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Friars Offer Fans High Ceilings and Low Floors

Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

Recap: Into the Crevasse:

Things were a bit rough before they got better for the Providence Friars. Since we last spoke the Friars had a couple rough ones against URI and Florida before pulling themselves together and playing two (mostly) complete games against Texas and Georgetown.

It’s not really a secret that Florida was the most upsetting loss for fans. Yes, even more so than losing the in-state rivalry game against URI. The reason is fairly simple: the Friars looked active, engaged, had grit against URI. They started strong before faltering early, but they fought. Against Florida? Not so much.

There was a game during the Keno Davis era where Providence was playing West Virginia on the road. Like many games during the Keno Davis era, Providence was getting blown out. That was upsetting. What was even more upsetting was how they were losing. The Friars were getting rocked, and they didn’t seem to care. The commentators even called that out on our nationally televised blowout.

Watching this team play similarly against Florida was the most distressing performance I’ve seen in the Ed Cooley era. But what was more important was how they would respond afterwards. The coaching staff changed up practice, the roster changed their mentality, and the results were exactly what was needed – two big wins by double digits, with a lot of pieces in place.

Luwane Pipkins Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

High Ceilings, Low Floors:

So what does all this mean for PC? We have a complete nonconference season to dissect and one Big East game, with another on Saturday against DePaul (and you KNOW your boy is gonna be there!).

According to fans of the Friars this is a high ceiling, low floor team.

Essentially, this team could get to clicking and run the table in the Big East, or they could completely fall apart like they did for stretches in the nonconference and struggle to win even a few conference games.

I asked some fellow fans on Twitter to give me their final thoughts on the nonconference, what they’re expecting from conference, what’s the ceiling/floor, what they want to see more/less of, or what their New Years resolution is:

I like the idea that destiny is in our hands (still) and that we haven’t totally foregone a good shot at postseason. But in surveying fans many seem to believe that postseason will be a return trip to the NIT. After preseason expectations of making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the NIT would be the consolation prize nobody wanted.

You could personally put me in the camp that the NCAAs are still on the table. Anything is possible. The Friars have shown us that before, and they have the talent to see that again. However I can’t fault any fan who feels dismayed, and why would I? It’s not just the bad OOC, it’s the bad performances. Even in two blowout wins the Friars still had huge dips that allowed Texas and Georgetown to hang out a little more than they should have. If we got a full 40 minutes from this team that was akin to the first 20 against Georgetown, there’s nobody in this conference we couldn’t beat. Truly. This team has that ability and talent. They just need to leverage it.

I like this take because it does examine the seniors a bit more and what they want their legacy to be after they’re done with their time at Providence College. They have some tough acts to follow: Kris Dunn, Bryce Cotton, Kadeem Batts, LaDontae Henton, Ben Bentil – do they want to be remembered for building on what these Friar legends started? Will that motivate them enough?

Overall, fans seem to be feeling a bit better. This litmus test question was asked prior to the start of the conference games, and, since Georgetown, fans have felt a little more at ease. The Friars too seem to be playing a bit more focused. It’s what you need going into a big road trip with two capable teams in DePaul and Marquette. And if the Friars truly are turning a corner at this point, it will be a reassurance to fans who a month ago were in a tailspinning panic.

A.J. Reeves Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

My Take: We Are What We Are:

In the immortal words of maritime philosopher Popeye the Sailor Man: “I yam what I yam.”

The Friars are who they are. They are what their statistics reflect. They are what their record is. They are what their coaching and execution and decision making are.

That includes the highs and the lows. The more pessimistic fans (and the ones who latch on to only the negatives) will see this team as an utter failure. The optimistic ones will see this team as one that has yet to reach it’s full potential – not uncommon for Cooley-coached teams which typically peak in February.

I think most fans are akin to myself: the flaws are self-evident, the record speaks for itself, but it doesn’t tell the full story of what this team is capable of. At this point the Friars truly are what they are – and what they are is a team that is capable of more but needs to execute on that capacity. If they play the way they did against Georgetown and Texas, who’s to say we can’t turn this season around yet? Alternatively, we’ve seen the evidence that this team can struggle hard, and even overcoming teams like Long Beach State can seem insurmountable at that point.

Is this team Jekyll and Hyde? Sure, if that works for you. But if we’re going to use literary metaphors, let’s go the full way: Jekyll and Hyde are the duality of man. Hyde is Jekyll, Jekyll is Hyde. They’re one and the same. So, too, are the Friars, both in results and in potential. It’s not as binary as “they’re playing badly, here comes Hyde” because it’s not about what you’re doing, but what you’re attempting. We saw Hyde against Long Beach State and Florida. We saw Jekyll against Georgetown, Texas, and I’d argue even URI at points. The point being if the Friars put their heart and soul (wordplay) into the rest of this season, then even bad performances will start to look more Jekyll than Hyde.

They yam what they yam, as Popeye would say. And what they are is a team with their fate in their own hands now. It’s just a question of if they’ll choose to capitalize on it.

David Duke Photo Courtesy Providence College Athletics

A Decade of Growth:

Before we wrap this article up, I wanted to take a moment of reflection on the past ten years of Friar basketball.

Ten years ago I was a junior at Providence College, living in Davis Hall. During the break I would drive down from my residence in Massachusetts for the home games. During the away games I would build my days around watching Providence play.

It wasn’t easy. The team was struggling under Ed Cooley’s predecessor. There was no defense being played, and the offense wasn’t good enough to win games in a 16 team power conference of college basketball’s elite. We were 0-1 in Big East play (losing to Notre Dame) and were four weeks out from an 11 game losing streak. The NCAA was a pipe dream, as was any postseason opportunity. That was the least of our upcoming worries and problems.

Now, ten years later, the program has completely changed. There’s electricity in the Dunk at almost every single game. Fans are reinvigorated. There’s optimism. Yes, the team has had lows and struggles, but they’ve also had unexpected highs. The Big East Championship and the five NCAA Tournaments are highlights, but they pale in the comparison to the respectability that has been brought back to this program on a regional and national level. Even now, when times are tough, the Friars are regarded much differently.

This has been an interesting ten years. The Friars have become a delight to watch — most of the time. Sometimes you get the headache games. Sometimes you have stretches that make you scratch your head. But at the end of it all, if it weren’t for the evolution, we wouldn’t be scratching and banging our heads. If it weren’t for the evolution we would continue to be dismissed by regional and national media. If it weren’t for the evolution these games would just be games. And the fact that we’re winning more, and raising our expectations, that’s a testament to the growth that’s occurred during the past ten years.

It’s a good time to be a Friar fan. I won’t say it’s good every day, because sometimes it’s rough, but for every rough day there’s more than enough good days. And we can all be grateful for that.