could blame them? Who likes being on a basketball team that can’t score, can’t defend as well as they should, and can’t find an in-game rhythm? And who *likes* watching that? Nobody in the history of ever, that’s who.

But then you think back to those first two games that I (and fans) raved about, and it truly is like night and day. The team is making extra passes, taking good shots, working together on defense – and they look to be in total bliss.

The true joy of playing good basketball is evident, in stark contrast to a game like Northwestern where fun was lost somewhere before the opening tip-off even took place. And don’t even get me started on the Beach or Charleston. The body language and energy spoke for itself: the Friars were having about as much fun as someone waiting in line at the Chicago DMV to get a simple license renewal after visiting three times already. (Based on true experiences.)

 

 

I am hoping that the win over Pepperdine has reignited the Friars. I hope it’s given them the energy to win again. And I hope it also reminds them that this is a game meant to be enjoyed.

These are experiences that are hard, rewarding, and fun. Early Ed Cooley teams struggled to win, but they played to the end and looked like they were enjoying the experience. Sure, losing isn’t fun, but putting your heart and soul on the floor can be an enjoyable experience.

I want to see this team do that. Play with heart, play with soul, leave it all on the floor, and love the experience of doing it.