At one point during the Friday night matchup between the Providence Friars and UMass Minutemen, I grabbed my Nintendo Switch and started playing the new Super Smash Bros. game.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to watch the Friars – on the contrary, I’d been looking forward to this Friday night game since Providence took down Boston College in OT a few days earlier – it’s that PC was up by almost 20 and showed no signs of slowing down, and you can only get so much from an absolute smackdown.
But, as Friartown knows all-too-well, that didn’t last. At some point I looked up and saw UMass was within 10 and thought ‘you know, they may need to hit the gas a little more.’And by the end I had tossed my Switch to the couch and was once again fixated on the game, only this time I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to see the Friars completely blow it.
You all know what happened next (sigh)
1. The Do’s and Do Not’s of a Serious Loss
There are certain things you do and don’t want to do when your favorite team loses in the way the Friars lost to UMass. You don’t want to go on message boards or Twitter or any sort of social media. You do want to remind yourself that it’s only one game. You don’t want to freak out because you realize that even though it’s one game, that game could have serious postseason implications. You do want to gain perspective and remember that teams do this all the time, and it doesn’t mean their season is lost. You don’t want to say ‘but those are other teams and this is my team!’ because now you’re just looking for reasons to be disappointed. You do want to remember that there are a lot of positives to be taken away, even if they’re a bit below surface. You don’t want grip onto the negatives.
The simple fact of the matter is the Friars lost to a team they shouldn’t have at home in the OOC. There’s nothing that can be done about that now. Fans will want to overanalyze this or overthink this ad nauseam, but to do so is to set oneself up for a spiral into frustration and fandom madness.
A loss like this requires two things: expression and perspective. Fans need to be frustrated but not defeated, and then they need to get perspective on what this means for the team. In no uncertain terms it means the Friars have a much smaller margin of error going forward if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament. A loss to Wichita State was bad, but could be excused in a number of ways. A loss to an inferior UMass team is less excusable; that loss at home even less so. And though this may sound bleak, understanding and accepting this loss as part of where the Friars stand is crucial to moving forward.
2. Deja Vu
If this loss feels new, try to remember that the Friars haven’t always had the most memorable moments in past seasons. In 2012-13 they lost on the road to Brown. In 2013-14 they dropped an OT loss on the road to UMass. In 2014-15 they lost at home to Brown. That last one is, arguably, the worst OOC loss in the Ed Cooley era. That same year the Friars were ranked and made the NCAA Tournament.
Now, I’m not going to tell you that all this makes the UMass loss better. It doesn’t. If the home loss to Brown is the worst Ed Cooley loss, then that makes this UMass loss the second-worst. I’m also not going to tell you the Friars will recover and end up most of the season ranked. They could, but I don’t know if they will. What I am saying is that the Friars have recovered from losses like this, and with Ed Cooley at the helm fans can be assured that changes will be made resulting from this loss. Right now it feels awful, but the season is not lost, and the Big East still presents plenty of opportunity to recover.
Point-in-case: Joe Lunardi released his new bracketology earlier today and, lo and behold, there are 5 Big East teams in the Field of 68 – 50% of the conference! That’s plenty of opportunity in the season to make up for this bad loss. But don’t hang your hat on that, hang it on what we already know: that we’ve been here before and recovered.
3. Both Sides of the Spectrum
I do worry that this loss to UMass will overshadow what was, in my opinion, the grittiest, tough-as-nails performance of the season with the win the Friars had in Chestnut Hill days earlier against the Boston College Eagles.
Let’s consider the following: the Friars haven’t been playing picture-perfect basketball this season and had some areas for improvement. The Eagles are much-improved. The Friars haven’t won in Chestnut Hill in 15 years. They also needed this win to help rebound from the earlier loss to WSU.
The Friars were up, then they were down, then they were really down, then they (somehow) clawed their way back up. Then, down three with 11 seconds left, they trusted a freshman sharpshooter with a game-tying three pointer from way deep. And he buried it. Then the Friars won it in OT. This was, mind you, in spite of Boston College getting more calls than LeBron James and Duke combined.
To think the Friars don’t have the tenacity, heart, or talent to grit out a win is foolish. To be so frustrated with the UMass loss you forget it for a moment is understandable. But much as many will want to agonize over the loss to UMass, let’s also not forget that the Friars showed they do know how to win and respond when need be.
4. “Hello Injury, My Old Friend”
If losing to UMass weren’t enough for Friar fans, now they must also contend with the fact that the very sharpshooter who forced OT at Boston College and has been named Big East Rookie of the Week three times already will miss 4-6 weeks due to a foot injury. Yes, A.J. Reeves (or “Threeves”) won’t be drilling shots from beyond the arch for, at best, a month.
If this is somehow news to you, I’ll give you a minute to digest that.
Good? Okay, cool. Much like with UMass I’m not going to pretend this is not as bad as it seems, because it is pretty bad. However, it isn’t the end of the world. Hoping that Reeves can recover and return in four weeks, the Friars will face the likes of Texas, Creighton, and Villanova without a key scorer. Not the best case scenario, but consider that all three of those teams are beatable. Villanova doesn’t seem very Villanova-y, Creighton is having a tough year, and Texas is hot or cold. Losing a key player will never be a good thing, but from a scheduling standpoint it could be worse.
What will be more important is how Reeves returns. Former Friar sharpshooters like Jalen Lindsey and Ryan Fazekas would look good for some games, but always be a little off when they returned. Neither of them seemed as consistent or confident in their shot as Reeves, though Jalen did evolve into a great scorer over time, so fans can hope that Reeves will be his usual self when he returns. Meanwhile we’ll have to see what Maliek White is able to contribute with his likely increase in minutes, or maybe Drew Edwards will earn some time and pick up the slack. The good news is that, unlike in years past, we have a deeper bench to tap into. While it won’t necessarily be a guaranteed replacement for all of Reeves’ contributions, it (hopefully) won’t be a complete black hole of a loss.
5. The Season Must Go On
As a fan of this team I am feeling the bleakness and frustration along with everyone else right now. It’s hard to see the Friars, with so much talent and potential, ease off the gas so much they blow an in-the-basket win for themselves. Cooley assumed responsibility for that loss, and there’s nothing that can be done now, but moving forward is still tough. It’s not about who’s to blame, it’s about where do we go from here.
Around this time last year I put my money where my mouth is and wrote in a column that, come March, the Friars would be dancing. I was right (humble brag). This year, at this point, I don’t know. It’s harder to say when you have three freshman in the starting lineup, and one of them is now injured for a month to a month and a half. But the season will continue all the same, and the Friars have shown they know how to win.
But isn’t that why we support this team? New faces with so much talent and upside need time to grow, and we get to be the ones who were there at the beginning, seeing that talent develop. Whether it be David Duke, Jimmy Nichols, or Reeves, we get to say we were there through the highs and lows. And, knowing Cooley teams, the Friars are on the verge of once again impressing everyone in conference play. How will it go this year? Literally, I have no idea. But I’m excited to find out.
The season has been choppier than I thought it would be so far, but it’s also not over. And as long as it’s not over I’ll still be here, and so will a lot of other fans. Through highs and lows, we’ll see this Friars team through.
The Friars next game on YurView is vs. Albany on December 18, 2018 at 7:00pm… YurView is Cox channels 4 and 1004 in Rhode Island.