Upsets, Optimism And The Luck Of The Irish: Friar Fans Weigh In

Nothing comes easy for this Providence program

PC Friars
Photo Courtesy PC Athletics

What does a record book season earn the Providence Friars in the postseason? A record-setting 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest seed the Friars have received in the history of the program.

And yet, nothing comes easy for this Providence program. The Friars, for their Big East regular season crown and accolades, are playing arguably the most challenging 13 seed – the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. And if they should emerge victorious in Thursday’s matchup with the Jackrabbits, they go on to (hypothetically) play the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team coming hot off a Big 10 Championship. This first and second round buzzsaw has many advising to pick against the Friars, saying Providence won’t escape the Jackrabbits on Thursday afternoon.

Is this hot upset pick going to spell another early Tournament exit for Providence, or are the Friars going to overcome? While the experts feel one way, the fans – myself included – feel another. Let’s take a look.

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TRENDY PICKS, METRICS, AND MARCH

Let’s be fair to South Dakota State: they’re no slouches on the court. You may have heard by now how the Jackrabbits score the ball and score it fast (insert rabbit joke here if you’d like), leading the NCAA in 3 pointers (45%), points per game (86 ppg), and field goal percentage (52.5%). In the world’s most obvious statements about basketball: you have to score the ball a lot (at least more than the opponent) to win the game, and in that sense the Jackrabbits should and have won a lot of games, not having lost since December.

However, I can’t mention the Jackrabbit’s offensive efforts without also mentioning how Providence possesses better defensive efforts than any Summit League opponent the Jackrabbits have faced. Case in Point: Providence is 109th in the NCAA for points allowed. The highest Summit League team in that metric? Kansas City at 121st, then North Dakota State at 165th. The rest of the Summit in order? 223, 298, 301, 329, 342, and bottom of the barrel 350. South Dakota State themselves are at 281, which means it could be a field day for the Providence bigs.

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Simply put: South Dakota State’s high scoring may be a result of facing low defensive effort opponents. Providence has a Justin Minaya. And a Nate Watson. And an Ed Croswell. And an Al Durham. And I could keep going but you get the point.

That’s all well and good, but if basketball was about metrics only we could let computers play the game for us rather than watch teams, and no team has upset metrics and predictions more this year than the Providence Friars. So, let’s be clear: in March you need a little luck. You think it’s a coincidence that the NCAA Tournament is played around St. Patrick’s Day every year? Simply put: you need things to go right and break your way in unpredictable ways. Why has there never been a perfect bracket? Sometimes teams get a little lucky. Or, just maybe, that’s the March effect.

Now, let’s put our finger on the pulse of the fans…

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THE FANS AND THE FRIARS

Never spit in the wind. Never buy a tray of sushi on clearance. And never trust a “sure bet.”

Why are so many Friar fans going against the national pundits who seem to have made a story out of the potential Friars-Jackrabbits 4/13 upset pick? Part of that is pure Providence pride – you should see some of these guys try to get into arguments with algorithms. The Friar faithful have dug their heels in and are ready to ride with their team.

 

 

That’s not to say there aren’t nerves. The Friar fans have every right to be nervous. We’ve seen plenty of trips to the NCAA end early for one reason or another. Prior to the Tournament cancellation in 2020 it looked as if Providence was gearing up for the long-awaited “deep Tournament run,” and now that team will live on as the “what if” for this generation of Friars. What if Marvin Barnes hadn’t hurt his knee in 73? What if Providence had beaten Arizona in 97? What if the Tournament had been played in 2020? Now, two years later, this seems like the make-up that every fan has waited for – and that has brought about nerves and anticipation.

 

 

Do the Fans believe their Friars can win this? Of course they do. As they should. Forget the metrics, none of that matters in March. We’ve seen Tournaments where the lowest rated, First Four team made the Final Four, and we’ve seen Tournaments where the top rated seed lost to a 16 seed. Anything can happen – and that includes upsetting the favorite upset pick of the media.

Justin Minaya
Justin Minaya – Photo Courtesy PC Athletics

As for myself, I feel optimistic. The Friars do the things they need to do to disrupt this kind of team, and the difference in physicality alone can put the Jackrabbits on edge. Couple that with great defensive efforts and strong interior performances from our bigs, and this could be a game that could be thrilling for fans from start to finish. At the same time, I could easily see this game become another nailbiter. And after the games we’ve had this season, I’m surprised I still have nails to bite.

 

But all that said, I’m excited. I’m excited to see the Friars back in March. I’m excited to witness the national buzz. I’m excited to feel the us-against-the-world mentality that the Friars have faced all season for various reasons. I’m excited to have at least one more game in March – and hopefully – possibly a few more.

 

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