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Friars Veer Off Road in ‘Drive for Five’

I still believe the Friars will end up getting to the NCAA Tournament. I’ve watched this team all season and I’ve always been a believer in the Friars, even when they were going through heartbreaks.

Now, all that said: this is the loss that fans look back on during Selection Sunday when Providence doesn’t see their name called, and curse under their breath for being the reason the Friars didn’t get a bid.

The “Drive for 5” is Providence’s campaign to make it to five straight NCAA Tournaments. And recently, the Friars had put themselves in a great position to accomplish that. They were third in the Big East, had beaten some significant teams, garnered some significant wins, and some momentum. To make things better, the Friars were now entering their prime playing period. Historically the Friar teams under Cooley have always played best in February onward, so fans had plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

And then, the Providence Friars forgot they had a game against DePaul to get through.

Maybe they were looking ahead to Villanova on Wednesday, or the pressure of good Valentine’s Day dates was mounting on the players. Regardless, the Friars came out of the gate flat and reckless on both ends of the floor. If they were playing for seeding in the NIT Tournament, the Friars nailed it today – push yourself down on the bubble, and increase the chances for an NIT one seed.

But I don’t think that’s what they were doing here.

In a way, it’s easy to explain this loss. Whether you look at the box score, the effort, or even the way DePaul played, it’s crystal clear as to why the Friars lost. You don’t get to go down 30 to any team and expect to survive. A Big East team – regardless of how good of a team they are – makes that even harder to surmount a deficit that large.

If this were December I would be able to write about how this is a team struggling to figure out their identity, but as I previously mentioned, this is just not a team that plays at an elite level this year. Inconsistencies happen, and when they do it hurts. And if this were December, there would be positive takeaways to some capacity – the team is still figuring it out, so-and-so played exceptionally well despite the loss, they had a good stretch at one point that could be who they really are.

In February, those get thrown out the window. Rather than hopes and optimism, fans look to what this will mean for their potential NCAA bid – and if it’s eliminated outright.

If there is one good thing to be taken away from this, it’s that in the Big East you can recover from a loss this bad. Villanova on Wednesday could help nullify this loss tremendously. Same with Xavier, same with Seton Hall, same with even St. John’s. This is not necessarily the end of this years’ Friars squad, but it would be the reason fans would look to first if the Friars aren’t dancing in March.

Alumni Weekend was spoiled by the Blue Demons. That happens. Now the Friars must put this game behind them and find a way to patch this glaring crack in their tournament resume. It starts Wednesday against Villanova.